After the absurd amount of drama surrounding the postponed first leg and the ridiculous claims — reportedly from numerous clubs who apparently don’t have better things to do — of Liverpool falsifying positive covid tests in order to... play the second leg away, I guess, the actual match was a terribly tepid affair, largely due to Arsenal playing two thirds of the game with a man less following a predictably insane moment from captain Granit Xhaka.
Below we take a slightly closer look at why it turned out that way and whether it holds any significance for the season at large.
Mikey Olives: The ref was good! Michael Oliver is, by an upsetting distance, the best referee in England, and the man did his job very well today, penalising what needed to be penalised and disregarding what needed disregarding. It’s nice to see that, as difficult as refereeing is made out to be, it is in fact possible to not buck under the pressure and just do a good job.
Trophy Hopes: Listen, Liverpool didn’t win tonight, but they are a better team than Arsenal, and will be favoured to beat them in the return leg next Thursday, which would mean a trip to the League Cup final. It’s not a big important trophy, and people moaning about the lack of silverware will undoubtedly discredit it as soon as it suits their argument to do so, but Wembley is nice and Jordan Henderson doing the tippy-tappy is fun, so winning it would nonetheless be, in the parlance of Jürgen Klopp, pretty cool.
Power Play Offense: For the sixth time this season, Liverpool’s opponents had a man sent off, and for the fifth time, the Reds failed to score an open play goal in the aftermath.
Now, there are extenuating circumstances for a number of these situations; mostly that Liverpool were already in the lead in the games in question and goals weren’t strictly necessary, but the inability of Jürgen Klopp’s side to break down defenses that simply have no interest in doing anything other than defend is a cause for concern.
With Trent Alexander-Arnold largely coming inside and Diogo Jota not rotating out wide as willingly as Mohamed Salah does, the onus to occupy the flank fell on Jordan Henderson, and he simply tucked in too much too readily to be effective out there. The Reds also struggled to move the ball into those wide areas quickly enough when they had players there, allowing Arsenal to shift to the ball side and rather comfortably clog up the passing lanes while still packing the centre of the box.
Breaking down a stubborn defense remains one of the trickiest things to do in football, but given how often that is the task of the day, it should probably be top of the list of priorities for Klopp and his coaching crew in the coming months.
What Happens Next
The Reds host Brentford in the Premier League on Sunday, in a bid to try and keep pace with league leaders Manchester City, who host third-placed Chelsea on Saturday. After that all hopefully works out, it’s time for the return leg at the Emirates next Thursday, where the Reds will ideally make tonight’s dull affair not matter one iota.