Free Friday: Marking Salah in Training, Mind-Coddling and Painting With a Wet Fish!

Free Friday: Marking Salah in Training, Mind-Coddling and Painting With a Wet Fish!
August 2, 2019 Daniel Rhodes
In Free, Free Friday


Posts selected by Chris Rowland and Daniel Rhodes.

This week’s round-up brings you some of the best comments on the site, together with some samples of the articles we’ve published.

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1 – Madchenkliop reacting to the friendly defeats, July 29th: 

First of all, this is not the right moment to be having a downer on our season prospects. Just like the shit show and snow of the Leicester game last season, circumstances can be tough and that will have consequences. Jet lag, players returning later than others, more extreme weather, bad pitches, even a gigantic hangover from the partying after winning the CL; it can and will have consequences. But just like a hangover – it’s localised and it’s to be expected.

The one thing that’s super clear is that a lot of our best players are not feeling themselves and that would include even James Milner, who seems to be getting closer to his usual energy levels, but his touch and timing are still conspicuously blunt. TAA is like an artist trying to paint with a wet fish and most of the others are just not fizzing the ball around with their customary zeal.

It’s all very well saying they are a team of leaders, but the starting line up tonight was also a team of midfielders and workmanlike midfielders at that. I do seriously wonder how much, if any, tactical preparation Klopp and his coaches put into tonight’s match. I mean, he put out his most experienced available line up, but replaced his two speedy wingers with medium fast attacking mids, probably advised his attacking full-backs to play their normal game but not to risk injury through over-exertion and all this in the full knowledge of the counter attacking weapons at Napoli’s disposal. That is just not suitable tactical preparation to face this opposition.

To me, it’s hard to imagine that Klopp didn’t foresee the possibility of tonight’s result and in fact, he’s actually pleased if his players hurt from the experience. He acted disappointed in the performance afterwards and I’m sure he hoped for better, but I suspect part of him is pleased that TAA and Matip have this reference point for how not to deal with attackers getting in behind. He wants Ox to know just how high is the bar he needs to reach fitness wise. Will JK be sorry to have seen that reminder of Mignolet’s flappability before he’s called on a big game? It’s sobering but I think he would rather know now than later.

It all comes back to the business of defending as a team. We’ve been here so many times before over the last few years. Even this time last pre-season I remember worrying about Sturridge losing the ball high up the pitch a few times and sides counter attacking. I will admit to being a bit disappointed that Origi didn’t take care of the ball better in this game. He’s improved a lot in that department over the last three months or so, but he reverted to type a bit today. Still, the shape didn’t help him and I thought there was understandably virtually no chemistry between the front 3. It is a worry though for these first few games until Salah, Mané and Firmino gain some form because Origi stepping up to the plate could go a long way to relieving a build up of unwanted pressure. He’s been pretty good though up until today so maybe it’s just a one off.

From the way he’s started these last two games, it does suggest that Klopp doesn’t want to introduce these promising youngsters too soon and would prefer to grind results out with his tried and trusted line up, but I personally think a few of them have made a case for themselves.  Gomez has looked both lively and competent – if TAA needs a bit longer I could see Gomez starting at RB. I would also be tempted to start Wilson over Ox. I think we should be pleased at the progress made by Ox and there are definite flashes of brilliance, but Wilson looks more likely to create goal scoring opportunities and score them too. He also looks less likely to lose the ball to me and I’ve been impressed by his tracking back. I feel with Ox, just like in his first season, he takes a bit of time to feel his way into the team, but he’s getting there.

All in all though, there’s a lot of concrete things to work on and Klopp will relish the job in hand.  We are probably all underestimating how much we are missing not just the front three but the FIVE most creative players at the club. It might take them three weeks to get up to scratch, but even having just one of them available is going to make an enormous difference to the balance of the team.

2 – Divilmint on the same topic, July 29th:

I haven’t watched a minute of preseason so this is just speculation but could some of it be explained by the fact the we are European Champions and have, for other European teams become a much more desirable “scalp” or a benchmark? Some of the match thread chat on this site has described the opposition’s aggression as sounding like over the top for a friendly. Could that be because as Champions and renown humblers of top, top teams we have been too modest to realise that we’ve pushed into that top, top bracket ourselves and every team with a scrap of ambition now has us firmly in their sights, friendly or not.  From roughly 2010 – 2016 when performances were taking a while catch up with the fact Liverpool were always a top, top team, if we found ourselves in a friendly against the ECL winners of course players would have treated that game differently. Beating the European Champions in a preseason friendly sends a message.  It might be a hollow and inaccurate message but it’s there nonetheless and feeds the ambition of the players and dreams of the fans for the season to come. I reckon the other teams have simply just wanted it more that we do. Winning is higher up their list than ours, measured development is higher up our list than theirs.

For a similar reason I think if I was a player I’d have one eye on the Charity Shield. It may not warrant an open top bus parade and if it were against any non Manchester team it would be perhaps just one baby step above a friendly but given that it’s them and there can never be a friendly between us, this is different. Were I a player I’d want to give City a bloody nose for pipping us last year. I’d want the self doubt of defeat to live in their dressing room not ours. I want to see Pep to be pouring out the platitude “friendlies mean nothing” while Jürgen waves his medal at the fans. I want to hear City fans masking their upset by accusing Liverpool of celebrating like they’d won the league, because we know that when you peel that mask away you’ll  find only fear,  insecurity and resentment.

I read a Harry Potter book a number of years ago that had a chapter in in called “The Only One He Ever Feared” In which there is a fight between the all powerful, evil upstart (read City) and a very powerful but benevolent old gentleman (read Liverpool). It strikes a chord because the evil one was unhatching his plans for world domination and was 99% sure he was too powerful to be stopped. What ate at him was the 1% doubt that he would be unable to defeat the good guy. There is no doubt that for project City we are already the only one they ever feared. I think Pep has made that admission. We’ve already achieved that. It’s flattering and all but it is no longer enough. If you are mentally robust enough to be a top athlete then fear can sharpens and inspire. We need to swap that fear for despair, and despair begins with not letting them have the Charity Shield. I’m not saying that on its own means much but it will add to the psychological pressure needed to force despair or panic into their ranks. Come April’s run in nobody will care about who won the Charity Shield but if it forces a little doubt into their heads and that doubt translates into a dropped point or three early in the season then it can only be a good thing.

I wandered somewhat there but that is why, if I were a player, I’d be more bothered about Sunday’s game and during these friendlies would be doing plenty of running but avoiding much contact whilst accepting that might cost the win in a game that means far more to them than it does to us.

3 – Paul Tomkins as the site tried to keep a lid on Brexit debate on a predominantly but not solely football site, July 29:

Espandole – I certainly won’t tell you to fuck off! We had some great Brexit debate in 2016 when I allowed a brief free-for-all, but politics can be divisive, and people have quit the site because of political content or discussion – and yet it’s hard to draw outsiders in with enlightened debate that they can’t see. So it feels like a net loss. And I certainly won’t add a Brexit section, but it can be debated in a football context on off-pitch issues.

Funnily enough, I’m reading “The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure” by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff. The authors don’t like the word Coddling but the publishers insisted on it. I’m thinking of writing an article about it applying it to football debate.

It’s essentially written by two men on the left, who argue about why the kind of extreme “political correctness” seen since c.2013 is harmful to everyone, whilst acknowledging that political correctness often comes from a place of good intent. It is critical of the left, whilst condemning the far-right, Trumpism, racism, sexism and homophobia. It doesn’t argue against those things being bad – just the way the left frames the debate, and also, how the left and the right are locked in increasingly siloed opinions.

It’s a god-damned brilliant book, as it taps into my own ideas about being left of centre in terms of my beliefs, but also hating a lot of the debate around politics from either side. The “call out” culture of the left is damaging, and I’ve been on the wrong end of it; and weirdly, apparently the left turns on the left in terms of shaming more often than it does the right, in what I guess is the “narcissism of minor differences”. Everyone who transgresses must be sacked, no one is ever forgiven, in what seems antithetical to a liberal view of justice. What I’ve found since being shamed on Twitter is that I just don’t dare stick up for the things I believe in anymore, and the research shows that students at universities don’t dare talk about the big issues anymore in case they are seen as having used the wrong word. So the online shaming has just served as a huge own goal.

It’s particularly interesting about professors and their politics. Until the 1990s, there were roughly 3 left-leaning professors in the US for every one leaning right. Now in some places it’s 17:1. So no one gets to hear the other point of view; not about hateful racism, but about why, for instance, the minimum wage may harm poorer people (as it could lead to fewer jobs for them overall). The book doesn’t take a position on that issue, it just posits the need to have the debate. Once it goes above a ratio of 4:1, proper debate tends to cease. And of course, on social media there’s no real debate, just both sides shouting at each other and retweeting to their like-minded followers in the echo chamber.

That also leads into why Trump won the election: basically, most people on the left had no understanding of his appeal, as they weren’t debating it. How could they counter it when they didn’t even get why he was so popular? A lot of non-racist Americans felt a legitimate gripe against major government, but of course, this was twisted and exploited by his campaign. The book talks a lot about the fear of the outsider, and how politics has become more about fear (and voting against, rather than voting for) but also, the recent witch hunts of the left, particularly in violent uprisings in universities (often against left-leaning professors whose words were misinterpreted). Indeed, a big part of the book is about how intent to cause offence has been replaced by people thinking that if they can interpret something as offensive – even if they misinterpret it – it therefore is offensive.

So in essence, it’s more a look at the way we debate in general. I particularly like the book as it sees things from different sides, and puts across counter-arguments.

It made me think of why we may need more dissenting voices on TTT, but equally, not clearly stupid, uneducated opinions. If anyone was to offer the idea that Klopp is a fraud and Edwards is a chancer, would that be helpful in any way? I doubt it. But a well-argued case on any issue is always worth hearing.

But as for Brexit, and this site, it’s probably best to avoid it unless it relates to football.

4 – Jeff on the youngsters playing during this pre-season, and their potential to become first team players:

I can only speak for myself but there was a time when Jay Spearing was considered the best of Liverpool’s young lads and every time I watched him play I said to myself that there was no way that he was anywhere near the standard required of a Liverpool player. I watch any number of young lads playing this pre-season such as Hoever and today Wilson and Larouci and of course Brewster and I say to myself these lads have a shot at being the standard Liverpool require in a player. I could have added Elliot to this list after what I saw in a brief look I got of him last year and what I saw today but I want to see him a few more times.

Second, injuries are a reality. Now, I acknowledge that some do not want to talk about this reality but nonetheless it is a reality. I had realistic doubts in my opinion that AOC would be able to come back after his major knee injury and in this pre-season I think there is a real chance maybe better than a real chance he will come back. He is not there yet but every time I see him play he shows more and more what he showed before his knee injury. I thought Keita was excellent today and if he plays at the level he showed at Leipzig for Liverpool Liverpool has a special player on its books. I always wish every injured player the best and I am one of those who has been sadden for years that injuries wrecked the career of Rob Jones. On this point a couple of years ago I thought that Adam Lallana was arguably Liverpool’s best player and injuries have wrecked his last two years and today I saw signs that he might be able to give Liverpool something as a holding midfielder.

I do not care about results in the pre-season but I do want to see injured players showing that they are over the injury bug and I want to see progress on the part of young players and this is what I am seeing this pre-season.

I should have added Bobby Duncan to the list of lads who have shown that one needs to keep a close eye on them because they might have a future in Liverpool.

5 – Martin on the training combinations that help our players develop in training:

With the current squad I think it helps benchmark young players over a prolonged period in training more than their performance in any match time that we get to see.

I remember a comment that Ki-Jana Hoever ended up against Salah in a training session and his ability to deal with Mo was impressive. It’s an anecdote and no one really knows how much truth there is to it. However it illustrates the point. If you are a young attacker, you’re being pitted against the current best defender in the world in VVD. If you’re a defender you’re up against Mane and Salah.

The other side of that is someone like Hoever, like TAA before, is having to deal with Mane or Salah in training. It’s harder to think of a better way to prepare for first team games than that kind of challenge.

6 – Joe replying to Martin’s comment:

Djimi Traore v Ngog must have been something to behold.

Articles published since last Friday, with excerpts:

Sunday July 28th:

Harvey Elliot: Can The Youngest Player in Premier League History Fulfil His Incredible Potential?, by Daniel Rhodes.

The fact he’s gone straight into the first team squad during pre-season is a big indicator of the high regard we clearly have for Elliot. Furthermore, everyone (on record) who has ever seen him play – at any level – also think he has an incredibly bright future. There has to be caution though, because if you watched that Matthew Briggs documentary (and you really should as it is excellent), there are so many negative avenues for young impressionable football wonderkids. Liverpool have stated many times they refuse to pay huge wages to younger players, so there is that, as well as an awareness that they need nurturing and guidance. Still, in terms of ability on the ball, he reminds me Mesut Ozil. If we can marry that to Firmino-levels of workrate and defensive technique, then he’ll break the mould, the tradition of wonderkid failure, and fulfil his incredible potential.

Monday July 29th:

Four Views On Why Pre-Season Is Just Glorified Trainingby Chris Rowland and various.

Steven: What did the game tell us? Not much. Pre-season is pre-season. I’m not sure about the football wisdom of the US trip – I see the business wisdom of it – and no-one could have predicted the temperatures they trained and played in. What did impress me was the on-field leadership of Milner. At one injury break, he was the one talking in the middle of the field. Same after the second goal. The players aren’t looking to the sideline for guidance. They took control and tried to change things.

The challenge for this season is how to turn the potential of the younger players into players who can contribute on a regular basis.

Tuesday July 30th:

“Liverpool Don’t Look Ready” – Preseason Anxieties Justified?by Paul Tomkins.

That said, some of the squad may still be adjusting to becoming European champions. Most athletes say that you can get a comedown after the elation of winning something incredible. They often talk of being depressed once they’ve achieved their aims, as something is then missing. But this can be overcome, and Liverpool have something big and as-yet unachieved to aim for – the Premier League title, and a first domestic crown since 1990; so it’s not like all their ambitions have been met. However, this season it seems that everything is set up to make that difficult; and the league must not become an all-or-nothing obsession.

And there’s the psychological resetting process, that can take time. Anyone who has played a video game for days, weeks or months (not in one sitting!) to continually progress, only to then die (within the game, unless you are indeed trying it in one sitting) knows how depressing it feels to start from scratch again, all previous progress lost. Liverpool won 97 points last season as well as the Champions League, but it’s all reset to zero now.

Wednesday July 31st:

Ranking the Reds’ Premier League Seasons, Worst to Best: #10 – 1997/98by various.

Andrew Beasley: Liverpool were the fourth best team in the division in the first half of 1997/98, the fifth best in the second, but finished third overall. Go figure. In what became Roy Evans’ final season in sole control, Liverpool plodded along happily enough without ever really threatening to catch fire.

That said, on January 20th with 15 games to play they were only five points off the top and were actually six ahead of eventual champions Arsenal, albeit the Gunners had a game in hand. It was here that Liverpool’s season fell apart though, as they went six games without a win in all competitions, exiting the League Cup at the semi-final stage and dropping to 12 points off the title pace.

Having already been knocked out of the FA Cup by Coventry at Anfield at this point, and also failing to overturn a 3-0 first leg defeat to a French side in Europe for the second year running, there was little to shout about in the cups.

Ranking the Reds’ Premier League Seasons, Worst to Best: #9 – 2007/08by various.

Goal of the season

Andrew Beasley: Torres could probably have a competition for this category on his own. While perhaps not technically the most astounding goal, his opener against Chelsea in the first Anfield game of the season made me sit up and think, “hello, we might just have a player here”.