Sunday, 28 August 2016

Tottenham 1-1 Liverpool: Post-Match Analysis

Liverpool missed the chance to chalk up their second win from three matches after a Danny Rose strike cancelled out Milner’s first-half penalty. Despite dominating for large periods the away side were unable to notch more than one goal, and were eventually punished – whilst a point away to a direct rival for a top four spot is by no means a bad result, Liverpool will feel they should have secured all three.

A few nervy opening minutes notwithstanding, Liverpool started quickly. It didn’t take long at all for the first clear cut chance to be created - with less than ten minutes played Mane’s ball found Firmino, who then squared it for his compatriot Coutinho. The attacking midfielder had time and space, but somehow failed to knock the ball past Vorm from close range; the stand-in keeper made an excellent save with his legs, but in truth the Brazilian should have scored. The visitors continued to apply pressure, prompting Pochettino to make a tactical switch with half an hour played: full-back Kyle Walker, who was in any case unwell, was replaced by striker Vincent Janssen. This had little effect, and Liverpool continued to dominate – Mane in particular looked a constant threat. He is rapidly becoming the key figure in the Liverpool attack; his directness and movement both add new dimensions to a front line that can look impotent in his absence. It was Firmino, however, who finally made things happen: his bursting run was halted in the area by a trip from Erik Lamela. It was unfortunate in that the winger was simply trying to track back and in doing so unwittingly caught the heel of Firmino: nevertheless, it was clearly a penalty. Somewhat surprisingly it was James Milner who stepped up to take it, but he allayed any doubts by tucking it into the bottom left hand corner and sending Liverpool in 1-0 up at half time.

The second half commenced in much the same fashion. Liverpool looked by far the superior outfit, and were only denied a second goal by the offside flag. Mane fired home what would have been a well-deserved goal after a square ball from Lallana, but Lallana himself was adjudged to have been offside when the initial ball was played through to him. It was a marginal decision, but one which the assistant referee probably got right. It would be stretching the truth to say that this acted as a catalyst for Spurs, but their performance levels did gradually improve. They began to threaten a little more – although Matip and Lovren looked very capable of dealing with the threat of Kane and Janssen – and with about fifteen minutes to play they grabbed an equaliser. Both full-backs have to take some blame: Milner was too slow to close down the cross from Eric Dier, and Clyne was unable to get to Rose in time at the far post. The Spurs left-back duly fired home, beating the onrushing Mignolet at the near post with a sliced effort that he may or may not have meant. On the balance of play it was wholly undeserved, but it was always a risk that Liverpool would be made to pay for failing to capitalise on their sustained pressure.

That is not to say that there are no positives to take away from the draw. As previously alluded to, the newly-formed central pairing of Matip and Lovren looked impressive: they were up against the physical type of forwards who can so often prove real handfuls for central defenders, but dealt with them admirably. Lovren had one sticky moment early on where Kane simply shrugged him aside and ran through towards goal, but he settled down and had a strong game on the whole. Matip also demonstrated his aerial threat from set pieces, skimming the bar with a header from a corner – Liverpool have been hugely wasteful with set pieces since the 2013/14 season where Skrtel bagged seven goals, and Matip could be the player to change that. Henderson, too, put in an impressive performance: he has been widely criticised for his performances in the Arsenal and Burnley games, but really stepped up in this one. His passing was generally accurate, his defensive work was as good as can be expected from a box-to-box type player and his pressing contributed to the creation of the Coutinho chance early on – hopefully he can keep this up and silence his critics. Finally, Mane once again impressed: he has staked a big claim for man of the match in each of the three competitive games he has played, and is rapidly establishing himself as a pivotal part of the Liverpool attack.

Klopp will of course be frustrated that his team were unable to convert a good performance into three precious points, but it is unlikely that he will be overly concerned at this stage. It is still very early in the season: Liverpool have time to address their issues, and they certainly have plenty more points to play for! They will look to do just that in their next game against Leicester, which comes after an international break – the champions will present a tough challenge, but with the increased-capacity home crowd cheering them on for the first time this season Liverpool have a good chance of getting the win.
-James Martin
Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Monday, 15 August 2016

Arsenal 3-4 Liverpool: Post-Match Thoughts

So much for easing us in gently. Liverpool started the new season with a dramatic 4-3 win away at Arsenal in a game that forced fans to endure a whole range of emotions, chief amongst which were stress and tension.  In the end though it was elation, as the visitors clung on to secure an excellent three points against their rivals.

This was always going to be a high-scoring game. Arsenal were missing Gabriel and Mertesacker through injury. Koscielny, who joined up with the squad late after reaching the European Championship final with France, was also unavailable – this left something of a crisis at centre-back for the hosts. In the end it was the inexperienced pairing of Chambers and Holding that were left to deal with the potent attacking threat of Mane, Firmino and Coutinho. Meanwhile, Liverpool lined up with an extremely attacking side: a central three of Henderson, Lalllana and Wijnaldum meant that at times our shape was a de facto 4-1-5 that almost entirely bypassed the midfield. As such the defence was exposed, a defence that is prone to errors: Moreno in particular is a weak point, and he was constantly targeted. It isn’t often that you go into a game predicting a scoreline of 5-3, and it’s even less often that you’re nearly right – regardless of the inevitability of it, however, it made for a great, albeit stressful, spectacle.

The first half was surprisingly drab. Liverpool seemed sluggish and altogether un-Klopp-like, failing to put much pressure on Arsenal when not in possession and unable to string any passes together when on the ball. The (lack of) midfield was a primary factor: transition from the back was nigh on impossible, meaning the options were to smash the ball long or risk losing it by passing through the lively Arsenal press. It was this latter route that led to the opening Gunners goal – Lallana lingered too long and was robbed of the ball in a very dangerous area, and Moreno, who had just surged forwards to support the potential developing attack, was left hideously out of position. Iwobi then found Walcott who finished well, having been denied from the penalty spot by a good Mignolet save only moments previously. Liverpool looked destined to go in at the break deservedly trailing, but on the stroke of half time Coutinho came up with a piece of pure inspiration. The free kick, which he himself had won, was a fair way out; this did not put the Brazilian off, and he found the top corner with unerring accuracy and power.

Despite this equaliser, Klopp cannot have been a happy man in the half time dressing room. The performance was well below the levels that the squad are capable of – this point was emphasised by the storming fifteen minutes immediately after the break. Liverpool came out looking rejuvenated: suddenly the energy and skill was evident throughout the side, and beautiful moves were strung together seemingly effortlessly. The second goal for the visitors came quickly, as it seemed it must – Wijnaldum squared the ball for Lallana, who controlled it beautifully before rifling it between the legs of Petr Cech. The third goal followed soon after, this time coming from the right hand side: Clyne drilled in a cross following a wonderful passing build-up, and Coutinho was on hand to steer it in for his second. The fans were sent into ecstasy when Mane bagged the fourth – his excellent run was followed by a staggeringly good weak foot finish into the top corner. It’s only the second day of Premier League action, but already we have a possible contender for goal of the season.

This is Liverpool, however, so of course we did not cruise on to an easy victory. The lead was pegged back to two almost immediately after Mane’s strike, with Oxlade-Chamberlain’s shot deflecting wickedly off Lovren and past a helpless Mignolet. This seemed to breathe new life into Arsenal, who seized control of the match once more. They made the most of their newfound dominance with 15 minutes to play – Callum Chambers rose above the defence to head home, leaving the score at 4-3. An extremely nervy end to the match ensued, but Klopp’s introduction of Origi paid dividends – rather than inviting pressure Liverpool retained an outlet and were able to prevent Arsenal from creating too many more chances, and consequently held on for the win.

Certainly this was far from a perfect performance, but this team is far from a finished product. This is day one of Liverpool’s season, and the key was always going to be the three points: an invaluable three points against a potential rival. A rival for what position remains to be seen, but there is no reason why this team can’t be pushing for the title itself. Of course the defence will need to tighten up if we want sustainable success this season, but the attack looked immense at times today – if Klopp can find a balance, Liverpool look like a formidable force once more.
-James Martin
Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013