Well. That was something. It’s a whole new world, and the world got to know the video assisted referee in today’s FA Cup match between Liverpool and West Brom. In the span of less than ten minutes, West Brom had a goal disallowed thanks to VAR and then Liverpool were awarded a penalty, which Firmino promptly crashed against the bar. Love this new procedure or hate it, this game was an interesting experience from start to finish.
It began early, with Liverpool dominating possession from kick off. Jonny Evans made a grave mistake in judgment, assuming that his goalkeeper would collect a back pass before the speedy Mo Salah could pounce. Salah hits third gear and gets there first. His shot is blocked by the keeper’s body, but the rebound is picked up by Firmino and lofted over Foster’s head for the first goal of the game.
I hope you enjoyed that heady 68 seconds of Liverpool being in the lead, because that’s how long it took before the Reds conceded the first goal and the whole game to Jay Rodriguez. It was a sweet strike, but Rodriguez skated through the Liverpool defense with almost no problem before slotting it past Mignolet.
The joke was on Emre Can four minutes later, when he allowed Kieran Gibbs to run right past him and get the ball off to Jay Rodriguez, who bags himself a brace in hair over 10 minutes into this match.
That was only the first 11 minutes of the game. Then. Well. Then things got weird.
West Brom scored off of a corner conceded by Virgil van Dijk. It was a close-range header slammed in by Craig Dawson. However, the referee signaled for the VAR to look back at the play. Marriner, in the video area, determined that Dawson had committed a foul and the goal was disallowed. Somehow, Liverpool got away with one, and made history by being the first team to benefit from VAR.
They would benefit again four minutes later on the other end, when Mohamed Salah was belatedly given a penalty call that the referee had missed. Firmino smashed the resulting spot kick against the bar - because of course - and the game continued.
That’s - hang on, I need my fingers to count - three goals, one disallowed goal, and one penalty chance in 22 minutes of game time.
The VAR system needs some fine-tuning, I think, but it certainly worked to Liverpool’s benefit in this first half, even if they couldn’t take advantage. The process will necessarily need to move faster in the future, I think, and only putting four minutes of added time on the clock at the end of the half was farcical, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
The rest of the half played out in all the ways we’re used to when Liverpool can’t seem to score to save their lives. They had the bulk of the possession, but West Brom refused to be broken down. Frustrated shots started from outside the box when intricate passes weren’t working. Alan Pardew was even forced to make two quick subs due to injury, with both Kieran Gibbs and Hal Robson-Kanu coming off before the 40th minute.
And just like all Liverpool’s worst-greatest hits, West Brom then managed to score a third goal deep into injury time, once again gifted by our abysmal defense. Grzegorz Krychowiak got played onside, found space on the right side and took a shot. Matip can only rifle it past Mignolet and into his own net.
In the end, maybe the timekeepers had it right only adding four minutes to that half: the whistle couldn’t blow fast enough.
The start of the second half did nothing to calm the nerves or steady the ship, as Mignolet botched a clearance and watched the ball go sailing over his head and into the back of the net. Luck was once again on Liverpool’s side, and the goal was called offside. Usually one of these fortunate calls is the kind of thing that can tip the scale in a team’s favor. Well, Liverpool had three of them in less than 50 minutes and were losing 3-1.
Klopp seemed to feel the same frustration as the rest of us, and after the obligatory Emre Can yellow, the boss made a triple change for Liverpool. Can, Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Mané all came off for the English power trio of James Milner, Jordan Henderson, and Danny Ings.
Jordan Henderson brought some much-needed stability to Liverpool’s defense in the number six role, after Can’s calamitous performance for most of the night. With him anchoring the midfield, others began to move forward with more confidence, and Liverpool started to look like Liverpool again. Nice of Can to remind us of the less appealing aspects of his game as he appears to wind down his Liverpool career.
The 78th minute saw that good forward momentum finally notch another goal. After several minutes of good possession and half chances, Trent Alexander-Arnold’s cross was steered off of Firmino’s body and right to Salah’s feet. He calmly slot it home from inside the six-yard box. However, that late rally wasn’t enough for Liverpool to salvage even a replay off of West Brom. They don’t deserve one, judging by this performance.
After a ridiculous, frustrating, embarrassing night, the game was restricted to just the five goals, and Liverpool bombed out of the FA Cup in the fourth round, waving good bye to their only realistic shot at a trophy this season as they go. A smattering of boos carrying throughout Anfield, and Klopp has three days to sort this mess out.