philblundell

I’M going to start this by saying something just so I don’t get panned for saying something that I’m not saying:

Loris Karius has started poorly, failed to save things he should have, cost us points and generally not given us much encouragement for the future. As I said last week, it’s entirely possible that he’s a good goalkeeper playing badly, struggling to adapt and just generally taking time to get used to the demands of an environment far different to that of his previous club Mainz.

Of course, it’s also entirely possible that he isn’t very good. Definitely possible. I do think it’s very unlikely that that is the case as if this was his actual level as a goalkeeper we wouldn’t have signed him in the first place because he wouldn’t have held down a place in the Mainz side, but what can you do? You can only judge based on what you can see, and what we can see isn’t great.

There’s a lot of talk that we should go back to Simon Mignolet. I’m not there at the minute, maybe I’ll get there but we all watched him for three years and knew he wasn’t good enough. I’ll take the 11 games as being a bad run of form, limited evidence and just hope he gets better for now. Yeah he might have saved that free-kick on Sunday but, if we’re playing that game, he probably wouldn’t have ran 15 yards to clear the ball off Andy Carroll’s head, so it works both ways. We played Sunderland last season as well and I saw the same man let a free-kick in that he should have saved. Well, I saw it on Match of the Day ‘cause I got off on 77 minutes.

Maybe park this Mignolet stuff for now while everyone seems to have forgotten all the bad things he did. A bit like the way people wanted him dropped for Brad Jones.

While the goalkeeper has been at fault, we’re doing daft little things that we can avoid. Examine two of the last three goals we’ve conceded, starting with Nathan Ake’s late winner. Steve Cook cuts in off the left and has a shot — how has Gini Wijnaldum not made any attempt to close him down from where he was? Why did he double up in the corner and leave him in space?

If he closes him down then maybe they don’t actually have the shot that Karius spills. He absolutely should have done better but keep putting him in positions, avoidable positions, where mistakes are possible and mistakes can happen. He wasn’t the only one who made the mistake for that goal, there were three. Wijnaldum, Karius and Jordan Henderson for letting his man get so free.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, December 11, 2016: Liverpool's goalkeeper Loris Karius looks dejected as West Ham United score the second goal during the FA Premier League match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

A goalkeeping mistake is usually catastrophic in that it ends in a goal. These players have made mistakes that have led to him making a mistake — why don’t we try and protect him better? The easiest way to stop goalkeeping mistakes is to lessen their opportunity for mistakes and we just don’t do that.

Take Dimitri Payet’s free-kick on Sunday. Personally, I think it was probably too far out for a wall but I’d stand 11 men on the line when defending a corner so I appreciate that I might not be the best person to offer an orthodox idea of how to defend set-pieces. But a wall is what we had.

Well sort of. We lined some players up and Dejan Lovren decided he didn’t really fancy it and got off from standing next to Adam Lallana and Payet found the gap. What happened next? A garbage attempt at a save. Questionable positioning. But if Lovren stands still instead of having a Martin Skrtel-esque wrestle we don’t even discuss anything about if a wall was right or wrong, if the ‘keeper should have saved it or where he should have been standing because it would have hit a red shirt, deflected away and we’d all have forgotten about it.

The wall is a genuine disgrace. You don’t need to be any good at football to be able to be competent in a wall. We could get six TAW contributors from AFQ, who’ve sat round a table for an hour, talked broken biscuits about any load of old rubbish and polished off a bottle of whisky, who could have done a better job.

It’s made me far more angry than it really should. Bad passes? Fine. Not winning the ball in a tackle? I can get over that. Striker misses a sitter, same again.

Being unable to stand on a piece of grass next to a teammate and be an obstacle? It just isn’t good enough. It’s basic, basic stuff. You don’t need to be any good at football to do that properly. It’s probably the simplest thing a footballer gets asked to do.

Karius’ position behind the wall looks terrible, but I’ve got a theory. I say I’ve got a theory, I just think in football when you see someone doing something that you think is really, really wrong there’s got to be a reason.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, December 11, 2016: West Ham United's Dimitri Payet scores the first equalising goal against Liverpool from a free-kick during the FA Premier League match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

I’ve tried to think about how that could possibly be the right place to stand and the best I can come up with is that he’s playing a mind game and he’s effectively told Payet to put it right in the top corner, offered him a bit of the goal and said “that’s where you’ll beat me so try it, but most of the time you won’t do it.” And he didn’t do it to be fair, he stuck it through a gap in the wall, got it nowhere near the corner and he managed to score because we let him kick it through a hole and the goalkeeper’s wrists looked like they were made of Blancmange.

The second goal was a little weird. A deflection, an off-balance Joel Matip, Karius getting caught in no man’s land and Nathaniel Clyne bizarrely stopping when it was quite obvious that he should get back on the goal-line. I can’t really grasp why Matip didn’t dangle a leg out and hope for the best or why Clyne stopped and didn’t get back on the line.

We’ve been sloppy for far too long and it’s affected us for far too long. A goalkeeper shouldn’t be there to bail out teammates who make mistakes. Mignolet also suffered from this, it isn’t just a Karius thing. Remember the statistic about shots on target pretty much always ending up in goals? That now spans two goalkeepers – maybe it isn’t the goalkeeper and our defence is giving up ‘big’ chances too frequently? We’ve conceded 19 league goals this season and two of them are from outside the box. The other 17 are from in the box.

If you look at the graphic below you’ll see that eight of them are basically from closer than the penalty spot in the middle of the goal. Chelsea have conceded 11 goals, we’ve conceded eight from between our penalty spot and goal-line.

If you look at this one you’ll see that we basically just funnel teams down the middle, and they have shots from right in the middle of our penalty box. How is this sustainable? There’s an argument that we need to fix this quickly. Is it Henderson not mopping up efficiently? Are our full-backs too high up the pitch and leaving the centre-backs exposed?

What I suspect is happening is that the press is getting broken too often and we’re getting the wrong side of the ball which we saw for the second goal at Bournemouth, and here lies a huge Catch-22 situation. Do we press a little less, fill in the gaps and bring in someone in the midfield to hold a bit more and tighten things up? Maybe leave Henderson doing what he’s doing and have Emre Can sweeping up any mess. In turn this means you remove on attack-minded player, probably the role that Wijnaldum and Can have split this season.

While Philippe Coutinho is out, this may not be a terrible idea because our firepower is clearly reduced, but breaking up Coutinho, Lallana, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino isn’t a solution I would like in the long term. The attacking fluency just isn’t the same and moving Firmino away from being the main striker just isn’t for me. We have been at our best this season with Firmino as our number nine, just because Coutinho isn’t there doesn’t mean we should forget this fact and rip something good up.

It’s hard to argue against Divock Origi given he’s scored four in four but the attack just doesn’t flow the same with him there. If we are going to stick with him at this moment, we may need to tweak a few things. It’s difficult enough to make mistakes and win football matches, without also doing things that make you weaker as a team and at the minute that’s exactly what we’re doing.

Middlesbrough away tonight, anyway. Firmino as the number nine, Ragnar Klavan in for Lovren, Wijnaldum off the left and maybe, if it isn’t working out, make a substitution. Let’s get this show back on the road, Reds.

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