The Reds advance to the fourth round of the FA Cup in tremendously unimpressive manner, winning the chance to get lit up once again by the side that melted them 3-0 at the weekend. Big fun!
A win is a win is a win, however, and all told, this was at least mostly a deserved one. As such, we take a closer look at who the winners and losers were on the night, and dig into some baseless speculation and tactical nitpicks.
A Win! After three consecutive games without a win, complete with dreary performances to match, it was nice to just get one in the win column, you know. It wasn’t always pretty, but Liverpool at least set up in a shape that made fundamental sense, put in the necessary effort, and avoiding giving away free goals through hilarious individual errors.
The Press! Jürgen Klopp spoke before tonight’s match about the team going back to basics. For many managers, this would usually refer to Team Shape and Keeping it Tight at the Back and other Hodgsonisms, but for the German, it means committing to an aggressive pressing game.
They ran out of legs hard in the final 20 minutes, but for the first time in a while, Liverpool looked like they might be able to do something off their press. Eschewing the weird narrow four-man box that allowed Brighton to simply pass it to an unmarked fullback on every possession at the weekend, the Reds committed the extra man to the cause, had a winger lurk on his fullback, waiting for the outlet ball, and rotated midfielders and front men throughout in order to cut out unwanted passing lanes, funneling Wolves into the spaces they wanted.
The counterpress was back too, and on a number of occasions, Liverpool won the ball in the final third, where a more aggressive attacker more focused on getting in behind might have allowed them to capitalise.
Yutes! Harvey Elliott scored the game winner, carrying the ball 50 yards before swerving it over a misplaced Jose Sá from 25 — handing Thiago his easiest ever assist in the process — and was generally a standard setter throughout, showing quick feet and high intensity on defense, as well as his characteristic intelligent aggression on the ball. His passion throughout also carried an energy the side — often stressed and lethargic — has missed in recent times.
Stefan Bajcetic might be the pick of the bunch, though, as the 18-year old put in an incredible shift as a single pivot in midfield, sitting on passing lanes, winning the ball, and dictating play with intelligent possession and .outstanding passing range. The Spaniard has had his ups and downs in his few appearances in Red, and might lack the base athleticism to dominate in this sort of role week in week out, but he’s also obviously remarkably gifted, and it is clear why the coaches at the club rate him so highly.
Starters: It’s not easy to determine exactly what is going on with Liverpool this year — this writer speculates that an ambitious pre-season plan to try and peak twice in a campaign cut in half by an oddly placed World Cup has backfired spectacularly, and that a cascade of injuries, poor results and dented confidence has rendered them unable to claw their way back from it — but they often look off the pace from very early on in games.
Tonight, at the very least, the Reds started fairly hot, and sustained that pace for a good hour before fading. It’s still not perfect, but it’s massively preferable to what we’ve been served up over the past months, and some of the players who are considered the first names on the team sheet might have had a sobering experience looking at tonight’s performance.
A slightly worse player who is capable of moving as necessary is much prefereable to a better one persistently stuck in mud, and until the coaching staff can figure out what’s going on with the condition of some of its superstars, it might be time for the second string to get a sustained shot.
Non-Striker Attackers: Despite the Reds pressing and possessing far better than has been the case recently, they were largely — and predictably — unable to capitalise on dangerous situations, simply because none of their attacking players are very good at scoring goals. Cody Gakpo, Harvey Elliott and Fabio Carvalho all prefer dropping in in front of the defensive line to look for killer balls, and none of Naby Keïta, Bajcetic or Thiago are famed for running past their attackers, so with nobody making those deadly final third runs, many promising looks ended with a cluster of players surrounding the Wolves box with no targets to aim for.
In short, Darwin Núñez, Diogo Jota, Luis Díaz, literally anybody willing to make a forward run, you are desperately needed back.
What Happens Next
In injury-ravaged Chelsea come to Anfield on Saturday, as the two top four locks battle it out for sixth place supremacy. Then there’s an international break, which, despite all recent evidence to the contrary, we hope will help the Reds get their fitness back so they can look something like their old selves.