Few teams have felt the satisfaction of taking any kind of result away from a matchup against Borussia Dortmund recently. And while it may be a week before we know exactly how good a result the 1-1 draw was last night, the performance was very reassuring.
To contain Dortmund the way we did, limiting their chances and stifling their play, showed great organisation and understanding among our players. The attacking trio of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Marco Reus barely got a sniff between them. These are the players who ran riot against the Tottenham defence just a few weeks ago – the same Tottenham defence which has the conceded the fewest goals in the Premier League so far this season. It may be that we caught them on a bad day, but the challenges that Dejan Lovren, Mamadou Sakho, and Emre Can were putting in to break up their play suggests otherwise.
It was probably a toss-up between our two centre-backs for the man of the match award. Lovren really should have got himself on the scoresheet with his headed effort from James Milner’s free-kick, but otherwise he was exceptional throughout the 90 minutes. Sakho had a couple of wobbles in possession, but his last ditch blocks and tackles were vital. Can provided decent cover for the two, and also held onto and used the ball really well for us, allowing everyone to regroup before recycling possession neatly.
The decision to start Divock Origi instead of Daniel Sturridge up front also seemed to be vindicated, with the Belgian’s pace and movement causing problems to the Dortmund backline. I still have reservations about his finishing, as his chance just on the stroke of half-time really should have been finished. And even his goal had a slice of luck about it; with him deciding against taking the obvious early shot, and instead holding onto the ball and allowing the defenders to get back in place. Having made it a more difficult chance, it was just good fortune that the shot took a deflection past the goalkeeper. But you can’t expect a 20 year old to be without faults, and his all-round game was very encouraging.
There were a couple of worrying performances though. Jordan Henderson went off at half-time due to injury, but I’d have been seriously tempted to haul him off anyway. Whether it’s these niggling injuries, the burden of the captaincy, being given strange instructions, or just not really fitting the system, Henderson has been pretty poor all season. He made the wrong choices too often yesterday; attempting passes that weren’t on, wandering from his position at illogical moments, and dawdling in possession for too long. Joe Allen came on and did all that was needed from the player in that role. He kept things ticking, looked to pass forwards when possible, joined the attack only when numbers were needed, and hassled the opposition when they had the ball. It was just a bog-standard midfielder’s performance really, but it was a breath of fresh air after Henderson’s display. Hopefully our skipper’s injury isn’t too serious, but it’s clear that something needs to change in his game the next time we do get him out onto the pitch.
Adam Lallana is another cause for concern. He recently won the PFA Fans’ Player of the Month award for March, though in fairly underwhelming fashion in my opinion. He continues to display his all too familiar deficiencies. Lining up next to the likes of Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, Daniel Sturridge, and now even Divock Origi, Lallana struggles to be anything more than a passenger in our attack. Whereas the others all have it in them to win a game for us, he displays no ability to grab a game by the scruff of its neck and single-handedly get us a result. It’s not even that he suddenly needs to be our talisman and game-changer; a lot of Firmino’s match winners have come in games where he’s been generally quiet. But at least with the Brazilian we’ve seen that knack of a player who gets in the right place at the right time, and only needs one sniff at goal to hit the back of the net. Lallana rarely even gets himself in the positions to get a shot at goal, and then even when he does he’s hardly prolific.
He’s not as creative as you’d expect a ‘number 10’ with fancy footwork either. Too often he chooses the easy pass when given the chance to attack, opting to go wide to a full back instead of risking an incisive ball into the forwards. His lack of pace also means that he can’t run at defenders with any real threat, so he has to twist and turn sideways or backwards, allowing teams to get back and regain a decent defensive shape. The former Southampton man does have the redeeming quality of being a very hard worker to be fair to him, which could preserve his Liverpool career into next season (albeit as a squad player) given how highly Klopp rates that trait in his group.
The chances are we’ll see a similar sort of game to last night’s at Anfield next week. We had a 2-0 lead over Manchester United, but still went on the attack in the second leg instead of sitting back and inviting pressure. So although the away goal gives us the advantage for now, Klopp won’t rest on his laurels and be naïve enough to think we can see this out by parking the bus. The team will need to go toe-to-toe with Dortmund again, and if we can fans do our bit and match the atmosphere of yesterday, we’ll be in for yet another spectacular European night.
By James Nelson (@_James_Nelson_)