Liverpool 1 – Rubin Kazan 1: An Analysis

Another match, another frustrating draw with plenty of attacking threat but no killer instinct in the final third. Stop us if you’ve heard this one before. If the game followed a familiar pattern, though, it would be unfair to say that it did so in the same old way. Things were very different in their execution from the draws against the likes of FC Sion, Tottenham Hotspur or Carlisle United, for example.

Today, then, we’re trying to look at the talking points in match without repeating ourselves too much from previous games. That’s why we’re not going to spend the entire blog waxing lyrical about Mamadou Sakho, though we definitely, definitely could!

Klopp Watches On

Klopp Watches On

As always we love to get involved with you and we know that our opinion isn’t gospel – we even disagree with each other in the ACHP offices! So do feel free to tweet us or say in the comments section what you think we got right and where you think we went wrong. Football isn’t about blacks and whites and absolutes, it’s about opinions and talking to each other. That’s what we’re hear for, after all!

Atmospheric Pressure

Before we get too heavily into this let’s make one thing clear: the atmosphere problems at Anfield are not exclusive to Liverpool. They are a league wide issue that are caused by numerous different factors. Some of them are not going to change any time soon – No drinking alcohol within sight of the pitch, for example, or the themes surrounding safe standing. Other issues could be dealt with by the club if they wished to – the cost of attending the game excluding youngsters from going – but come with problems of their own, such as the lack of guarantees that lower prices would automatically mean groups of youngsters going to the match together and making a noise.

Yet as Liverpool fans we can only really talk about the problems facing our club and the way it’s effecting things. And last night there was a severe lack of atmosphere at Anfield.

It was surprising, having been at the ground, to watch the highlights afterwards and be given the impression that Anfield was bouncing. Cleverly placed microphones by television production companies might make it seem as though the fans are getting involved, but the reality was very different.

Before the game Jurgen Klopp had asked for Liverpool’s fans to be ‘a little bit wild, a little bit crazy’. The only thing crazy about the atmosphere was that the songs seem to be stuck in 2005. Neither Steven Gerrard nor Luis Garcia are at the club any more, yet both of their songs were sung the most lustily throughout the 90 minutes of the football match.

Emre Can’s name was deservedly sung a few times, and the biggest noise of the night was reserved for Mamadou Sakho who is a Liverpool captain in waiting. But after that the Kop had very little to offer that the rest of the crowd could get behind. The only saving grace was that a false atmosphere wasn’t generated by the singing of “stand up for the 96”. Make no mistake, the plight of the victims of Hillsborough was a genuine tragedy and people should be reminded of it at every opportunity, but using it in order to perk the crowd up is distasteful to say the least.

The Kop Waving Flags

The Kop Waving Flags

Anfield gave a rousing rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone before the match last night, though the impact of it was removed somewhat by the playing of the pathetic UEFA anthem. The Kop, perhaps in defiance of UEFA’s decision to punish Manchester City after their fans booed the Champion’s League anthem before their game in the competition the day before, continued singing its own anthem instead.

After that, however, the stadium went quiet. Without the usual impact of opposition fans giving the home players abuse and arguing with refereeing decisions, there was little noise to please Jurgen Klopp, let alone noise that could be considered either ‘crazy’ or ‘wild’. The stadium barely even roused itself enough to force a decision out of the referee when one of the Rubin Kazan defenders appeared to hit Adam Lallana in the face.

After seven years of watching the ‘yellow wall’ bounce around and create one of the best atmospheres in Europe at the Westfelstadion, the new manager could have been forgiven for spending parts of the match wondering if the Reds were engaged in a behind closed doors friendly.

As we know from the close of season 2013-2014, Anfield still has the ability to rock from time to time; especially if it feels as though it’s got something worth rocking for. Unfortunately that isn’t taking place on the pitch just at the minute, so don’t expect an improvement in the noise any time soon.

Can anything be done about it all, though? It’s likely to be the key question moving forward. Fenway Sports Group may well be hoping that an expanded Main Stand adds some atmosphere to Anfield, but the likelihood is it’s going to result in little more than the sound of more moaning and shuffling. There decision to add more corporate seats to the Main Stand makes perfect sense financially and may well allow the club to be more competitive on the pitch in the long run. In the short run, though, it’s going to limit even further the amount of people coming into the stadium who like to make noise and sing. It’s certainly true that ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ at Anfield but, lately, the person walking next to you is more likely to be a mime artist than a song-singing football fan.

Lallaninho

One of the most enduring images of Liverpool’s game against Tottenham was Adam Lallana falling, exhausted, into the arms of Jurgen Klopp. The former Southampton captain had ran himself into the ground for his new manager and was arguably the best forward player in the Liverpool team at White Hart Lane.

Against Rubin Kazan Lallana started the match as he had finished the previous one: running, harrying and pressing the life out of the opposition. He popped up all over the pitch and was invariably the player at the heart of Liverpool’s best play during the first half. Alongside Mamadou Sakho Adam Lallana was our Man Of The Match against the Russian side and deserves never ending plaudits. Yet for some his performance wasn’t good enough and he will forever be tainted by his association with Brendan Rodgers, a man those same critics never liked and never will,

If Adam Lallana was not English but, rather, Brazilian, would he still not have been taken to by those who are determined not to like him? Adama Lallaninho is a tricky midfielder who has dazzling footwork and loves taking players on. He forces the ball forward, can turn quickly in the box and ask questions of defenders. He’s been known to score important goals, using the bodies of opposition players to confuse the goalkeeper about his intentions.

Adam Lallana versus Rubin Kazan

Adam Lallana versus Rubin Kazan

Adam Lallana, on the other hand, takes too many touches, can’t beat a man, gets lucky every now and then and is too lightweight for the Premier League. Never mind that he was the stand out player at a Southampton team that surprised everyone when they burst into the division several years ago. He can’t ‘step up to the top level’ despite the fact that he played with some absolute dross during his time at St. Mary’s.

Don’t misunderstand us, we’re not suggesting that he’s the best player ever to grace the Anfield turf. But for most of this season he’s been more consistent and produced better performances that Philippe Coutinho, yet it is the latter who is roundly praised by the Anfield faithful. Yes he’s scored some brilliant goals over the past few seasons, not least of which was the winner against Stoke in the opening game of the campaign. But the rest of his play has been found wanting and he’s looked off the pace over the last two games under Jurgen Klopp.

Where Coutinho feels as though he needs a rest, Lallana was able to play all 90 of the game against Rubin Kazan and still be influential at the right end of the pitch. The problem that he suffers from is the same problem that is troubling Coutinho: the lack of options in front of him. Until Liverpool’s quality attacking players return and are at full fitness there will always be a bluntness to the midfield duo’s game. With Benteke and Firmino returning to the pitch in this Europa League encounter, however, it seems as though options will soon be plentiful. If Liverpool’s supporters are able to forget about Adam Lallana and welcome Adama Lallaninho to the fold, the creative midfielder could yet be given the credit he deserves.

Getting Defensive

How many Liverpool match reports have talked about an opening goal that has come from weak defending? Too many for too long, we imagine. Stretch your search back to the first full season without such consistent defensive errors and you’ll probably find that Rafa Benitez was the Liverpool manager at the time.

Most people feel reasonably confident that Jurgen Klopp is going to be able to get rid of most of the defensive frailties that have plagued Liverpool for years, but the harsh reality is that if he hopes to do it successfully then he will firstly have to get rid of the defensive Slovakian that has plagued Liverpool for years.

Martin Skrtel is the sort of player who remains an enigma for as long as you entertain the notion that he is a top class defender. He routinely knocks off in games, losing concentration and finding himself well out of position. He is often far more interested in trying to wrestle an attacker’s shirt off their back than just defend a corner like a normal person. His lack of awareness of what is going on around him puts everyone in trouble and his refusal to accept that Simon Mignolet is NEVER GOING TO COME FOR ANYTHING EVER has put the Reds in trouble on more than one occasion.

Martin Skrtel

Martin Skrtel

For the Rubin Kazan opener there are plenty of people suggesting that it was Nathaniel Clyne who was at fault. Yet Skrtel was the player playing the Rubin Kazan attacker onside when the rest of the defence had stepped up and Skrtel was the player who really could have dealt with the cross if he’d had a bit more composure.

Only Jurgen Klopp and his defenders will know whose responsibility it was to cover the Kazan man, but the fact that Clyne was the wrong side of him suggests that he was trying to get himself back to cover for his centre back rather than neglecting his job as a defender.

At times Skrtel can look imperious; leading the line with conviction and mastering the last ditch tackle whilst also being a real threat at corners and set pieces in the opposition half. These moments of brilliance give the somewhat false impression that he remains a top class defender. In reality, though, he’s only ever looked at his strongest when he’s had a defensive leader alongside him. From Daniel Agger to Jamie Carragher, Martin Skrtel has played his best football when a better player was in place to mop up his mistakes. That, perhaps more than anything else, is why Dejan Lovren has looked so poor when he’s been played in the heart of Liverpool’s defence.

Lovren hasn’t looked like a very good player during his time at Liverpool so far, but he’s not always been put in a situation to show anyone his best, either. He’s a right footed centre back who prefers to play on the left and that naturally means that he’s going to be playing alongside his Slovakian team mate. At Southampton he was regularly protected from defensive midfielders like Morgan Schneiderlin. Under Brendan Rodgers he was more exposed than a nudist’s bottom.

Look back to the time when Liverpool spent a season without making a huge amount of defensive errors and you’ll almost certainly find a centre back pairing of Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger anchoring Liverpool’s back line. You’ll probably also find that the trouble with defensive consistency started at around the same time that Skrtel became a defensive mainstay.

Jurgen Klopp has got a number of problems that he’s going to need to deal with moving forward. If he really wants to give his attacking players a solid defence from which to work from, though, then one of the most important decisions he’s going to have to make is who he can bring in to replace his Ninga Skrtel.

Games, Set Pieces And Matches

A corner, a corner, my kingdom for a corner. At some point in the next ten to fifteen years it would be brilliant if someone, anyone at Liverpool could learn to take a decent corner. Other than the obvious answer of “Steven Gerrard”, what’s changed between now and the 2013-2014 season to mean that Liverpool Football Club are entirely incapable of taking a decent set piece?

It’s fair enough when the opposition team defends set pieces well. That’s their job and, as frustrating as it is, you can’t argue when a group of people are good at doing their job. You can argue, however, when the person taking the set pieces can’t even beat the first man.

"Can Anyone Take A Set Piece?"

“Can Anyone Take A Set Piece?”

Against Rubin Kazan Liverpool had three thousand nine hundred and seventy six set pieces, yet they failed to find one of their own players on all but two of them. Plus, it has to be acknowledged, the first free kick by Coutinho was dreadful and seemed to saved by Adam Lallana’s diving header rather than that being the deliberate aim of the enterprise.

Yes the goal came from a set piece, but we would be pretty embarrassed if our defence had attempted to keep out the opposition with that monstrosity of a defensive set up. Maybe the player who had been given his marching orders was supposed to be marking Emre Can, maybe not. Either way you’d assume that someone, somewhere would have tried to pick up the German midfielder.

If Jurgen Klopp’s style of play is to work out in the Premier League, and it’s difficult to think of any reason why it would not, then you have to assume that the Reds will be awarded an exaggerated number of set pieces in the coming months and years. After all closing people down and not allowing them any time or space on the ball will somewhat naturally lead towards an increase in corners, free kicks and the likes.

Hopefully, then, the Reds can at some point figure out if there’s a player on the pitch who can take a decent set piece. Yesterday the duty of hitting the first man from a corner seemed to be being shared between Philippe Coutinho and James Milner, with both of them being dreadful at the job of finding one of their own players. In the end even Jurgen Klopp grew sick of it, instructing Alberto Moreno to take the last corner.

Moreno

Moreno

There are numerous home truths football fans need to accept about the game: every set of supporters believes that referees are unduly cruel to their team. This is definitely not true. The only team that referees routinely give more breaks to is Manchester United, every other team is treated equally poorly by the officials, despite what Jose Mourinho would have the world believe.

Every set of supporters believes that their team are dreadful at corners. This is true, all teams are really not very good at corners or set pieces. Unless you’ve got a genuine wizard like Luis Suarez who seems to score free kicks for fun, you’re going to struggle with corners most of the time. It’s ok, it’s nothing to get too upset about. Don’t forget there is an opposition team that are trying to stop your team from scoring and they can afford to have everyone in their box. The attacking team needs to leave at least two or three players outside of the area in case of a counter attack – apart from Norwich City.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that referees are normally far more lenient to defenders at corners than they are to attackers. It’s the reason that every single team has defenders who wrestle with their opposite number in the box – not just Martin Skrtel, despite what BT Sport may tell you. It’s much easier for the referee to give a free kick to a defender having his shirt pulled than it is for them to give a penalty to an attacker suffering the same fate.

It is with all of that taken into account that we’re still pretty sure that Liverpool are the worst team in the league right now at taking set pieces. A brave call, perhaps, but there’s only so many times you can watch your team hit the ball straight at the first member of the opposition they encounter before you start to lose your mind.

Jurgen Klopp will have a good idea of the sort of players he wants to bring in to Liverpool Football Club over the forthcoming transfer windows. A goalkeeper will likely be high on his list of priorities, as will a right sided central defender. High up on the list, though, must be a strong pressing wide player who can also take set pieces like he isn’t trying to deliberately give it away. Add those three to this current Liverpool squad and we might, just might have a winning team on our hands.

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