I’ve mentioned in previous pieces that I’ve written on this site that the key phrase for this season will be ‘mitigating circumstances’. Whenever pundits or people that are supposed to know about football talk about Liverpool’s campaign, ask ‘what’s gone wrong’ and don’t immediately talk of the massive injuries that we’ve suffered, they can be put into the bracket of ‘don’t know what they’re talking about’. It’s not just that we’ve had injuries as all teams have, but that ours have been season-ending and have been based around the same position. To lose your three first-choice centre-backs is massive, given the knock on that it then has to the rest of the team, but to then lose the midfielders that were covering that position is season-defining. They have been the mitigating circumstances surrounding our campaign and cover a lot of sins, but they don’t account for last night.
Phillips is having a mare. He is nowhere near this level. Not his fault but it’s hurt us massively tonight.
— Philippa Smallwood (@Pippa35) April 6, 2021
It’s definitely true that Nat Phillips isn’t good enough in the long-term and he didn’t play well last night, but he wasn’t the only one. Whilst the absence of Virgil van Dijk has been influential on how things have gone this season, his loss wasn’t responsible for Trent Alexander-Arnold heading the ball across his own goal and into the path of Marco Asensio. Yes, he might have dealt with the first goal better, but it’s unlikely that he’d have been able to do much about the third when you remember that he was on the pitch for our 7-2 embarrassment at the hands of Aston Villa. There’s an extent to which I think that a large amount of the fanbase were too quick to dismiss Real Madrid, talking of the defending Spanish champions as ‘too old’ and ‘past it’ and I fear the players were thinking the same. More than that, though, we forgot that this Liverpool team can be Jekyll or Hyde but rarely anything in between.
Arsenal Came Up Against Jekyll
It was easy to understand why many supporters were feeling buoyed after the performance that we put in against Arsenal at the weekend. The Gunners have an exciting attacking team and know how to score, yet we made them look like a Championship side when we travelled to the Emirates. The Reds were sensational, controlling the game from the off and I personally thought a goal was coming throughout the first-half. It was more like the performances that we grew used to seeing from Liverpool last season, with the second-half ultimately allowing the lads to show what they were capable of. It was Jürgen Klopp’s side at its best and anyone watching will have felt delighted about what they were witnessing and confident about what was to come in the rest of the season. The problem is, Jekyll is never really around for long enough for anyone to feel confident about anything.
The only priority for next season is for Klopp/Ljinders/Krawietz to find solutions cos it’s been over a year now.
Unless the oppo play out from the back like Leipzig/Arsenal we struggle when a team denies us space in behind and plays long balls over our press. Zidane knew this.
— Dan Kennett (@DanKennett) April 6, 2021
When all is said and done, the Reds have only looked good this season when the team that they’re up against has effectively allowed them to. Arsenal played into our hands by trying to play out from the back and that is bread and butter for this Liverpool side. We can look scintillating when a team decides to play in a manner that we know how to deal with, but when they choose to be more defensive in their setup, then the side that was so good at solving problems last season looks absolutely lost. That’s what happened against Real Madrid last night, despite Jürgen Klopp’s pronouncement ahead of kick-off that they were a ‘good footballing side’. Zinedine Zidane’s reputation as a manger is too easily dismissed and he knows how to set up a side to stop the opposition from scoring as well as the best of them. It’s all well and good wanting Jekyll to play but you’re much more likely to see Hyde if a team refuses to play your game.
Real Played Hyde
Hs Jürgen Klopp lost his way a little bit as Liverpool manager? It’s the question that no one wants to ask but the facts suggest that he might have done. When he arrived at Anfield and came with talk of playing ‘heavy metal football’, the Reds started matches like the clappers. We would take the game to opposition sides and blow them away, being in front of them before they had a chance to even think about getting on the score sheet. Then he began to introduce a more controlled way of playing, putting his faith in his defence and reaping the benefits with matches that we won by one goal margins. There’s an argument that that more controlled way of playing is what saw us win the Premier League last season, having notched up 97 points the season before. The issue is, this season we seem to have slipped too far into the realms of ‘controlled’, lacking the oomph needed to give opposition sides anything to worry about.
In the last 20 matches, all competitions and oppositions, Liverpool have scored four times in the first half.
Two of them in stoppage time and one against Villa’s kids.
If you don’t start games meaningfully, you’re unlikely to win a huge volume of them.
— Karl Matchett (@karlmatchett) April 6, 2021
A slow start absolutely killed us in the Merseyside derby, for example, and we didn’t look at the races against Real Madrid last night. That is the Hyde of this Liverpool team, failing to get going in games and finding itself behind before it knows how to do anything about it. The manager’s decision to drop Roberto Firmino after his return to form against Arsenal in addition to his choice of Naby Keita over Thiago were both sound in principle, but in practice both decisions proved to be mistakes. The German essentially admitted as much by taking Keita off before the half-time whistle was blown. The Guinean was brought into the side to be a pressing machine against an ageing midfield that didn’t want to know, but he offered next to nothing. Diogo Jota, meanwhile, struggled to make any meaningful impact because he lacked service. If we’re to have any hope of getting into the top four or past Real, the manager needs to find his way back to starting matches like Jekyll more often than Hyde.