Liverpool 0 – Stoke City 0: Match Review & Analysis

Before I write about the match, I firstly want to tell a story that might explain why my take on what happened on the pitch might be slightly skewed. When I was younger I was mesmerised by the Kop. It looked to me like one homogenous being, singing songs together and creating noise to roar the lads in Red back home. I never used to watch football from it, mainly because I was too young to go on my own and my dad could tickets in the Main Stand or the Centenary, as it was then. The Kop was something that I looked towards with envy, believing that that’s where the best of us were sat. That was all the fantasy thinking of a younger person, of course, but it’s how I felt. As I got older I was able to go to the game without accompaniment and stood on the Kop with more regularity, seeing its flaws as well as its characters.

Falling Out Of Love With The Kop

A Couple of years ago I was offered the season ticket of someone who can’t afford to go at the moment but didn’t want to give the ticket back as he’s hoping he’ll be able to go again soon and wants to be able to give it to his daughter at some point in the future. There are some people that feel funny about that sort of thing and I know that technically the club say you’re not allowed to do that, but there are thousands of people inside Anfield that do it every single week and a blind eye is, quite rightly, turned to the issue. I was keen to take the ticket, having been a Liverpool supporter since I understood what the concept meant, so I did. It’s on the Kop, which is even better than I could’ve hoped for. I get to stand and sing for the club I love every single time that they play at home and that’s something I’ve dreamt of doing for nearly two decades.

From The Kop

Then I spent my first season going along to the match every week and the Kop started to lose its shine for me a little. This stand, that I thought as a youngster was filled with all of the most intelligent Liverpool supporters around, had a large number of vocal people who reacted to play in much the same way as the worst, most reactive Twitter accounts. Players weren’t allowed to misplace a pass without being declared to be ‘complete sh*te’. If someone missed an easy shot or defending anything other than solidly then they were ‘a waste of a shirt’. Judgements were formed, narratives were followed and it didn’t matter how well certain players played, if these vocal supporters didn’t like them then they’d never play well enough. I’ve written about the need for nuance on here in recent weeks and a lot of that is because of how I’ve seen people react on the Kop to anything other than perfection.

The whole thing came to a head for me a few weeks ago when a bloke behind me on the Kop spent every opportunity screaming abuse at Jordan Henderson every time he did anything at all. Now I understand that not everyone is a fan of the midfielder, but I cannot understand for the life of me what use anyone thinks shouting abuse at him all the time is going to be. Is screaming that he’s a ‘c*nt’ really going to help him put in the best possible performance? Is it helpful to declare that the captain of the football club ‘isn’t fit to be captain’? I certainly didn’t think so, so I pulled this bloke up on it and asked him what use it was to be using his space on the Kop to voice abuse at any of our players, let alone the one with the armband. He said, “He’s dreadful, mate! A terrible player!” I again asked what good shouting that was going to do and he just threw his hand up and spent the rest of the match sarcastically applauding anything the former Sunderland man did, before leaving with ten minutes to go.

Kicking Out Isn’t Easy

Today the referee, who I thought was generally woeful but we’re not allowed to talk about referees, booked Mame Biram Diouf, who is black, for an off-the-ball incident with Alberto Moreno. A bloke behind me, a different one I should add, said, “How did he know it was him? They all look the same”. I immediately turned around and said, “You can’t say that, mate”. To which he replied, “It was just a joke”. I explained that I realised that, but it’s still not something that can be said, which earned me the response of, “I can tell you didn’t stand on the old Kop”. Obviously I pointed out that the old Kop hasn’t been in existence since 1994, meaning I’d have been twelve on its last day. I also made the point that something acceptable two decades ago isn’t acceptable in 2018. He simply said, “Good job you’re not here every week”, despite the fact that I’ve been at all but three home league games since the start of last season.

It’s also worth noting at this point that not one other person who was stood near me stood up for me. His mates asked what I’d said and I could then hear them mocking me for it. In 2018, someone suggested that all black people look the same and I, as the person who confronted them, was made to feel like an idiot. Combine that with the fact that I was also mocked for asking someone what good screaming abuse at the captain would do and all of a sudden the Kop has very much lost its sense of magic for me. Having put this incident on Twitter, several people have told me that I should report it to the club, but him and his mates are a cabal of blokes who attend every single week and it won’t be difficult for them to figure out who said something. I also have to bear in mind that the ticket isn’t in my name, adding a layer of complexity to the situation. Instead of the match being a release, an experience of fun and camaraderie every week, I’ve now got to the point where I’m thinking of packing it in. It also seems I’m not the only person to have hard a racist comment today.

I know I shouldn’t let these people win, but I’m being made to feel uncomfortable in my seat because I won’t just sit there and let people scream abuse at our players or make racist comments. I feel as though I’m in too tricky a situation to report it, meaning that the entire experience has left me disillusioned and upset. I will keep calling people out for these things, but it’s hard when you don’t know if anyone will be on your side when you do. I’ve never been the sort of person to turn a blind-eye to injustice or walk away from something, but I barely enjoy going to the football anymore. I’m more than aware that it’s not the entire Kop, of course. The vast majority of Liverpool supporters know what it’s about and would be on my side in the same situation. Yet here we are. The entire thing soured my experience of the day, so this match report might not be a reflection of what you thought of the game.

The Pace Was Too Pedestrian – Again

My biggest frustration today was that the pace was far too pedestrian. I can understand why the players were playing within themselves, given that none of them will want to miss out on Wednesday night and Jürgen Klopp and his team will almost certainly of told them not to over-exert themselves with the trip to Rome in mind. Yet at the same time we didn’t need to go full-pelt to beat this Stoke team. They’re in the bottom three because they’ve had a terrible campaign, only picking up two wins on the road all season. You could tell any time we put pressure on them that they couldn’t cope with it, needing the generosity of the referee to help them out time and again. Moving up just one gear would probably have been enough to see us get past them, but we stayed in neutral and couldn’t find the pass that we needed to cause them problems.

It was something that seemed to affect the whole team though, not just one or two players. I thought that Joe Gomez was very poor for the second game in a row, for example, but Virgil van Dijk was just as guilty of being sloppy in possession as the youngster. Everyone knows how good Mohamed Salah is, but his miss in the first-half was poor for a man of his quality. He also seems to be too desperate to score at the moment, too keen to break the record. Stoke were putting three players around him almost every time he got on the ball, but rather than use that to our advantage and drag them out of position we seemed to be too keen to get the ball to him anyway and hope he’d produce a bit of magic. We lacked the speed of movement that’s confounded defences in the last few months, instead producing a performance that was extremely reminiscent of the 0-0 with West Bromwich Albion we all endured earlier in the season.

Might 3-4-3 Have Been A Better Option?

When the team was announced, pretty much everyone thought we’d be playing a five at the back formation, with Trent Alexander-Arnold and Alberto Moreno as wingbacks. Instead it was a 4-4-3 that asked Joe Gomez to play right-back and Trent to push into the middle. It made sense, given that we’re now down to the bare bones in terms of midfield options, but I’m not sure it worked. In the end, Alexander-Arnold’s lack of experience in the middle of the park showed through, with the lack of fluency in the right-back spot from Gomez that I’ve already mentioned resulting in neither player putting in a particularly thrilling display. I understand Klopp’s desire to see what Trent was like as a midfielder, but it was at the expense of a strong team performance.

given that the manager has shifted to a back three a number of times this season, I’m surprised that he didn’t opt to do so today. It would have got the most out of both Trent and Moreno, relieving them of defensive duties and asking them attack more. It would’ve seen Stoke have to push players over to cope with the overload, which would have left more room in behind for Danny Ings, Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino. It would still have allowed the German to rest a midfielder, which I’m convinced is what he wanted to do, whilst not forgoing attacking integrity. It’s all easy to say in hindsight, of course, but the lack of fluidity seemed, in my eyes, to come from too many players shifting from their natural positions. We’ve still got an exceptionally good chance fo winning the Champions League, but we’ve now given Chelsea hope of being able to pip us to fourth. Frustrating indeed.

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