Neil Atkinson’s post-match review after Manchester United 2 Liverpool 1 in the Premier League at Old Trafford, and The Reds look hungover…
LIVERPOOL were dreadful. Tragic. Miserable.
It’s amongst the poorest showings since Virgil van Dijk signed for the club. It’s amongst Virgil van Dijk’s poorest showings since he signed for the club.
I was worried about this. Worried about it from the moment Darwin Nunez got sent against Palace; worried about it from the moment Big Ben Mee made it three when Manchester United were against Brentford. Because it meant we were in for a big opening from Manchester United and it meant we were in for a crowd who would cheer blocks like corners, corners like goals. A team and a crowd who would see the basics as bonuses.
I wish we’d got to see the basics as basics. But that moment never came.
Instead Liverpool took Elanga hitting the post not as a wake up call but as a reason to be more complacent. The quick Mancunian start wasn’t a surprise to me. The Liverpudlian stupor was.
Jaden Sancho’s opener, while deserved should have been stopped on about four occasions from the moment the ball is first at Christian Eriksen’s feet and he doesn’t know what to do with it. But Liverpool are just asleep. Asleep in allowing it to be too easy for Eriksen.
In the passage of play that follows the only Liverpool player who reacts correctly, who reacts with any sense of urgency, is James Milner. Everyone else is utterly, inexcusably dreadful. Everyone else is static, everyone is jogging, apart from the goalkeeper who is jumping the wrong way.
There’s a list. It’s most of Liverpool’s outfield players. This whole extended piece of writing could just cover this goal and what the players are doing. It could expand into what they could possibly be thinking. Trent Alexander-Arnold, for instance, reminds me of me after I wonder if I’ve locked ours up properly halfway to the train station. Maybe he had a sudden existential panic. He wouldn’t be alone tonight.
For the second, as the building is burning down, Jordan Henderson turns his nose up at a perfectly reasonable yellow card to do what exactly? An impression of Fabinho against West Ham away last season at a similar stage of the game? The building is burning down and Jordan chooses not to turn on the hose but toast some marshmallows. What’s the worst that can happen? Asks Jordan Henderson, as Alisson Becker, Virgil van Dijk, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Roberto Firmino in a way had all asked before him in the first half.
There is a lackadaisicalness about Liverpool that has been building across the two seasons that beggars belief. Like you’ve looked at it and believed a great many other things, not least because the results have mostly kept coming. But tonight Liverpool are nothing but lackadaisical in everything they do. They appear to be mildly surprised at times that there is a football match happening, instead they appear to have been expecting a slightly competitive training session.
Liverpool couldn’t have offered Manchester United any more encouragement this evening. They couldn’t have made being Manchester United any more straightforward.
The building was on fire. Time and again the building was on fire. And, Joe Gomez aside, Liverpool’s core players did nothing to deal with the fact the building was on fire.
It still is. But we can come back to that.
It feels like Liverpool have forgotten how to pace an opening. It feels like Liverpool have the yips. They can’t time the serve, can’t find the swing, can’t strike through the cue ball early in games. In that instance there is one suggestion I have for an 11 — go after everything like your lives depend on it first 15. Don’t look to time it, look to bladder it.
But they can’t find that note. It isn’t that they are trying and failing, it’s that they aren’t trying in the first place. And then when they start trying the opposition have their eye in. They can time the serve, they can find the swing, not least because Liverpool have just encouraged them to have a million attempts to work it all out.
I wish it was about the bench. I only wish I could say, well, he couldn’t change it. The bench was dreadful but the worry from the evening, the worry from the start of the season, the worry from the whole building being on fire is something more core to the side appears to be absent.
Or more accurately, The Reds look hungover. I’ve been hungover. I’m expert at it. I’ll nail it again tomorrow morning. I know what a hangover looks like. My favourite music is hungover music. Music I often cite in these words. Music that remembers last night through a lens, that loved and lost, that tries to pull the fragmented memories back together, that knows nights out happened, that things got out of hand.
Pulp, The Hold Steady, Robyn, LCD Soundsystem, even Cave and Kanye, in more than one way. Everything became too much and we cling to it, but who knows where the brilliance truly was and to look back now at the kaleidoscope it means sense eludes us. Feeling and no meaning.
Liverpool barely have feeling. And meaning has left town all of a sudden. Last season was long and in a way it ended horribly. Trust me, it was fucking horrible and unneccersary. But games are happening now. This season is happening now. The building is on fire now.
The building is on fire. When that happens you take steps. I don’t really care what the steps are in this moment. Manchester United took steps between Brentford and tonight, they’d taken them on the training ground. They found the basics. They cheered them as bonuses.
Put one foot in front of the other, Liverpool. I am imploring you to do so. We’re in this together, I promise you.
I’ve been hungover. I know the ropes. You do the basics and then you see.
“Some of those players are so far below the standards they’ve set… this season could get away from us if we don’t get our act together fucking sharpish…”
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— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) August 22, 2022