Maribor 0 – Liverpool 7: Match Review & Analysis

If you’d believed the press before the weekend’s game against Manchester United you’d think that Liverpool were in the relegation zone and that Jürgen Klopp had said he wanted to manage Everton. Never mind the press, actually, you might have believed that if you’d read some of the Liverpool forums. The season hadn’t got off to a flyer, yet by the end of the game against our old rivals we were level on points with Chelsea and just two behind Spurs, so it’s hardly been a disaster. It seemed as though our entire season was being judged after seven games because we probably won’t win the title.

It’s something that won’t please most Liverpool fans, but we simply can’t judge every season on whether or not we win the title. That’s especially relevant considering that Manchester City look as though they’re going to have it tied up by Christmas this time around. The Reds have been playing well all season long and the side’s domination in every match, apart from at The Etihad, has meant that we wouldn’t have been flattered if we’d won them all bar the City game. What we’ve needed more than anything else is a confidence boost, something to give us a shot in the arm and remind the forwards what it’s like to score a goal. Step forward Maribor…

This Was Exactly What We Needed

As I’ve just said, we’ve been dominant in every game bar against Manchester City so far this season. We’ve had vast swathes of possession and put opposition sides on the back foot from pretty much the word go, but we’ve also been lacklustre with our finishing and given away far too many easy chances at the back. The results haven’t been reflecting our play and supporters have, somewhat inexplicably, bought into the press reports that we’ve been a club entering a period of crisis. There always has to be one and, prior to Arsenal’s loss to Watford at the weekend, it was us. Jürgen Klopp has been quick to point out that we’ve only lost two games, one of which came after Sadio Mané was sent off at The Etihad and the other was a makeshift team losing to Leicester in the League Cup.

If you watch the highlights but remove the goals, there’s no way that you’d believe that the Foxes knocked us out of the cup, such was the brilliance with which Liverpool played that night. Even so, the longer we kept missing chances at one end and giving them up at the other, the more the players would start to buy into the narrative that they weren’t playing well. Thankfully, the manager has far more confidence in both his tactics and his players than some of the club’s supporters do, so he’s been happy enough to stick rather than twist. For those of us that are able to take a step back from the anger at the results, that decision is an obvious one for the manager to make. After all, we’ve been close at absolutely smashing a team before tonight so it makes sense to let the players keep going at it and see what happens.

Firmino

Sufficed to say, Maribor couldn’t cope with the Reds tonight. The extent to which that’s because they’re not very good is up for debate, given that they lost three-nil to Seville in Spain at the end of September. Then again, Seville lost 5-1 to Spartak Moscow who weren’t very good when we played them and Maribor drew 1-1 with Spartak when the Russians visited Slovenia, so who knows what we can tell from previous results? Ultimately you can only beat what’s in front of you and if anyone is saying ‘it’s only Maribor’ then they hopefully also said ‘José Mourinho’s the best defensive coach in the world and Manchester United have spent half a billion since Alex Ferguson left’ when we failed to break down the Red Devils on Saturday. After all, you can’t pick and choose when the level of team matters, and Maribor had more shots against us in the first-half than United did in ninety minutes.

So far this season Liverpool have done two things on a regular basis: been wasteful in attack and given away stupid chances at the back. It’s probably fair to say that we did neither tonight. The forwards were pretty clinical, getting a goal ahead almost immediately after kick-off and not relenting from there. I was also really pleased to see the defence staying concentrated right the way up to the final whistle, jostling and harrying Maribor’s attackers when the referee was likely to blow his whistle at any moment. United didn’t threaten much, but even so our defenders showed that they can limit the opposition’s attacking movement when they’re fully focussed on the task at hand. We went into this game feeling apprehensive that we should have given a team a hiding before now, but now that we have I’m confident that we’ll grown and develop from here.

Klopp Got The Team Right

Many people felt as though Jürgen Klopp should have been rotating heavily going into this game. I can understand why and, had the manager done so, I certainly wouldn’t have complained if he’d rung the changes. Given the sheer number of games we’ve got to cope with in January, some players are being pushed to the edge of their limit already. Others, such as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Daniel Sturridge, haven’t been given many minutes yet and have looked a bit rusty when they have then been called upon. The manager said ahead of the game that he wouldn’t be resting many players and that Maribor were a tough opponent. I’m not sure he believed that, instead thinking that the majority of his first eleven could do with gaining some confidence.

If you speak to the majority of fans and pundits they will say that they’d always rather see a manager select his strongest team and then rest players from about sixty once the game is won. That’s precisely what the German did this evening, with Philippe Coutinho the only one of our most important players given the full ninety minutes. Trent Alexander-Arnold played well in replace of Joe Gomez at right-back, topping his decent performance off with a goal. Though perhaps the best ‘cameo’ appearance came from James Milner, with the former Aston Villa midfielder displaying real maturity in the centre of the park. I still don’t want to see him there against fast teams like Tottenham at the weekend, but he’s shown he’ll do a job when called upon.

almonfoto / shutterstock.com

Otherwise, though, it was a night for the first-choice lads to prove their ability and get themselves back on track. Certainly Spurs won’t be delighted by our performance tonight ahead of the weekend, especially given how much they had to put into their 1-1 draw with Real Madrid at the Bernabeu. As Liverpool were essentially engaged in a training match for the best part of ninety minutes, Mauricio Pochettino’s team were putting everything into their game against the Spanish giants and will be unhappy to see that we’ve found our shooting boots heading into the game at Wembley. Klopp has been criticised for his decision making in recent times, most notably his substitutions, but he got everything exactly right tonight. Had he rotated too much it might well have rested players, but we needed a big win to kick-start our season.

Managers will always live and die by their team selections, which is bizarre when you consider that they can get the starting eleven exactly right but still be undone by a random bit of fortune. Nevertheless, Klopp had to make a choice tonight and I can completely understand the decision he made. He’ll likely be willing to rotate a little bit more against Maribor at home in a fortnight, perhaps giving Andrew Robertson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain the starts their previous performances have merited. With ‘easier’ matches against Huddersfield and West Ham coming up in the league in the coming weeks, you can see why the German may feel as though he’ll have chances to rest the big names soon enough. January will be the crucial period for us, but by that stage both Adam Lallana and Sadio Mané will be coming back into the fold and will hopefully be raring to go.

I’m Delighted Oxlade-Chamberlain Scored

It is genuinely bizarre that some sections of the Liverpool fanbase were so eager to write-off Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as a waste of money, despite the fact that he had played less minutes for us than teenager Trent Alexander-Arnold. Jürgen Klopp wants his players to play in a very specific style and it is, in many ways, directly opposed to the way that Arsene Wenger asks his players to play. Chambo arrived at the club in the middle of a pointless international break and has had to go away for another pointless international break since then, so it’s little wonder that he doesn’t yet appear to be a player at the same level as his team-mates. Even so, apart from his performance against Leicester in the cup, he’s looked good when he’s come on. His cameo against Manchester United was really exciting.

Not only has he barely had time to work with Klopp on the training field, thanks to the relentless nature of our fixtures since we signed him, he’s also had no time on the pitch to get to understand his new team-mates. The rush from some to declare him to be a poor player was odd, so I’m really pleased that he scored tonight and might just be able to shut some of them up. He is an excellent addition to the team and will prove himself to be a handy player to have as the season progresses and the games start to come thick and fast. There’s a reason why Arsenal were desperate to keep him, Chelsea wanted him and Liverpool were willing to pay £35 million to get him. Hopefully his goal tonight will allow him to settle down and stop trying to force the issue. He’s a talented midfielder who scored a well-taken goal to round off a record breaking night for the Reds.

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