Welcome back everyone, you've all been away for far too long. In your absence ETW has been busy and has just finished introducing Pep Guardiola to the inexplicable lows of management. Perhaps Pep may find it difficult to come out on top against Klopp after this. Back to business. Where have you all been my miserable and accursed companions? Did you think that you could actually escape for that long? It was a good run and for circa four months, Liverpool avoided the delicious taste of defeat. 2014 was not blotted with a red dot to mark a loss until Mourinho took his Chelsea on a tour of Anfield. Method of transport? Perhaps the wounds are still sore to delve into such matters.
Before you ask ETW anything at all, ETW would like to focus on four points. Naturally, there will be other elements to analyse but ETW will stubbornly focus on the four things only. ETW may be wrong, ETW may be fanning flames, ETW may be tricksy, but ETW will not be insincere.
Liverpool could have found answers to the questions Chelsea posed but Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville expertly dissected why Liverpool lost on Sky Sports' Monday Night Football. The video is interesting viewing and educational too. The notion that an opposition manager should set his team up in a way that should please Brendan Rodgers or Liverpool is perplexing. Jose Mourinho does not usually set his side up like he did at Anfield. He is an arch pragmatist who favours pressing, defensive organisation, positional discipline, diligence off the ball, concentration, and quick transitions for effective counter attacking. His sides can press for goals albeit in a functional fashion as well as sit back to protect positions that Mourinho believes are advantageous. Mourinho's footballing philosophy may not be exciting but it is not about withstanding endless pressure for 90 minutes.
There are different styles in football. Many find sitting deep with two solid banks of four in a low block reprehensible and an attack of the purity of football whereas others cannot stand tiki-taka. There are those who worship at the altar of rapid counter-attacks and advocates of fine wing play rail at the prevalence of the inside forward cutting inside ad infinitum. If Liverpool are truly back challenging for titles, then there was no better introduction to the reactive tactics that the players will face in the future. The challenge is to find a way past them.
This may be harsh but this is what ETW is for sometimes. The most bitter tasting fruits and medicine can be the best for you. Steven Gerrard was not unfortunate. He made a mistake by failing to control the ball played to him by Mamadou Sakho and then slipped trying to desperately recover. It was strange for the captain because he was having a good first half, probing and switching up play. A composed Steven Gerrard in the second half would have benefited a Liverpool side in search of an equaliser but instead there was a captain intent on atoning for his mistake. That's fine but it should not be to the detriment of the team.
Should Gerrard, Liverpool's captain, have been substituted? In theory, yes but Liverpool do not have the depth in the squad to confidently make that change and Rodgers didn't have the heart to do so. Liverpool had to lose with Gerrard on the pitch and all players make mistakes sometimes. Steven Gerrard has been the spirit of Liverpool's title challenge and Steven Gerrard playing for himself is perfectly fine but it shouldn't weaken the chances of the team pursuing its objectives. ETW supposes that's what the manager is there for, to manage the player instead of the player taking it upon himself to fire shot after predictable shot when the power that characterised his legendary long shots has mostly left his body.
Still, great players often play for themselves and their teams benefit as a result. Witness Cristiano Ronaldo's obsession with breaking Lionel Messi's Champions League scoring record. Real Madrid certainly won't complain but sometimes it doesn't come off. It would have been magical if one of Steven Gerrard's endless long rangers came off but they didn't and so, the tale is one of ceaseless woe.
Steven Gerrard, Glen Johnson, Lucas Leiva, and Iago Aspas were not the reasons for Liverpool losing. Sure, there were things they could have done better in the game but it was the collective that failed to show enough to beat Liverpool. Glen Johnson isn't the worst full back to have ever played for Liverpool. Iago Aspas is not bereft of talent. Steven Gerrard is not a bottler. Lucas Leiva is not a midfielder who should be plying his trade outside Champions League level sides. The practice of hammering decent players when Liverpool experience a defeat is tiresome.
There are probably seven sides that ETW respects in the Premier League apart from Liverpool. That's eight teams and if you're a fan of the other 12 teams in the league...too bad. ETW will list the clubs in order of the final 2013-2014 league table as ordained by the Football Gods. Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Everton, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, and Southampton. Mourinho's record against the other members of the top eight? Played fourteen games (that's over a third of a Premier League season), won ten, drawn three, and lost one. That's 33 points out of a possible 42. Say what you like about Chelsea's manager but he knows what he's doing. Another Champions League semi final and a history of success testify to his greatness as a football manager.
However, Liverpool sit two points above Chelsea despite an inferior net spend since Rodgers took over. £124 million (£79 million in 2012/2013 and £45 million in 2013/2014) is the type of net spend Liverpool probably won't be able to do. Chelsea should thank Juan Mata for keeping this season's net spend down but Rodgers also knows what he's doing. Chelsea have spent £45 million net compared to Liverpool's £21 million net this season and possess a more experienced, trophy-laden, and winning manager but remain behind Liverpool. So, it is easy to see Mourinho for the superb manager he is in the knowledge that this season, Rodgers has shown a little bit more in the league than his former mentor.
Rodgers moaned about Chelsea apparently parking a pair of buses where they didn't belong just as Chelsea's resident deity moaned about West Ham playing football from a bygone century. The difference is that Rodgers probably wouldn't employ such tactics in a match after vehemently criticising them a few months back. As for Liverpool's title challenge, it's still on and Liverpool have less games to win to lift the title than their closest rival. Combine that with an easier schedule on paper and it's clear that not all is lost.
Count on ETW striking again because disappointment at the last always provides the sweetest taste, especially when a club has grossly outspent its rivals currently above them in the league.
A virtual and incorrigible hi-five to Lucasinho for the Neville and Carra MNF video.