17 March 2022

Liverpool lucky to leave the Emirates...alive!

The youngest squad in the Prem just went toe-to-toe with one of the world's best squads ever and had it on the ropes for the better part of 45 minutes. Not just on the ropes. That's too mild, too generous to our visitors. We were inches away from delivering sharp uppercuts, maybe even knockout punches, to a squad that has legitimate designs on an quadruple, all the more so thanks to Crystal Palace finding a draw against Man City at the weekend (throwing chum to the Scousian sharks). A more-experienced side might have finished off any of the four gilt-edged chances it created for itself in the first half; any one of those might have been enough to secure a vital three points when even one was probably more than any of us could have reasonably hoped for.

Here, then are the four chances to which I refer:

  • 8' Martinelli volleys  from Saka cross.
  • 14' Martinelli crosses into the box, cleared by Robertson from behind Allison and just in front of Lacazette.
  • 22' Cedric shoots when a softer touch would have put Lacazette through on goal.
  • 32' Lacazette fights through a probable foul, his pass to Odegaard is knocked away. Xhaka screws a follow-up shot wide.

Each one was a legitimate scoring opportunity, none of them a pie-in-the-sky, pipe dream sort of thing. Converting one of these might have secured points from a fixture that all of us had probably long since written off way back then the fixtures were first released back in August, before we lost our first three Prem matches by a combined scoreline of 9-0. Anyone who's still reading to this point might just join me in writing the season off as another in which we finish eighth yet again—and we would be the optimists.

Fast-forward to this matchday. Some of us (myself included) dreamed of taking all three points against a Liverpool side that is juse one point off of Man City in the Prem, winners of the League Cup, two wins away from the FA Cup, and through to the semifinals of the Champions League. Our still wet-behind-the-ears took this squad—one that boasts of no less than six players who are easily among the best at their positions—to the mat. And we very nearly had them yet again early in the first half, just when one might expect Klopp's halftime hairdryer to have roused Liverpool out of their putative torpor. Instead, one of the best chances of the match fell to Lacazette, who beat Allison to a careless pass back into the 18 and found Ƙdegaard, whose shot just barely deflected off of the very fortunate Allison's forearm.

Back to that issue of the youngest squad in the Prem. Ultimately, we were undone by that youth, whether it be a lack of ruthlessness in front of Liverpool's goal, positional naivete in defense, or an inability to rise to the occasion when the opponent ratcheted up the pressure. Anyone who claims that Liverpool deserved to win is deluded. Their goals came well against the run of play and through dumb luck. If there's any claim to their win being legitimate or deserved, it only comes down to the depth and class they have compared to our youth and unrealised potential, not to any grand plan, tactics, or design. For long stretches, we had them right where we wanted them. We didn't have quite enough quality to pull the plan off, but the plan was in place and was inches away from working. If we can continue to play as we did against one of the best squads in the world, we'll have fourth sewn up sooner rather than later.

In the end, I'm not a big fan of "moral victories", but this is one result that should actually embolden some confidence going forward. We're not the fragile, shrinking violets who crumble at the first sign of struggle.