Always feels like we get a match against Chelsea early on in the season, doesn’t it? One of those scenarios where it’s still too early to assess either side, but one where every pundit is quick to latch onto whatever narrative is the lowest hanging fruit. As for what that is, we’ll deal with in a bit. It involves the referee, because of course it does.
Liverpool and Chelsea leave Anfield sharing the points, one apiece. One point for each goal the two teams scored. Both teams leave Anfield with encouraging moments, moments their supporters can point to and say, “we were the better side!” And both head into the international break having dropped points to a team expected to challenge for the title, leaving both sets of supporters with concerns.
As for Liverpool, a familiar worry has reared its ugly head. They spent an entire half up a man. Chelsea succeeded in mitigating that. Their purpose was to frustrate and defend for their lives, and they did that. As for Liverpool? They needed to be patient. They needed to wait for the right opportunity and not get dragged around. Those opportunities came, for sure, but weren’t taken advantage of. And as the clock hit 75 and then 83 and then 89, those chances were few and far between. The work and graft was present. The reward forever evasive. Now, just three days until the summer transfer window SLAMS SHUT, there are moans for just one more attacker to be added to the ranks.
Now join us as we examine some of the narratives, tactics, reactions, and questions Liverpool will be dealing with and the fans will be talking about in the aftermath.
Dissecting The Narrative
For the most part, it was a really good game between two of the best teams in the world. But most of the conversation from the pundit class will be squared on Reece James’ handball and sending off. During a goal line scramble, James blocked a Sadio Mane shot first with his thigh, then swatted the ball away from the goal line with his arm. The referee let play continue before going to VAR for assistance in making the decision. The result came quickly: penalty and red card.
Nothing bores me more than conversations about refereeing, especially when the subject is Anthony Taylor, but this feels the most contrived. People like the Garys (Neville and Lineker) never like when Liverpool get these calls from referees. Was it a split second and dramatic event that changed the match completely? Yes. Absolutely. Does that mean it was the wrong decision? Never in a million years. That’s not going to stop anyone from talking about it however.
Winners and Losers
It says a lot about what the manager thinks of the teenager that he was included in the starting lineup against a team expected to challenge for the title. It says even more about Elliott that he looked like the best midfielder on the field for Liverpool throughout the match. The future is yours, Harvey.
With Virgil van Dijk back from injury and Trent Alexander-Arnold being the focal point of Liverpool’s attack, it is only natural for teams to target the right sided central defender. Romelu Lukaku was relatively quiet today for being a £97.5 million striker, and that was because Big Joel didn’t put a foot wrong. A healthy Matip is one of the best defenders in the world and he showed that today.
Okay, putting Sadio in the loser category is very harsh. But it’s part of the larger conversation about what’s happening at Liverpool and I needed to grab your attention. As fans were sat there growing ever frustrated with how the second half played out, Mane was often at the scene of the breakdown. Dispossessed. Bad pass here or there. Getting fouled but not getting the call. A bad shot. Hell, he hardly took anyone on at all.
So, let’s dig into the numbers. Sadio lost the ball 14 times today between being dispossessed or losing duels. That’s way too high, but the attack skewed to the left in the second half so it makes sense for him to be, well, involved. However, he has 12 shots and 5 key passes through 3 games, so I’m wary of overreactions calling for his demise.
The natural flow of this conversation at this point is to bring up that Liverpool need a 5th choice attacker on par with Mane, Salah, Firmino, and Jota. Perhaps those that make that argument will be proven right over the course of the season, but right now we’re talking about one game.
Roberto Firmino came off in the 42nd minute with an injury. First half substitutes are never part of the plan, and of course this was just a few minutes before the game was flipped on its head with the red card. My guess is that if Firmino doesn’t get injured, we would’ve seen all four attackers on the field for a majority of the second half. Mane could’ve still played badly in that scenario, but I think it’s harsh to place the blame squarely on his shoulders. He very well could not be the old Mane, but you can’t reach that conclusion based off just this match. Even if Jurgen Klopp had a 5th superb attacker at his disposal, I’m not sure how different his subs would’ve been in this one.
What Happens Next
Liverpool are headed into an international break. Oh and the transfer window closes on Tuesday. A draw is hard to swallow right now, but it’s not a bad result heading into the rest of the season. September 12th against Leeds is the next time we get to cheer on the boys in Red. See you then.