Neil Poole provides the good, the bad, and also how useful Tuesday’s 5-0 win at Burton Albion in the League Cup could prove in the future.
Burton Albion 0-5 Liverpool
League Cup – Pirelli Stadium – Tuesday 23 August, 2016
Goals: Origi 15′, Firmino 22′, Naylor O.G. 61′, Sturridge 78′, 82′
A five-nil scoreline, whoever the opposition, is never to be sniffed at. The stand-out positive in this game, however has to be man of the match, Sadio Mane. Two assists and direct involvement in the second, intercepting a poor throw from Bywater, to set Nathaniel Clyne free and cross for Roberto Firmino’s header, only tells part of the story.
In Mane we may, just may, again have a player with the fear factor.
By no means the same type of player or his equal, Mane looks to be the be the first player since Suarez left whose mere presence will occupy the minds of defenders. He’s direct and frightens the life out of players. The shortest distance between A and B is a straight line. Mane seems bang into straight lines.
He has lightning quick acceleration from a standing position. And he buzzes around relentlessly, regularly in the right place at right time. The penalty shout in the first half when he was clipped on the heel and went down all came about from his pressing and dispossession earlier in the move. He was still at it the 90th minute, popping up from nowhere, taking it off the toes of an unsuspecting Burton midfielder.
Goals are the currency of strikers and breed confidence. In particular it is satisfying to see Sturridge score a couple after being frustrated out on the right against Burnley. Sturridge has taken up the mantle from Steven Gerrard as most permanently-looking annoyed player on the pitch. I want to see Sturridge happy. This is a good start. Furthermore, it hopefully puts to bed any further notions of playing him anywhere but centrally too.
It was also satisfying to see Joel Matip put competitive minutes under his belt. Having missed a large chunk of pre-season and presumably bought as a first choice centre back to partner Lovren, it was a useful exercise to start making up those minutes and begin working on that central defensive partnership. In truth he had almost nothing to do. However, that’s not necessarily the worst debut in the world for a new player, in a new country to make. It’s refreshing to see us do something the easy way for a change.
Finally, you know the way we never score from corners? You know the way we all think Milner is rubbish at corners? We scored from a Milner corner.
Overall, it was a pleasant summer stroll of a game.
Is anyone else’s heart in their mouth every time a Liverpool player goes down injured?
At the time of writing the extent of the knocks picked up by Emre Can, Origi and Firmino respectively are unknown. To quote Klopp after the game, and speaking specifically about Can, “Hopefully it’s nothing serious.”
But why that gut-wrenching feeling when particular players go down? It’s indicative of how little cover we have in certain areas. If Can is out injured then who else can do the job of the enigmatic ‘defensive midfielder’, whatever guise this takes?
In addition, it feels like we’re forever teetering on the edge of an injury crisis where you wouldn’t even blink at the thought of losing three players to injury in one game.
On a lighter note, having a picture of a key on the back of your shirt is bad. Furthermore, a scoreboard clock that stops on seven minutes is not only bad but a bit creepy. It was probably symbolic of the amount of time played before we decided to give up at the weekend against Burnley; an eerie echo from the past. Luckily these are all Burton’s problems, not Liverpool’s. So as you were Reds.
The Surprisingly Useful
If you’re were just about getting over Liverpool’s capitulation in May’s Europa League Final, then our very presence in the second round of the League Cup could feasibly drag you back down again. If you were so inclined, you could find yourself staring dewy eyed into the abyss of the Leicester City, Tottenham Hotspurs and Manchester United shaped holes at this stage of the competition.
The reality is that this is the third time since 2011 that we’ve entered this competition at this stage. It’s a damning indictment of Liverpool’s inability to secure consistent European football in the last half a decade. Before wins against Notts County (after extra time) in 2013 and Exeter in 2011, you had to go back to over ten years to 1999 and two rare Erik Meijer goals in a 5-1 win against Hull at this stage.
The lowly status of this competition is the archetypal riddle wrapped in an enigma for the discerning Liverpool supporter. Take a quick look at the competition’s entry on Wikipedia and Liverpool feature in the first five records listed: Most tournament wins (8), most final appearances (12), most tournament wins for an individual – Ian Rush (5), most final appearances – Ian Rush (6); and most goals – Ian Rush (49).
When we total up our cups and compare it favourably to Manchester United’s haul, we do actually include those eight. Not so useless then.
It’s the cup previously derided for needing a sponsor, lost in the shadow in the purity of the FA Cup. Now, the FA Cup is sponsored and the ‘EFL Cup’ conversely is under-valued because nobody seemingly wants to sponsor it anymore. It just can’t win. If it was your child you’d take it out of school so the bullying would stop.
The question with Burton Albion versus Liverpool was whether we would embrace it as the cup that’s served us well and make use of the game after the Burnley defeat, or would we treat it as an irrelevant annoyance. Happily it was the former.
The saying goes that you don’t miss something until it’s gone. Make no bones about it, in the wake of the Burnley defeat and various off-field antics such as potential Sakho loan shenanigans, the backlash would have been toxic. Take that win away and heads explode.
Belittle the opposition as much as you want and shrug you’re shoulders at an easy win, but a defeat would not have been met with the same apathy. This game goes some way to turning the tide of pessimism. Liverpool can go into the game against Spurs with more confidence and more happy vibes than if we had been beaten. Happy vibes are important.
The night which began as a cruel reminder of our absence from Europe may just prove to be surprisingly useful in the coming weeks.
Burton Albion 0-5 Liverpool
- MATCH REPORT: Origi, Firmino & Sturridge fire Reds to League Cup victory
- PLAYER RATINGS: Mane leads the ratings with a 9
- TALKING POINTS: Main Mane man shines as Matip makes his bow
- FAN REACTION: “Impressively professional display”
- PHOTOS: Liverpool notch 5-0 win over Burton