Free Friday, 18th December 2020: Adieu, Gérard, et Merci

Free Friday, 18th December 2020: Adieu, Gérard, et Merci
December 18, 2020 Chris Rowland
In Free, Free Friday


Best posts of the week:

Chosen by Chris Rowland and Daniel Rhodes.


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1 – NickM ponders Liverpool’s fair play ethic:

Klopp is all about playing fair, playing hard as hell but fair and that would appear to be reflected in the fact that we topped the PL fair play league for 4 years running. I like the idea of playing fair and I love Klopp’s attitude to the game as a whole but too often it feels like we are being screwed over.

No-one likes the players to surround the Ref and in theory, with VAR in place there should be no reason to because there is an official watching the game on TV and sometimes you see things differently or the replay picks up something you missed in the initial viewing of an incident.

All that said, we should not just wait and trust in the officials because we have seen how we are treated. Every team gets bad decisions against them and I don’t watch enough other games to question whether we are really as badly treated as it feels, or whether the officials are just as blind when neither team on the pitch is Liverpool.

The Podence incident highlighted that the officials rely on reaction as to whether something is a foul or not. We all know though that this is not the only criteria, the other one is reputation or standing within the game. Had that shove in the back of Salah been on Kane, he would have collapsed like a demolished cooling tower and a freekick would have been awarded and everyone would sagely nod in agreement.

Wijnaldum, who is so strong on the ball most times, was mown down from behind by Loftus-Cheek but play was allowed to continue which immediately led to that penalty incident with VAR taking it’s time to admire Fabinho’s challenge, and then call over the ref to also admire it as well, before correctly informing VAR to get back in his box.

Mane and his colleagues didn’t say boo to a goose when he was tripped in the box at the end of the half. No protest, nothing. Did no-one else in the team see it or do they too believe that he and Salah hit the deck too easily? It can be argued that he wasn’t getting to the ball, but neither was Welbeck because it hit Robbo and bounced away but his peno was given. If Robbo doesn’t touch Welbeck the outcome is still the same so why wasn’t the ball trajectory considered in that one?

Neco is taken out with a shocking challenge and again the protests where fairly muted. It was an awful challenge and was a clear red card yet the protests from our players seemed almost non-existent. People say you don’t want to see a player sent off, that’s bollocks. If a challenge is bad enough then of course you do.

I didn’t agree with the idea of teams have the ability to challenge a decision but now I do. The more poor decisions, or poor/non-existent reviews I see happening, the more I also believe that teams should be allowed to challenge a decision. More so that allow challenges though, we need to challenge on the pitch and kick up a fuss. I know Klopp would prefer us to just get on with the game and not let these things get to the players but you can still focus while clearly calling out the officials for poor decision making.

2 – Chris Rowland with one of countless tributes to the sadly departed Gerard Houllier:

This is sad news for the club. He gave me my favourite week as a fan, in 2001 – Sunday – Cardiff for the FA Cup final which we knicked off Arsenal – back home, change of clothes, unpack, repack, off to Dortmund for the UEFA Cup final against Alaves and our 3rd cup of the season. Then finally, the following Sunday, the last league game, Charlton away, and a 4-0 win to qualify us for the CL for the first time. That was the season of the Gary Mac derby goal at Goodison, and our first visit to Cardiff for the League Cup against Birmingham. Also remember the 2-0 v Roma on Houllier’s return after his aortic dissection, and that towering Heskey header. And he signed Sami Hyypia!

He was a Red through and through. He gave us a peak at the top table again for the first time in over a decade. Houll let the Reds out indeed.

3 – Anthony O’Brien countering with facts the accusation that Liverpool have become slow starters this season:

I haven’t been following the discussion triggered by the earlier comments but the “slow starters” tag feels a bit of an over simplification of the pattern of the matches that I ahve been able to watch so far this season. Has the team become slow starters or have the opposition decided that it’s better to have a go at Liverpool earlier (apologies to anyone that has already raised these points)?

I looked back at the match previews to see how they compare, taking the figures from the previews for match 13 last year and the Fulham match to get the numbers of goals scored in the first 30 minutes.
The breakdown is:

Season Match For Against
19/20 12 8 3
20/21 12 7 9

We have 1 goal fewer scored in the first 30 mins, so that implies that the attack is working out okay if not spectacular, however the opposition have 6 more goal in the same period of the match indicating more effective
chance creation earlier in the matches by the opposition. This total of 9 goals in the first 30 minutes represents 50% of the total goals conceded, so the tag may fit. With a little digging the matches that we conceded in the first 30 mins are:

Match Opposition Goals
1 Leeds 2
3 Arsenal 1
4 Villa 2
5 Everton 1
6 Sheffield Utd 1
7 West Ham Utd 1
12 Fulham 1

Looking at these matches

  • Leeds – not a slow start, but defensive lapses kept Leeds in the match far longer than they should have
  • Arsenal – how did Arsenal score first, could easily have been 2/3 up at that stage
  • Villa – slow, but poxy start for Villa with Adrian & Gomez combining (or not depending on one’s view) to gift Villa a start that just went downhill
  • Everton – Not a slow start, were 1-0 up when conceded after losing VVD
  • Sheffield – Very contentious gift by VAR
  • West Ham – Conceded 1 shot (per understat) in the first half – the goal – which was due to a poor defensive header
  • Fulham – goal was the 2nd big chance and 4th of 5 shots registered by understat

So (to me) the Villa and Fulham matches were unambiguously poor starts. LEt’s look at the other matches to see the pattern for the first 30 mins:

  • Chelsea – dominated
  • City – 1-0 at 30 mins, conceded on 31 (actually slower finish here)
  • Leicester – dominated
  • Brighton – rode our luck from poor finishing (Connolly) and a missed penalty
  • Wolves – dominated

Add Brighton the the earlier list, making it 3 from 12 where we have started slowly in terms of “letting the opposition in” early, but the other 9 matches not so much. However as pointed our earlier the scoring output is roughly the same level for the first 30 mins as it was at the same stage last season, what has changed is the defensive side is not as good and in all fairness how can it be? .

In the League we’ve had 3 different starting goalkeepers (one of whom has conceded 50% of total goals in 2 matches) and by my count there have been 10 different starting back 4 combinations making 11 unique starting “defensive units” in 12 league matches. And that’s without going into the chopping and changing in midfield.

Why does it appear we’re starting slower – if I was the opposition coach, I’d be “having a go” at the current Liverpool defence as early as possible given the way that they finished games by scoring late goals last season to try to give something to hang onto. I believe that this is what we are seeing playing out, the opposition teams are “having a go” earlier and getting luck that had been going our way last year e.g. the West Ham goal that was
miss hit into the corner probably went wide or was saved last season.

This week will be interesting as our opposition will get a taste of what we’ve been facing all year in terms of schedule. Spurs played Thursday and Sunday before we play them Wednesday night. Palace also played Sunday and play West Ham on Wednesday night before playing us Saturday lunchtime. Since the last international break we’ve played Leicester, Brighton, Wolves and Fulham. Brighton had a full week between matches and Fulham had eight days whereas Leicester & Wolves had similar preparation time to us, so there’s a correlation there as to the perceived levels of performance in matches – we play better when the opposition haven’t had a full week to prepare for us.

4 – Tango on his memory of Houllier:

I fell out of love with Pool in the 90s. After falling in love with the team in the late 70s as a 4 year old and through to the late 80s, the team could do no wrong. But then the 90s came and Souness (the manager) came along with his atrocious management that set off a decade of terminal decline for the team. From the poor management decisions and coaching of Souness and his team, his atrocious signings, to the poor attitude and general mediocrity of most of the players in that era, Phil Babb, Razor Ruddock, Julian Dicks (Julian fucking Dicks!), John Scales, McAteer, Piechnik, Hutchison, to name but a few, I’d lost the respect for the club and the direction it was being taken in. None of these players were a patch on King Kenny, Ray Clemence, Hansen, Thomson, Souness (the player), McDermott, Sammy, Barnes, Houghton, Molby the younger, and so many other wonderful players of those successive eras of the preceding 3 decades.

Instead, however, as the 90s progressed, we saw the creation in the media of the Spice Boys image and their shitty white Armani suits walking around Wembley and thinking they were the dogs’ bollocks at the FA Cup final against the shitty reds across the Pennines. Only to lose that game.

Then came Fowler’s moment of snorting the chalk off the line after a goal against the Bitters in 1999 (admittedly during Houllier’s early tenure as joint manager with Evans) as if it was cocaine, and McManaman deliberately running down his contract so he could leave Madrid. I know many of you will disagree with my comment about Fowler snorting the chalk line and sticking it to the Bitters, but this wasn’t the Liverpool that I loved and cherished or how they behaved before. In my childhood, this was the team whose name was displayed proudly on my rectangular red bag with the long strap over the shoulder that I took to school every day from the age of 8. To my increasing disappointment, Liverpool of the 1990s was a huge let down for me and signalled what seemed my inevitable departure from the Reds as a fan.

But then Gérard Houllier came along in the latter part of the 90s as joint manager with Evans, and started to change things up with his introduction of nutrition and emphasis on health and fitness, introducing better players, as well as all these new fangled European style tactics. Slowly, we could see new players acting and looking more professional, with Owen, Hamann, Hyppia, Henchoz, Babbel, Finnan, Carra and the introduction of Stevie G, they worked hard as a team. Of course, there were dickheads, some journeyman, and some over hyped players who still managed to get into the team, like Danny Murphy, Traore, Diouf, Cheyrou, Le Tallec and Diao, but slowly the team was showing the heart, style and humility that I wanted to see in my club, as opposed to the oafish arrogance I felt when I saw the team in the mid 90s. Moreover, Houllier always came across as a nice guy during TV interviews, quiet and understated. Slowly but surely, my interest and passion for the Reds started to return. But then Houllier’s health problems started to kick in, and he wasn’t quite the same before Rafa came along and used the foundation that Houllier built, to make the team even more exciting!

And whilst I still don’t hold that many fond memories of that era (as much as the 80s, with Rafa and now with Klopp), I would thank Monsieur Houllier for revitalising my interest, my love and respect for the team, and for laying down the foundations that have enabled Rafa and Klopp to walk the hallowed turf at Anfield.

RIP, sir.

5 – Beez after the Spurs victory, and the volume of shots the Reds attempted:

It’s fair to say that from an attacking perspective, Spurs’ plan worked beautifully.

Not one of their players completed more final third passes than Rhys Williams, but when they did have the ball they fashioned some very good chances. They definitely had the best opportunities.

But their plan only worked because Liverpool didn’t score more goals (which sounds very obvious, I realise!). James Yorke of Statsbomb (and Spurs fan) tweeted that Tottenham have given up roughly one foot shot on target in the box per game this season. Liverpool had eight.

If you include headers, the Reds had nine shots on target from the centre of the penalty box (between the width of the six yard box). Most of them were not hit as well as they could’ve been, and they weren’t big chances, but if your team is giving up that many shots on target (and in good areas) your defensive strategy has undoubtedly failed.

Since the start of 2008/09, Liverpool have only had 11+ shots on target against a big six side four times prior to this match. They’ve only had a higher shots on target difference in three such matches.

If you’re asking if the team who had the best chances lost, José was right. But that doesn’t mean the best team lost.

6 – Paul Tomkins looking back at the chances during the Spurs match:

Just watched the final 15 minutes. Took various photos of Spurs with 8 men in their box from open play, and 9 men in their box from open play. One screenshot has all 11 men within a 19 yards of their own goalline (Kane and Son on the edge of the area). All open play. At other points in open play they had a back six with two holding midfielders dropping to touching distance of their CBs.

Other instances earlier in the game had the midfield within a yard of their back four. I’m not sure this is good top-level football in 2020. Spurs were manful, but it was like watching Hodgson’s Reds. We could only really get six men forward because obviously if Son and Moura got a run, even from deep, we could be in trouble.

It made it virtually impossible for us to create clear openings, as no one could find any space. But we still started to fashion chances and win corners. It surrendered the territory to a degree that invited pressure, and you’d not normally see a top team do this, certainly not in a 1st vs 2nd clash. Spurs were excellent for 20 minutes after half-time, but like a team battling relegation for the other 70 minutes. We didn’t even force them back at times – they just parked the bus before we even started attacks, and it was a double-decker.

As I said before Beez confirmed it, our non-shot xG had to be great, as we had so much dangerous possession, but it was hard to pull the trigger, and a few times I felt we could have got more shots away. And we scuffed too many shots that we did take.

I also noted in the match thread that that’s now 3 deflected Liverpool goals in Mourinho’s last two visits. When you have so many bodies back the keeper can’t see much, and you can use the defenders like the wall, to unsight him. Get shots from 18-20 yards and you can gain deflections, like Shaqiri and Salah showed. We don’t score many deflected goals, but think back to those Shaqiri ones and the box was absolutely packed with United players – it wasn’t like us at Villa, where 3 times it hit the last defender on the edge of the box.

It can also win a ton of corners, although I didn’t think we had the aerial power to benefit – a bit like Tim Sherwood said 😉

Rhys is great in the air defensively, but not strong enough yet to attack the ball in their box. He’s tall, but not yet powerful. Fabinho becomes easier to mark without van Dijk and Matip. Not only to we miss VvD as the best attacker of the ball, but the few tall players we have fit will be picked up by the opposition’s best player. Thankfully Bobby has found a way of losing his marker and Robbo’s delivery has been very special at times, when he never really used to take the corners.

7 – Stevenson frustrated at Dirty Harry:

When is someone going to call out Kane for the cheating bastard that he is?! We already know that he dives (sometimes not very well) for penalties and has the yellow cards to prove it. We know that he regularly looks to get underneath someone making a fair challenge for the ball and has won a penalty for it – despite endangering the health of the poor sod trying to head the ball. Then last night we saw another weapon in the cheating bastards armoury – a pretend head injury. He competed for a header in his own box and didn’t clear it very well. As he landed and realised we had possession on the edge of their box, after a couple of paces he collapsed, dramatically holding his head so that the ref had no real option other than to stop play, thereby stopping us from attacking them. Amazingly, after brief treatment he was able to resume – and to add insult to “injury”, we gave the ball back to them! I always wondered when McEnroe was being such a cunt in tennis why some big Aussie player – Newcombe springs to mind – didn’t just twat him to give him something to really moan about. It’s the same with Kane, at some point a CB who’s had enough of all the play acting is going to absolutely kick the living shit out of him. It might result in a red card, but late on in a game when the result is beyond doubt, it must surely be worth it!

Stat of the week:

Liverpool are the only team to have scored in every PL match so far this season – posted by Fourcandles.

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Articles published since last Friday, with excerpts:

Monday Dec.14th:

Post-Match Analysis: Fulham 1-1 Liverpool, by Daniel Rhodes.

Team Stats:

Liverpool edged the total shot count (12-10), as well as shots in the box (7-6) and shots on target (7-6). Fairly even at this point, and that continues with the big chances and expected goals: although for the highest value opportunities, it was the home side who had more in this match (all before the 65th minute) with five (Cavalerio x3, Tosin and one that didn’t register a shot), whereas Klopp’s side attempted three (Mane, Salah’s pen and Henderson). In terms of xG, including the penalty Liverpool were ahead in most of the models, but once removed (like Caley’s model) it shows Fulham were about 0.5 of a goal ahead, which – based on the shot and big chance count – feels about right. The thing is, Alisson was outstanding in this game and the home team missed all of their big chances. And then scored after fouling Salah.

Tuesday Dec. 15th:

2020/21 Premier League | Matchweek 13 | Tottenham Hotspur Preview | Anfield, by Gary Fulcher.

You have to go back to May 2011 for the last time Spurs left Anfield with maximum points (a 2-0 win) but given Liverpool’s ridiculous list of injured players, every side that faces the Reds has by default their best chance of getting something out of the game, compared to facing Liverpool at any other time over the past three seasons.

It’s all the more remarkable that Liverpool topped their Champions League group with a match to spare and sit joint top of the Premier League, despite all the poor refereeing and VAR decisions that have cost Liverpool points (notably at Everton and Brighton – Ed), various assaults on our players resulting in serious injuries with most going un-punished and losing multiple world class players that would all be guaranteed starters.

If the Reds manage to retain the title come the end of the season, it would arguably be a greater achievement than winning it last season for the above reasons.

Just For The Record, It’s Time Again To Sack Klopp, by Paul Tomkins.

Three years ago (or, at a similar stage of the 2017/18 season, given that we started this bonkers season closer to October) I wrote a headline that Liverpool should sack Jürgen Klopp. This was designed to make those who thought Liverpool should indeed sack Klopp read why, in truth, it was a terribly dumb idea. 

So, that time has come again. 

I’m not sure people are calling for Klopp to be sacked, but out of the woodwork are crawling those who were very quiet when Liverpool almost won the Champions League later that same season, and almost won the league with 97 points the next season whilst actually winning the Champions League, and then who won the league with 99 points just a few months ago, after a run of having won 110 points from 114 (by far the best rolling 38-game period in English football history). 

I compared these woodwork-exiters (Wexiters) to the kind of person who might have said a young Ian Rush was “never gonna make the grade”, and then, after a decade and a half of stoney silence, pipes up when Rush, aged 37, is no longer scoring 30-50 goals a season. “Ha! Told you so!”

Everything fails in the end; we all turn to dust. All life is entropic. If you wait long enough it will all fall apart, and you can crow; but you will have missed the magic. 

And so, in my fervent backing of Klopp once again, I will use an overall record of my backing of – or refusing to back – certain managers to argue that, if you can’t trust my advice on which hair product to use, my judgement on Liverpool managers in the twenty years I’ve been doing this stands up to close scrutiny. I’m not psychic, but I know my onions (reasonably well; they’re orange and pointy with green leaves, right?). 

Wed. Dec 16th:

Wijnaldum The Ball Retention King (and Fantasy Football Update), by Andrew Beasley.

While the tally of long passes he attempted dropped down in 2019/20, Wijnaldum’s accuracy rose to 85.2 per cent, which was fourth in the Premier League among players who tried at least 150. And this season, for anyone who has tried more than seven(!), the Reds’ number five is top of the pile. Fifty-two attempted, 47 successful, 90.4 per cent hit rate.

Gini is getting tackled less this term too. In each of the last four seasons, he was tackled somewhere between once every 46 to 49 minutes, and once for every 32 to 36 touches he had. In 2020/21, those figures read 60 and 41 respectively.

He’s keeping the ball and spraying it about like never before. Wijnaldum might not offer too much to your fantasy football team, but he’s invaluable to Liverpool and won’t be easy to replace if this season should prove to be his last at Anfield.