Some match reviews are easy to write. When the Reds stick six goals past Southampton, for example. Others are slightly trickier; it’s never nice to write about Liverpool losing. Others still, however, are so hard to write that you wonder if it’s even worth bothering.
Liverpool’s snore draw with Sion definitely falls into the latter category.
Don’t stop reading, though! Just because the match was boring doesn’t mean this analysis will be, and there are still a fair few talking points that it’s worth us looking at before the Reds welcome West Brom to Anfield this weekend.
The game might not have been overly exciting, but then isn’t that a good summary of the Europa League in general? On the one hand Liverpool have remained unbeaten in the group stage, on the other hand the Reds have only won two games and quality for the next round at the top of the group. Nothing in there competition so far has suggested it’s anything to write home about…
Liverpool’s Europa League group stage summary: Ahead- 113 mins Level- 400 mins Behind- 27 mins It has felt like one long draw, hasn’t it?
— Andrew Beasley (@BassTunedToRed) December 10, 2015
As always we welcome your feedback. Leave us a comment below or send us a tweet telling us what you think we got right, what you think we got wrong and anything in between.
Klopp Doesn’t Believe In Excuses
In his pre-match press conference Jurgen Klopp said something that was both funny and laced with meaning, “It’s 2 1/2 months since we last played Sion. In England, that’s 425 games”. His comment got a deserved laugh from the gathered members of the press, but it also pointed towards one of the manager’s bug bears with life in England – the games don’t stop coming.
Given that he is used to the rather more pedestrian world of the Bundesliga, a world in which teams play significantly fewer domestic games and also have a nice long winter break to give players time to recover, he could be forgiven for thinking that the relentless nature of football in England makes his job incredibly difficult.
Yet he has not once tried to use the sheer number of games that the team has to play as an excuse for anything. In the aftermath of the club’s loss to Newcastle he didn’t say, “Ah hey behave, we only finished battering Southampton half an hour ago”. Rather he declared that the assistant referee waved his offside flag for Moreno’s goal because we were ‘shit’.
That teams got about 10 players who shouldn’t even be in Switzerland. Can’t complain about how many games there are in England and pick that
— Philip Blundell (@PhilBlundell) December 10, 2015
Rightly or wrongly the new manager doesn’t believe in excuses. He might not be pleased about how many times we’re having to play – just as he was no doubt displeased about the state of the Sion pitch – but he didn’t whinge and moan about it in either the build up to or the aftermath of the match. Instead he seems to be shrugging his shoulders and getting on with his job.
Perhaps he thinks that, in the absence of a break long enough to work with his players, using games like this are the next best thing to having intensive training sessions. It was, after all, a remarkably strong team that he chose to face Sion, flying in the face of what pretty much everyone expected to happen.
The match felt like a game in which everyone was playing within themselves, not giving too much effort and certainly not running the risk of picking up an injury, but rather taking their time and waiting to see how things were going to pan out. As soon as it became abundantly clear that Sion would be delighted with a draw the lads seemed to settle into a rhythm of trying just hard enough to avoid a telling off but not so hard as to run themselves into the ground.
With more important games coming up with even less rest time in between them the Reds might not be so fortunate as to play a game like it’s a testimonial in the future. They can expect their manager to ask them to perform but one they can’t hope for is that he’ll also give them an excuse if things don’t go their way.
The Europa League Is Tough
Let’s be honest, the Europa League’s a bit rubbish. Whether it’s its name that seems like it’s based on a theme park from 1950s America or the fact that you’re just as likely to face a team from the arse end of Russia as you are from Spain, nobody is keen on it as a competition.
Yet now that the group stages are out of the way we can start to look forward to games safe in the knowledge that it will be more like the old style UEFA Cup than it is the illegitimate and unwanted child of the Champion’s League.
The pitch wasn’t nice over in Switzerland, with players on one third of it having to put on ice skates rather than football boots in order to survive the ordeal. The crowd was also loud, annoying, braying and monotonous in its chanting. The Liverpool players didn’t want to be playing in the game any more than most of us wanted to be watching it, but that doesn’t mean that the whole thing was a waste of time.
Some teams we could still draw in next round: Dortmund, Fenerbache, Marseille, Villarreal, Valencia, Sevilla, Galatasaray, Shakthar
— Craig Rimmer (@Craig_Rimmer) December 10, 2015
With the teams that couldn’t make it through to the last 16 of the Champion’s League now dropping into its sister competition with a determination to still make a go of it in the New Year, Liverpool have an opportunity to go toe-to-toe with some of the big boys of the European table if they can keep going over the next few months.
Everyone associated with Liverpool Football Club believes that it belongs in the big time of the Champion’s League. We all want to eat at the top table and many heads were shaken with disgust when the Reds seemed to give Real Madrid far too much respect in their game at Anfield last year. Liverpool should be taking the game to the Spanish giants, not genuflecting and kowtowing to Cristiano Ronaldo and pals.
Yet it’s easy to forget that plenty of the members of the Liverpool team that did battle with Real have little experience of European football. Steven Gerrard might have lifted the trophy in the past, but Joe Allen, Raheem Sterling and Emre Can have only been able to watch on the TV. The Europa League is about to become a difficult competition; the Reds beed to use it to cut their teeth in preparation for a return to where we belong.
A Talented Squad
Brad Smith’s career was done and dusted at Liverpool a few months ago. No agreement could be reached over a possible new contract and so he was told he could find a new club by the powers that be. He had a brief trial at Derby County but nothing came of it, so he remained on Liverpool’s books whilst his contract wound down.
Then all of a sudden Jurgen Klopp arrives on Merseyside, youth players are told they’re going to be given a fair chance to succeed and Smith’s contract dispute gets sorted out quicker than you could learn the words to Edelweiss. He makes an impressive cameo against Southampton in the League Cup – setting up a goal for Divock Origi – before starting in the left back spot in order to give Alberto Moreno a rest in Switzerland last night.
Not only did he start the game, though, he was also hugely impressive. He seemed to slip seamlessly into the first team without ever looking out of place or causing the rest of his defence any real worries. Even Dejan Lovren, who seems to have lost his head in the past when he’s had to look after an inexperienced player, didn’t seem to be any more erratic than he usually is with Smith next to him.
— LFC XTRA (@LFCXtra) December 10, 2015
Brendan Rodgers spent the latter part of his reign as Liverpool manager asking to be given the right ‘tools’ to make Liverpool a force again. Jurgen Klopp reportedly took one look at the Liverpool squad and decided he had plenty of good stuff to work with.
The match against Sion wasn’t a classic, we all know that. There isn’t a huge amount we’ve learned from it because the only thing that separated it from being a training match or a pre-season friendly was the lack of bibs. But one thing we can rest assured about is the quality of players the Liverpool have got at their disposal.
Smith made a great impression on everyone with his assured display, but he’s not the first youngster to do just that. Divock Origi made some wrong choices last night, but he also showed great movement and gave the manager something to think about in the absence of Daniel Sturridge.
Emre Can has been erratic to say the least in the past but he was excellent again last night. Breaking up play and driving Liverpool forward with strength and intelligence, offering a good link-up between attack and defence when needed. The fact that he looks like he’s 32 makes it easy to forget that he very much isn’t and should definitely be considered as part of Liverpool’s burgeoning youth set-up.
Playing nothing but youth players might have been a mistake last night if they had gone on to lose the match. Playing such a strong team might yet prove to be a mistake if there are signs of fatigue in the game against West Bromwich Albion on Sunday. The only thing we know for sure is that Jurgen Klopp has a top notch squad to work with and he isn’t afraid to use it.
Maybe last night was about seeing who could work well together, testing different theories and giving players like Roberto Firmino a chance to settle in further after a poor couple of games. Maybe it was about ensuring we finish top of the group so we, hopefully, get an easier draw on Monday. Whatever the manager’s reasoning it was a night Brad Smith won’t forget any time soon – and the club will no doubt benefit because of that.