Reds Secure All Three Points
The opening day trip to Stamford Bridge and a home game against Bournemouth have led to four points being accrued in the opening two fixtures of Liverpool’s 2023/24 Premier League season. Given the overall disappointment of the last campaign and the ongoing uncertainty in the Reds’ summer business, this is a solid start to our season and one that should be built upon. In my match day preview, I resisted the urge to include Wataru Endō in my notes, as for me it was too soon to expect he signed. I have witnessed so many failed attempts at signing new assets, therefore, I aired on the side of caution after viewing the Moisés Caicedo and Roméo Lavia affairs. For this 3 pm kick-off, the below lineup is how the Reds started the game.
The Starting Eleven
Here's how the Reds line up to take on Bournemouth this afternoon 👊🔴#LIVBOU
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) August 19, 2023
The First Half
The starting line up again showed an intent from our manager to outscore the opposition, with full recognition that big chances would be given up. Both these facts came to light, yet the latter was horribly true for the opening 15 minutes or so. The on and off ball situation was so painful on the eye, it took hardly any coordination in the visitors’ attacks to open the scoring. A combination of Trent’s casual touch and Robbo’s lack of pure tackling ability were both key in creating the goal-scoring chance. Though Robbo had a better overall performance, his lack of a defensive instinct still played a huge part in conceding early on.
After an initial scare, Andoni Iraola saw his side exploit the home team’s Achilles heel (again), which was the uncomfortable spaces created by our continued and enforced transition. A 3rd-minute strike by the team we beat 9-0 last season was more than deserved. As the minutes ticked by, we saw Virgil hit the bar with an angled header (from a corner), before Klopp’s higher level of quality (players) gradually took control of the match. Eventually, it was our Columbian flyer who spun and rifled home the equaliser on 27 minutes, to bring a very worried fanbase down a notch or two.
Szobo is fouled just inside the box. Salah's penalty is saved but he scores the rebound.
— The Anfield Talk (@TheAnfieldTalk) August 19, 2023
From that moment onwards, Dominik Szoboszlai took control of the game and produced the type of display of power, incision, drive, and energy, we have not seen since the prime days of Steven Gerrard. I am trying desperately not to make this postmortem a Hungarian captain appreciation piece, however, this result very much centred around the brilliance of our new number eight. The second Liverpool goal was from a rebounded penalty save, which Mohamed Salah would have been thankful to have been able to recover. It was the clever footwork and on-pitch intelligence which won the spot kick, as Dom enticed the visitor’s defender into swinging a leg block.
The Second Half
The rest of the first half meandered along without much fuss, with more drama emitting after the second half resumed. As the Liverpool pressure and on-pitch control threatened to produce the third (and likely match-winning goal), Alexis Mac Allister received a very harsh red card. With the ball there to be won by either side, the Argentina World Cup winner was slightly late and caught the Bournemouth player on the shin. It was a foul, probably a yellow card, yet all surrounding players (including the Cherries) were surprised at the official’s shotgun decision. The fact that a clear and obvious error remains the get-out clause for blundering refs, it allowed VAR to save the blushes of the referee and uphold the ludicrous decision. Nearly all pundits and sports writers were unanimous in their amazement, with just one example shown below.
In my (coughs, looks down) 30-odd years as a journo covering football, can honestly say I've never seen a worse red card decision than that travesty for Mac Allister here
It's almost shameful from the officials, and starts to call into question neutrality, given the history#LFC
— David Maddock (@MaddockMirror) August 19, 2023
Despite this controversial decision, it allowed Jürgen Klopp to bring on his new Japanese addition, as well as force the system shape into a traditional back four. The introduction of a specialist holding midfielder (and a continuing shape of play) allowed the home side to dominate more so, even with ten men. The Dominik effect was in full effect by this point, with all surrounding parts being pulled to the will of the 6ft 1inch playmaker. The third and final Liverpool goal came after a spilled save from a deflected Szoboszlai shot. This allowed the perfect poacher, Diogo Jota, to prod home from close range. The contest ended at that point, despite some more chances from both sides making for an entertaining finish.
What Are My Final Thoughts…?
Last season we lacked energy, physicality, control, and power. This alarming drop-off saw the manager push Trent into a central hybrid position (for the final ten games), essentially as no one knew what to do with the ball, without Thiago in attendance. The playmaking duties have now been enhanced with the two new attacking midfielders, signed for a total less than Jude Bellingham. What is now required (in addition to Endo), is more strength and ball-winning in the central areas, which is why a huge bid for Cheick Doucouré would offer that and an abundance of protection. What we saw today was people not named Trent or Alcântara running the game, with the former struggling to reaffirm his status in the team.
In fixing so many issues, I believe the team should now revert to a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation, so that our right back can once again flourish from his normal position. The data below shows that our attacking patterns of play are now in incredible hands. I will be writing about how the dynamic and personnel shift should see us drop the hybrid, as the Hungarian playmaker has changed everything.