Sunday, 30 October 2016

Crystal Palace 2-4 Liverpool: Post-Match Thoughts

There’s something about playing Crystal Palace that brings out the inner crazy in Liverpool. It has been well-documented (perhaps too much so) that Liverpool possess huge talent going forward and suffer from defensive deficiencies, but this fixture always seems to highlight these dual features at their starkest. That this was the second six-goal contest between the sides in the last three years speaks volumes – indeed, a meeting between these two teams has not yielded fewer than three goals since 2005. Fortunately this particular goal-fest went in favour of Klopp’s side, and their impressive run continues.
Liverpool started brightly. The deadly front three of Firmino, Coutinho and Mane that has proved so effective this season was a constant menace, and the home side did not look capable of containing them for long. Coutinho in particular was superb; many are calling his performance the best individual display from a Liverpool player since the days of Suarez. His constant movement made him almost impossible to mark, meaning he nearly always had an extra half-yard of space. He certainly made the most of that space, pinging passes around with delightful incision and precision. It was Moreno, however, who provided the assist for the visitors’ eventual opener. It came after 16 minutes – the Spaniard, only in the team due to Milner’s illness, squared the ball in from the left flank to Can, who finished well. Moreno was a constant threat throughout the game, hitting the post later on: it was an impressive staking of a claim for regular football from a player who many Liverpool fans are far too quick to criticise.

The lead did not last long, however. Barely a minute after Can had fired Liverpool in front, a Lovren error allowed Palace back into the match. He received the ball from a Matip header, but misjudged his own header horribly – it looped up and McArthur nicked in to nod it over the oncoming Karius. It was an utter shambles: Lovren was clearly the main villain, but Matip’s decision to give it to him initially was questionable and Karius’s failure to raise his hands to try and make the save was bizarre. It was the kind of series of errors that Liverpool fans have grown all too accustomed to seeing; particularly given that Palace were the opponents, many started to think that it might just be ‘one of those games’. As it happened, Lovren had other ideas. Determined to atone for his error, he headed in the third goal in the space of five minutes following a lovely corner from Coutinho. After re-taking the lead Liverpool continued to dominate, and in truth should have added to their lead: Mane was guilty of a poor miss from close range, leaning back and striking the ball over the bar. They paid the price – with 33 minutes on the clock, Palace were level once more with just their second shot of the game. Again the circumstances were infuriating, a poor clearance allowing the hosts to shift the ball wide and then cross it in for McArthur’s second goal.

It looked as though Liverpool were going to go into the break level despite their domination, but with scarcely a minute left of the half Joel Matip restored the lead for a third time. Again it was from a corner, remarkable given Liverpool’s impotence from corners in recent times and Palace’s aerial prowess. The Cameroonian, who has been hugely impressive since joining on a free transfer in the summer, was left unmarked in the middle. He jumped well and powered his header towards goal, over Mandanda but under the bar. Nevertheless, Klopp was probably less than impressed with his team at the break. Certainly things had tightened up in the second half: Crystal Palace had in truth not created much in the first period, but produced even less going forward in the second. Liverpool, by contrast, looked just as dangerous – they could only add one more goal to their tally though. Mane came close, but was denied by the feet of a sprawling Mandanda after being put through by Firmino. It was Firmino himself who added the fourth, latching on to a glorious through ball by Henderson before chipping the ball delightfully over the oncoming keeper. His shirt was off in celebration before the ball had even hit the back of the net: that’s the confidence in this Liverpool side right now!

It was definitely a deserving win, and it extends Liverpool’s unbeaten run to an impressive eleven games. They remain level on points with top of the table City, and are starting to be discussed as genuine title contenders. It is early days, but if Klopp can keep his team performing as they are currently then they must be considered not only contenders but favourites – the attacking football on display is truly sumptuous. The defence, too, is getting better on the whole. This was not the best game for showcasing that fact, but generally speaking the open play defending has improved significantly since Matip came into the side. Set pieces remain the one persistent problem, but with the forwards scoring so freely it frankly doesn’t matter if a few goals from corners get shipped. Next up is Watford at home: a good opportunity for Liverpool to keep the pressure on City and Arsenal going into the international break, and maybe even make inroads into their goal difference advantage.
-James Martin
Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Liverpool 0-0 Manchester United: Post-Match Analysis

Despite having the bulk of possession, Liverpool were unable to break down a Manchester United side that had come to Anfield purely to defend. Mourinho essentially adopted a slightly less ambitious version of the game plan that saw Burnley take all three points off Klopp’s men earlier this season – the emphasis was firmly on defence, with seven or eight men routinely behind the ball. In fairness it was executed well, and Liverpool rarely threatened; they did manage two dangerous efforts, but both were saved excellently by De Gea. Manchester United looked even less likely to score than the hosts did, failing to spring any sort of counter-attacks despite seemingly being set up to do so: Zlatan Ibrahimović made a mess of their only real opportunity. On balance, 0-0 was probably a fair reflection on a drab match.

It was apparent from the outset that this was not going to be a game that lived up to the considerable hype. Indeed, given the gargantuan reputation of both sides, the lack of quality on display was astounding – loose touches, stray passes and poor decision-making abounded, culminating in an opening period full of scrappy turnovers of possession in the middle of the park. Henderson, who has been very good in the last few games, was particularly culpable in this respect. The visitors probably looked the least bad, but they were far from good: the only moments of anxiety for the Anfield faithful were caused by highly questionable decision-making from new signing Loris Karius, rather than any great attacking prowess on United’s part. Liverpool did pick up a little towards the end of the half, but could produce nothing better than a tame Firmino header straight at De Gea.

Any attacking impetus United had possessed in the first half vanished in the second. Liverpool dictated the game, dominating possession and probing the United defence to try and find gaps. This was of no use though, as an odd combination of lack of urgency and lack of composure meant that the home side could not find the breakthrough. The lack of urgency manifested itself in a failure, in the most part, to run at defenders and really stretch United’s back line. The exception to this would be Can, who drove the team forward a few times with powerful runs from deep. Can, however, was also one of the most culpable on the lack of composure front – he, along with others, wasted a few well-worked positions by taking on overly ambitious long-range strikes. Long shots do not have a high conversion percentage, and are not a sustainable method of triumphing over the low block; they can be excused from a specialist like Coutinho, who has demonstrated that there is some repeatability to his goals from range, but in general the best idea is to try and pass a way through. Indeed, the biggest opportunity of the game came from a lovely ball into the path of Can on the edge of the area. The German was unable to create space with his first touch, and consequently had to writhe past a couple of defenders before snatching a shot away, but it nonetheless forced an excellent save from De Gea.

The other major chance came from an aforementioned Coutinho long shot. It was a trademark move, cutting in from the left and curling it with his right foot towards the top right hand corner. David De Gea was equal to it, however, stretching to turn the ball past the post. Frustrating as this was for the hosts, on balance it was not a game that anybody deserved to win. One minor positive for Liverpool is that it was their first clean sheet of the season, although as Klopp hinted at in the post-match press conference this is something of a bittersweet achievement in the circumstances. Perhaps the bigger positive is that Manchester United felt the need to simply shut up shop – big teams fear us once more. This is not without cause: the 0-0 is a blip in an otherwise generally superb start to the season, and this result should not dent confidence. Not every team can defend as well as a Mourinho outfit, and with a nice run of fixtures on the horizon Klopp’s men will be hopeful of a return to free-scoring ways before long.
-James Martin
Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013