“Pete Krawietz always says the art of football is to lose the right games. I still hate it but if there was any kind of game we could have afforded to lose, it was tonight because the main target obviously of this competition is to get through,” Jurgen Klopp declared following last night’s 1-0 defeat to Inter Milan, which ultimately resulted in our qualification to the Champions League quarterfinals.
And he’s right. A loss is only a loss when it has negative consequences, and due to our first-leg lead secured in the San Siro, the unfortunate loss at Anfield doesn’t matter.
Liverpool were always going to have one of those games where we just cannot score and the opponent smashes in a 1 in 100 effort to steal a win. So it’s much, much better it happened last night than in our upcoming fixtures…
Mo Salah hit the woodwork twice – one of which was a sitter. Joel Matip headed against the bar and Luiz Diaz somehow had his effort from 6-yards cleared over the bar by Arturo Vidal in what was a genuinely jaw-dropping piece of defending. We dominated possession, chances and shot-count, and were undone by Lautaro Martinez’s world-class effort past Alisson.
Virgil van Dijk encouraged the Argentine to shoot, knowing it would only beat Alisson if it found the postage stamp in the corner of the goal – which is exactly what it did. When this happens, it looks like poor defending, but Virg is playing the percentages. If he does that the next hundred-odd times, the attacker will simply hit Alisson – who will catch it – or balloon it over.
It goes to show it was just one of those nights that happens in football. Thankfully, the red-card to Alexis Sanchez, which was deserved, killed Inter’s chances and they didn’t lay a glove on us with ten-men. The scoreline would suggest a nervy final 20 minutes, but the reality is we coasted to victory and were the team who looked far more likely to score.
Maybe there’ll be more games until the end of this campaign where luck and finishing isn’t on our side, but we could do with reducing that possibility by being more clinical.
The League Cup Final victory was brilliant and the penalties were perfection. But Mo Salah and Sadio Mane missed gilt-edged chances in the 90 minutes, with the former also off-colour in the scrappy 1-0 win over West Ham which followed (after our second string had beaten Norwich in the FA Cup). Last night, Salah very nearly had two lovely goals, in what was a much-improved overall performance from the weekend, except his shooting is perhaps lacking the confidence it had before he went to AFCON – when he was undeniably the form player in world football.
You can always tell when Salah is a little grouchy – usually at himself – given the standards he sets are so high. Such is his quality, all it’ll take is one goal from open play and he’ll be get himself back on a run and add to his 27 goals already this term. Few would bet against him hitting the 40-mark before the summer.
Sadio Mane has five in his past five Premier League matches and is making an argument that his future in our starting XI is as the False-9, allowing Luis Diaz the spot on the left. Mane can finish, is great in the air and can drive at defenders centrally. He’s lost his insane pace from a few years back, which is why the role between the inside-forwards might now actually suit him better. It was interesting last night to see Mane and Diogo Jota swap positions between left-wing and centre-forward.
Jota was flying before his injury, but like Salah, needs a goal to get himself rolling again. The Portuguese has 17 this campaign and a thumper of a chant to his name – but is now fighting with Diaz and Roberto Firmino for a spot alongside Salah and Mane.
Firmino is probably fifth choice in the pecking order, but in big games, there is a feeling that he still maximises the effectiveness of Salah and Mane – and also leads our counterpress. Jota is a good presser and a better finisher than Bobby, but he’s less classy and composed in the buildup. Diaz is a different threat entirely – a maverick who cuts in from the wing to cause havoc with trickery galore. The start to his Liverpool career has been genuinely exceptional – he’s so good to watch – he just needs to back up the performances with more regular final product. One goal and no assists in nine games doesn’t do the positions he’s got himself in justice.
The options are plentiful, but we’ve got ourselves through the past games without reaching anything like our best level. This is notoriously a good sign, of course. Although it’s unlikely we’ll get two wins away at Brighton and Arsenal in the next week if we continue being quite so wasteful in front of goal.
Still, these are the Days or our Lives as Reds and this season still shows the potential to be one of the greatest of all time. One Cup down, three to go. Klopp will have his side focussing on one game at a time, and will rotate his squad between fixtures, as is the only way to compete on three fronts until June. With luck on our side and a sharper finishing touch, anything is possible.