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The Cunning Plan for Anfield backfired but at least we had a Plan. – Review & Player Ratings

Liverpool 3-1 Arsenal

Premier League review

 

 

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Got done by Mo Salah again…

I’m not sure what to think here.

Yes, it was another defeat at Anfield. It’s been a ground for us, over the past several decades, of immense highs and woeful lows.

This was a low, but not as bad as last season’s 5-1 battering, or the 4-0 drubbing of 17/18 season.

The game plan from the off was to contain Liverpool, play narrow, and force them to cross the ball in.

And then utilise the pace of Aubameyang and Pepe to sting their (seemingly) newly-maligned defence.

This is how things unfolded for the most part in the first half, until Joel Matip scored from a corner-placed header.

The second half though was the Redmen’s dominance, with African wonder Salah scoring a brace.

Torreira managed to get one back towards the end, but the better side won. Yes, they’ve never won the Premier League, but they’ve won more leagues overall than us. And they’re the European Champions – we’ve never been able to say that (sadly…)

 

In general impressions of the game though:

 

  • Liverpool are a level above – we have to accept that reality

 

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Much has been said of the game plan Emery instituted, and I’ll touch on that later.

However, I feel Liverpool just had more power, energy, tempo, and technicality than us. And given their home record (without a loss in nearly two years) a win for them was perhaps inevitable.

It’s not just having Allison (even though he’s injured currently), or van Dijk, Robertson and Alexander-Arnold. Or Wijnaldum, Henderson and Milner in midfield, or the “trinity” of Firmino, Salah, and Mane up top. It’s their overall shape, balanced, tenacity, pressing, and technical skill that sees them dominates teams and ultimately be European Champions for the sixth time.

The way they passed and moved the ball was at a quicker speed and tempo, and Klopp in his post-match interview mentioned this, since it’s clearly the secret to his success as Liverpool manager.

We’re miles off that level. Yes, we have our day, and a passing and movement-based style is inherent to our club’s culture also, due to Wenger’s successes. But our players aren’t as good as theirs, and only a few (perhaps four at best) would get into their strongest side.

Losing to a superior opponent is never a disgrace – and Liverpool certainly are that. Many Gooners like to compare our path with that of Liverpool post-2015 when Klopp took over from Brendan Rodgers, and there are some key parallels. But they are a few years ahead of the curve, and it will take time to catch them up.

 

 

  • The game plan

 

This has been maligned in many quarters.

I get the concerns, since it did allow them onto us.
But then I feel Emery had no choice but to do this.

Not many are “Emery out”, but he still has some work to do to warm to the fanbase.

For me, I support him, largely since I feel he can get us back to the top four, and that he has the key skill required to succeed in the contemporary Premier League. This being tactical flexibility and analysis. This was a serious flaw under latter Wenger, and it’s refreshing to see some analysis and thinking of opponents and conditions before games occur.

 

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I personally was thinking pre-match that matching their midfield was key, since we didn’t have the power to contain them. Yes, it left the flanks exposed, so their full-backs could cross. But then they didn’t’ really create much, and of their “trinity” Salah had the best game of the three. Firmino and Mane for me at least were not rubbish certainly, but not outstanding.

Norwich and Chelsea attacked Liverpool from the off, though they both still lost a piece. And we did get behind them on occasions, notably via Auba and Pepe.

I can see why Emery executed what he did – but it didn’t pay off.

I feel though that due to Liverpool’s overall superiority as a side, even if the tactics were sharper we may still have lost this. They’re just that good at the moment.

 

 

  • David Luiz

Well, well, well……

I was happy for him to come. Yes, he is error-prone, but he’d bring a different dimension at the back.

 

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There were some strong caveats from some prominent Chelsea Youtubers I watch (Have Hope, Younes HH, and 100 percent Chelsea), and even Jason Cundy on Talksport, who referenced his strong play intermixed with defensive lapses.

We definitely saw the latter in this game.

The first goal for Matip I feel wasn’t his fault – Sokratis, himself and Guendouzi got caught in a mix, and whilst they were looking to handle both van Dijk and Matip, Matip exploited the situation and scored.

Salah’s first – well wow…

What the hell – or what the f – was Luiz thinking?

To pull his shirt was comically poor.

And even Mustafi-esque defending.

Even Kos, who now in large part is an Arsenal “public enemy”, committed similar despite admitted strong play over the years. As has Sokratis, who arguably now is our best centre-back.

So Luiz has made a cross-London trip, to be home amongst error-prone defenders…..

These errors were bad to see since it shows that our concentration levels are still weak.

And this certainly hastened our defeat, without question.

Luiz could redeem himself vs. Spurs, who knows?

But in this game at Anfield, he definitely was the villain in our party.

 

 

Pepe

 

Red Hot Chilli Pepe almost scored a wonderful goal on the break here.

Perhaps his timing and placement were wrong, as he hit it straight to Adrian.

But to get himself in that position was sound. And he caused van Dijk – arguably the best CB on Earth right now – many issues in his pace and dribbling early on.

 

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From this showing, it seems that he will cause plenty of teams some serious problems this year.

His pace, trickery, and technicality, are all top-notch. And if he can genuinely spook arguably the best PL defence, then he WILL spook those Lillywhites. OK, their defence is good too, but not at Liverpool’s level. Alderweireld has declined, and Rose and Verthonghen are error-prone. Verthonghen in last year’s game cost his side a penalty, and got twisted by both Auba and Poch. Mr. “I’m a good coach but have won nothing as a manager” should watch it – it’s all aligning for Pepe to make his mark vs. that lot, and it won’t just be Pochettino who is worrying. Or should be worrying, on this form.

 

Midfield

 

The return of Xhaka seemingly grated a few, though I didn’t feel he was that bad.

His long-range passing was fair, and it did release Auba and Pepe often.

He also was up for a physical tussle with their mids, and overall he was capable in this system.

I don’t feel we play to his strengths, and as a regista he needs time and space at the rear of midfield to pick out passes from range.

With Pepe, perhaps, or Auba, we may have the outlet to do this.

 

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Though when he signed, playing with Ramsey in the middle didn’t get the best from him. All registas need the appropriate balance in their area, and who knows Pepe could get the best from Xhaka.

Ceballos wasn’t on it today, though he did intercept passes without creating much.

Torreira came on late, though Guendouzi worked hard as always.

Willock again was strong, and his energy and tempo were required to counter Liverpool’s midfield strengths.

 

Auba

 

Our Golden Boot winner, playing against two other Golden Boot winners from last term, of course, was OK. He had a chance where he lobbed a misplaced Adrian pass, though it was in fairness difficult to control.

And he is working and moving well off the left. Thierry Henry is our best ever striker, and the best PL striker ever (Alan who??) I love Ian Wright, though one must say Henry in some ways was a level above Wrighty. So with this caveat in place, I feel Auba is becoming quite Henry-esque in his play. We’ve critiqued the fact that he plays wide, but then he still has scored many goals for us, and it seems this season he is adapting to coming from the flank and contributing to central play.

I’m not saying he is at Henry’s level. But the manner of his play in all three games has been more expansive, and I welcome this change. At this rate, and with his buddy Laca to feature more, our attack can be (nay will be) as feared and as potent as Liverpool’s.

Auba though is the heir to Henry. He’s been more prolific than RvP was, despite the latter’s seeming “olive branch” before our game vs. Burnley. Well sorry, Robin, but we’ve got a new “husband” now, in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

 

Emery

 

As said prior, I liked his plan or at the least the rationale behind it.

I loved Wenger even though I felt he should go years before he did.

But Wenger seldom ever was as meticulous as Emery, and we need that.

Not all of the game plans will come off – and that’s life. Not everything we do can or will have the intended effects.

But he tried – and for this, he should be commended. It’s ironic that we cried out for tactical flexibility in the latter Wenger period, but now we have it it’s “wrong”.

 

As for VAR, there was a red card check, but for whom? There needs to be live footage on screens regarding this, to keep fans appraised of the decision-making. Cricket has it right, and football needs to follow.

 

 

Player ratings

 

 

Leno 7

Maitland-Niles 6

Sokratis 6

Luiz 2

Monreal 5

Xhaka 5

Guendouzi 5

Ceballos 5

Willock 7

Pepe 7

Aubameyang 6

Torreira 5

Mkhitaryan 6

Lacazette 6

 

 

 

Man of the match

 

For the game overall, it was Salah in my view.

 

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For us though, it was the Red Hot Chilli Pepe.

Yes, he gave his usual flicks and tricks.

But the fact he genuinely disturbed a world-class defence is promising. If he can unleash this on Spurs, this could be his arrival.

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2 Responses to The Cunning Plan for Anfield backfired but at least we had a Plan. – Review & Player Ratings

  1. DEW August 25, 2019 at 12:02 pm #

    You are spot on the cunning plan. I even have a name for this game “the song of unchallenged full backs.” For me he always come up with some cunning plans every week. I have not seen philosophy or style in the game he is coaching. He is the exact opposite of Wenger. May be it is good to part sooner than later, because the club will go no where without developing certain fundamental way of playing.

  2. Victor Thompson August 27, 2019 at 2:59 pm #

    I am a bit hesitant to criticise an article by someone who is a coach and so I will stick to some basic observations for which a coache`s badge is not necessary.

    For instance, I did a critique at the time I heard that we had signed Luis. I was aghast. This is a man who I loved to see on Chelsea`s team sheet. He rated even higher than Mustafi in the calamity department. I did put my concerns in print which appeared as a comment on Gunners Town. I just could not understand why we were finally resolved to sell Mustafi as his gaffs cost us vital points, and possibly a top 4 finish on at least one oaccasion; only to sign an older version of him. Within 3 games, he has cost us a penalty and two goals and possibly two points.

    I am terrified of the chaos he will cause against Spurs and I am sure Kane is straining at the leash to play against him. I wonder how many bookies are laying odds on the number of fouls Kane will extract from him and also, what odds that he gives another penalty away. Perhaps he should wear mittens so that he can`t pull shirts?

    Anyway, I do venture to criticise Emery because he has clearly given strict instructions to Leo to distribute the ball with his hands. Against Burnley, it was so evident that Burnley had their two strikers heading a row of 4 in constant touch of our box. They were followed by another rank of 4, which is nowadays what you expect to see when the defending team retreats to their own half.

    Dyche would have seen our match against Newcastle and he realised that if he pressed us in our own half using his defensive formation, he would block our full backs and compress play into midfield. We were physically weak against Burnley and they made the whole match very difficult for Willock. Liverpool did the same thing but with much more bite in the form of Salah.

    I don`t know if their defence was as shaky as was rumoured because we did not press them enough. There were two chances for Auba and Pepe but generally we were confined to our own half. With the midfield concentrated within our half, passes by necessity needed to be accurate and fast. Burnley managed that, but we didn`t. Liverpool did exactly the same and they picked up wayward passes and moved quickly with intent. We were walking on eggs most of the half and Emery had left Trorreira on the bench and picked Willock, who is simply not physical enough and when we have Guendousi in tandem with him, we are not going to win hard battles.

    The decision to play out from defence, starting with the goal keeper means that we have to make 2 or 3 moves to get over the half way line. When 2 of those passes are from full back to full back and then to the nearest available player, with no purpose in mind, it is not surprising that the opponents have positioned their defence and pressed our team back again. We seldom played outside our own half. Leo has to match hand distribution with kicks upfield, even if it is just to stop the other side getting comfortable because it was so easy to counter our play.

    Alas, I think Leo is pinning his hopes on his goalkeeper being his first attacker and it is not working, nor can it when we have a major cog in the machine who is even money to open the door for the opposition attackers.

    I do have some sunshine in this darkened sky and I agree with you that Pepe will be world class when he settles in. I just hope that the painfully slow play that Emery inherited from Wenger does not contaminate his instinctive speed of thought and action that he clearly posesses. We depend on being able to match the speed of thought and action of Liverpool and City and unfortunately, that does not seem to be part of the Emery philosophy.

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