Liverpool 4 – Cardiff City 1: Match Review & Analysis

This was supposed to be the run of fixtures that let us get our groove back. Whilst Arsenal will be no walk in the park next week, Red Star Belgrade, Cardiff City, Fulham and Watford were all down as being eminently beatable teams when we looked at the fixture list. When words have been spoken about Liverpool’s lack of rhythm at the start of the season, those speaking them, and I very much include myself here, should remember that we have a remarkably tough start to the campaign. Whilst the table might not suggest so right now, neither Leicester City nor Crystal Palace are fun places to go and we had them both early doors. Add to that an away trip against Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham side and matches against Paris Saint-Germain and Napoli in the Champions League as well as two games back-to-back against Chelsea and you can see why we weren’t exactly at our free-flowing best.

There’s been a little bit of panic from some sections of the Liverpool support because Manchester City have been racking up goals left right and centre, but it’s important to remember that they’ve basically been playing pub sides every week. With the exception of us and Arsenal, City’s fixtures have been against teams that have either only just been promoted or else finished in the bottom ten last season. They’ve basically had the reverse of our fixtures, so it’s little wonder that they’ve been able to find the back of the net more regularly than we have. This weekend presented us with a chance to turn the table, with the Reds at home to a newly promoted side and Pep Guardiola’s team having to go to Wembley. Admittedly, even that will be an easier fixture than it might otherwise have been, given that they battered Spurs twice last season and seem to have a hex over them. Even so, we were presented with an opportunity to ask some questions of the Cityzens, so could we do it?

Are We Doing ‘Just Enough’ Deliberately?

Last season I wrote several times about the fact that Jürgen Klopp seemed to be trying to teach his players that they needed to learn how to win without playing at one hundred miles an hour every time that they took to the pitch. They didn’t know how to do it, however, so we either lost or drew matches that we were really expected to win. The likes of Watford, Everton, West Brom and Swansea City all took points off us that we shouldn’t have dropped. In fact, if you look at the fixtures that you’d say we ‘should’ have won last season then by my count we’d have been seventeen points better off. So whilst we’re all wondering when the team is going to click into gear, I find myself wondering whether or not the manager is actually perfecting his desire to see us win matches without the necessity to go great guns every time we need the three points. Indeed, the pressing stats suggest that is the case, with Liverpool far more keen to close down the opposition when we’re losing or drawing than when we’ve taken the lead.

It’s suggestive of the idea that the team is learning how to conserve its energy, which I think we saw at times today. I thought we looked quite sharp for the first half an hour, ensuring that we got the goal that nowadays more often than not means that we’re going to win the game, thanks to the new defensively solidity that we’ve found. After we got it, however, we seemed to go through a period of sterile domination that stretched into the second-half, not going crazy in terms of energy expenditure but never really looking under threat of conceding either. It was good to see and we did enough, with the phrase ‘did enough’ being used several times this season. Whilst we unquestionably dominated, the goals didn’t really come until late on, as though the side was affronted that Cardiff had had the temerity to score. Rock on the ‘just doing enough’ Reds.

The Team Has Moved On From Adam Lallana

Before I write another word, I want to make perfectly clear that I like Adam Lallana and always have. In the wake of our match against Red Star I wrote about how I don’t think he works in the front three, so I was initially reluctant to write about him again for fear of some people thinking that I’m picking on him. The reality is that I’m a fan of his and believe that he was instrumental to us picking up results when Jürgen Klopp first arrived at Anfield. He seemed to understand the manager’s pressing style immediately and was the player that the others worked off when figuring out when to go and when to stay. I also think he’ll be an important squad player if he can stay fit enough for the rest of this season, being able to slot in and give a rest to our midfielders if and when he’s needed. Today, though, I thought we saw how the team has moved on in his absence over the past year or so.

This side is at its most devastating best when it bursts forward at pace, not giving the opposition a second to breathe and putting the ball into the back of the net before it even knows what’s going on. There was a moment in the first-half when we picked up possession, shifted it out to Sadio Mané and watched as he and Mo Salah streamed forward at will. The ball was passed back to Lallana and the entire thing broke down, with the midfielder nowhere near quick enough to keep up with his teammates and needing to do one of his famed Cruyff turns to try and lose the Cardiff player that was on his tail. It was, if I’m honest, a little sad to see. Instead of picking out a pass that could have seen us go two-nil up, he slowed everything right down and the moment was passed. It’s not to deliberately criticise him by pointing this out, as I think he could do a really decent job for a number of Premier League teams. I just think that this Liverpool side has grown and progressed during the time he’s spent out injured and now he looks like an odd man out.

Shaqiri The Difference Maker

One man who doesn’t look like an odd one out is Xherdan Shaqiri. I wrote about the former Stoke man in that same piece post-Red Star but he is just as worthy of another mention here. Mo Stewart tweeted me during the match to say that he thinks that moves are breaking down because of passes that aren’t being hit properly, with too many being either under or overhit and players on the receiving end having to do something to recover possession. I completely agree with him with the exception of one player: Shaqiri. I don’t want to give the impression that I think he’s making every pass that he attempts as that’s definitely not true, but he’s weighting the ones that he does make so exquisitely as to mean that the players he’s passing the ball to don’t even need to break stride in order to ensure that they’re getting on the end of them. It’s just a part of his game that I don’t think many of us really expected to see, but it’s such a brilliant asset of his play that it deserves a mention.

I don’t think any of us expected the player that we actually appear to have signed. We thought we’d be getting someone with an attitude, someone that would rock up thinking that they were the big I am and smashing in stupid shots from anywhere on the pitch. Instead we’ve got a grafter, a lad who realises that there are others in the side better than him and so his best way home is to make sure that he works with them as best he can. I’m delighted that he got his goal and the ovation from Anfield that his performances thus far have merited. I was always on board with his signing, though I’ll readily admit that that was more because of his price tag and a vague hope that he might be able to do something off the bench. Now I’m reasonably convinced that our best starting XI is one with him in the midfield alongside Gini Wijnaldum and Fabinho, bursting forward from the midfield in support of the front three. He’s brought so much to the party already and I can’t wait to see how he develops under Jürgen Klopp’s guidance.

Will We Ever Get A League Penalty At Anfield Again?

I try really hard not to write about referees. I think it’s boring, I think that people often only do it when they’ve watched their team lose and have a bit of sour grapes over it. For that reason, I thought mentioning the lack of penalties we’ve been getting after a resounding 4-1 win would remove any doubt that I’m doing so because I’m bitter about something. Midway through the first-half the ball was played through to Mo Salah after the Cardiff goalkeeper had come rushing out of the area and was still out of place, with the Egyptian controlling it and steadying himself to turn and shoot. An opposition centre-back had their hands all over him, two arms underneath his armpits and forcing him off balance. Down he went, with Stuart Atwell throwing his arms out in a dismissive gesture that I think some referees practice in the dressing room before running onto the Anfield pitch.

I can’t even begin to do justice to the penalty conversation when compared to the excellent work done by Paul Tomkins on the matter, so I won’t even try. Yet in the Premier League Tottenham Hotspur have had more spot kicks than us since the start of last season, which is absolutely insane. Think about how often the Reds are in the opposition penalty area, think how tricky out front three are and then consider whether it’s realistic, just on the law of averages, that Spurs would legitimately have had more penalties in ninety minutes than we have in a season and a quarter. In my opinion, referees arrive at Anfield determined not to be ‘swayed’ by the Anfield crowd and therefore refuse to give us anything in the area even when it’s blatant. I think that the manager needs to make a thing about it now, because it genuinely is getting ridiculous. That’s not sour grapes, it’s just the truth of the way our players are being treated by officials in the Premier League that they’re not suffering in the Champions League.

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