Best of the Rest

A closer more detailed look at the win over Bournemouth

 

Since I only did a short and kind of terrible recap of the Reds home win versus Bouremouth over the weekend I went ahead and got more detailed. Below are key moments/players from Saturday.

  • Trent Alexander-Arnold

It was just a couple weeks ago after the Crystal Palace game that I wanted to have him take a seat next to Simon Mignolet. His performances back to back against Manchester United and Crystal Palace were forgettable to put it nicely.

He was having majors issues with tracking his man who was running beyond the target man. This cost them twice against Manchester United and led to a penalty which was the only goal allowed against Crystal Palace.

There was never a doubt about his attacking abilities, he’s probably the Reds best fullback getting forward and providing width on the attack. He also has a terrific shot. Think back to the free kick goal he scored against Hoffenheim in the first leg of the Champions League playoff, but it was the defensive side of things where the concern came into play.

His performances against United and Palace brought a great deal of anxiety to many of us especially when Joe Gomez went out injured during the international break and has yet to return. This all came on the verge of the biggest matches of the season to date as the quarterfinals of the Champions League against Manchester City were on the horizon.

Jurgen Klopp had no choice but to turn to Alexander-Arnold. I would be lying if the thought of Leroy Sane against Alexander-Arnold made it hard to sleep the night before and if any Liverpool fan tells you they weren’t nervous about this prospect they are lying to you.

The rest is history. He had Sane in his pocket for the 180 minutes, to be honest this is the worst I’ve seen Sane play, especially this season when he’s been sensational.

He was so good in the first leg that he was my and many others Man of the Match. This was a night that Mo Salah, Bobby Firmino, James Milner, Virgil van Dijk, and Dejan Lovren were all incredible, it was a team win, so to stand out the way he did was so impressive. This was his best performance in a Liverpool shirt in the biggest game he had ever played in.

You know the saying “The sun shines on a dog’s ass somedays” well he proved this wasn’t a fluke he was strong again in the second leg and kept Sane silent again. No one keeps Sane silent once but to do it twice is something that deserves so much praise for.

Then on Saturday against Bournemouth he continued his incredible form.

I as many others handed him another Man of the Match. He was the best Red on this day. His side of the field was his. Again he was flawless defensively and was taking advantage of Bournemouth’s very conservative 3-1-5-1 or 5-4-1 set up. With Bouremouth going with a very conservative approach trying to slow this Liverpool train down. This isn’t something that Bournemouth normally does so having so many guys behind the ball was the perfect opportunity for Alexander-Arnold to get forward, cause problems for their defense and keep them pinned back.

Alexander-Arnold, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Mo Salah we’re linking up together all day to cause problems on the right hand side.

As Bouremouth was trying to clog things up in the midfield this gave Alexander-Arnold all kinds of space on the outside.

Nothing illustrated this better than on Mo Salah’s goal which was the Reds second goal of the day in the 69th minute.

This goal came at the perfect time as the second half was getting a little rocky for Liverpool. I’m not sure if they were tired, which would be understandable, or they were struggling with Bournemouth’s formation, the type of deep block that has caused problems for the Reds, but either way the first part of the second half was a bit of a struggle for Liverpool. The biggest thing was they were having issues stringing passes together. Unlike the first half where they played lovely football.

This is where Alexander-Arnold came up clutch. As I mentioned things were a bit rocky at this point but Trent hit a perfect ball as he was basically on the sideline, probably 45 yards out to Salah whose one time header from 10 yarda out finally give the Reds a two goal lead and relieve the tension that was building.

This was an incredible ball, it was as good of a ball as you will see from that spot. It was another example of how high the ceiling is for this kid.

He made me look dumb by saying he needed to sit and it was a real bad sign that Gomez would miss the City matches, but I couldn’t be happier he made me look dumb.

In the past few weeks he’s grown up years right in front of our eyes. With him on the right and Robertson on the left the Reds may have one of the best fullback combinations in the world for years to come. Think saying world is a bit bold, well Ive seen the emergence of these two in the past few months and looking at their age I don’t think it’s far fetched to think what the ceiling could be.

  • Klopp’s lack of rotation

One thing about this game that surprised me more than anything was that Klopp only made one change from the midweek tie at Man City. That change was Jordan Henderson for James Milner which made all the sense in the world since James Milner probably ran two marathon’s in the two legs versus City and Henderson was only out versus City due to a yellow card suspension so he was always going to come back in.

But I will be totally honest I was wrong with the rest. I didn’t think it would be a complete rotation, for one Liverpool doesn’t have the bodies to do this right now, nor did I think it would be like the Everton game but I did think Klopp would maybe make 4 changes for this game and then bring those 4 back in and give the guys who hadn’t had a rest the game off this weekend against West Brom.

The fact that he was able to do it was a good sign, which meant everyone came out of the second leg against Man City in good health and had the energy to go against Bouremouth.

It’s a tricky spot right now obviously the upcoming games against Roma in the semi’s of the Champions League is the top priority but so is making sure you finish in the top 4 to get back to the Champions League next season.

It looks all but locked up but don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched. When Chelsea came from behind to beat Southampton on Saturday it meant that the lead was down to 7 and Chelsea does have a game in hand so if Liverpool didn’t get the 3 points at home against Bouremouth then the lead could have been 4 and then things get nervy, so this ended up being a huge game and it was huge to get the three points.

I also think Klopp didn’t want to mess with the rhythm of this team. They’re playing so damn well right now and if he rotated too much there could have been the fear of messing with the momentum the team has built up.

Plus they didn’t have a midweek game this week so they will have time to get some rest before things get busy against with West Brom on Saturday, Roma on Tuesday, Stoke on Saturday, Roma Wednesday, and Chelsea on Sunday. Hopefully by that point top 4 will be wrapped up and they will be preparing for a trip to Kiev and the Champions League final.

If Chelsea loses on Thursday against Burnley and Liverpool wins Saturday then top 4 is done and we can put everything we have into the Champions League and not worry about the rest of the Premier League schedule, let kids play, let the ball boys play. Who cares the matches won’t matter. I know that’s what I want to see happen.

It will be very interesting how he lines up this weekend at West Brom. There is no right or wrong answer in this situation. Do you just play your normal lineup and pray for no injuries, knowing with the week off this week means they should be fine playing Saturday and Tuesday or do you play a heavily rotated side and hope that rust doesn’t kick in before the first leg against Roma.

I’ll trust Klopp in this one knowing he is smarter than me and is with his team every day so he knows what guys need rest and what guys could play a full 90 7 days a week. I’m just a guy who is sitting on his couch who acts like he knows everything.

One thing I will say is that I thought the team looked a bit tired in the second half against Bournemouth. It is natural, it’s late in the season and those games against City were exhausting, so it’s imperative to be at the very best for both legs against Roma. This team has a legit chance to be in the final of the Champions League. You never know when you’ll have another chance to do this again so you want to be at your best for it.

  • Tactical things

I mentioned earlier about Bouremouth playing a bit differently than usual on Saturday.

Normally Bournemouth plays a 4-4-2 or to be exact a 4-4-1-1, but on Saturday it was 3 in the back which is something you don’t see Eddie Howe do very normally. Howe is an attack orientated manager, but I will give him credit trying something different. When Liverpool does struggle it is against a team that sits deep.

It was listed as a 5-4-1, which is 3 center backs and 2 fullbacks, but it was more like a 5-1-3-1 and when in possession it was a 3-1-4-1-1.

One problem with this for Bouremouth was that their lone striker Jermaine Defoe had a rough day. He never received the ball and was basically playing deep in the midfield for a large part of the day. Their one player who was probably the most advanced was Joshua King who was their primary outlet.

In the first half Liverpool took advantage of the Cherries conservative approach. Both full backs Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson pushed forward to give Liverpool a numbers edge.

Alexander-Arnold and Salah were linking up with each other time and time again which is a nice little partnership that is starting to form more and more each game. And obviously the second goal was a great example of this. Alexander-Arnold also had a beautiful ball to Salah in the third minute but Salah was unable to convert on a chance you would expect him to take.

The one problem with the 5-4-1 we’ll call it just to make it easy is that Liverpool was able to outnumber Bournemouth in the midfield. Bournemouth had their 5 in the back but Liverpool’s trio of Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jordan Henderson, and Gini Wijnaldum used this numbers edge to their advantage.

One thing that a lot of pundits, writers, and fans are wrong about when it comes to this Liverpool team is about Liverpool pressing.

When Jurgen Klopp first came to Liverpool the reds pressed non stop but as time has gone on they have pressed less and less as Jurgen Klopp adapted to his talent, the league and they hardly press at all anymore. Or when they do they pick their spots.

But this game they seemed to press more especially in the midfield. Jordan Henderson was pressing his mind off at times, which got them possession back in great positions, to a lesser extend Wijnaldum and Oxlade-Chamberlain followed his lead, but it was Henderson who was tremendous in this game who took advantage of Bournemouth playing deep to press them which was made easier because Bournemouth didn’t have the bodies forward to make them pay for their aggression.

Henderson had 5 tackles and 3 interceptions on the day.

Robert Firmino contributed to the pressing but we all know that Firmino is a freak when it comes to pressing. A lot of his best work is his defensive work tracking back.

Firmino had 4 tackles on the day.

No doubt this was a tactical decision by Klopp when he saw the way that Bournemouth was set up he saw this is a great opportunity to unleash his press that isn’t used as much as people think it is but in this game it was effective.

The first half was glorious for the Reds they had 67% possession, 10 shots on goal, 3 on target, and 6 shots from inside the box. They held Bournemouth to 1 shot. It was complete domination. Football can be a game of chess and it was Liverpool who won the chess this time.

Besides the pressing there were other factors that made it work.

Their player and ball movement was as good as I’ve seen from them in a long time in a game that they were going against a parked bus and had the majority of possession. Too many times they have become stagnant in these situations but on Saturday they were moving in sync like you need to against this type of defense and no one stood around the player movement was brilliant as well.

A great example of this was the first goal. This is probably something no one has mentioned. The goal was started by Mo Salah winning the ball in the corner, he got the ball to Jordan Henderson who played a perfect ball to Sadio Mane whose first shot attempt was saved but was able to bury the rebound.

There was one small by key detail I didn’t mention there that if did not happen the goal wouldn’t have happened.

There is no secret that some of Robert Firmino’s best work is when the ball is nowhere near to him. His ability to track back on defense and his movement in the offensive end is crucial to this teams success.

His movement alone is the engine in the attack without his movement creating space for everyone else this attack would not work as well as it does.

So many people say oh he isn’t a true number 9. Liverpool needs a true finisher, they can’t win things until they get that guy. On some teams that may be right but on this team Firmino is probably the most important player even more important than Salah and that is because of his hard work but it’s his movement that is why.

On the goal he was the one that made a run to open up space, it was the space that Mane made his run into which gave him the opening to score.

Firmino does so much that doesn’t show up on the highlights or stats that are invaluable to this team and this was another example of this.

One last tactical thing for Liverpool was their spacing, especially in the first half.  The midfielders, fowards, and even fullbacks had perfect spacing which allowed the press to work, made it hell for Bournemouth to get the ball out, and allowed Liverpool to dominate.

The first half was fantastic, the only problem was they only scored once.

It was the perfect combination of Jurgen Klopp’s tactics and perfect execution by his players.

  • Henderson

Jordan Henderson was terrific. I mentioned his pressing and his ball to Mane on the first goal, but that only tells part of the story.

This was Henderson at his best. Like I said his pressing and defensive work was tremendous but it wasn’t just that, he was spraying the ball all over the place. He gave the type of performance you want to see from your number 6.

He completed 68 passes at an 80% clip, was 7 for 12 on long balls, won 7 of 12 duels, had 3 interceptions, and 5 tackles.

This is just a monster performance from that position.

I like Henderson and I still think he has a role on this team for years yet but I still feel that this team has room to improve next season if they want to seriously challenge City and make another run in the Champions League. This position is the biggest position they need to upgrade.

Jorginho would be my first choice but if not him there are plenty of other options like Ndidi or Doucoure to name a couple quickly we will talk more about this when the season is over but that doesn’t mean Henderson gets shipped away.

He is probably best as a box to box midfielder anyway. He has been good as a #6. If he was more consistent I would be fine with keeping him there moving forward but he isn’t, but his versatility is valuable and if you want to compete on all fronts you need depth and you need class players who aren’t in your first choice 11 and this to me is where Hendo fits in for the future, but for now if we’re going to continue to advance in the Champions League the way he has played lately like Saturday or the first leg is needed.

  • Oxlade Chamberlain

One of the reasons Ox came to Liverpool is he wanted to play midfield and Klopp told him he would give him the chance to show it.

Most people always saw him as more of a winger, which makes sense with his speed and strength.

But when he came to Liverpool he has shown everyone he can be a force in the middle and has given Liverpool something different than what Phillipe Coutinho did and maybe something that fits the team more.

The way he runs at people opens up space for everyone else and is a problem for the opposition, we know he has a wicked shot, and he’s able and willing to work back and help the defense. I said all the time when this team had defensive issues the midfield was to blame as much as the defenders. Oxlade-Chamberlain does this, he is a box to box freak.

Look at the third goal. He does what I think he does best which is run at this defense, which he did and played a simple ball to Robert Firmino for the icing on the cake third goal.

A lot of people criticized Klopp for bringing Oxlade-Chamberlain here, especially for the price that was paid, but now that he’s fully established with the Reds I can’t imagine where they would be without him.

One other thing I love about him is playing time wasn’t guaranteed here, when healthy the midfield is probably the deepest part of this team, so he had to fight for his place. The impressive thing is he has never once complained about doing it, and has earned everything he has got. Saturday was just another impressive display from a man that Arsenal fans laughed at us for buying from them. I think the jokes on you, fools. 

  • Mane

Mane took a lot of criticism at times this season for no reason really.

People would say his play had dipped off from last year.

There was maybe a short period of time that he was struggling a little, but the reality is he has played every bit as well as he did last season.

But he’s in the best form he’s been in all season right now and it continued on Saturday.

I think the reason some people were critical of him was that he wasn’t putting up the numbers that Salah or even Firmino had been. Well no one on the planet is putting up the numbers Salah is so that isn’t really fair.

Last season he played 29 games in all comps. He had 13 goals and 6 assists. This season. in 36 games he has 17 goals  and 8 assists. Now was he really better last season.

He was out with an injury for a little, had the red card suspension for almost taking Ederson’s head off. You could see him struggle with confidence for a short time but overall he’s been every bit as good.

Part of it because of Salah and Klopp wanting him to play more centrally which is his strength it has meant a different role for Mane to accommodate Salah, which has made the team better.

But as I mentioned his form has really come on as late and he’s contributing with goals and assists now. His numbers are better than they were last year playing a different role a more of a two way role. He isn’t as good as he was last season he’s better than he was last season.

He scored the first goal on Saturday, he had 6 shots, 2 on target, and completing 30 passes at 88%, while tracking back to provide cover defensively, something he’s gotten better and better at of late. His two way game really shined during the 2 legs versus Manchester City.

He’s had a good season despite what some say but right now he’s playing his best football of the season and I would argue maybe the best football he’s played in a Liverpool shirt, which makes this team even scarier heading into the semis against Roma.

  • Clean sheet

It wasn’t that long ago that a clean sheet for Liverpool happened so rare that we should have been throwing a parade for it. But now it’s becoming a normal occurrence.

It was the 9th clean sheet in last 14 games. If you would have told me in September that in April Liverpool would have 9 clean sheets out of 14 I would think you were drunk, but this is the norm now.

This team is a great defensive team. The biggest factor is Virgil van Dijk, he’s made everybody around him better, his presence is the biggest single factor in the turnaround but he isn’t the only factor.

The emergence of Alexander-Arnold. The improvement of Dejan Lovren, the superstar form of Andrew Robertson, and improved play defensively of the midfield, especially Oxlade-Chamberlain and James Milner. Then you throw in that Klopp had the balls to throw the number one shirt permanently to Lori’s Karius when he really hadn’t earned it but Klopp had to believe that showing confidence in him was what he needed to step up and show his true potential, which worked Karius has been awesome.

Lastly I think continuity has helped. It seems like the back 4 is the same pretty much every game and the midfield does have some rotation but they’re all playing their roles perfectly and I already said it but the way James Milner has stepped up especially in the bigger games is a huge factor to the improved defense.

For instance on Saturday the second half was a struggle at times but did you ever feel like Bournemouth was going to score?

Sure the attack was struggling but the defense didn’t give Bournemouth much at all. They got one quality chance but Karius came up with the save. This is what it’s become. Great defending by the back 4 and midfield and when the opponent does get a chance Karius is there to come up big. Before van Dijk and this team becoming a great defensive team this was the type of game that would end up in a frustrating draw or even a loss. The minor struggles of the attack would lead to a mistake defensively and an equalizer. You’re always nervous it can happen but this unit now gives you much more confident they won’t have that individual error or breakdown.

Just to illustrate the turnaround, in the first 31 games in all competitions since van Dijk was brought here they allowed 36 goals which is 1.16 a game and 12 clean sheets.

In the 18 games since van Dijk’s arrival they have only allowed 14 goals which is 0.77 per game and 9 clean sheets, if you prorated those numbers out to the 31 games played they would have allowed 23 goals, which is 13 goals less than what they’ve allowed and no doubt it would be looked at as one of the better defensive units in Europe. This is how good they’ve become.

It really is night a day, van Dijk has been worth every single penny and then some. We knew we needed him and he would be huge for us but I don’t think any of us knew his impact would be this great but a big part of it like I said is more Robertson, TAA, Milner, Oxlade-Chamberlain, and a much different Lovren.

  • Final Thoughts

This was a huge win. It put us that much closer to getting that check mark next to our name by clinching a top 4 spot.

It was a great performance in the first half, it was some of the best football the Reds have played against a parked bus.

The second half wasn’t as pretty as the first half was, but big time players came up big in Alexander-Arnold, Salah, Firmino, and Oxlade-Chamberlain. Plus defensively they stayed solid. Onto the Hawthrones and West Brom on Saturday and then the fun begins.

 

 

Comments