Sports are fun! We’ve always said so and never wavered on that position, certainly not in writing, here or on any social media platform that rhymes with ‘glitter’.
In other words, it’s time for us to take another joyful bath in the pure bliss that is sports and playing good and winning, same as we always do.
Big Chance Conversion: After missing ten clear cut chances in a row(!) including two in the first half tonight, Liverpool scored two consecutively. Roberto Firmino’s finish from a foot out was literally unmissable, while Sadio Mané’s left-footed half-volley was far more technically demanding, but failing to tuck away these opportunities have been the difference between one and three points earned in recent weeks, so the front three ending that dreadful run could prove critical for the outcome of the season.
The High Line: After losing every senior centre-back on the books to injury, Liverpool attempted to adjust their style of defense, in an effort to mitigate the issues caused by no longer having thoroughbred sprinters shoring up the middle of defense. The seemingly suicidal, but immensely effective, high line of last year was substituted for a more conservative model, in which Fabinho and whatever child or midfielder playing next to him dropped off when possession was lost.
It wasn’t a disaster on the defensive end, with Liverpool’s goals conceded in recent weeks coming exclusively from set pieces and penalties, but it did seem to affect the efficacy of the Reds’ press, and their attacking numbers suffered as a result.
Tonight, despite the backline featuring Jordan Henderson and Joël Matip — and Nat Phillips for a half — the high line was back, and although it looked scary on a few occasions, and although Matip often opted to simply drop off whenever there was only a single runner, making a mockery of the concept of a line, it hugely impacted Liverpool’s ability to press the ball.
It will hurt them at some point if they stick with it, but the Reds need to play to their strengths, rather than attempting to hide their weaknesses, and if the trade-off is more goals at the other end — particularly with Diogo Jota nearing his return — the net result should be more points and fewer complaints.
Refs Again: We could just rename this segment the Disasterclass Derby because good lord Martin Atkinson. Note that this is not a criticsm of VAR, which did its job disallowing a goal for a close offside call in the game’s opening minutes, but of the game’s head official, who, after having a potential handball on Roberto Firmino tagged by the review system, went to the screen, watched the Brazilian hit the ball with his arm after Dier had both handballed and blatantly fouled him, and decided Mohamed Salah’s venomous strike needed to be chalked off.
Unlike last season, any ball-to-hand contact on an attacking player in the lead-up to a goal does no longer automatically annul the goal. Instead, IFAB added language that specifies the circumstances that do and do not qualify for a handball offense. Our own Mari Lewis has the details:
Here is the language clarified in IFAB’s official paperwork that says exactly what I’m saying: that was not a handball per these clarifications and should not have been reviewed. (Highlighted portion.) pic.twitter.com/4swmu68nqa— Mari Lewis (@MariCLewis) January 28, 2021
Despite the benefit of as many slow motion replays as he wanted, Martin Atkinson made a blatant wrong call. It didn’t impact the result of the game this time, but it has in the past and it will again.
The solution: clone Michael Oliver.
Moaning Mou: With Slaven Bilic and now Frank Lampard getting canned, Sacking Szn 2021 has officially started, and given his cantankerous disposition, Jose Mourinho is the kind of manager who really needs to keep winning to stay in a job. No sooner had the 58-year old stepped off the pitch than he blamed his players for individual mistakes, offering no defense of his charges, nor taking any responsibility for a game plan that had failed so miserably.
Spurs now sit in 6th, with Chelsea and Everton close behind, and — after entertaining title challenge dreams a a little over a month ago — are at serious risk of missing out on the Champions League next year. Mou has only managed to stay employed for two and a half seasons in his previous two jobs, and at this rate, is unlikely to make it to that mark this time round.
Credit to the Opposition
Hell no! Tottenham set up to park the bus and counter á la Allardyce, and would have succeeded early, if not for some swift and accurate VAR justice — Liverpool’s first goal against overturned by VAR on the season, compared to six overturns the other way. Every choice, from the five-man backline to the right-footed wing-back exclusively tasked with neutralising Mohamed Salah at the cost of any attacking potency, was made out of concern for the opposition — a team that had won a single game in the last seven — rather than to their own benefit.
Trailing for the entirety of the second half, Spurs managed only a single effort on goal — a belter from 20 yards that found the back of the net — and were utterly impotent in attack, taking a total of three shots, one from the half way line, deservedly losing in what could prove a crucial clash in the top four race.
What Happens Next
After a relatively quiet spell, it’s back to fixture mayhem, with three games in ten days, as the Reds travel to fifth-placed West Ham on Sunday, host Brighton on Wednesday, and then, in what is probably no longer billed as a decisive clash in the title race, host Manchester City next Sunday.
Up the who needs centre-backs when you have goals Reds!