Liverpool 4 – Red Star Belgrade 0: Match Review & Analysis

Having waited for two long, interminable weeks for international football to finish and the real stuff to get back underway, the games are coming thick and fast for Liverpool now. Jürgen Klopp seemed to be entirely unimpressed with the performance of his charges against Huddersfield, hopping up and down like a madman on the touchline with every misplaced pass and poorly thought out attacking manoeuvre. In the wake of the match he spoke about the lack of rhythm and preparation time that his players had had to endure because they had jetted off to numerous different corners of the world, telling the press that even if those on the pitch weren’t playing well they could still be ‘scared’ of their manager. In the wake of the game the fanbase seemed to be split into two, with one half claiming that the three points were all that mattered because it maintained our impressive start to the season and the other half saying that it’s starting to be concerning that we haven’t yet clicked into gear. I probably have a foot in both camps, to be honest, knowing that we need to start playing well soon but being aware of how tough the first set of fixtures really were.

In order to give ourselves a genuine chance of winning the league the most important thing over the past couple of months was to keep pace with Manchester City. It’s worth remembering that they’ve been playing the Dog & Duck at home every week whilst we’ve had to contend with the majority of the toughest fixtures we’ll face all season. Even now Pep Guardiola’s side are lined up to face poor teams once they’ve got past Spurs on Monday night, so it’s no wonder that they’ve been able to build up a healthy goal difference over us. This is supposed to be the period when we finally start playing decent football and combine our results with something a little bit more entertaining. Huddersfield played much better at the weekend than their league position suggests, meaning that we were stifled more than most of us would have liked. With Cardiff coming up at the weekend, though, this is definitely a chance to get back on track and begin playing some of the sort of football we all know we can, gaining a bit of confidence along the way. It was all supposed to start with the ‘gimme’ Champions League match against Red Star Belgrade, but was it as easy as everyone had made out?

It Was Exactly The Night We Needed

Let’s be honest, Jürgen Klopp probably would have scripted tonight similar to how it panned out if he’d been given the control to do so. The 2-2 draw in Paris was ideal for us, with both teams dropping points and neither managing to have as many as us. As far as our own game was concerned, the manager might well have wanted to see a little bit more fluidity but that doesn’t necessarily come immediately after a while of playing somewhat more stodgy football. What we did see were glimpses of the Liverpool of old, with some lovely interchanges and a nice return to the pressing we were used to seeing last season in the final third. It was also ideal to see all of Mo Salah, Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino get on the scoresheet, even if it did take the latter slightly longer than he might have hoped to see the net bulge.

It’s particularly pleasing to see the Egyptian King scoring a brace on the back of his goal versus Huddersfield. Many have been suggesting that Salah won’t be able to repeat his form of last season and that’s a notion that I generally agree with. Yet I do think that we need to be sensible in how we talk about the former Roma man, bearing in mind that he scored forty-four times in all competitions last time out. He’s scored fifty for us twelve games faster than the next closest player, which is a remarkable feat. He also looked more like the player from last season, running non-stop and finding space on numerous occasions that caused the Red Star defence all sorts of problems. It wasn’t the perfect performance from the front three, with Firmino in particular still far too sloppy with his passing, but it was good enough to give both players and supporters a bit of confidence moving forward.

Shaqiri Is More Than Just A Figure Of Fun

Let’s be absolutely honest, there were vast swathes of Liverpool supporters who found the signing of Xherdan Shaqiri to be entirely uninspiring in the summer. From the GIFs of him pulling a face and firing a gun with his fingers through to the size of his calves, he’s been something of a figure of fun since he arrived at Anfield. His time at Stoke City meant that we all had an idea of him before he arrived and expected to see a player who was selfish, who would hit the ball from distance at every opportunity and whose work-rate would be found wanting. What we’ve watched in a Red shirt has been the exact antithesis of that, with the Swiss international working himself into the ground every time he’s on the pitch and consistently looking for teammates if there’s a pass to be found.

Even so, Jürgen Klopp was unimpressed with him enough in the Southampton match to mean that he dragged him off at half-time, even though most of us watching thought he played really well. Whatever the manager’s problem with him was, he’s learnt from his mistakes in that game if tonight is anything to go by. He was at the centre of everything good that we did, from his perfectly weighed pass to Andy Robertson for the opening goal through to his sublime touch for Salah’s first, he was my Man Of The Match quite comfortably. He remained on the pitch for just shy of seventy minutes and had forty-eight touches in that time, barely giving the ball away and constantly looking for ways to threaten the Red Star Belgrade back line. I will be very surprised if he isn’t in the team to face Cardiff City at the weekend and he was very much deserving of his standing ovation when he went off. It’s brilliant to see.

Fabinho Looked Really Impressive

When the manager refused to rush Andy Robertson into the side last season, some supporters questioned his decision making. In the end, the Scot got his break because of an injury to Alberto Moreno and ended up coming into the team sooner than Jürgen Klopp probably wanted him to. Still, the German’s refusal to rush him was proven to be the right one when he looked at home at left-back and hasn’t lost his place since. Despite that, some supporters refused to learn their lesson and have been questioning Klopp’s decision to hold back on Fabinho’s appearance in the team. The manager consistently referred to the fact that the Brazilian hadn’t quite got to grips with the tactical demands that the former Borussia Dortmund boss places on his players and he was determined to only allow him to come in when he felt that he was ready. If tonight is anything to go by, the German has once again been justified in his decision making.

He was a little slow to get going, but once he got into the rhythm of the match the Red Star team couldn’t get anywhere near him. He was perhaps a little bit fortunate to avoid a booking quite early on when he was late into a tackle on the Red Star captain, so that’s something that he’ll have to be more careful about in the Premier League, but that aside he barely put a foot wrong. The manager said after the match that he was playing the six alongside Gini Wijnaldum and it was a balance that really helped us going forward. It wasn’t just his defending that I was impressed with, though I’ll come back to that in a moment, but also the manner in which he was happy to burst through the midfield and try to find the front three with some searching passes at times. There’s still plenty for him to learn and his positioning wasn’t always exactly what the manager would have wanted, but generally that was a really impressive performance from the Brazilian.

By Вячеслав Евдокимов ( [CC BY-SA 3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

In terms of the defending that I mentioned before, Dan Kennett on Twitter has posted some stats about the duels that he entered into over the course of the ninety minutes. Apparently he went in for twenty-four of them, with a duel being considered as any contest for the ball, whether that be on the ground or in the air, regardless of whether or not it ends in a foul being conceded. That he attempted so many is impressive enough, but that he won eighteen of them is truly something special. The next highest number of duels won per ninety minutes by a Liverpool player in the Premier League so far this season is Dejan Lovren with seven. It’s fair to say, therefore, that Fabinho will add some much needed steel to our midfield moving forward. Now that he’s got to grips with what the manager wants, you can imagine him playing in all of our biggest games and offering something different in terms of our midfield options.

Whilst the front three has clearly been struggling up until now this season, we all know what they can do when they’re at their best. The midfield, on the other hand, is something of an anomaly in that we don’t quite know what it looks like when it’s genuinely purring. We had an idea of the sort of player that we thought we’d be getting in Naby Keita and whilst we’ve seen glimpses of it at times, we haven’t yet seen him truly get into his flow. The triumvirate of Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Gini Wijnaldum all have qualities that this team needs but it’s workmanlike most of the time. In the absence of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, we need someone who can truly break the lines from the middle of the park and be the difference maker for us. If tonight’s performance is the bare minimum of what we can expect to see from Fabinho then I would hazard a guess that he may well be that man.

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