Free Friday, April 16th 2021: Fake Football & England’s Loss is Liverpool’s Gain

Free Friday, April 16th 2021: Fake Football & England’s Loss is Liverpool’s Gain
April 16, 2021 Daniel Rhodes
In Free, Free Friday


Best posts of the week:

As chosen by Chris Rowland and Daniel Rhodes.

1 – Mobykidz on the technical aspects of the subject of the day (and most days!) – VAR:

On the process and my concerns on VAR this is my understanding back from December mixed in with yesterday’s decision.

VAR uses Hawk-Eye’s virtual offside line technology with a one pixel wide line. The lines we see on TV are made thicker so we can actually see them. The actual 1 pixel line is the edge furthest from the goal for each line.

The issue I have is the movement of the lines. The VAR should not be moving any lines – instead they should be placing 2 one pixel dots on the part of the body they deem as being legitimately furthest forward and from that hawk eye draws the lines. In that way any accusations of bias towards “seeking an offside or onside” is removed.

On how VAR drew the “Jota” line yesterday then that’s another bone of contention though again the line we see on TV is thicker than the one employed by VAR. I’m not 100 per cent sure the definition used to describe the body part most legitimately forward as its hard to keep up on how VAR Andy Madley interpreted it but I believe IFAB’s definition for the Laws of the Game 2021/22 for the definition for handball “whereby the arm ends at the bottom of the armpit, must be used when judging whether a player is in an offside position”. Yesterday it looked like Jota’s elbow. Either way I just can’t see graphically how VAR could prove Jota was offside. Those pesky one pixels.

Yesterday VAR chalked off Firmino’s goal. We saw the same when Patrick Bamford had his goal ruled out at Palace or Wolves similarly in their last game. The margin of error here and, as I said in my post at the time, is so small. The PL VAR should really follow the Champions League model of giving offside only when technology graphically provides a clear decision. Dale Johnson (ESPN) reports that Pierluigi Collina is advocating this across leagues (answering in part Jeff’s question in #17 above).

Now on to the technical bit. I’m not an expert but…

Before each match Hawk-Eye calibrates multiple cameras to ensure as much visibility of players as possible. Five cameras are calibrated: the main wide camera, both 18-yard box cameras and both goal-line cameras. Hawk-Eye can also use any broadcast camera to identify the point of contact with the ball by the attacker, and synchronises all cameras for this purpose. So someone posted how VAR could track Jota’s run to the ball release from, I think, Trent when the release was obscured on our coverage. But they can, theoretically, due to Hawk Eye technology.

The broadcast cameras operate with 50 frames per second, so the point of contact with the ball is one of those frames inside the 50 per second. Is the broadcast resolution good enough to really capture the precise time of contact? What is the margin of error when the margins are millimetres or microns? Has the Premier League and Hawk Eye already determined this margin of error within the system?

I believe the VAR cameras are up to 120 frames per second. Yet football players move at a pace that arguably require a faster time lapse camera (for example in 100m races at the finishing line the kit completes 10,000 scans a second though that’s a fixed camera looking at the first couple of mms of the finishing line). So one has to question the efficacy and accuracy of the VAR camera let alone their calibration against the broadcast camera if employed. Again there’ll be an algorithm that determines this calibration but can that determine accuracy within 1mm or less? So again is there a pre-determined margin of error at work within the technology and what is it?

Hawk eye maintains because a broadcast camera is not perfectly in line with the last defender it can make them appear to be further forward than he is in reality of the horizontal line drawn. The same can apply to a vertical line drawn too. So you have to trust Hawkeye to draw an accurate line across its 3D model of the pitch. That might explain why Mane looked level with the last Everton defender at Goodison when in fact he may not have been. But do you trust the 3D model?

Before the season Hawk-Eye creates a 3D model of each pitch allowing the offside line to match the camber of the pitch to ensure as accurate a decision as possible. When we are talking millimetres or less how can we be sure that camber is maintained during a season. Is it checked, validated or measured to see whether any movement might have an affect on the lines hawk eye employs? Is there a margin of error that again is employed to take account of any small movements?

For me the issue isn’t “does he look offside” on what we see on TV because of the above issue. The real issues here are the speed of the cameras, the algorithm used to calibrate VAR cameras with the actual contact of the ball being played forward and the maintenance of the 3D model of Premier League pitches.

Maybe we need far more transparency from the Premier League on the underlying assumptions being used to accuratise the life out of football or (I think) simply order Hawkeye to account for a greater margin of error in calibrating the contact made with the ball and the run of a player. Either way I think the Premier League should publish the accuracy of any calibration to remove doubts we have. The day will come where a coder somewhere deep in Hawkeye’s dungeons might determine whether a side is relegated or not before a ball is even kicked!

The World Cup in Qatar might provide an alternative answer on offsides by VAR. We may well see decisions using automated VAR being fed directly to assistant referees (avoiding stupid situations of play carrying on needlessly) and flags being raised quicker. But whatever happens trust and transparency is at a very low ebb with the PGMOL. The first step must be to open the referee’s microphone for reviews to those watching the game. Imagine Jon Moss being mic’d up – he would put the PGMOL out of business after 5 minutes!

Whether we see limb tracking technology or forwards making runs with their hand behind their backs is not the game we love. Premier League football is supposed to be entertaining and not obsessed with pixelised armpits!

2 –  MikeH puts it another way!:

As Alastair says “this is very stupid”. In fact it is so stupid that there are literally zero defenders of what we are asked to endure.

If we even look at the debate on here, there is talk of armpits, elbows, sleeve lines- for me this is all complete and utter bullshit.

We watch football to be entertained. We want to see goals. We want the game to flow. They have effectively introduced variables that were NEVER spoken about, assumed that the technology is good enough and then assumed that they are implementing it well.

Every part of our body positioning is a function of where are feet are. For the sake of simplicity offside should focus on just feet. And I think as Nick above says, if the lines have to start being drawn or redrawn then its a goal and you move on.

Can anyone ever remember a discussion about armpit in an offside decision pre VAR? This is monumental bullshit.

This is Anfield link has a good picture of the VAR freeze frame.

And indeed the vertical line touches or almost touches the side of Jota’s head.

This is ridiculous. Basic common sense says Jota’s arm (at t-shirt line) must be further down the field (ie nearer the goal) than the side of his head. It has to be. Just try standing up yourself now, position yourself roughly like Jota relative to a goal on one wall of your room and think how you would have to position your arm for it not to be nearer that wall of your room.

Someone needs to put this to a mathematician who will demolish the way these lines are being drawn. Basic common sense says they have to be wrong.

3 – Krishaldo with a little reminder how far Liverpool have come in the past decade:

When FSG bought us in 2010, we were 18th in the league with six points (P7 W1 D3 L3 GD-4) and half an hour away from administration and a ten point deduction.

4 – Ahead of the Real Madrid match at Anfield, TonyMc has a personal recollection of St Etienne in 1977:

The preview of Wednesday’s game against Real Madrid brought to mind all the famous games Liverpool have played and won at Anfield at this stage of the European Cup/UEFA Champions League. The one that stands out in my memory took place on Wednesday 16 March 1977 against St Etienne, then the French champions and one of Europe’s finest teams. St Etienne had a 1-0 lead from the first leg and brought thousands of supporters with them for the second leg. They carried out a friendly occupation of Liverpool city centre, with their fluorescent green wigs and chants of “Allez Les Verts”. The game itself was fantastic and ended in a 3-1 win for Liverpool, 3-2 on aggregate, with David Fairclough cementing his place in Liverpool folklore as “Super Sub” with the winning goal on 84 minutes. The atmosphere was unbelievable and, in my experience, has been bettered only by that for the 2019 Liverpool v Barcelona game. But another huge reason that game stands out in my memory is because it was “The Night I Bunked In To Anfield By Pretending To Be French”.

(In the Liverpool vernacular to “bunk in” is to gain entry to an event such as a football match without paying the admission fee.)

In 1977, very few games at Anfield were all-ticket affairs because most games did not attract a capacity crowd. The only all-ticket games were those against Everton and maybe a big FA Cup tie. While access to the seating areas (the Main Stand and the Kemlyn Road Stand) was ticket only, access to the standing areas (the Kop, the Anfield Road end and the Paddock, a standing area which ran the length of the pitch in front of the Main Stand) was pay at the gate. Despite its importance, the St Etienne game was pay at the gate for the Kop and the Paddock with the entire Anfield Road given over to St Etienne fans for whom admission was by ticket only.

I was 20 years old, working in an office in Liverpool and on the day of the game I was wearing black platform shoes, black flared trousers, a black polo-neck jumper and a burgundy velvet jacket – not the standard garb for a young Scouser. This sartorial detail is very important as we shall see. Thus attired, I went straight from work to Anfield, arriving at about 1730 hours for a 1930 hours kickoff. I had arranged to meet my brothers at our usual “spec” on the Kop. As I approached the ground my heart sank; there was a massive queue outside the Kop already. I joined the queue with hope in my heart, but little expectation, and sure enough at about 1830 hours the cry went up “They’ve closed the turnstiles”. Soon the mounted police officers managing the queue were urging everyone to “Go home lads, the Kop is full”.

Along with virtually everyone else from the disappointed Kop queue I went haring along Walton Breck Road to try the Paddock only to be met by a wall of police officers barring the way; the Paddock was full, too. I was faced with a choice – go to the pub and listen to the game on the radio (no live television broadcast) or go home. Or …….

The police had sealed off access from Kemlyn Road to Anfield Road so I decided to outflank them by making my way along Skerries Road, which runs parallel to Kemlyn Road. A few other hopefuls trying the same ploy were met by two of Merseyside Police’s finest and turned around. Not to be deterred, I approached the officers with what I hoped was a confident and Gallic air. “Where yer goin’ lad?” asked one of them. “Je suis St Etienne” I replied, only to be met with a gentle push back down the road and a “Come off it son, on yer way”. I stood my ground. “Il est vrais. Je suis St Etienne. Allez Les Verts. Vive la France!” with accompanying shrugs and hand gestures. Summoning up something I remembered from my school French lessons, I threw in “Mon moulin a vent va trop vite!” for added authenticity. The officers studied me closely, taking in my obviously French sartorial elegance, and one said “He looks French, look at his clobber, and he’s got the lingo. I think we should we let him through.” The other officer agreed and I was on my way.

Arriving at the very first turnstile at the Anfield Road end, I came across a French guy holding a fistful of tickets surrounded by about a dozen St Etienne supporters. He approached the turnstile, spoke to the operator, handed over the tickets and gestured to his mates to enter the turnstile. I simply inserted myself into the single file of Frenchmen as they shuffled forward, smiling and dispensing an occasional “Bon soir” and “Allez Les Verts” as I went. I entered the ground unchallenged. As mentioned earlier, the whole of the Anfield Road end was full of St Etienne fans. I made my way to the fence at the front of the terrace and attracted the attention of a police officer patrolling the perimeter track. Remembering I was Scouse, not French, I said “Mate, I can’t stay in here with this mad French lot – they’ll kill me.” This was patently untrue – they were the friendliest bunch of opposing supporters I had ever encountered. “Can I go down to the Kop?” Surprisingly, he agreed and even helped me climb the fence and onto the perimeter track. I set off, somewhat dazed to be strolling in front of the Anfield Road end, then the Kemlyn Road stand, in close proximity to the hallowed Anfield turf.

I was approaching the penalty area at the Kop end when I was intercepted by a tall, stern-looking police inspector carrying a threatening-looking nightstick. “Where are you going son?” he demanded. “A bobby at the Anny Road end said I could go to the Kop” I replied. “It’s full” he said. “Sit down there, stay out of the way and keep your head down” he continued, gesturing to a spot in front of the Kemlyn Road stand. I sat and was joined by 5 or 6 other chancers who were also making their way to the Kop. I now had an unobstructed view as all the drama and excitement of one of the greatest ever games at Anfield unfolded right in front of me. This happy state of affairs continued until about 10 minutes before the end of the game when the inspector returned and for some reason ordered me and the other lads to go to the Kop. We reluctantly complied and climbed into the Kop which was so crowded that I didn’t get any further than the first few steps. It was from this inferior vantage point that I witnessed Super Sub’s late entry into the game and his even later winner which I celebrated madly with about 27,000 other delirious Kopites. On the final whistle, I met up with my brothers at our “spec” who didn’t believe a word of my tale … until we watched the television highlights together later that evening and there I was in glorious technicolour.

This is a true story. If you doubt me, take a look at that Liverpool v St Etienne match on YouTube. You will see a small group of young Liverpool supporters, seated in front of the Kemlyn Road stand near the penalty area at the Kop end. Look closely and you will see that one of them is a cut above the rest, elegantly dressed in black platform boots, black flared trousers, a black polo-neck jumper and a burgundy velvet jacket. C’est moi, Le Renard Roux!

5 – Paul reacts to going out of the Champions League:

Just a quick post – I enjoyed the game, and felt we looked really dangerous until the final 20 minutes, where we more sporadic in our quality. But it felt so hollow without the fans, and like others, I’m beyond sick of this season. It’s perhaps better than nothing, but the lack of fans and the VAR farces have just taken away the humanity of the sport. The novelty has definitely worn off.

I wanted us to progress, obviously, but I wasn’t looking forward to semi-finals against Chelsea and then maybe a final against City. That would be too stressful for me personally right now, although I’d take that stress if we faced those situations. But I also feel I just want this season to be over, as I have for a few months – and increasingly so.

That said, I felt a couple of games ago when Leicester started dropping points that we might overhaul them, having assumed they were beyond catching just 3 games ago. I think West Ham are overhaulable too. And I think those clubs have a lot of games against each other or teams in the top 8-9 coming up. Chelsea now have to semi-finals that could affect their domestic form, as often happens – my research shows that teams drop points in the league usually around the quarter-final and then most likely around the semi-final games, but sometimes that’s because they have the league sewn up or are safely in the top four already. But this could affect Chelsea’s domestic form.

I’d like us to finish in the top four, as it would be an incredible achievement given the injuries, the scheduling and the VAR madness. But if we don’t, we don’t – and there’s plenty to look forward to, like signing £200m of players in the form of Van Dijk, Matip, Gomez, Hendo, et al, and the fact that injured players from this season (TAA, Jota, Fabinho) have all had great games in the past few weeks. We also have seen an absolute quantum leap in the play of Nat Phillips, while Curtis Jones gained a lot of vital experience in 2020/21. I’m a little worried about how Thiago fits in as we’re so much better with Fabinho in the no.6 role, but he has every chance of being more settled and adjusted next season, while having VvD and others back will help him to make more of an impact.

Finally, next season perhaps also needs less of the freakish fact that Mané and Firmino have both been out of sorts in front of goal – usually one or the other would join Salah in being prolific. Jota was prolific before his injury, and has scored goals since returning, so I think it’s more of a just a barren run (exacerbated by the lack of atmosphere at Anfield), and things should be back to normal in August. I just hope we can get to full stadia by then.

6 – Tony Mc with his second top notch post of the week after the Madrid match:

I have a confession to make. In fact, a series of confessions.

I was neither excited nor apprehensive before the Liverpool v Real Madrid game.

I watched the game in as near a state of calm detachment as I have ever watched a Liverpool game.

I wanted Liverpool to win by the requisite margin to secure qualification for the semi final but I was convinced that Real Madrid would find another gear to respond if Liverpool scored.

I was frustrated but not apoplectic when we missed those chances in the first half.

I was not devastated at the final whistle that we were out of the Champions League.

I was not angry with the opposition or the referee or UEFA, my normal response to a loss in Europe.

I was certainly not angry with the Liverpool owners, manager, coaching staff or players. Collectively, they have delivered nothing but pure joy to all Liverpool supporters in bringing us the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, FIFA World Club Championship and the English Premier League in rapid succession while delivering memorable performances, fantastic victories, a ton of goals and a mountain of league points.

I felt nothing but pride in and compassion for the 15 players who participated in the game. 11 of them have been absolute heroes for us in contributing to all those recent successors; plus the newcomers at centre back who helped deliver a clean sheet against the mighty Real Madrid; the new world class midfielder who will surely impose himself on this team next season; and the new goal scoring hero who has given us a glimpse of the future beyond our legendary front three.

I slept soundly last night without re-running the whole game in my head while trying to get to sleep, waking up with a start at frequent intervals as key incidents were replayed in my unconscious mind and finally getting up in the morning in a tired and irritable state.

So, why this uncharacteristic change in mood from someone who usually yells encouragement at Liverpool players and rants at the opposition and match officials whether sitting in the SKD stand at Anfield or on my sofa at home? That mood change didn’t just happen yesterday, it has been developing over the last 7 or 8 months or so. The reason is quite simple – while I understand the financial reasons for going ahead with season 2020/21, I can see no sporting reasons whatsoever for doing so. It has been a season of FAKE FOOTBALL.

The many factors which have produced this fake football season have been very well articulated by many TTT contributors and subscribers and do not need rehearsing in this post, save to say that empty football stadia are anathema to the committed football supporter. I am one of many who pays to watch every live football game possible across several different broadcasting platforms and have been happy to do so. The unreal, insipid, half-paced, atmosphere-free affairs currently on offer (and I am not even going near the antics of the corrupt PGMOL shower) have sapped my enthusiasm even for Liverpool games which are now virtually all I watch but more out of loyalty than anything else. My lack of enthusiasm for fake football has now reached its nadir.

So, without the dark cloud of defeat-induced melancholy hanging over my day, what shall I do on this sunny Merseyside morning? Renew my LFC season ticket for season 2021/22 of course!

Articles published since last Friday, with excerpts:

Sunday April 11th:

Post-Match Analysis: Liverpool 2-1 Aston Villa, by Daniel Rhodes.

The underlying stats confirm the result for this one: huge dominance in shot volume (23 – 9), double the shots on target (10 – 5), three big chances to one (Salah x2, Mane) and the xG average across all six models was 2.4 – 0.8 (again three times as much).

Salah too nearly 30% of the Reds shots with seven, and ended up with over one expected goal (1.06 xG). This, alongside Jota also having five shots, is exactly what we need more of in future because when our forward line has huge shot volume, aligned with improved shot quality, the goals will come. The streak is now over, and hopefully we score three goals deflected off Firmino backside against Madrid. We are due…

After a run of three consecutive negative xG differences in Premier League games, we’ve now had two in a row of 1.5 or better against sides in the top half of the table. A signal of improved form?

Monday April 12th:

Why Trent Missing the Euros Will Be England’s Loss, by Mizgan Masani.

At the start of this season, Alexander-Arnold contracted Covid-19 virus, which wiped out his pre-season preparations. This led to him starting the season with zero match fitness and preparation. Compound that with the fact that Liverpool have missed all of their senior centre-backs for most parts of this season, and a drop-off in form was perhaps inevitable.

The point is that if Southgate leaves him out of the England squad for the Euros, as has been widely tipped, then it wouldn’t be that bad a news for the player’s longevity in the game. Given the amount of minutes he has played with minimal to no rotation since 2018, having a summer off would help him to regain fitness, get rid of any fatigue and be fresh at the start of next season. Mind you, if he returns to his normal self in the coming season, a place in the World Cup 2022 squad is his to lose. That could be a bigger incentive to prepare for compared to the Euros.

Tuesday April 13th:

2020/21 Champions League | Quarter-Final 2nd Leg | Real Madrid Preview | Anfield | 8pm Kick Off, by Gary Fulcher.

There have been many famous second-leg comebacks in this competition over the years – including our epic 4-0 semi-final 2nd leg demolition of Barcelona in 2019 – but a European night at Anfield without supporters, our skipper and three best defenders is likely to be a mountain too big this time round.

Wednesday April 14th:

Did Liverpool’s Goals In March Show The Birth Of A New Front Three?, by Andrew Beasley.

What’s more interesting is that the final three touches in the move were taken by Salah, Mané and Jota, just as they were (in a different order) for the opener against Leipzig. And as they also were – albeit we won’t look at it in detail until next month – for the third goal at the Emirates Stadium in Liverpool’s recent 3-0 win there.

This means that in three successive games the Reds scored a goal where these three players took the final three touches. This compares to only two league goals in the last two seasons where the closing three involvements were by Roberto Firmino, Mané and Salah; the final goal scored before Liverpool were confirmed as champions, in a 4-0 victory over Crystal Palace, and the opener at Stamford Bridge early in 2020/21.

Goals carry tremendous confirmation bias weight. There have been other shots where Klopp’s tried-and-trusted front three have connected to generate goal scoring chances.

But it’s hard not to wonder if March 2021 was when we first started to see the true changing of the guard in the Reds’ attack.