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Midfield bore and attack blunt – 5 talking points from Liverpool 0-0 Arsenal

Liverpool’s League Cup semi-final first leg was a frustrating 95 minutes of players out-of-form and lacking fitness failing to score against 10 men.

Liverpool 0-0 Arsenal

Anfield, League Cup semi-final first leg
Thursday 13 January, 2022

Goals: Joking aren’t you

Red cards: Xhaka 24′

“Strong” side out

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Thursday, January 13, 2022: Liverpool's goalkeeper Alisson Becker during the Football League Cup Semi-Final 1st Leg match between Liverpool FC and Arsenal FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

So, reasons behind the senior side selection put out by Jurgen Klopp?

It’s a semi-final, for one. He may well want to go all-in for the trophy now. There aren’t too many alternatives, for another – anyone can play kids at any time of course, but there weren’t too many senior subs who might have rotated in.

But perhaps the most obvious one is that a lot of these still-available senior players haven’t really had too much game time of late.

Taki barely gets a run usually, while Firmino and Jota have both been sidelined, the former for longer.

Milner has had injuries and doesn’t regularly start, Trent has been out with Covid, Alisson the same, Virgil the same, Robertson was suspended for three games. In among all those fixtures missed were also a couple of games called off, so it has been very haphazard in terms of rhythm and momentum for individual players recently.

This ‘strong’-looking team might simply have been put together with the weekend encounter in mind too, getting them sharp in the cup to feature in the league.

That midfield

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, December 22, 2021: Liverpool's James Milner's walks up to take his side's first penalty of the shoot-out during the Football League Cup Quarter-Final match between Liverpool FC and Leicester City FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 5-4 on penalties after a 3-3 draw. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Jurgen, please never play that midfield combination again in meaningful matches.

Fabinho, Henderson and Milner – in theory – gives the sort of solidity and big-time experience you might want in a serious fixture, with lots at stake against an opponent who fancies themselves somewhere close to your equal.

But Arsenal aren’t. And, to be blunt, they don’t. The two 8s are too easily bypassed by runners, both tend to make the same passes and even ran into each other making recovery challenges more than once.

We needed a little more… creativity, sure, but more like unpredictability in our game, particularly when they went down to 10 men – hence Matip’s constant dribbling.

Henderson’s form, meanwhile, is a massive concern right now – he has been atrocious in way too many games of late and it isn’t a secret or slight on his captaincy, he’s just not at the races in the slightest.

His attempt to stop the ball dead on the edge of the box after 69 minutes, instead lofting it seven feet into the air, summed his recent performances up.

Why is 36-year-old James Milner starting ahead of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Curtis Jones; and why were neither brought on at half-time when it was abundantly clear they were needed against 10 men?!

Say no to shots

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Thursday, January 13, 2022: Liverpool's Takumi Minamino shoots wide during the Football League Cup Semi-Final 1st Leg match between Liverpool FC and Arsenal FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

No Salah, no Mane – it was always going to be a concern, as well as an opportunity for others.

It took 72 minutes for the game’s first shot on target and it was for the 10-man away team, so do we have our answers as to how we cope without the star forwards?

Not entirely. Again, the above issues apply in terms of attackers being sharp and in the right position, or confident in front of goal. Jota’s mis-control from six yards in the last five minutes summed that up.

And, while their own movement was often unimpressive, so too was the service to the front three – speed as well as quality of it – from the second line.

We are missing two world-class forwards, but there are at least six players who should be contributing to filling the void in part, and none did here.

Taki spooning a last-minute open goal over the bar was almost as bad as the fact our first shot on target took 91 minutes to arrive.

Can’t complain at Sean Dyche, you know

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Thursday, January 13, 2022: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp prepares to bring on substitute Neco Williams during the Football League Cup Semi-Final 1st Leg match between Liverpool FC and Arsenal FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Klopp has repeatedly made the point that he should be allowed five substitutes for player welfare reasons, but when he had them here he didn’t even use them for performance-related reasons.

The first change took an hour to come, which was at the very least 15 minutes too long.

It was then 75 minutes until any further alterations arrived, including Oxlade-Chamberlain’s entrance when the performance was crying out for someone who might shoot from range, drag defenders out of position or attempt a few dribbles.

The fifth and final sub never arrived at all.

Why, is anyone’s guess.

Second leg… and two key league games

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Thursday, January 13, 2022: Liverpool's Roberto Firmino (L) and Arsenal's Calum Chambers during the Football League Cup Semi-Final 1st Leg match between Liverpool FC and Arsenal FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

So one way or the other, we’ve got to get through at least two Premier League clashes without the AFCON trio, and presumably without Thiago, or even Origi.

Brentford are up next and they are struggling also, with injuries to first XI players harming them as the second string is somewhat below their usual level… but perhaps they’ll be boosted somewhat by the Reds’ struggles here and even a fairly low-key showing against Shrewsbury.

Crystal Palace is the other league game, but we’ll worry about that nearer the time – after Brentford it’s back to north London and the second leg against Arsenal.

This tie is by no means out of Liverpool’s reach now that we’ll be away; we were dominating even before the ridiculous man got his customary and moronic red card and we’ll likely do so again at the Emirates.

Hopefully, a couple of matches in the legs and the sharpness will be there for one or two more players and it’ll be enough to see us through to Wembley…where enormous improvements would be required if we’re to beat Chelsea to a trophy.

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