The Talent Gap of Intensity
I was going to write a much more jovial column, but then that injury happened.
Arguably, these two teams under Klopp and Bielsa are the most intense in the premier league. The only other league in which you can typically find this kind of intensity is Serie A, but the premier league is generally higher quality, which means these may perhaps be the two most intense teams in the world. So when you put them together for a football match, you expect it to get, well, intense.
And it did, which led to a spirited, end-to-end sort of game with lots of action. This is where – and in this case unfortunately – talent comes into play.
When Liverpool presses you, they do it tenaciously. When Leeds do it, it can turn from tenacious to vicious. The innate talent in the Reds squad is high enough that it allows the team to be intense while avoiding constant fouling, and especially the really bad challenges that they are often subjected to by opponents. With the Peacocks it is a different story. Craig Pawson was right to eject Struijk when he did, but he was also at fault for being so stingy with the yellows leading into that incident. When the TV people won’t even show you the replays, you know it’s a bad one.
Sadly, Harvey Elliott’s footballing career may be in danger of ending as a result.
In the hope that it isn’t, let me turn to the rest of the game.
First off, the pace; it was so relentless, that I felt breathless just watching it by the time the first half ended. I can’t imagine what it could possibly be like being on the pitch. There aren’t many teams in the world who could do this for forty-five minutes, let alone ninety. These two can, and would have had it not been for that injury, after which everything slowed down a fair bit, with the players on both sides losing some of that tenacity and seemingly just wanting the game to be over.
Second, let’s move on to one of the most underrated players in the league, the Giraffe himself, Joel Matip. Here is one conversation that you can be certain pretty much never takes place in opposition tactics briefings: “so guys, you know when you’re defending the edge of the box? Make sure to cover Matip’s runs and passes”. The surprise factor of finding him in these weird places during open play in those weird moments just confuses everyone, and nobody knows what to do – often enough, on the Liverpool side as well. And yet they happen fairly often. This time around it ended up as a beautiful combo, starting with Thiago (we’ll get to him in a moment) and ending with Mo’s hundredth premier league goal.
Matip had a fantastic game.
Third, the Terminator. Fabinho, another severely underrated merseysider, proved for the umpteenth time why he is one of the best in his role in the world right now. The way he just pops up out of nowhere where he needs to be does feel a bit sci-fi at times, as if he had a secret button he could press to move at 100x speed for a split second or simply stop time so he could reposition in the right place. And then he has the gall to continually show positive intent, which in this case led to a somewhat lucky goal, but one that required laser focus.
Fabinho had a tremendous game, too.
Fourth – and my man-of-the-match – is Thiago. Yes, he was only the superstar in that super intense first-half, but he was so good that it was enough for the entire game. You want to know why Leeds couldn’t keep up with Liverpool, where they otherwise would dominate most any other team? Look no further than Thiago. That he capped his performance off with the presence of mind to deliver a kind assist to Mane, so the latter could finally let his frustration out with an emphatic finish, just puts an exclamation point on Thiago’s game awareness and intelligence.
Elland Road is never going to be a walk in the park – for anyone. Yet in reality we could have easily walked away with double the margin. In that sense, at least, the Reds are currently looking pretty good as title challengers.
I could write a lot more about this game, but to be fair, my heart isn’t with it. Hopefully by the time I upload this we will have discovered that Elliott’s injury is recoverable.