Let’s Talk About Liverpool’s Midfield

How are you doing, then? Did you survive? My prediction before kick-off was a nervy 2-1 win for Liverpool, but I was still not really prepared for just how nervy it would end up being. We looked every inch the better team in the first-half and it seemed as though Mauricio Pochettino’s mad decision to go with a back five had played right into our hands, but we failed to capitalise on Roberto Firmino’s opener and were all over the show for the opening thirty of the second-half. My resting heart-rate is about 73 bpm, so the fact that it hit 149 towards the closing moments of the match probably tells its own story. I admire Alisson Becker’s determination to take out as many of the old folks in the Main Stand as possible and thereby clear the season ticket waiting list a touch, but I’m not totally sure he should be doing it in these final games of the season. Judging by the reaction of those close to me on the Kop, everyone else felt pretty much the same. I’ll be writing about the atmosphere later in the week, which I thought was pretty poor, but the let off for the goal was incredible.

Last week I wrote a piece suggesting dropped points yesterday wouldn’t have been a disaster. I still believe that’s true, but the manner of the dropped points had the game played out how it looked like it was going to would have been devastating. To draw or lose from a winning position would have been mentally crushing for the fans, if not the players. It would have felt as though Manchester City were truly in the driving seat and that we would have been waiting for them to drop too many points to think of it realistically. I still think Pep Guardiola’s team will lose a game before the season’s over. If they don’t and they go on to win all of their remaining matches then you simply have to hold your hands up and admit that they’re an incredible football team that is the product of money well spent. The Reds are likely to end the campaign with their highest ever points tally, so the notion that anything has been ‘bottled’ is absolutely ridiculous. We didn’t need to win yesterday, but now we have the shift in mentality could be massive. So why are so many people annoyed at the midfield?

We Controlled The First-Half

It would be madness not to think that the closing six games of this season are going to be anything other than fraught affairs. We have never won the Premier League. We haven’t won the top-flight for nearly thirty years. It’s natural that nerves are going to begin to influence proceedings the closer we get to taking home the biggest prize in domestic football. What’s surprised me today is the simplistic, black and white manner in which yesterday’s game is being judged. Too many people seem to have redressed it as us having no control whatsoever throughout the ninety minutes and that’s a nonsense. We controlled the game for the first thirty and never really looked all that troubled for the remainder of the first-half. Yes, Tottenham had chances but they’re a very, very good football team that was always likely to cause us some problems. The point is that the idea that Jürgen Klopp got his starting eleven wrong is, in my view, flawed.

The main criticism of what some ludicrously refer to as the ‘Brexit Midfield’ is that it doesn’t link the defence to the attack well enough, but that criticism ignores the fact that it allows the full-backs to get forward and that’s where most of our goals come from; indeed, it’s Andy Robertson that sets up the opener. The criticism that it doesn’t allow us to score goals is a weird one to make after it literally allowed us to score a goal. I’ve also seen plenty of people saying Jordan Henderson was rubbish throughout, but in actuality he started well and then fell away. That’s also a criticism that allows Gini Wijnaldum off the hook, who didn’t really do much of anything at all. I completely understand people’s frustration with the way the game panned out, but the manager’s starting eleven was right. It was his slow reaction to the Spurs change that is deserving of criticism.

Jürgen Klopp Knows His Players Better Than We Do

Those criticising the manager and saying that Fabinho should have started are acting as though football is like FIFA. The Brazilian might not have played much football during the international break but he still had to fly halfway around the world and didn’t get back to Melwood until Thursday. James Milner didn’t go anywhere other than Dubai on holiday, Jordan Henderson played brilliantly in the first England game, only played about twenty minutes of the second and was around Melwood for most of the week, whilst Gini Wijnaldum played on Sunday so will have been in a similar situation. It’s entirely possible that Jürgen Klopp decided it made more sense to go with the players he’d been working with all week and then have Fabinho from the bench if needed.

The notion that we’d have won the game easily if he’d just started is belittling of Tottenham and ignores the fact that we might not have been able to change the game as easily if things hadn’t panned out with us running away with it. To state as fact that idea that we’d have won the game if Fabinho had started is the equivalent of me saying that Spurs looked more likely to score after the Brazilian came into the fray – it ignores the circumstances surrounding his introduction. He came on at a time when we’d ceded the midfield in favour of pushing for a winner, so we were always likely to look more open and vulnerable on the counter because of that. For the record I wanted him to start, but Klopp has to think of so much more than we as supporters get to think about. He got his starting eleven right, took too long to change things to cope with Pochettino’s alterations but we got the three points in the end.

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