Emotions are kind of funny things. They tend to make straight forward things more sticky than they should be. But they also make all of this worth it. We’re not robots and neither are professionals. The managers, the technical staffs, the players, and yes even the referees experience the same emotions we do. We want to think they’re void and clear-minded at all times, but that’s impossible.
Today’s Liverpool 1-0 win over Aston Villa was one of the most emotionally fraught victories of the season. For a lot of reasons. All of the reasons intertwined and messy and beautiful. It makes the whole enterprise worth experiencing. If football happened without the emotion, it’d be the most boring thing on the planet. I wouldn’t be writing this and you wouldn’t be reading it.
There’s the obvious emotion of Steven Gerrard returning to Anfield as the opposition, as the newly appointed Aston Villa manager. It’s perhaps obvious that it would happen some day, but regardless of how well prepared you are for an event, it’s still emotional. You know this. You’ve experienced the birth of a child, a passing of a close relative, a relationship beginning or ending, a professional achievement. All events in our life we can prepare for, but nothing prepares us for the emotional experience of them happening. One of the greatest Liverpool players (definitely the best until that guy who scored today, but we’ll talk about him in a bit) we’ve ever seen managing the opposition. Weird, isn’t it? Emotional.
Maybe all of that stuff is way the match ended up being much more difficult to suffer through. All of the stats show us another dominant Liverpool performance (again, something we’ll address). But it didn’t feel dominant when it was 0-0 on at 57 minutes. It didn’t feel that way when Villa came alive in the last ten minutes. And it sure as hell didn’t feel that way when the referee was making yet another daft decision. But that’s okay. Emotions get the best of all of us.
Let’s set aside these emotions for a bit and dig deeper into another Liverpool December victory.
Winners and Losers
The Scottish leftback was excellent today. He didn’t score today, but he should’ve. He didn’t record an assist today, but he should’ve. He didn’t win a penalty today, but he should’ve. Villa’s gameplan to try to pin Liverpool’s centerbacks back with the ball meant Thiago was often left as the deep outlet, which in turn left Robertson in acres of space on the left side. Sure, there’s certain moments where he should’ve done better, but he never shied away from the pressure of applying the pressure.
Applying the pressure, turning the screw, and blowing the damn door down
The thing that this iteration of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool team does so, so well is ratchet up the pressure on their opponents. It’s a relentless onslaught of attack after attack. The pitch and the opposition’s penalty area becomes smaller and smaller after each wave of attack. It’s what ultimately leads to Tyrone Mings fouling Mo Salah for the penalty. I’ve never played this sport at a high level, but I imagine it’s absolutely torturous to defend against.
Just some stats to throw at you. That’s 31 consecutive matches Liverpool have scored at least one goal in. Club record. 14 clean sheets in the 24 matches this season. 10 of those clean sheets have come in 16 Premier League matches. Salah sits on 14 goals in the league, 21 all competitions. 7 straight wins since the West Ham loss. I could keep going, but I think you get the point... These Reds are relentless.
He’s the best in the world, isn’t he? Certainly doing his best to become the best Liverpool player to ever wear the shirt. Some competition with that guy on the opposing touchline. Not his greatest game ever but probably his best penalty ever. Not much I can really say here but it feels like he has to feature in this section every week. He’s got eyes on personal and collective trophies.
Steven Gerrard’s tactical setup
Gerrard has turned Villa around really quickly. He’s made them really tough to beat and their midfield is one of the best I’ve seen come to Anfield this season. But him and his players came into today with no idea how to score. Look. I get it. Liverpool is really, really good and trying to win at Anfield is sorta like trying to win the lottery. But they were time wasting in the 30th minute. If Liverpool were more clinical or if the referee wasn’t a total knob, this match isn’t ending 1-0.
Stuart Steven Attwell
I really, really hate discussing referees. It’s a difficult job to do and I trust that they’re (mostly) doing their best. The best referees allow the moments to be the moments, and I thought Attwell got in the way of that today. It pissed off both sets of players and the match was worse because of it. But in the end, Liverpool get a penalty on the play that was the easiest to call. Liverpool have also never lost a game when Attwell is in charge. But I’ll be happy to not see him anymore.
What Happens Next?
Manchester City, Chelsea, and Liverpool all won today by one goal that were all penalties. The march is well and truly on. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but you can’t win a league in December. You can lose it. This match and last week could’ve be title deciders in the sense that Liverpool could have drawn both and that would be gross. Only the second time Klopp’s Liverpool have won back to back league by a scoreline of 1-0, the other two were in 2015.
It’s all about applying the pressure. Turning that screw against the opponents in the match and knocking on the door of the title rivals. This is all about experiencing those emotions in May. Buckle up and enjoy the ride. Up the Reds.