Best posts of the week, as chosen by Chris Rowland and Daniel Rhodes:
1 – Hesbighesred not rating West Ham’s chances on Monday night very highly! (we have kept this in because of the quality of writing, despite West Ham’s performance far outstripping the expectation here!):
I’m not normally one for arrogant triumphalism but I feel compelled to respond to the apparent nerves some people are feeling. I hope this small missive will ease any ambient anxiety going around.
West Ham have a collection of moderately reasonable attacking footballers assembled by career nice-guy Pellegrini which David Moyes has attempted to shape into a belligerent, bus-parking version of – well, almost every other team we face every single week bar odd exceptions like Southampton and Bournemouth.
Is it fair to say that we have some problems against bus-parkers? Yes, I think it is fair to say. But it is also important to contextualise this: The bus-parkers we have had problems with are at the very top of their game (or at least have shit-tons of raw moolah). The Arrivas or Stagecoaches of bus-parking, if you will. At his very best, Moyes didn’t have the organisational ability to deserve that sort of accolade, even when he had top players. Now? Now he’s taken over a side that Pellegrini had playing football, with a bit of daylight to the relegation spots, and he’s asking them to be something like Burnley. And, as a result, has managed to plunge them, with a sense of inevitable destiny worthy of Greek mythology, headfirst off a cliff they had been walking carefully along while paying careful attention to the ‘beware: cliff’ signs.
True, they weren’t exactly an amazing footballing side before, but they were ok – albeit with fairly weak defending. They could cause a few problems. They’re now being asked to play to their weaknesses, with all of their strengths being coached out of them. It’s a complete and total shitshow, and only an absolute miracle will see them get a result tonight, even if we’re playing in a hurricane of biblical proportions. It takes the likes of Napoli, Atletico and Man Utd to park a successful bus against us – teams with a mixture of organisation and quality that can limit our chance creation from what were nevertheless utterly dominant performances. Teams which also carried a crucial threat on the break to release pressure from time to time.
What exactly do West Ham have to offer? Declan Rice? Up against Fabinho? A team that isn’t good at – and almost certainly doesn’t remotely enjoy – defending for 90 minutes up against one of the most feared tridents in world football? And what’s their outlet? Haller trying to win poorly-hoofed clearances against Van Dijk for their previously somewhat tricky but not exactly super-pacy supporting attackers to try and collect, having somehow scurried up from the two banks of four they’ll be placed in? And if they do get up in support, how exactly do they stop us tearing them apart in transition as they try and play it through the most immovable force in world football?
They don’t have a single effective weapon to use against us. Not one. They’re a tin can facing a Swiss army knife – a Swiss army knife which consists entirely of sophisticated can openers. And failing that? They’re a fucking ring-pull can anyway. Trying to keep us out for them is going to be like trying to keep a hungry raccoon out of a half empty bag of discarded peanuts with no tools at your disposal other than a half empty bag of *your own peanuts that you want to eat*.
They are weak, we are strong. They are shite. We are absolutely brilliant. They are porous, we are double-hard igneous bastards. They are spineless, we are the Conan the Barbarian on PCP channeling the spirit of the Bruce-Lee trained lovechild of Bert Trautman and Rocky fucking Balboa.
Their players and manager will be approaching this match with all the hope and enthusiasm of a dysentery sufferer facing a trip to the bookie’s toilet from Trainspotting, only wooden, outdoors, in a tin hut, in the middle of a horsefly and malaria mosquito-ridden swamp in tropical heat that coincidentally also contains the world’s most aggressively hostile population of man-eating alligators.
They will, in short, be feverishly practising their mum’s signature all night in order to present a fake note to their PE teacher; only to realise that was only an anxiety dream which is rapidly replaced by the crushing nightmare of *actually having to go out and face this Liverpool team – a team which is still itching from a frustrating defeat and will be champing at the bit to play again*.
This is Moyes having to fight the battle of Britain – with an Airfix kit. Of a hot-air balloon. This is his players doing the charge of the light brigade – naked. On a scooter. With one wheel. And a flat tyre. This is West Ham attempting re-entry, with nothing to protect them but a tea tray, a set of thoroughly soiled underwear and some claret and blue rosary beads where each bead is a tiny, grimacing bust of David Moyes saying ‘I win, that’s what I do’.
And we won’t win it 5-0, because that isn’t what we do. We’ll occasionally break into a jog in order to make the match safe, and then kill it. And if that doesn’t work, we’ll still find a goal and kill it anyway. I’d rather be pretty much anything else than anything associated with West Ham tonight and, you know what? So would they.
2 – Thundyr discussing Liverpool’s teamwork:
I mentioned the fallacy of this perception that we never have any injuries earlier in the season. There are several contributing factors.
1. Liverpool appear to outsiders to have no world class players, other than VvD and Allison due to their transfer fees and Salah who broke all manner of scoring records in his first two seasons with the club, including winning the golden boot twice in succession.
2. Liverpool’s depth and training allows us to have almost perfect cover for any position. The reason no one is panicking when Hendo is injured is because we have several players who can step in at a moment’s notice and give an excellent account of themselves, ensuring that we have no drop in overall performance.
3. People still think the game is decided by individual talent rather than team work, thanks mainly to Messi and Ronaldo, but also the ‘star power’ that the pundits highlight week in and week out.
So what happens is that when people look at Liverpool they just see players in red shirts and there are always 11 of them. It doesn’t matter who is injured because the XI on that day is just as effective as the XI on a different day. For Liverpool, injuries and squad rotation are basically the same thing. After all, when your world class keeper is injured and your ‘bought on a free transfer from West Ham’s bench’ keeper wins every game he plays, well, the choice is not “Liverpool’s defensive organisation is out of this world and Adrian has been remarkable” but “Allison is just another keeper, and therefore not as important as VvD” despite the staggering difference in how few goals Allison actually concedes compared with Adrian (while still winning all the time). So “everyone” thinks VvD is the key to everything, because he’s the guy who is most visibly good, has the highest transfer fee and is never injured. Without him our form would obviously be terrible, right? Without him Liverpool would never be running away with the league, apparently. Such shortsightedness is staggering yet understandable given the garbage the pundits speak each week.
4. Liverpool actually have world class players in every position and still play as a team that is greater than the sum of its parts. Shhh. Don’t tell anyone…
3 – No apologies for more from Hesbighesred, as he’s been on fire this week! This time, throw ins are the topic …
Oooh yeah – just one last thing that struck me from last night’s match (the West Ham game – Ed.):
After reading that Gronemark interview he talked about how most teams just ‘throw the ball down the line’. Have a look for this! It’s like once you see it, you can’t unsee it. West Ham just basically threw the ball down the line with almost every throw in they took, and I’d love to see figures for how often we won possession from them because it felt like a lot.
Why do teams do that? The simple answer is that a massive amount of football coaching, to this day, is based on received wisdom. And ‘good football men’ like Moyes and Bruce are *all about* the received wisdom. Why did Moyes instruct his team to keep throwing the ball down the line even though it was basically just gifting us possession? (Indeed, it’s much better than a throw in of our own because if we win it quickly we’ve got a tiny window of having a man advantage – the throw-in taker is necessarily never in a position to affect play at the position where he’s thrown it to). It’s because he’s never thought about it. It’s never even occured to him that there’s a better way to take throw ins because it’s just the way it’s done.
The reason why some managers are better is because they question that received wisdom. And the reason Klopp and Liverpool are better than everyone else is because we’ve taken that questioning even further – we have a whole team of PhD’s in one of the ‘hardest’ of all theoretical disciplines dedicated to not just questioning existing received wisdom but *to finding new bits of wisdom to question*. Like, when you see that throw-in thing you really can’t unsee it, and it’s a fascinating eye-opener into just how many other *down the line* throw ins we might have found to exploit.
And I’ll give you one of those for free that we’ve obviously already talked about on here – Liverpool don’t go out to thrash teams. It’s a total waste of energy. Liverpool have learned to *only go into thrash mode to get back into games*. It’s absolutely extraordinary – it’s like we’re in a Marathon that, for whatever reason, has only ever been contested by 800m runners. And then, one day, this scrawny athlete turns up at the start line who barely looks like they could run, let alone outrun all these toned, gym-muscled specimens. And at the beginning we look like we might get blown away, and we never look elegant in comparison to the other runners. But by the end of the first third of the race the other athletes are so spent in trying to keep up with us that they can’t get near to even their own usual levels. Meanwhile we’re maintaining that same, *inelegant*, pace and quietly redefining what a football team should actually look like. It’s history-defining stuff, it really is.
4 – El Indio on the underestimating the weather, with full historical sourcing!
There are pivotal moments in history when the weather was misread by human beings, and it led to calamitous consequences.
Take for example the eruption of super volcano of Sumbawa island (modern day Indonesia) in 1815. After a millennium of dormancy it spewed tonnes of SO2, Ash, and Sulphuric acid in the stratosphere. What happened following its eruption is interesting. Earth cooled by a degree or two. Europe didn’t see sun for a whole year with the Germans calling the year of 1816, the year of the beggar. Harvests perished, there were droughts, and famines with thousands perishing. The cycle finally ended in 1818 all the while inspiring Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein in 1816. It doesn’t end there.
What most resembles the battles Liverpool face with weather can be understood how generals, and kings made fatal mistakes while judging weather.
Take for example the battle of Agincourt***. A decisive victory for the English during the 100 years of war. Whether by design or luck, the French attacked earlier than planned and on a ground that suspected to be composed of clay mud. With heavily armoured men, the ground turned into a quagmire as it had rained earlier. By the time the French reached to the stage for hand to hand combat, they had weathered the arrows of English long bowmen, the slippery ground below, and exhaustion to overcome it. They were disorganized, and defeated comprehensively.
Then there are twin examples of failed Russian campaigns. Napoleon’s grand army†, and Germany’s Wehrmacht‡ (with Panzer divisions) who despite their far greater resources fell victims to the Russian winter or Rasputitsa when the snow during the general winter paves way to muddy roads, and difficult circumstances. The defenders at each invasion knew this, and used it to great advantage.
And then finally there is the genius of desert warfare by Saladin§. With a new king in Jerusalem in the form of Guy of Lusignan (who had conspired with a marriage to gain the crown) who believed in more bravado than brains and treated Saracens as a major threat, war seemed inevitable. But how it came to pass was more like a comedy of errors. Guy thought it felt right to confront Saladin’s army in the desert rather than disrupt his supply lines. As the march commenced it seemed it would be an epic battle. It turned out to be quite one sided. Saladin’s light cavalry attacks forced the army to move away from fresh water which is a fuel for any campaign. As the army advanced they found food, and shelter short in resources as the Saracens destroyed everything from grass to cutting trees. As they lumbered to a confrontation, Saladin captured or killed most of the Crusader army.
Even Sun Tzu** calls out weather in his five most important things* a military must know before taking any action.
Liverpool knew the weather was at play. They also know by experience that weather can make or break a game. Yet every stride they make, they overcome such barriers. This isn’t the best team in the Premier League for this year. This is the best team we have seen in generations that learns to fight like an army, and adapt according to conditions.
So when people say that Klopp moans about weather tell them about military defeats, and Sun Tzu’s wisdom about weather. Or lest to make the argument short, tell them to experience the Russian winter.
* The five important elements are the way, the weather, the terrain, the leadership, and discipline.
** Sun Tzu was a Chinese military general, and strategist who wrote the ‘Art of War’
‡ Reference to Operation Barbarossa – the German campaign of WWII in Russia.
5 – Beez posted some stats on Naby Keita:
Keita has definitely shown flashes of what he’s capable of. He’s scored or assisted every 236 minutes since the middle of last season, and only the front three have been involved in a clear-cut chance (created or shot) more often than him in 2019/20.
He’s only had nine ‘first team’ starts this season (plus two in the League Cup), with only three in a row once – the two Club World Cup games then Leicester away. Perhaps most interestingly – as this seems the best prism in which to judge an attacking player – he’s only made five starts alongside all three of the regular forwards:
Salzburg away (scored)
West Ham home
So, as always when assessing a player, what’s a reasonable expectation? Is 29 ‘first team’ starts for a player who has missed 23 matches with injury a fair crack of the whip? I guess the real problem is that the required standards are so high now, it’s very tough to take your time and find your feet fully in this Liverpool team.
Articles posted since last Friday:
Monday February 24th:
How Jordan Henderson Was Fab When Fab Was Missing, by Mizgan Masani.
Ball recovery rate means the Englishman was good in being one of the main lines of the team’s counter-press. Whenever Liverpool lost the ball, Henderson was there about 8-10 times per game to win the ball back in the opposition half and keep the attacks going. His season average numbers of that metric isn’t bad either.
Tuesday February 25th:
Post-Match Analysis: Liverpool 3 – 2 West Ham, by Daniel Rhodes.
Both sides had two big chances each (although one of West Ham’s was a missed opportunity by Antonio and then the Bowen chance that was superbly saved at the end by Alisson. To highlight the frustrations we had on the night, we failed to attempt a big chance until the 72nd minute when Firmino failed to score – while standing on the line – and continued his lack of goals Anfield this season. The other big chance was the winning goal scored by Mane on the 81st minute.
In the end the stats paint a picture of pure domination: 25 shots to 7; seven shots on target to four; and the xG models averaging around 2.5 for Liverpool and 0.6 for the Hammers.
One of the things I will be focusing on in the new book – amongst descriptions of the action and what I see as the reasons (on and off the pitch) why the Reds have become such an incredible force – is the incredible variety of the goals the team scores, with a series of patterns appearing when viewing them all together – but equally, with no clear predictability.
It really is every type of goal conceivable, in terms of buildup, from slow possession to fast counterattacks; long balls and short balls; set-pieces and open play. Anyone unconvinced by this Liverpool side really ought to look at all the goals, one after the other, to appreciate the beauty and the variation.
Wednesday February 26th:
The Power Switch: The Importance Of Passes Between Liverpool’s Full-Backs, by Andrew Beasley.
The first choice full-back pairing have appeared together in 32 matches in the leagues Premier and Champions, exchanging a total of 106 long passes, even before we get to short ones in dead ball situations; the assist for Firmino’s goal at Stamford Bridge being a prime example of the latter.
How important are these passes to Liverpool though? They look pretty, but do they actually increase the Reds’ chances of scoring a goal?