Enough with the hysteria- Liverpool were unlucky and suffered freak result
Liverpool are being lambasted for their defeat to Madrid, but context is not being considered in 99% of the post-match discourse
Every now and then, with the way Liverpool play, a freak result will occur. Winning 9-0 against Bournemouth was equally freakish as Tuesday night, as well as when the Reds lost 7-2 to Aston Villa a couple of years ago. On that bizarre Sunday evening, a goalkeeping howler set the tone for a rout, and everything Villa hit went in, including fluky deflections, while Liverpool were denied a clear penalty at a crucial point in the game. A freak result contradicted both what Liverpool deserved and their good form.
The two games aren’t exact, but there are parallels that can be drawn, as I’ve just demonstrated. It’s not just Liverpool either; Man City lost 5-2 at home to Leicester in that season, and as recently as last week, went from convincingly dismantling league leaders Arsenal, to dropping points against Nottingham Forest a few days later; a game which nine times out of ten is probably a nine or ten nil win for City.
If you want a hysterical overload of toxic negativity, there are plenty of match reports which offer that style of analysis. I’ll hold my hands up, if you had asked me to write about the game straight after the full time whistle, you would have read something of that ilk. Straight after the game is when fans are most emotive, when fans often overhype positive results, and nearly always overexaggerate and catastrophise negative results. It’s exactly what propelled AFTV to fame; now that notoriety is declining, because the team is improving, no one is interested anymore.
That’s not what The Modern Age aims to offer. An antidote to the overload of scoreboard journalism is what is strived for on here. We need constructive observations, not aimless ranting and raving. We need reasonable, balanced analysis, not binary thinking.
So, with that said, let’s dig into the match.
Just because it was a freak result doesn’t mean Liverpool are blameless. Every single goal is avoidable. That’s not to take anything away from the sheer quality of Vinicius Junior, who may be the most in form player in European footballer right now, and Karim Benzema, who showed brilliant composure to bury his chance for the fifth.
I’ve had doubts about Joe Gomez since preseason, and I think Matip would have been the better choice- but that’s easy to say with hindsight. Gomez should have got tighter for the first goal, his back pass to Alisson for the second was shoddy (obviously the goal was mainly Alisson’s fault), he gives away the foul for the third and is arguably one of many at fault for the woeful defending with the set piece, the fourth is unfortunate but he is at the scene of the crime yet again, and he goes walkies for the fifth.
My point is far from that every goal is Gomez’s fault; my point is he can probably do better for all of them. If it’s one goal, that’s fair, but five in one game suggests Gomez should not be starting at centre back against such high quality opposition, who tend to punish at almost every opportunity.
But Klopp’s hand was forced, as Matip hasn’t been much better, and Konate, who undoubtedly would have started if fit, is injured. Liverpool should be looking at centre backs in the summer.
Gomez must not be singled out though; Alisson is obviously at fault for the second, and the whole team is shocking for the third, which Klopp reckons was the killer goal. I was at the Brentford game in early January, and it was clear something was wrong with the defending at set pieces; every corner and free kick felt like a penalty.
I’ve said since then, repeatedly, that the issues aren’t being rectified. I’m not sure Liverpool have gone a game without conceding a ‘must-score’ chance from a set piece. Even if we look at the clean sheets, Havertz is just offside at Anfield, and Badiashalle nearly scores; Tarkowski hits the post; Burn hits the bar; Wolves were robbed in the FA Cup at Anfield; it’s every single game, and this might have been the worst of the lot.
I said in the podcast preview for this game that it’s not enough to say Liverpool are poor at defending set pieces. “They just don’t,” I said, and that’s exactly what happened. The ball goes in and everyone in Red is playing musical statues. I hate it when people say “I could have scored that goal” but I can’t help but wonder if I would have at least got my head on the ball with the same ease as Militao (but as someone who has never scored a header, I doubt I would have put it in the back of the net).
I’m tempted to say just do man to man marking until whatever the current issue is has been resolved, because we can’t go on like this.
The fourth is a fluke, then Fabinho has a shocker for the fifth, and Bajcetic should bring Modric down. He will learn.
The mistakes are frustrating, but they don’t tell the full story. The finish from Vinicius is world class, and surely has an extremely low xG. In fact, Liverpool had a higher xG than Madrid. And more big chances. Which is why I think it has to be considered a freak result.
Alisson plays a silly pass but once it hits Vinicius it could go anywhere; of course it loops into the net. Whether it was a foul for the third goal is debatable, and the fourth, as I said and as is clear, was a fluke. Benzema was off balance and the shot had no power. It would have dribbled Alisson’s arms had it not deflected into the opposite direction. Liverpool are chasing the game and far too open for the fifth. Still, the finish is nowhere near as easy as it looks.
But the hard lines Liverpool faced are being significantly understated. There was a huge goal line scramble straight after Vinicius made it 2-1, and Liverpool were denied a clear penalty at 3-2. I mean, it’s about as clear as a foul gets, but because there is so much focus on the amusement that Liverpool lost 5-2 at home, it’s being ignored. If it’s Manchester Untied being denied a penalty in the last minute at Anfield for the same thing, “LiVARpool” is trending again.
Of course it’s a foul. If a Liverpool player had shoved Militao to the ground from behind when he was about to score his header, would that have been fair? (Of course, that would require a Liverpool player to actually try and defend a set piece, which is seemingly too much to ask at the minute).
The same thing happened at Wolves; Liverpool were in the ascendancy, and had a shot blocked on the line by a hand. Because Liverpool lost 3-0, it supposedly doesn’t matter. But these are key moments. When you aren’t playing at your best and the margins are fine, these are the kind of decisions you need in your favour.
Alisson makes a good save from Vinicius in the first half, but apart from that, does he save anything? Do Madrid miss any chances? Ancelotti’s side were ruthless, and that’s testament to their elite mentality and resilience, but they were also very fortunate.
In the aforementioned podcast, my guest Alex Bazarov described a match a few weeks ago in which Madrid drew 0-0 with Real Sociedad. He said: “In that match we played some of our best football this season, we just didn’t take our chances.”
On Tuesday, Real Madrid played some of their best football again. Bu they took all their chances. And they rode their luck along the way.
I can understand the emotional reaction to an extent; going 2-0 up with such a brilliant start made you feel like it was going to be another one of those special Anfield nights. The scoreline is shocking, but the performance really wasn’t; it is upsetting that the Red’s last chance at silverware this season is now all but gone, but that still doesn’t legislate for ridiculous hot takes (in fact, nothing does. They need binning.).
And the start to the game (or indeed the whole first half) must not be forgotten. It was a sign of where Liverpool are heading, whereas the second half symbolised what Liverpool are leaving behind.
There is still a lot to be positive about. Nunez was excellent, as was his finish, and Bajcetic showed a lot of quality, even if he made some mistakes. His performance, for an 18-year-old, was outstanding.
If Diaz, Konate, and Thiago were fit, I absolutely guarantee that Liverpool would still be in this tie going into the match at the Bernabéu. Even if Real Madrid had all their players fit too.
This article may sound like a lot of ifs, buts, and maybes, but in many of Liverpool’s poor results this season, there haven’t been many ifs buts or maybes, if any. These aren’t excuses, these are genuine reasons behind what was a freak result.
If you go up against a top, top side with elite players, and you have bad luck, and they score every chance, you are going to ship loads of goals. Watch back Barcelona (who are ironically eight points clear of Madrid themselves) against Man United in the Europa League, in the first leg. Now assume Barcelona convert with every chance. You get a similar result. But ultimately they don’t, and Man United get heap loads of praise (somewhat justifiably) for a good result. And now they are through to the next round.
Liverpool are a team in transition and patience is required. If there weren’t signs of improvement, I would understand the overload of criticism, but the Reds have so blatantly improved since the 3-0 defeat to Brighton, which there was nothing positive to say about.
Liverpool must block out nonsense criticism from Jamie Carragher and Danny Murphy, who I would have expected better from, and concentrate on what Jurgen Klopp has to say. Indeed, in his post-match interview, there was visible disappointment but also optimism. His analysis was balanced, and that’s really what’s missing from the current discourse on Liverpool.
One only has to look at how Nunez was getting lambasted, and has now shut everyone up. The rest of the team will do the same.