12 September 2015

Liverpool 1-3 Manchester United

Goals:
Blind 49'
Herrera 70' (pen)
Benteke 84'
Martial 86'

Once again, Liverpool get what Liverpool deserve.

Kyle Martino said it perfectly on NBC after the match. "Brendan Rodgers set up Liverpool to play against the ghost of Manchester United past." That's a perfect summation of today's proceedings.

We're all poorer for watching that first half. As against Arsenal, Liverpool sat back to defend, a firm line of four defenders protected by five midfielders. Ings and Firmino, a striker and a #10, were wing backs in all but name. But this Manchester United is not Arsenal, not on their best day. And especially not with Marouane Fellaini leading the line. This was a Manchester United almost, but not quite, as dire as Liverpool.

And it resulted in one of worst halves of football that I've ever seen. Two United shots, one Liverpool shot, none on-target for either side, none remotely threatening. Liverpool simply never looked like threatening, the "counter" routinely breaking down well before the final third, while the only chances United had came from Liverpool mistakes. It was 45 minutes of death warmed over. Which, to be fair, wasn't too far from what Rodgers seemingly intended.

Unfortunately, you can be more secure than a bank vault in open play, and still concede on a set play. Twice, in fact. With Liverpool's fullbacks – one of the few bright spots so far this season – at least initially at fault for both: Clyne's soft free kick on Young, Gomez's penalty on Herrera.

Liverpool's set play defending remains hilariously terrible, somehow continuing to find new ways to concede after more than a year of conceding in hilarious new ways. This time, no one picked up a wide open Blind on the edge of the area; sure, Schweinsteiger set a decent pick, but there should be at least one more player in position to get a block in, rather than seven or eight defenders stuck on their edge of their six-yard box. Meanwhile, Gomez's foul was an 18-year-old out-of-position full back getting done by a clever attacker when forced to defend with his weaker foot.

Shit happens. Which is why you can't solely rely on your defense keeping a clean sheet and "hoping for the best" in attack.

My favorite part of today's horror show was Liverpool persisting with its defensive 4-3-3 formation even after going two-down. Ibe replaced Firmino, Origi replaced Ings. Ibe made a difference, but Origi was a lesser version of Ings' "striker stuck on the wing." Liverpool's response was "eh, let's get some fresh legs on and maybe push the midfielders and wide players forward more." Fantastic. Brendan Rodgers really isn't helping himself.

Those changes made Liverpool marginally better in attack, but "marginally" better isn't anywhere near good enough when you're already behind and have nowhere to go but up. Benteke pulled one back with a stunning bicycle kick from a deflected cross in the 84th – one of the best goals you're ever likely to see – but it was little more than a consolation at that point, especially when Martial burnt Skrtel to a crisp two minutes later to restore the two-goal margin. Finally, at that point, Rodgers removed his defensive midfielder for another wide attacker (Moreno, who – I'm sure you're aware – is a left back). In the 87th minute. In a 1-3 match. I cannot sigh hard enough.

While we're here, we might as well get the excuses out of the way. It is still very in the season, a team full of new players in a new formation. As Bass Tuned To Red helpfully noted, none of Liverpool's top eight chance creators from last season – which, you'll remember was a pretty bad season – were available today. Liverpool will almost certainly look a much different side with Sturridge, Coutinho, and Henderson in the lineup. And, surprise of surprises, Liverpool weren't far off from scoring three or more: Blind clearing Skrtel's set play header off the line, Firmino missing the close range rebound, and wonderful saves from De Gea on Ings and Ibe. Of course, all of those chances came after Liverpool were already losing.

On the other hand, we've seen this movie before. Despite that mini-flurry after conceding, Liverpool's attack remains horrific, and has been horrific since Luis Suarez was sold and Sturridge became permanently injured. Horrific in the amount of shots, horrific in the quality of shots, horrific in the ability to create chances, and just generally horrific in the final third.

So far this season, Liverpool have scored two hapax legomenon goals and one offside goal through five matches. And have conceded six in the last two matches. So much for building from the back. And that'll continue as teams realize they can bomb forward at will because Liverpool offers next to no threat.

Sure, losing to United always makes the feelings worse, but right now, it feels all we've got is hope that Liverpool will be better as key players return and new players gel. Because we've seen nothing to suggest that this team playing in this manner will lead to better results.

9 comments :

Raatzie said...

Wilderness. They're in it. They're not leaving anytime soon.

United is 2008 Liverpool. Liverpool is 2008 . . . Aston Villa?

Ryan McKain said...

Nice to see the hapax reference again, which by definition now cannot be used again (at least this season).

drew said...

The time to sack Brendan is now.

I don't think this is an overreaction, or a response to just this one game. It's just, we've seen all he has to offer now. There's nothing more in reserve, and he's not going to take Liverpool any farther. And every week that goes by is another week further off the pace.

Admittedly, it's an easier decision when Klopp is just sitting there, batting his eyes at the Premiershipo and waiting for someone to hire him. The squad is good enough to squeak into the 4th CL spot, especially with Chelsea faltering—City are long gone of course, and Arsenal will scrape their spot as usual, and United will, goddammit, probably get through. There doesn't have to be any massive overhaul to imagine this Liverpool getting into 4th, and setting themselves up for the next few years.

It's such a pivotal year, too: I can't imagine for a moment that Coutinho will stick around for another year in the Europa League (if even that), especially not under a manager who can't legitimately promise more. Others would also have to start thinking about exiting to top-flight competition—and suddenly, the ceiling is being Spurs. Or worse, one of the midrange teams that holds hopes of being Spurs every third or fourth year, if things break just right. That's Rogers' natural level, and he'd be fine for any club looking to safely finish 6th-14th on a year-to-year basis. He can't get any higher though without outrageous genius on the field leading the way for him, and for all the squad's general decentness, that's in too-short supply to rely on. Sack the gaffer, bring in Klopp, give him a little money for January, see what happens. I'd bet right now it won't be any worse than what we're headed for otherwise.

nate said...

Ryan,

that's the fourth time I've used hapax legomenon if the blogger search feature is accurate, but "hapax legomenon" is not a hapax legomenon in my catalog.

Drew,

I agree, sadly, but it ain't happening. FSG gave him the keys to the car this summer – seemingly full power on transfers, two new assistant he seemingly hand-picked – and aren't taking them back this quickly just because he's drunkenly weaving across three lanes. It'll take a multi-car accident for that to happen.

Georger said...

BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Anonymous said...

Disappointing game. Nobody likes to lose to United, but how is firing Rodgers going to help anything? A few throwaway quotes from Klopp and people think he's just sitting on his sofa waiting for Henry to call. Even if he does show up, what can he do?

Your wage bill is your league position, Liverpool pay the 5th highest wages so will be 5th or 6th every season (and the gap between them and the teams above is only growing). We can't attract quality players from teams above us, and have to pay over the odds for the best players of the teams below us just to tread water. Miracles don't happen in a league system, as we saw even when we had a superstar playing for wages that massively undervalued him.

vinnie said...

Gomez's foul on Herrera is anything but shit happens, I saw that coming. The fact is, I'm not too critical on the tackle that conceded the penalty itself but I'm still fuming from his ball watching. Ball watching is one of the best lesson I've learnt from my football coach. When you watch the ball instead of the player/zone you're marking, you are always half a step slower than your opponent. And most of our defence undoing is down to ball watching, I'm wondering when will Brendan Rodgers and Co will finally fix this rookie defensive mistake

nate said...

I know what you mean, Vinnie, but my point was "a single moment of madness/badness from an 18-year-old playing out of position" can happen at any time, even if he's great for 89:59 minutes. It's explainable, it's understandable, even if it certainly wasn't good. He will learn from it, I'm sure. But had a veteran like Lovren, Skrtel done similar, I'd have been far less forgiving.

Mercycide said...

Well said Nate. Wrong set up against this Man U team. Players being used out of position - too defensive minded, more concerned with positioning than active/forward play. It was absolutely uninspiring for 90 mins. And not just this game - every game since the start of last season. I've been a proponent of Rodgers for some time but I think things need to change. The answer to the question of whether Rodgers was just riding the coat tails of Suarez is a resounding YES. You may be correct in your determination that FSG back him, and there may be no plans this season for firing, but rest assured there are 33 more games like this to come. I am strongly considering freeing up 90 mins every weekend by just Checking the score after the game has ended (1-0 lucky win, 4-0 loss to some other mid table team). It will likely be a health benefit as well. Rodgers out