Football News: Liverpool v Middlesbrough Match Review - A Liverpool Perspective

 

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Liverpool v Middlesbrough Match Review - A Liverpool Perspective
Image from: byfarthegreatestteam.com

Liverpool v Middlesbrough

Following the thrashing handed out to the Hammers last weekend, Liverpool went out on the Anfield turf to face Boro knowing that a win was enough to guarantee a crack at the Champions League next season, for just the second time in eight years. Before the first goal went in, you could really tell the pressure was on, not just by the atmosphere, as even the Boro fans seemed on edge, but the players, slicing simple clearances and showing signs of panic. Though that was mainly Lovren, who does have days like that when there is no pressure on!

The game itself was a struggle to break through a packed defence, as usual the players snatched at chances and wasted good chances by trying to smash a screamer from forty yards when the chance was there to get in the box. It has been a common theme all season, that defences sit deep and Liverpool players look to just hit it from distance, rather than mixing it up. Clearly that can work, if someone has their shooting boots on and smashes a screamer into the top corner or comes close enough to make the defence panic and start coming out to close them down, leaving gaps behind them.

Most of the time though, it is clear the Liverpool players are just losing their head and smashing it, rather than doing it as a clear part of a plan. It is almost like a panic, like the players run out of ideas so just smash it, rather than staying calm and looking for the next pass. Usually it is paired up with a complete lack of movement ahead of them to look for. This game was different though. The players were hitting it from long range, but there was movement ahead of them, and it was more due to the pressure getting to them and the player rushing to get their shot off quickly.

Luckily for Liverpool, Boro were showing so little ambition and dropping so deep, there was always going to be more and more chances. Just as the crowd's anxiety was cranking up heading towards half time, Wijnaldum managed to collect the kind of misplaced pass that had seen a number of moves break down, somehow taking on a ball that was played behind him and smashed into the back of the net right in the dying seconds of the half. From then on in, it was fairly plain sailing, as Boro just never tried to put genuine pressure on a Reds backline that was, other than Mignolet, having a poor game and looking on the verge of throwing the game away at any moment.

The second half was almost, almost, a stroll. Once the second went in heads dropped in the Boro side and the score could have been as many as Liverpool wanted. If the players had not been clearly intent on trying to find a way to get Lucas a (farewell?) goal, the score could have been much higher. Though the team never really attacked with such numbers as they played it safe to ensure they did not gift a goal to the opposition. I do wonder if anyone would have worried after the first goal, if Lovren was not at the back for Liverpool having one of his off days? Only Boro had absolutely no ambition other than to keep LFC from scoring.

Mignolet - another good game, Mignolet has suddenly become a Premier League level goalkeeper and just shows the difference that coaching and competition for places can make to a player. Even if I sat and pulled his performance apart to find some reason to have a go at Mignolet there was very little to moan about. Now he needs to carry on improving for next season.

Clyne - never really tested defensively and never got any real involvement in the attacks either. Sat back too much, which was part of his lack of attacking thrust, as players would look to play him in down the right and he would not have made a run. Then he would make a run too late for the ball to be played. However he did make one excellent run down the left flank after we had a corner which was defended and came out to him, he played it to Milner, who was also back defending, then set off down the left into space, but the ball never came.

Matip - I remain utterly unconvinced by Matip, his strength is his passing but that was off in this game. He is weak, easily bullied by an attacker, lacks real pace, gets caught out ball watching and does not do enough to cover his partner at the back. The worrying thing is that currently he is the best centre back at the club! One thing he is good at is when he is on the ball, usually, but when that is not going for him, then he becomes a bit of a liability.

Lovren - on a good day Lovren is strong, decisive and dominating. On a bad day he is, at best, hopeless. Decisiveness turns to rashness and panic fills his veins, as it did yesterday. There was barely any defending to do, yet he still managed to nearly give a penalty away and slice a simple clearance completely. He was probably Boro's best player!

Milner - there were flashes of the Milner from the early part of the season in the second half. Once Liverpool were on top and coasting he looked good. The problem is, especially as he had the captaincy, in the first half he was not playing well and not being a good influence on the team. Milner looked like the armband was weighing heavily on him and his head was down, looking like a player who just wanted to hide. When we needed a leader who stood up to be counted, he was busy trying to stay out of sight. Milner has plenty of experience, but he is not a leader.

Can - best player on the pitch in the first half, though that was not saying a lot! Not at his driving best but did play as well as can be expected from a deep lying midfielder against a team that made no real attempt to attack. In the second half he carried on as he was, covering the defence while getting forward when he could.

Wijnaldum - for once Wijnaldum did not go beneath the radar with his contribution, this time he turned the whole game on its head with his goal late in the first half. Showed a great piece of control to drag the ball from behind him and give himself a chance to smash it into the back of the net from a tight angle.

Coutinho - struggled to impose himself in the first half, though he was always looking to create an opportunity to play in one of those ahead of him or open himself up for a shot. It just was not quite coming off. In the second half he took over the game and ran the show.

Lallana - up until his goal, he had not been having the best of games. He was trying to make things happen, but it was not coming off for him, his passing was a bit off and his runs with the ball were not opening up space. I am not sure he really suits the role he was asked to play, as it removes one of his main strengths from his game. His pressing game requires him to have the freedom to chase up, down and round the pitch, but there were a few times he just stopped and watched a player just a yard or two away from him, rather than chased back like he usually does. For me that removes half of his quality and he needs to play deeper.

Firmino - at times his link up play was first class, but his shooting boots had been left behind. A mixed game for Firmino, who needs to go away and work on his finishing over the summer.

Sturridge - works well with Firmino, though it never looked as much of a partnership as having Origi alongside him. However, they do seem to have the makings of a pairing, one holding while the other makes a forward run to push defenders back and creating space. Mostly Sturridge doing the forward runs, as he was always looking to get on the end of a through ball, it was just the passing that let him down. He offers a different dimension to the play, one that is missing without Mane, as his runs drag defenders around creating opportunities, even when he is not being passed the ball. While his pressing is not Firmino or Lallana level, he does put pressure on defenders, especially if the team as a whole is pressing, he works well within that team framework to position himself to cut off options for the man on the ball. A lack of service was his main problem against Boro. I did wonder why he gets such a bad press for not pressing, but hearing the commentator give Wijnaldum the credit when he pressed Boro into putting the ball out at one point made me realise that he has no hope of being judged fairly when his good work is not being recognised.

Subs:
Lucas - replaced Firmino in the 79th minute and then seemed to be everywhere, amazingly for a guy with so little pace! Tried his best to get into the box and score, was just let down by the passes. It was clear the Kop were desperate to see him score as well, with the cries of shoot everytime he touched the ball, even if he was in his own half.
Origi - came on for Sturridge in the 82nd minute but barely got into the game to be honest. He really needs to do more.
Moreno - surprising sub this one, not because of who replaced who, but the way Milner went off, he seemed so down when the team were winning 3-0. Anyway Moreno had little chance to make an impression but he did as he usually does, works his backside off trying to get forward. You can never fault his effort. It is just a shame that someone who so clearly wants to succeed lacks what it takes to do so. He reminds me of a dog I used to have, she was daft as a brush, would do the same stupid things repeatedly, never learning from banging into things that it might be best to walk round them etc, but for all that, you had to love the fact that she was always trying. She could never keep up with the other dogs but she would chase after them anyway. Moreno is the same, he never learns, does daft things repeatedly but his spirit and willingness to give everything is hard not to admire.

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