WHEN I saw the selection I presumed we were in for something; in for a trick.
I presumed there was some grand unifying plan of Liverpool’s intention, something to thrill and surprise. I thought it may be similar to West Ham or perhaps an unlikely back three to match them up. What I didn’t expect was that it was just like for like. And that was what we got.
I don’t know if the rhythm of the rotation is wrong. Perhaps it is all contingent on beating Sevilla, yet even had we won midweek I would have been as surprised by both team and setup. As ever the manager has more data than us and the reality of it being his actual job, yet we’re within our rights to wonder about the decisions from the three games and the logic behind it.
There was, all game, something curiously passive about Liverpool. This was a game to get through, to endure. Not one to enjoy. From a manager whose raison d’etre has pretty consistently been to drink deep of every opportunity to play football, this is strange. Liverpool have been poor at times under Jürgen Klopp but they have rarely, if ever, seemed so bloodless at 0-0 on the big occasion. They weren’t actively poor at 0-0 though they were second best but they lacked the intensity we have become used to even if the game itself was involved.
There was no shirking from Liverpool, Phil Coutinho’s absolutely woeful defensive work aside, but there didn’t seem the snap we have been used to. This Liverpool side has been praised recently on these pages for its sanity and shift towards convention but all this today feels a step too far. Last season in games against the top six Liverpool were all snap, all crackle, for better or worse. Today, even more so than Manchester United, the opposite was true on the whole.
That is all talking about 0-0. At 1-0 it was worse.
I’d have loved it had Willian’s cross/effort drifted over and we’d have won the game. I would have been ecstatic but would have been hugely concerned at the lack of threat Liverpool carried, how deep they fell, how they became ever more passive and how they weren’t so much soaking up Chelsea pressure to explode as just hanging on for dear life.
In the end, they don’t hang on. But hanging on suits so few of these footballers. Jordan Henderson looked all at sea when Liverpool simply sat in, an awkward evening on the whole for him became something approaching torrid. If Liverpool want their deepest-lying midfielder to be someone like Nemanja Matic then buy someone like him. And in the meantime Henderson needs to not always try to nick the ball in order to counter when the team isn’t interested in countering. Were they then fine. But there is a time on occasion to burst it and tonight there were four or five of them.
Chelsea spent the game hitting big diagonals and massive switches. They wanted to stretch the pitch and The Reds before looking for runners. The Reds couldn’t cope at times and it got worse as the time Liverpool led wore on. Watching that space be open and exploited time and again was painful and Alberto Moreno did very well under the circumstances. This was exactly the sort of thing which could be addressed from the bench. Being fair to Henderson he conducted an inquiry on the pitch but the situation didn’t improve. The clock ticked and no help from the bench was forthcoming.
Strengths are so often also weaknesses. One of the best things about the Liverpool manager is the amount of faith he has in his footballers. It’s how he gets the performances he gets from them. He believes in them and demands everything. His players repay him in spades.
But that leads to him being reluctant to make drastic changes or indeed substitutions when required. There was no stage at 1-0 where he couldn’t have added fresh legs, greater threat or strengthened the shape. No point at all.
And so we get the point we probably would have taken before the game. And they get their point too. This thing of ours, there’s always a bigger picture. But on the day, at the game I want the smaller picture to be brilliant. I’d been looking forward to this one.
Jürgen’s Reds have been brilliant and been shit. Been a joy to watch and hellish to bear. They’ve very rarely been bland and disappointing. Less of that.