Two down, five to go
Another great Champions League night at Anfield and the Reds definitely know how to finish with style. A lost voice, a temporarily lost hat that was thrown after Firmino’s one-eyed finish, and a very happy night of football is a pretty good setup for a Tuesday I would say.
The game was surprising in many ways.
Let’s start with the Reds. The only speculation in terms of lineup was regarding the midfield. Would Fabinho play against PSG, a team he is familiar with? Would Keita make the impact from midfield he was brought in to do or would we stick with the hardnosed midfield built to physically bully opposition midfield. Klopp chose the latter. Several reasons for it I think one of them being PSG built very soft in midfield especially with a center back playing as the defensive mid in Marquinhos and a winger playing inside mid in Di Maria. Introduction of Sturridge in the starting lineup also figured into our midfield I think where we needed to be extra defensive with loss of defensive work and pressure from our false 9 spot.
Before the game, I was hoping for Firmino to be fit with a backup plan of Shaqiri forcing Salah or Mane inside. Sturridge just did not look convincing against Tottenham especially defensively. Surely against a team like PSG, we would need to field a team with defensive strengths. Enter Klopp who used this opportunity to get the most out of Sturridge, a player hungry for Champions League football and the opportunity to show the difference in his physical capabilities. In his post-game interview, Klopp talked about reminding Sturridge that this is the best shape he has been in since Klopp’s arrival at Liverpool. Sounded like more of a… “you worked to get in shape, now make your physical condition work for you” kind of speech which paid dividends. Sturridge was all over the field and even if he was not as good as Firmino is in terms of applying defensive pressure, he was able to close the gaps and move the PSG defense around to contain him.
Which brings us to PSG, the football equivalent of the Harlem Globe Trotters, a team made up of stars who are used to having their wins served on a plate. The soft nature of the French league was their worst enemy on a night where they could not physically handle the intensity of the Reds since it was a level they are not used to facing weekly. More importantly, their laziness of their front three was glaring. Aside from Cavani whom I feel bad for as I watched him try to do defensive work of three players, the PSG front three are there to put on an offensive show. This might and does work in the French league where most teams are not capable of or too scared to attack PSG, enabling Neymar and Mbappe walk around until the ball is with PSG again. When PSG faced a team willing to come at them using their fullbacks, they got exposed as neither of the two tracked back with Robertson and TAA.
We will leave my thoughts on Neymar for a different post. I wrote about him during the World Cup when the world was crying over the Swiss fouling him. To me, he is everything that is wrong with a sports star. As a father of two girls who play soccer, I show them players like Milner to take as a role model. Working hard and giving 100% at all times, earning everything you get on the field as opposed to a player like Neymar who has ridiculous talent and football skills but lacks the discipline and work ethic to be that top star he tries so hard to be. There are a lot of Ronaldo haters out there for example and I will admit that even though I am not a huge fan of him due to the arrogance, you cannot deny the amount of work he puts into his body, game and his work ethic overall.
Back to Liverpool… we did not win the group yesterday but made a great start coupled with Napoli leaving points with a draw against Red Star Balgrade. We did show that last year’s impressive run was not a fluke; we showed that Anfield is not a place any team wants to play at, and that we are even better than last year with the ability to bring top players to replace injured or tired ones.
- Defense did great work overall. With PSG’s first goal coming from an offside position and second goal coming from Salah’s bad pass that threw the defense under the bus
- Salah is still struggling and now almost trying too hard. Even though on paper, a rest against Southampton might be useful, I think in terms of mindset, a good showing is all Salah needs to get out of his funk
- Firmino is world class. He might not have the speed or strength of some other top forwards but his overall technical ability and what he brings to this team is priceless
- I cannot escape Turkish refs especially Cuneyt Cakir even here in the USA after putting up with him in Turkey. In some ways, he let the teams play and let the Reds bruise up PSG all over the field but the linesman missed Cavani being offside in the first goal, and some refs would have let Salah’s goal count. Penalty was a very easy decision for him.
- Second game at Paris will be very tough as Klopp already fears. Not only we will be playing a tough team, we will be playing a team who knows they were bullied off the ball throughout the game. They will go out there to make a point but not sure if they can physically keep up with the strength of the Reds
- Milner has become my favorite player over the last few years. Regardless of the team you root for, it is hard not to respect and be inspired by his work rate at age 32.
Up next… phase 3… home against Southampton which is on paper, the easiest of the games out of the famous seven. This is what scares me the most about this game. There will be some rotation and I think this will be a very important barometer game for this team. So far this year, we have shown that we can beat the tough games and be able to close out close games. We have shown that we can take on top teams like PSG and dominate them at Anfield. We now have to show that with our depth, we can still continue our winning ways and be able to continue our form in multiple competitions.
There will definitely be some lineup changes. I expect Firmino to come back in the lineup along with Keita and perhaps give Milner the rest he deserves. We might even see some defensive changes with players like Clyne or Moreno coming in the mix.