THEY get every Premier League game live in the USA; Boston, LA, New York, Seattle. Wherever you are, you can turn the telly on and watch NBC Sports and watch every single second of the 380 Premier League games that are played in a league season.
I’d like to think that our owners tune in to NBC every time we’re playing but I particularly hope they watched the whole 90 minutes on Saturday. It was the greatest example of where we are as a club; we saw our limitations, we saw our problems and then we saw everything that is right with Liverpool.
In the first half there was a new formation, two teenagers, a right-back at left wing-back, and a man who’s been playing left-back all season playing in central midfield. It was disjointed on paper, it was disjointed in reality. I didn’t think it was quite as bad as everyone else did, but I think I’d managed to subconsciously lower my expectations and then generally be pretty unhappy that we hadn’t gone into half-time with a 1-0 lead, given that when they scored James Milner should have been lining up a penalty.
I don’t think we deserved a half-time lead on the balance of play, but if it’s 0-0 and you have a blatant penalty waved away on 44 you can count yourself unlucky not to lead.
The first half shows what happens when you don’t have any difference makers. We made two changes at half-time, and they showed what happens when you do have difference makers. Liverpool currently heavily rely on three footballers – Sadio Mane, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino. Take one out and there is a noticeable drop off, take two out and you’ve got problems, take all three out and you almost lose any real appetite for football.
The way of easing this burden when they’re injured, ill or exhausted? It’s pretty simple. Buy difference makers. This is why I really hope FSG were watching; it was the simplest, greatest, and most honest appraisal of us possible, without actually costing us anything in terms of points.
A lot of people will see an xG map and lose their mind but I think Saturday’s is something we can expand on. Here’s one of Saturday’s game. It tells a story.
xG map for Stoke City – Liverpool. This coulda gone a lot worse for the Reds. pic.twitter.com/7X2SJ7IFQt
— Caley Graphics (@Caley_graphics) April 8, 2017
For anyone who doesn’t know what it is, it gives a percentage chance of a goal being scored for every chance a team creates. In terms of chances created Stoke got 2.1 and Liverpool got 0.9. This tells us a variety of things about the match, Stoke created some really good chances, Liverpool created a few half chances broadly speaking.
We can watch the match and know this to be the case. Simon Mignolet pulled off two genuinely brilliant saves while Liverpool scored a bit of a scrappy goal and a genuinely fantastic one from Firmino. It truly was a game where big players did big things, and a goalkeeper did what a goalkeeper is judged on. Saves that make you go ‘well in, mate’.
People seem to have a surreal theory that all goalkeepers are shot stoppers, as if stopping a shot is just what they’re supposed to do and they’re all good at it. It’s very strange. People have argued that Mignolet is very good at shot stopping and others counter that with “well he should be, he’s a goalkeeper”. Imagine someone saying Daniel Sturridge is really good at kicking the ball into the goal and someone arguing that they don’t care about that because he’s a striker and he should be. Some strikers are better at scoring goals than others, some defenders are better at tackling than others, and various other things like that exist in football.
Yes, goalkeepers are fundamentally there to stop the other team scoring but some goalkeepers are better at it than others.
This is why you have the need for a great goalkeeper. Mignolet definitely isn’t a great goalkeeper, but every so often he’ll put in a performance like he did on Saturday. His contributions on Saturday were as important as any other player’s in any game this season, such were the quality of his saves. They were the goalkeeping equivalent of picking the ball up on halfway, beating three men and then putting the ball in the bottom corner.
The issue with him is that you need someone in goal who can bail your team out like he did on a more regular basis. He made a huge difference on Saturday, but you can’t say you have confidence in him making a difference with the regularity we require to get to where we want to be.
This isn’t something you can say of Coutinho and Firmino, however. They’ve consistently proven that they have it in them to make a difference.
I think we should try and sign one of the world’s best goalkeepers this summer, if we can’t get one then I could tolerate Mignolet next season, it wouldn’t be ideal but buying a player who isn’t an improvement is a bad idea, we shouldn’t do that.
What we should do is lessen the need for the goalkeeper to have to bail us out. A real, top drawer, fantastic goalkeeper could have won us lots of points this season, but then, so could a number of top attackers. Coutinho, Mane and Firmino all have, but the onus cannot be on them to do it for 50 games a season. There are very few players who can do that, because you need remarkable consistency and you also need a very high level of fitness, not just to stay free of injuries, but not many footballers can be at their absolute best for nine months.
These players need help. If I’m Jürgen Klopp I’d get on a plane to Boston the day the season ends, take a DVD of that game and use that as the basis for moving this club forward. Exhibit A: the first half, what happens when you don’t have your game changers. Exhibit B: the second half, what happens when you do have your game changers.
The case for the prosecution should be that Liverpool don’t put players at the top of their list who might be good and a little bit undervalued (although, I’d happily take another Gini Wijnaldum) or players who are potentially pretty good or someone who’ll do a job, the players who top Liverpool’s list should be ones who are close to certain success as is physically possible, the ones who’ll influence games regularly. They don’t have to be attackers; they just have to be really good at whatever it is they do. Tackling, finishing, stopping the ball from going in, whatever.
Granted, there’s an element of risk in every single transfer and nothing is guaranteed, but if you go out and buy a very good player then it’s likely that you’re going to get a very good player. Target very good players, pay what it takes to get them and make it as easy as possible for this club to compete on as many fronts as possible.
Good players win games. It’s a simple concept.