We all know that it’s a little silly that an otherwise beautiful weekend is only a poor Saturday lunchtime result or news of a failed transfer snub away from irreparable ruin, usually to the chagrin and eternal confusion of our sports-hating family and friends. These sane people are obviously right—at the end of the day, these are just players playing a game. Like Monopoly or hide-and-seek. It’s really not that important.
Losing 3-1 to a flailing Leicester City side ideally ought not to taint the precious little time we have with our loved ones nor should dropped points cause us to be so quick to tear down mostly decent human beings trying their best.
Hint: that entire preamble is intended to be the equivalent of that one friend who opens their mentally well-rehearsed argument with that caveat, “I don’t mean to be racist/sexist/bigoted...” right before saying something really racist/sexist/bigoted. The talking points from this most damaging of results are as familiar and awful as the Reds form in 2017—except with more snarky bitterness.
Emre Can Doesn’t Know Who He Is As a Player
**Trigger Warning: Gratuitous flaming not suitable for small children**
The greatest thing about football writing in the 24-hour sports news cycle has to be the perfect moral hazard arising from the combination of click-oriented business models, scant journalistic accountability and collective ADD. Say whatever you want about whomever you want, arrange it with the magic click-harvesting formula and no one will care or even remember it was said by tomorrow. We scoff but ultimately still click on that Messi to China headline every single time it finds its way onto our newsfeeds.
In this column for instance, one must assume that part of the reason this correspondent has rarely been called out after occasionally emotion-venting and hitting “Publish” is because the wonderful TLO readership know that we’re all mostly just talking out of ass anyway.
To sum it up, it basically decided two games into the season, that captain Jordan Henderson was to be dismissed as a suitable option in his new holding role following one of what ended being, like, three total poor performances to this point in the season.
Some excellent excerpts that have done the opposite of stand the test of time (emphasis added):
“We now know at least that Jordan Henderson most certainly can’t do the job. For all his merits and all-running eagerness, the Liverpool captain simply cannot make up for his complete lack of awareness in the holding role.
Laughing yet? Need some more?
“A defensive midfielder understands this responsibility of being a pressure valve for the back line against the press and positions themselves accordingly...Klopp just needs to get Emre [Can] back on the pitch ASAP.”
The criticism is fair (no lessons learned there), but simply directed at the wrong person. If one so wished, fault could be found with virtually every aspect of Emre Can’s shambolic outing against Leicester City. Like, easily 700+ words worth of fault. However we’ll just list them all and get it over with quickly so no one has to get too upset:
- Positional awareness was completely non-existent. The number of times Can was simultaneously too far up field after a turnover or two far down field to help the attack switch play were almost too many to count.
- He was always mentally a step behind the play, both going forward and defending, constantly failing to close the lid on the press by failing to anticipate and recognize the triggers the rest of the team seemed to have no trouble doing. The number of times Nathaniel Clyne was forced to come in field from the right back position to make an interception or tackle in Can’s area of responsibility was absolutely frustrating.
- Lethargic ball watching in consistently forgetting to make himself available as an option for his teammates when in possession and often simply watching opponents zip passes around him in midfield when out of possession.
- Idea-less on the ball, with the Leicester midfield often standing off the German with the knowledge that he did not possess the passing range to worry them in the slightest.
That the Henderson role is too big for Can isn’t entirely his fault, he is at heart a destroyer, not a playmaker or general—no one, for instance, is asking N’Golo Kante to start threading delicate through balls into the strikers. We all should have made peace with Can’s limitations going forward by now; however what neither we as fans nor Jürgen Klopp as a manager ought to accept is the refusal to display the mental fortitude and energy required to win, the hesitance in mentally engaging and the inability to adapt to the system demands.
Loss to Leicester Was Less Bad Than the Others
It’s difficult to spin conceding three goals to a(nother) relegation team that hadn’t even freaking scored in two months, but let’s give it a go. Upon analysis, the loss appears to be slightly different from the (too many) others that have marred what should have been a title-challenging season: this time, the movement going forward was fairly fluent, not stale as they have been against the defensive teams Klopp’s men have yet to prove they can beat. The press was energetic and coordinated, reflecting a squad that was rested, tanned and full of vim.
Tactical complaints aside, Liverpool, as a team, played well enough to beat the champions. The 13 chances created were below the season average, but implied that there were in fact enough ideas going forward. If that fluke free kick against Chelsea is discounted, one goal scored and solid pressing has been enough to beat the likes of Manchester City and the league leaders.
Individual Failures Encapsulate Season of Individual Failures
This means that where the team fell short was with select individual letdowns. A single poor individual performance at the back can be managed, but two bad showings is a hurdle even the best will find difficult to overcome.
This time, it was most certainly Can’s performance that was by far the most damaging, but also, as one could guess, Lucas, who had, rightly complained about having been unfairly made the the scapegoat in recent years, was also simply not up to the task.
It is not a new argument that the club servant, never the quickest, has obviously lost a further step this season on top of simply not being comfortable in defense. There should be no surprise that an overachieving showing by the Brazilian in stifling Harry Kane two weeks ago was the statistical outlier on the season, as a revitalized Jamie Vardy mercilessly bullied the midfielder on the day, outpacing, outmuscling outjumping and out-every action verb associated with physical and footballing prowess on the way to snagging two deserved goals.
Klopp’s struggles against the low block this season have gone hand-in-hand with the lack of productive depth (“productive” being the key word here). Can, Lucas, Mamadou Sakho, Daniel Sturridge, Divock Origi and even Sheyi Ojo, all appeared an embarrassment of bench riches at the the start of the campaign, but who now, ⅔ of the way through the season, have each seemingly conspired to sabotage Liverpool’s Champions League hopes with poor individual form that have run the gamut of mediocre at best, non-existent at worst with a median of disastrous.
Leicester simply did to the Liverpool what the Reds did to Tottenham (who had been missing the entire left side of their defense) two weeks ago: exploit the obvious, gaping, terrible holes.