1. Waiting Until We Trail To Begin Playing
So that was a game of one seven-ninth and one two-ninth, if ever I saw it. (Strictly speaking, it was more a game of one minute, one seven-ninth and one two-ninth, but I suppose such pedantry can be overlooked on Sundays.)
Having got our noses in front at the earliest possible convenience, our heroes collectively decided to shuffle back as deeply as the laws of the game allowed, and rather inevitably did not budge from this obviously doomed tactic until Liverpool had taken the lead, at around the 70 minute mark.
Thereafter, and with only 20 minutes remaining, they hit upon the remarkable notion of actually taking the fight to their hosts. The whole farcical spectacle made one fling one’s hands in the air and wonder what the point of it all is.
Who knows how things might have panned out had our lot tried to keep possession and link midfield to attack earlier in the piece? One understands the principle of exercising some caution and avoiding unnecessary risks, but we seemed to afford our hosts the sort of respect one would normally reserve for 1970 Brazil. Arguably if we had displayed more attacking intent in the first hour we would still have lost, but the All-Action-No-Plot streak that courses through the veins rather wishes we had lived a smidgeon more by the sword, rather than waiting until the dying embers, to die wondering.
Easy to blame Our Glorious Leader for the ultra-conservative approach, but I doubt that the instructions were to sit quite so deep. In fact, for the first twenty, a semblance of a gameplan seemed to poke its head into view and offer a cheery wave. The formation appeared to be along 4-2-3-1 lines rather than 4-5-1; our counter-attack had a sprinkling of menace (witness our opener); and if anything there was something heartening about the zeal with which our lot adopted a well-organised set-up when out of possession.
But inch by inch and minute by minute, good organisation out of possession morphed into something vastly more negative, and by the half hour mark we appeared to have set up legal residence in the fifteen yards or so outside our own penalty area, the thought of venturing any further north evidently the last thing on anyone’s mind.
If Christian Eriksen thinks the blame is all going to be directed at tactics and he can simply sidle quietly out of view, he will jolly well have another think coming.
In his defence, it was hardly his fault that he spent his entire match chasing Robertson’s shadow. This did admittedly appear a thankless task for someone whose DNA does not exactly brim with the ins and outs of tracking opposing attackers. Moreover, ill-suited though he was to such an activity, he did not shirk it, and instead hared around with willing, albeit to only moderate effect.
However, in a game that increasingly cried out for some control and possession, I don’t mind pointing a finger in Eriksen’s direction, and giving it a couple of meaningful jabs for good measure, for we barely strung three passes together for the first hour or so – and if Eriksen cannot contribute to this particular challenge, for which nature appears specifically to have created him, then one is entitled to wonder what the dickens he is doing on the pitch.
The game-plan was evidently to hit Liverpool at breakneck speed on the counter, but after incessant defensive drills one would have thought there would have been some merit in simply retaining possession for a few minutes, and letting Liverpool shuffle back into their own half. This ought to have been Eriksen’s brand of cognac, but the chap offered precious little in possession, and while he was by no means the only culprit, this can go down as yet another big game in which he offered precious little to justify the reputation.
3. Dele Alli
In recent games young Dele seems to have rolled up his sleeves and at least given the appearance of trying to right a few wrongs. This has presumably been due to his jettisoning from the England squad rather than anything else, but the shoots of a return to form have been spotted by the particularly eagle-eyed, so one was inclined to hope for the best today.
Alas, as with Eriksen, the whole back-foot set-up seemed to grab young Dele squarely by the shoulders and fling him a considerable distance out of his comfort zone. Where we looked to the young bean to link midfield to attack, instead he simply had to roll out an Eric Dier impression and chase Liverpool shadows in midfield.
To an extent both Eriksen and Dele can plead mitigating circumstances, because they certainly did not sign up to such nonsense as tracking opposing forwards thirty yards from their own goal. Yet there they both were, and it is not an exaggeration to suggest that neither appeared particularly thrilled with life.
Sympathy was in short supply from these quarters, however. When life gives you lemons, you must, as the adage has it, make lemonade; and when Liverpool hog possession and throw wave after wave of attack at you, you must cherish the few touches of the ball that they offer, and show some composure in possession. Alas, it is a damning indictment on both Messrs Eriksen and Alli that neither lemonade nor any semblance of composed possession was on display.
I suppose we should not be surprised that Dele seemed more like his old self once we fell behind, for at that point the whole team shifted forward into attacking positions, and he appeared vastly more comfortable with his surroundings.
A note on Paolo Gazzaniga, who did not do a whole lot wrong, throughout the ninety.
Now this might sound like the faintest praise with which to damn a chap, but when one puts it into the context of Hugo Lloris and his ever more inventive modes of calamity, simply “not doing a whole lot wrong” gives Gazzaniga the sheen of some divine being, sent from on high.
His saves were solid enough, but in truth shot-stopping was never Lloris’ weakness. It was the other business, the bread and butter stuff, that caught the eye – which again, sounds a bit of an oddity until one puts it into the context of Lloris. Gazzaniga caught crosses that Lloris would arguably have spilled. Gazzaniga punted the ball upfield when Lloris would arguably have played his centre-backs into trouble. Gazzaniga stayed on his feet when Lloris would arguably have tripped over his own shoelaces and shoved the ball into the path of an attacker.
The penalty wrong-footed him, which was a shame, but there was a vaguely reassuring presence about him, which bodes well for the coming weeks.
One might make other observations about our mob – a promising cameo from Ndombele; yet another remarkable finish from Kane; Aurier actually a mite unlucky with this week’s calamity – but having been sucked into a defensive vacuum for over an hour we can hardly complain about having lost. The infuriatingly inconsistent season bobbles on, and one must hope that next week we summon the spirit of last week, and finally turn that dashed corner.