The Champions League is back and so are the European Reds baby! Naturally, there will be no famous Anfield nights this season, as covid conspires with capitalism to continue its prolonged assault on the world and its inhabitants, but there’s football, and sometimes Liverpool win at it.
Let’s talk about that!
Defensive Errors: After some horrendous defensive mistakes costing them in recent weeks, and margins feeling as though they simply refused to go Liverpool’s way all season, there was an added sensation of catharsis in the Reds capitalising on errors at the other end.
An errant pass from a heavily pressured captain Marcel Sabitzer released Mohamed Salah to tuck home in the 53rd minute, before failure to deal with a high bouncing ball — and a failure to stay on his feet — saw Sadio Mané slip away from Nordi Mukiele and find the near corner only five minutes later.
The Reds won’t get these sorts of breaks in every game, but taking them when they’re offered is a much better option than the alternative.
Taking Chances: Which, let’s be real, has been an issue for Liverpool this season. After playing well in the first half, but failing to capitalise on two big chances and having a third — possibly wrongly — disallowed, there was a sense of déjà vu among the more fatalistic Reds fans.
The Merseysiders had only scored two goals from four expected in the past three games, so hopefully tonight’s bout of clinicality wasn’t merely a temporary relief, but a new, reliable norm.
Ozan Kabak: After getting thrown into the mix against Leicester at the weekend, and partaking in a devastating mix-up with Alisson on the Foxes’ second goal in that game, doubts about the Turk’s quality had already begun to creep into the minds of Reds fans.
The young Turk did go some way towards alleviating those doubts tonight, with a display evocative of the Dejan Lovren comparisons that had been drawn upon his signing with the club. Aggressive and foot-forward, the 20-year old made 4/4 tackles and 3 interceptions, both good for most of any player on the pitch, as well blocking a pair of crosses and making a pair of clearances.
Liverpool centre-halves typically do not attempt four tackles in half a dozen games, never mind one, so these numbers may or may not be indicative of changes being made to account for the missing starters. There’s also a tendency to drop off a little early and some defensive line discipline issues that still need to be sorted out, and Kabak will never be the sort of greyhound straight line runner Joe Gomez is, but a few more showings of this caliber should certainly cement him as a preferred option ahead of Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams, and allow Klopp to push Fabinho or Jordan Henderson back into midfield for the rest of the season.
Slavko Vincic: The referee was really good. He was probably failed by his linesman on Liverpool’s disallowed goal, but otherwise, he called the game evenly, and wasn’t afraid to dish out free kicks and yellow cards for infractions that merited them. A rarefied experience, so worth pointing out.
The Subs: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Xherdan Shaqiri didn’t do much in the 20 minutes they spent on the pitch, with neither player recording a single offensive or defensive involvement, and the pair combining for only 10 passes. The squad is thin and we yearn for the return of genuine starting options getting healthy again.
Credit to the Opposition
Given his age, nationality and profile, there was a lot of discourse surrounding Julian Nagelsmann ahead of this match, and the 33-year old did not shy away from his principles despite the illustrious opposition he faced, sticking with an aggressively pressing 5-3-2 hybrid set-up that has served his team well all year.
Hamstrung by the lack of a legitimate quality striker, Leipzig nonetheless created a few solid opportunities — particularly after making adjustments following the goals — and restricted the Reds to the same, with defensive errors ultimately proving the difference between the two sides.
The end result was a fun, if somewhat tumultuous game, that swung back and forth and contained an abundance of hustle and the occasional touch of genius. They may not win any titles with this approach until their talent is upped another level, but considering the double deckers the Reds have faced in recent weeks, meeting a creative idealist is a true breath of fresh air.
What Happens Next
It’s derby day! Everton come to Anfield on Saturday, in what may turn into a genuinely important match in the top four race. Last time round the Blues ruined the knees of both Virgil van Dijk and Thiago on their way to a thoroughly undeserved point, so hopefully Chris Kavangh puts on a better performance than Michael Oliver.