Neil Atkinson’s post-match review for The Anfield Wrap after Toulouse 3 Liverpool 2 in the 2023-2024 Europa League…
Forget the referee, however much fun it is to get stuck into it. Forget it. It’s a poor performance from Liverpool.
They’ve been flirting with this in this competition. There is something difficult about second gear for this group. It’s one of the areas where the lack of experience of actually *being* Liverpool tells.
It takes time to sort your game management in general but it takes longer again to work out how to do that when you have a mishmash team with mishmash priorities.
For instance what Ben Doak does in this affair is very different from Cody Gakpo. For Gakpo this is about fitness and getting himself in shape for contests to come. For Doak this is about asserting and finding himself and playing with everything he has. It is different again for Wataru Endo and the manager knows all this but also knows he will want desperately to win the game when the game begins.
He has this in common with all of us. So the idea is to manage and control and then a football match happens and Toulouse punch you in the face.
Because they are not trying to manage the game. They are trying to hang in and having hung in they are trying to then progress and this is a massive, massive game for them in terms of their careers and in terms of their season.
And then you play poorly.
Because rest assured Liverpool play poorly. In a sense the most frustrating performances first-half are from Gakpo and Alexis Mac Allister. Mac Allister is in the area of the pitch he wants to be but the pair struggle to influence the action in the final third. Prior to conceding Liverpool can get to the final third easily enough but look devoid of ideas when they get there.
However they have a fair amount of control. They aren’t inspiring but they aren’t at sea. The control is present. Over the game, themselves and the scoreboard. Then one mistake means they lose all of that control in one fell swoop and the game is suddenly something else entirely.
They never get it back. The manager makes his half-time changes and shows he wants to win and then Liverpool get worse again and Toulouse get better. They are excellent from 45 to 60 and Liverpool are abject. They never find themselves back in the contest after such a neat touch and finish from Dallinga. It’s a lovely goal that Liverpool frankly beg Toulouse to score for two or three minutes.
The manager has a problem with his left hand side. This team looks markedly less assured without Curtis Jones and looks a pale imitation without Andy Robertson. Without both? When the pressure comes on?
The trick is keeping the pressure off but then the trick is nothing daft and Liverpool tonight because of the selection and approach have a strong streak of daft in them.
They get one back and then decide to let Toulouse have the run of the place to restore their advantage.
Finally Diogo Jota comes on and Liverpool have two players playing well rather than just Harvey Elliott. Everyone else has gone to bits oddly, heads wrecked by a combination of second gear and desperation. You cannot, unfortunately, have both and instead you end up with neither.
But the flip side is this – they never stop fighting and never stop backing themselves. They nearly get a reward but the referee rules it out somewhat harshly but even he cannot resist the narrative drift. Big club rocks up and tries to half-arse it in the face of unconventional and hard-working opposition. They get what they deserve.
It’s a poor performance and no matter what referees do, they tend to be worth zero points.
Take your medicine, lose your bet, Liverpool. You may have wanted to be done with this group but this group is not done with you.