What a thoroughly frustrating night last was. Yes, Napoli have proven to be Jürgen Klopp’s kryptonite and they’re a very good team, even if they’re in a bad run of results at the moment. Yet the match was flat from the get-go. The crowd were in a funny mood, almost as though we’d already qualified and this was a dead rubber instead of being the chance to guarantee our progress to the knockout stage and make the game against Salzburg an actual dead rubber. That seemed to feed down to the players, who began the first-half in remarkably pedestrian fashion and lacked any sort of intensity. There are mitigating circumstances, of course. The manager should now accept that Joe Gomez is not a right-back, for example. The loss of Fabinho to an injury relatively early on didn’t help. It’s also got to be said that James Milner may well be an excellent battler but he is not a creative player.
Last night was the slowest I’ve seen LFC in some time. The one or two moments pace was injected, chances were created. Think we need to be bolder against a low block at home. Napoli’s game plan was clear.
— Rory Greenfield (@RoryGreenfield) November 28, 2019
Not that the lack of creativity was entirely the fault of Milner, of course. Even before the injury neither Fabinho nor Jordan Henderson can make up for what we’re missing when Trent Alexander-Arnold doesn’t play. It will be of at least mild concern to Klopp that we seem to be so thoroughly dependent on the creativity offered by the twenty-one-year-old and I remain bemused by the fact that the German seems to completely refuse to change shape in order to accommodate missing players regardless of the situation. Rather than asking Gomez to replicate what Trent produces, it would have been more interesting to see what would have happened if we’d gone to three at the back and asked Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to play as a right wingback. We’re still top of the group and eight points clear in the league, though, so the manager knows what he’s talking about. Unlike the match referee…
You Can Say Both That The Team Was Bad And The Referee Was Poor
One thing that will always frustrate me is the people who say ‘you can’t talk about the referee when the team hasn’t played well’. It’s so idiotic and suggests that people only have the ability to have one thought in their head at a time. It is perfectly acceptable to believe both that last night’s referee was utterly dreadful and also that Liverpool weren’t good enough. In fact, if you’re trying to look at how the match panned out then it’s ridiculous not to mention the match referee, considering how much of an impact he had on proceedings. Napoli turned up hoping to frustrate the Reds and planning to play dirty. That’s evident in the fact that their player was only looking at Virgil van Dijk and had no intention to play the ball in the build-up to their goal. It is the sort of thing that proves what a waste of time the Video Assistant Referee system in its current format is, but that’s a point that I’ve made several times.
Yet another instance of Salah getting grappled round the neck in the box but not going to ground, and therefore not getting a penalty.
— Joel Rabinowitz (@joel_archie) November 27, 2019
The same is true of the moment that Mo Salah was grabbed around the neck in the box by Kalidou Koulibaly but didn’t get anything because he didn’t go to ground. They were the major moments, but the referee was just low-key dreadful all the way through. He was letting them get away with tackles that were a beat away from being assaults, but giving them free-kicks when our players went anywhere near them. It was a remarkably inept display from Carlos del Cerro Grande, with the Spaniard seemingly determined to prove that he isn’t a homer by giving barely any decisions to the home side. It broke up our rhythm, stopped us from being able to get ourselves going and assisted the Italian side in doing exactly what they’d turned up to do, which was to disrupt us by any means necessary. It is not an excuse to talk about him, just a fact. Those that want to paint it as excuse-making don’t understand the importance of good refereeing.
We Don’t Know How To Deal With Referees That Won’t Give Us Anything
The main reason why I don’t think it’s an excuse to talk about how bad the referee was is that I don’t think it is an excuse. Time and again during my adult lifetime I’ve watched the Reds play in matches that are refereed by truly dreadful officials, yet there doesn’t seem to be a plan to negate their influence. As a team, the players need to have a better plan in place for if it’s evident that the man in the middle isn’t planning to give us anything as the match goes on. When Brighton rock up to Anfield on Saturday the man in charge of officiating is Martin Atkinson, who has already shown us this season that he won’t give us a penalty even if our central defender is thrown to the ground in the box in a wrestling move. With that in mind, the players should be aware that they’re not going to get anything and plan accordingly. That we don’t seem to do that is a major concern for me.
This bloke has made Martin Atkinson look like the Messi of referees.
— Henry Jackson (@HenryJackson87) November 27, 2019
The sort of thing I’m talking about is players stopping when they’re getting hustled because they expect the official to protect them. If you and your teammates haven’t been given any protection during the rest of the match, what on earth makes you think that you’ll get some then? Likewise the idiocy of Andy Robertson barging into their player on the touchline during stoppage time played right into their hands. It gave them an excuse to get involved in some argy-bargy and waste time, which it was evident the referee was never going to add on suitably at the end of added time. Sadly it’s becoming increasingly likely that the match referee isn’t going to be very good, so the players and the management need to be better at dealing with that scenario. There are many reasons we didn’t win last night, with the referee being just a small part of it. Yet our inability to cope with ineptitude has cost us before and will cost us again.