Villarreal 1 – Liverpool 0: Match Report & Analysis

After 90 minutes and no stoppage time, 0-0 looks like the perfect European away performance of old against a disciplined but uninspiring Villarreal team. Three minutes later, however, and it looks like Liverpool now have a massive uphill battle on their hands if they hope to reach their first European cup final since 2007.

First Half, Job Done

I’ll give you a little bit of insight now into how I write my blogs. As the match goes on I form my own opinions, pick out certain performances or talking points that are worth bringing up here. At half time I have a look through Twitter and see if anyone agrees with me or, as happens more often than not, discover someone who makes a much better point than I ever could.

Here’s the only tweet I made note of after 45 minutes last night:

And do you know what? The match was pleasingly dull. Villarreal offered little to nothing and Liverpool really should have scored through Joe Allen’s chance. Other than that there was nothing of any worth to report.

mooinblack / shutterstock.com

mooinblack / shutterstock.com

The “Retrospective Twitter” brigade will tell you that it was criminal that Daniel Sturridge didn’t start. The reality is, though, that not many of us were surprised by his non-inclusion. After the match pretty much every Liverpool supporter was left scratching their heads and wondering why he didn’t appear, but even after 90 minutes and no stoppage time it makes some sort of sense. It’s the goal that comes at the end that makes the performance look worse than it was.

There is a romanticism to Liverpool’s performances of past that places a lot of emphasis on the exciting moments. Grobellar’s wobbly legs, Dalglish’s filthy chip over the keeper, Gerrard’s arms swirling around and encouraging the Istanbul crowd.

By Biser Todorov (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Biser Todorov (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

However the reality is that Liverpool’s European pedigree was built on extraordinarily boring performances. Think of Gerrard Houllier’s Reds beating Barcelona over two legs in the 2001 UEFA Cup, causing Johan Cruyff to say “Liverpool are just like Bayern Munich. They’re all about name and prestige but, in football terms, we’re talking about two horrible teams. You might think I’m exaggerating but in my opinion a team are horrible if they are incapable of stringing three passes together.”. More recently you can look at Rafa Benitez getting his team to grind out a 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge a few weeks after a 0-0 draw at Juventus.

We might all remember the thrill of the 4-0 win over Real Madrid or the 4-3 excitement of the home tie against Dortmund, but they’re not typical examples of Liverpool’s best performances in Europe. We’ve been spoilt over the years, but if we’d left the Stadio El Madrigal with a 0-0 draw we’d have felt confident about making it through to the final.

Complacency

All of that said, of course, there’s a degree to which last night’s result was the best that Liverpool could have hoped for. Whether it was because the win over Dortmund felt like it should have earned a trophy all of its own or because the Sakho news caused shockwaves amongst the squad, the Reds didn’t seem to be completely focused on on-field events against Newcastle and during the first-half last night.

smileimage9 / shutterstock.com

smileimage9 / shutterstock.com

Hopefully it was just the supporters that lacked concentration and the players were well and truly focused, but there was a worrying air of complacency surrounding Liverpool before a ball was even kicked on Spanish soil. The win over Dortmund felt like it had propelled the Reds back into the European elite and the remaining three games were little more than a formality on the road to us being crowned as European Cup winners elect.

Jürgen Klopp himself said after the game that he didn’t expect us to have as many chances as we did. Manger code for “these were shite”. Perhaps complacency, combined with a desire to settle for a 0-0 draw, was why the manger decided not to throw on Daniel Sturridge. Maybe there was more to it than that, of course, but for some reason the manager decided not to go for the jugular when Villarreal were leaning back and laughing with their throat exposed.

“It’s only half-time” is the oft trotted out cliche about moments such as this. It’s true, obviously, but how much more confident about the second leg would we have been if we’d got an away goal? Villarreal are notoriously tough to beat and they will be a lot happier than Borussia Dortmund were to sit back and soak up pressure, hitting us on the counter.

It may yet play into Liverpool’s hands that we conceded that goal right at the death. If there was any complacency heading into the tie then it will have been vanquished now, you’d imagine. Had we drawn 0-0 or even won 1-0 there’s a chance that both the crowd and the players would have turned up to Anfield next Thursday ready declare the Reds winners before kick-off, whilst Villarreal went about their business and took us all by surprise.

Whichever way you look at it we have now got to take the game to the Yellow Submarine and hope that we can sink it. Liverpool Football Club has often been at its best when backs are against the wall and a big performance is needed. Just ask Thomas Tuchel and his Dortmund Team. In six days time Jürgen Klopp’s men will have no choice but to put on a show, with passions swirling around a ground that has had its fair share of major European nights over the years.

Mistakes Were Made

It’s an odd thing to have to state how much you like and trust the manager before making a criticism of him, but such is the vicious nature of social media nowadays that people tend to see things in black and white. If you say something bad about Klopp you’ll almost certainly be inundated with tweets saying things like, “He hasn’t even got his own players yet, give him a chance!”

Klopp

Klopp

To be clear, then, I like Jürgen Klopp. A lot. I trust him completely and I’m one of the few that wouldn’t totally lose my head if he decides to sell Daniel Sturridge in the summer because I believe he’s got a plan moving forward. His work at Mainz and Dortmund shows that he’s an excellent manager who knows more about football than I ever will.

Last night, though, I think he got a lot wrong.

I had no problem at all with his starting XI. I could see the sense in starting Firmino over Sturridge, with the Brazilian previously offering the sort of work rate we’d seen regularly from Origi before his injury, though perhaps with a touch more intelligence at certain moments. He’s also produced his best performances for the Reds when he’s been played as a striker rather than a number 10.

Firmino

Firmino

I also felt the manager was in something of a pickle over his defensive options. Lucas is perhaps a touch quicker than Toure, but the Ivorian has more experience at the back and by playing him you allow the Brazilian to go in midfield that might otherwise have been light without him. Both were better options than Martin Skrtel who, hopefully, will never play in a Liverpool shirt again.

Just because I agree with the choices Klopp made before a ball was kicked doesn’t mean I think he got his in-game management right, however. Once again I can understand the logic of sending Ibe on at half-time in place of Coutinho in the hope that we could keep our structure and continue to ask questions of Villarreal in the patient way we had done in the first-half. But Ibe has done nothing of late to suggest that he should be in Liverpool’s squad, let alone coming on at half-time in a game of such importance to provide the missing link.

almonfoto / shutterstock.com

almonfoto / shutterstock.com

It was also clear after 45 minutes that Villarreal weren’t anything special. Not a terrible team by any stretch of the imagination, with all semi-finalists in any competition thoroughly deserving to be there. But not good enough to really worry Liverpool and open enough at the back to have presented us with a couple of decent opportunities. Why he didn’t send Sturridge on at any point genuinely puzzles me and I think could come back to haunt us at Anfield if the goal we failed to score proves vital.

The team also displayed no game intelligence whatsoever by committing so many men forward with so little time left in the match. A question mark will obviously hang over whether that was instruction from the manager, but it’s difficult to see how it wasn’t when you realise that it was pretty much the entire team that was pushed forward. It might be the ‘done thing’ to criticise Moreno and the fact that the goal came from down his side appears damning. But the reality is that Clyne was even further forward than him when Villarreal broke and it was pot luck which side they turned to.

Liverpool now face an uphill battle when the Spaniards travel to Anfield next week. The only bit of good news is that we’ve been down this particular rabbit hole before and, where Europe is concerned, we know the way out.

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