Liver­pool’s ragged­ness in vic­tory may yet give ri­vals hope

While the win looked im­pres­sive, how good, re­ally, were Klopp’s side against Arse­nal?

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Sport Soccer - JONATHAN WIL­SON

There was a mo­ment just be­fore half-time on Satur­day, with Liver­pool 3-1 up, when Jür­gen Klopp strode to the edge of the tech­ni­cal area, eyes flash­ing be­hind his glasses, fin­ger jab­bing, fury writ­ten across his face. Sa­dio Mané had given the ball away cheaply and had failed to track back and Arse­nal had briefly threat­ened. A cou­ple of min­utes later, Mo­hamed Salah was bun­dled over by Sokratis Pa­pas­tathopou­los, con­vert­ing the re­sul­tant penalty and Liver­pool were 4-1 up. It was one of those days: how­ever sloppy Liver­pool were at times, Arse­nal were much, much worse.

In the other tech­ni­cal area, a gri­mac­ing Unai Emery looked even more like Alan Par­tridge than ever, as though try­ing to give a speech to the sales con­fer­ence of a firm spe­cial­is­ing in coal-ef­fect fires af­ter pierc­ing his foot on a spike. By mid­way through the first half, he had given up his guid­ing role on the touch­line to sit on the bench: there is, in the end, only so much you can do with those play­ers. The im­pact Emery has made at Arse­nal, the change in style and fo­cus, has been re­mark­able but some­times the scor­pion is go­ing to sting the frog, how­ever self-de­feat­ing it may be, be­cause that is what a scor­pion does.

Some fight

Last sea­son, Arse­nal were rab­bits-in-the-head­lights dread­ful in los­ing 4-0 at An­field. Satur­day was nowhere near as bad. There was at least some fight, some re­sis­tance, a plan re­volv­ing around a tac­ti­cal switch to 4-2-3-1 and an at­tempt to get in be­hind the Liver­pool full-backs, who seem to be be­com­ing more ad­ven­tur­ous by the week.

And briefly, it worked, un­til the de­fen­sive in­ad­e­quacy took over: a lack of de­ci­sive­ness lead­ing to a se­ries of un­for­tu­nate ric­o­chets; a pair of chal­lenges, that were some­how both in­tem­per­ate and in­ef­fec­tual, that Roberto Firmino tip­toed be­tween; a lack of alert­ness af­ter a cor­ner had been half-cleared, first as Andy Robert­son re­turned the ball to­wards Salah and then as he played it across goal; two penal­ties need­lessly and clum­sily con­ceded.

The im­age of Lu­cas Tor­reira sprawled on his face, des­per­ately swim­ming across the turf, still be­liev­ing he might some­how be able to ef­fect a block as Firmino lined up his fin­ish for the sec­ond, summed it up. It had been Tor­reira, given an aw­ful pass in an aw­ful sit­u­a­tion, who had lost pos­ses­sion to ini­ti­ate the at­tack, but he was still strain­ing ev­ery­thing to get back, let down by two cen­tral de­fend­ers whose idea of stop­ping a ram­pag­ing for­ward was to wag a meek foot in his gen­eral di­rec­tion. In­juries robbed Emery of Héc­tor Bellerín, Rob Hold­ing and Na­cho Mon­real and meant Lau­rent Ko­scielny started on the bench, but a new cen­tral de­fence must be a pri­or­ity when­ever next there is money to spend.

And what of Liver­pool, ex­tend­ing their lead at the top of the ta­ble? There was talk of a state­ment win, which is true but only if the state­ment is: “Arse­nal are prone to bouts of de­bil­i­tat­ing self-de­struc­tive­ness”. Few teams who win 5-1 can ever be said to have played badly but how good, re­ally, were they? They were too quick and too ag­gres­sive for Arse­nal, they ripped through them again and again, but this was at times a strangely ragged per­for­mance.

In the first 50 min­utes, Liver­pool lost pos­ses­sion 20 times – and that de­spite hav­ing less than 50 per cent pos­ses­sion (as well, of course, as be­ing a con­trib­u­tory fac­tor in them hav­ing less than half the ball). Things im­proved once Jor­dan Hen­der­son had come on but in that spell they were los­ing the ball once for ev­ery 16.4 passes at­tempted.

Gung-ho

There are nu­mer­ous fac­tors to be taken into ac­count but as a rough con­trast, Manch­ester City have lost the ball once ev­ery 28.1 passes over the course of the sea­son.

Liver­pool have not been as gung-ho this cam­paign. Their av­er­age is 24.4 passes per loss of pos­ses­sion. But against Arse­nal, at least early on, was a re­ver­sion to the old Liver­pool. Per­haps that was part of a con­scious ploy. Per­haps Klopp re­alised this Arse­nal can be in­tim­i­dated and so set his full-backs to storm for­ward, en­cour­ag­ing a fe­ro­cious press. Con­trol can at times con­sist of let­ting slip the leash.

But Pep Guardi­ola, you sus­pect, would not have been awed. No man­ager has a bet­ter record against Guardi­ola than Klopp, proof his co­horts of chaos can un­set­tle Guardi­ola’s or­der and or­gan­i­sa­tion, but what has made Liver­pool par­tic­u­larly im­pres­sive this sea­son has been the step back into a more con­trolled style, as ev­i­denced by the re­mark­able de­fen­sive record of eight goals con­ceded in 20 league games.

Im­pres­sive as the score­line ap­pears, im­pres­sive as Liver­pool’s char­ac­ter was in hit­ting back from con­ced­ing an early goal, there was a ragged­ness to the per­for­mance against Arse­nal and that per­haps, rep­re­sents an op­por­tu­nity for City on Thurs­day. Then again, when the for­ward line are play­ing with such aban­don and wreak­ing such havoc, maybe it makes no sense for Klopp to try to get them back in har­ness. – Guardian

‘‘ They were too quick and too ag­gres­sive for Arse­nal, but this was at times a strangely ragged per­for­mance

PHO­TO­GRAPH: PAUL ELLIS / AFP

Roberto Firmino cel­e­brates scor­ing his third and Liver­pool’s fifth in their win over Arse­nal at An­field.

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