There’s a scene in nearly every Batman-involved film since Nolan’s Batman Begins that takes place. It’s the apocryphal moment where Bruce Wayne discovers a cave exists beneath his house and is haunted by the presence of bats. Often, the scene is used as not only the inspiration for his choice of emblem for crime-fighting, but also as a reminder of how we must learn to face adversary.
We’re not gonna do that here.
Instead, I would much rather talk about early aughts R&B and, in particular, a song by one of my all-time favorite artists, Aaliyah. It’s called “Try Again” and was released as part of the soundtrack to that classic film, Romeo Must Die. (Sidebar: my high school was a magnet school meant for people of color. This film being a thing that was real in the world meant so much to the AsAm and AfAm kids at my school. We even made a dumb parody video for our class rally!) The song itself is kind of a damsel in distress song of sorts but what’s really important is that a) Timbaland is the producer and b) Aaliyah is the best.
And the reason for this three paragraph preamble is that when I sat down to write this week’s edition of ETB, this was what I had on my mind: a Liverpool squad in need to putting a disappointing result in their collective rearview mirror quickly. A Liverpool squad in need of resiliency. A Liverpool squad that needs to dust themselves off and try again.
The match against Arsenal was a frustrating affair. Not my words, but the seeming consensus among my Liverpool friends and staff here at TLO. I say this because I did not watch it live - I spent Saturday up in the So Cal mountains with my family - so my experience, already colored by everyone’s commentary before it, was different.
I saw a lot of what had indeed been pointing out: a refereeing gaffe, missed opportunities, Young Trent Alexander Arnold™ struggling mightily, and more points dropped from a winning position. I saw, then, what could be a frustrating affair.
But I also saw a match that showed Liverpool’s many gifts: attacking verve, 3 chances falling inches wide for Virgil Van Dijk, and a generally open affair between the two sides. It was an open, attractive match that felt more fun than frustrating, even if the points did not go our way. In fact, results aside, it was the type of performance I would have wanted to come from our side. One might even say it’s what I would have expected from our lads.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that there weren’t issues. I know there are people smarter than I that believed the midfield looked a bit pedestrian on the weekend. Given how we seemed to give ground away in the middle of the pitch, I might agree, though some of the issues seemed tactical: early on, at least, Arsenal tried repeatedly to beat the high-line by playing the ball over the top and by-passing Liverpool’s midfield. There was a lack of creativity in the midfield trio, but I thought the performances from James Milner, Georginio Wijnaldum, and Fabinho were good.
The area that cause the most concern, of course, was TAA being burned repeatedly throughout the match. Being lined up against Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang would be a tall order for any defender and considering the form of the Arsenal forward headed into the match, the young fullback must have known he’d be in for a long night. Chances seemed to all be stacked from that side of the pitch and TAA struggled to keep up. Again, though, he seemed to be a victim of a tactical choice as Mohamed Salah wasn’t particularly tasked with tracking too far back on that side, likely looking to exploit the space Aubameyang’s forays forward would create.
Still, the points were dropped and in a title challenge against a team as deep and talented as Manchester City’s, no point lost can be ignored. The look of disappointment was obvious even after the showcase of attractive football on display. Shoulders slouched and heads drooped. The players knew they’d lost a vital point.
But they would need to pick themselves back up, dust off that regret, and get right back on the horse with only two days separating the Arsenal matcha and their Champions League fixture against Red Star Belgrade. With less than 24 hours to go before that match kicks off, the players involved would necessarily have needed to put their disappointments their backs and look forward to getting a positive result away from home.
It’s a tall order and under other circumstances, one might be forgiven for allowing that disappointment to cause a bit of a let down. However, we know that in elite football, no such quarter really exists. There is only the match in front of you, the moment that exists, in which one can marry one’s agency with the hope of creating the desired result. This is the moment in which the building of special teams takes place. It’s not a crucible or a battle or whatever adversarial metaphor is often used, but rather a moment of opportunity.
And in less than 24 hours, a Liverpool squad - bolstered by the inclusion of a healthy Naby Keita - will lace up their boots, line up in the tunnel, and walk out under the bright stadium lights and to the raucous crowd noise in Belgrade. They will assume their respective places on the pitch, perhaps take a light stretch, or blow a warm breath onto their cooled hands. Maybe they’ll look across the pitch and lock onto their assignment and replay the notes from the video sessions. Or they’ll lock eyes with their team mates on the pitch and give a determined look of encouragement.
Whatever the case, the referee’s whistle will blow, the ball will be moved from the center circle, and the match will begin; their moment of opportunity.