Spartak Moscow 1 – Liverpool 1: Match Review And Analysis

Despite what some Liverpool supporters and members of the mainstream media might have suggested after the fact, our latest Champions League campaign didn’t get off to the worst start when we drew 2-2 with Seville at Anfield a fortnight ago. Perhaps it was the manner of the draw that left some fans frustrated, with defensive errors and a late goal lending to a sense of being sucker-punched. Even so, the Spanish side are the second-best team in our group so a home draw wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened. It’s common for teams to make the knockout stages with ten points from the eighteen available after all.

Prior to tonight the Reds had five group stage games left and wins in three of them should now be enough to take us through. You have to assume that we’ll beat Spartak Moscow and NK Maribor at Anfield, meaning that a win tonight would have been as close to a theoretical qualification as it’s possible to get. The good news for Liverpool was that it was the perfect time to head to Moscow. The weather was a positively balmy eight degrees centigrade, there’s been some dissension in the ranks of the team, they’re not in good form and their best player Quincy Promes is out injured. So could we make that fortune count?

We Need A New Goalkeeper

I’ve made my feelings on Simon Mignolet abundantly clear in the past, with the Belgian’s performance as recently as Saturday leaving a lot to be desired. Whilst I’ve never been totally sure about Loris Karius, I have suggested prior to this evening that he deserves a run in the team, not so much because I think he’s amazing but more because I don’t think he’s been given a fair crack of the whip and I’m absolutely done and dusted with our first-choice goalkeeper. Sufficed to say that I’m not all that keen on the German alternative after tonight’s display.

If you were in a generous mood you might say that the ball comes in at some speed and perhaps curves unexpectedly at the last moment, but that’s if you were desperate to find some excuses for how Karius conceded a free-kick that was practically in the middle of his goal. For all that his distribution is significantly better than Mignolet’s and I still think the defence is more comfortable with him in between the sticks than the Belgian, he seems to be made of smoke. The Russian club’s opening goal wasn’t well worked, it wasn’t intelligent and it didn’t split our defence apart; it was a mediocre free-kick that he absolutely should have saved. That, for me, is two of our three goalkeepers having been proven themselves to be not good enough.

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The issue that we’ve got is that Danny Ward is largely untested and the stats suggest that he didn’t perform that well or Huddersfield. At the start of the summer I said that we should have sold Mignolet and bought a new goalkeeper and I have seen nothing to disabuse me of that opinion. The reason why I thought that is that Jürgen Klopp would inevitably have tempted to play the Belgian if he was in the squad and Karius hasn’t shown himself to be strong enough to be our first-choice shot-stopper. Sadly that didn’t happen, so here we are. Unfortunately there remains an inability to discuss our goalkeepers sensibly, with criticism of Mignolet being deflected because the alternatives aren’t very good.

Sadly, regardless of who’s in goal we concede so many shots as long as they’re on target that we essentially start every game a goal down. Our attack may be sensational, but they can’t score three or four goals every match. The manager might feel that his defence is better than it’s being given credit for and perhaps he’s right, but neither of the first-choice goalkeepers at the club dig them out of trouble. The most frustrating thing of all is that I’ve been writing about the Liverpool goalkeeper for as long as this blog has been running. I don’t want to be; I have no desire whatsoever to be constantly talking about the man between the sticks. I’d love to be as convinced by Mignolet as everyone else, for example, but I think expectations have been lowered more than he’s improved. For that reason I can only reach one conclusion: We need a new goalkeeper.

Our Front Four Needs Time To Gel

When we saw the team-sheet and it became apparent that Jürgen Klopp was starting all of Philippe Coutinho, Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah together the excitement was palpable. Any number of memes started doing the rounds on Twitter, suggestive of the fact that we were in or an exciting night. We got glimpses of it of course, such as when four of our attackers broke forward and Salah came within a whisker of turning home Jordan Henderson’s excellent cross. The goal was also a brilliant example of how good we can be in the final third, with Mané and Coutinho’s interplay just too intelligent for Spartak to do anything about.

This was yet another match when Liverpool had all of the possession, created chances over and over again but couldn’t put the ball into the back of the net enough times to make that domination count. That’s cause for optimism, to be fair. After all, one of the hardest things in football is creating chances and the cliché about players ‘being in the right place’ is a cliché for a reason. You get the feeling that if we continue to create so many chances then we’ll absolutely smash a team sooner or later. For now the only way to improve our chance of doing that is for the manager to continue to give our front four chances to play together. Thanks to Coutinho’s ‘back injury’ and Mané’s sending off they actually haven’t had much of a chance to do that and therefore the chemistry isn’t yet there.

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Of course none of that is helped when players aren’t in good form and Roberto Firmino had an absolute stinker tonight. I think the Brazilian is one of our best players and is involved in most of the good stuff we normally do, but the problem is that when he’s not at the races the team really suffers as a consequence. Against Spartak he was really disappointing, with his passing all over the show and several chances going begging at his feet. It’s incredibly tough to find any sort of rhythm together when one of the cogs isn’t turning as clearly as the others. We should have won by five or six goals tonight, such were the amount of clear cut chances that we were presented with thanks to our attacking and Spartak Moscow’s defending, Instead we wasted all but one of them and have no one to blame but ourselves drawing the match one all.

The reality is, of course, that you can’t afford to miss so many chances if you’re hoping to win the biggest competitions. It’s all well and good talking about missed opportunities and waiting for things to click, but if you don’t convert those chances into goals then you’re always going to struggle. As I mentioned in my intro, tonight was a chance to come as close as possible to being practically qualified, but instead we were profligate in front of goal and now we have two points from a possible six. I’m still not even slightly concerned about whether or not we’ll make it through the group, though. Maribor are a poor team so I’d be amazed if we didn’t beat them twice. Tonight also showed that Spartak will get absolutely spanked at Anfield, as long as we’re just a degree or two more clinical.

Henderson Is Proving The Doubters Wrong

Of all the controversial things I’ve tweeted in my time, nothing has caused the outrage and anger from some quarters as my tweet on Saturday that said Jordan Henderson had played well. Even ignoring the fact that it’s downright weird how much some Liverpool supporters hate their club’s captain, it’s odd how desperate some people are to cling to the opinion of the former Sunderland man that they formed when he first joined the club. Rarely has a player engendered such a desire amongst supporters to cling to confirmation bias as our midfielder seems to do. How much his critics must hate the fact that he’s now been our best player for two games in a row.

Henderson was excellent tonight, spraying brilliant passes all over the pitch and putting the ball on a plate for both Daniel Sturridge and Mo Salah. Salah’s wouldn’t have counted anyway due to Mané being offside, but it would have been a tap in if he’d been willing to use his right foot. As for Sturridge, Henderson gave his England teammate the sort of chance he normally gobbles up, only for him to inexplicably fluff his lines and blast it over the bar. Not only was he setting up other players with easy chances, the midfielder was also breaking up the play and protecting his defence in a way that some people believe he can’t do. He’s had a poor start to the season but that’s to be expected considering he hasn’t played for the best part of six months. Now it looks as though he’s over his issues and ready to have the season befitting a Liverpool captain.

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