At least it’s over. That’s the best I can manage. Oh, and also the fact we didn’t get humped out of sight and avoided the type of defeat that would have drained the last vestiges of belief from this group.
Two goals at Anfield are not to be sniffed at either, but it still felt disappointing. Not because we lost of course – we expected to lose – but because of the general approach and because of how easy and comfortable we made it for Liverpool.
But for some George Long heroics and some wayward finishing, this could easily have been seven or eight and then it would have been a proper confidence-drainer.
Long was excellent though – on the day, Angus could have done no better – and luckily for us, Gakpo and Jota weren’t wearing their shooting boots. But from their 73 per cent of possession, Jurgen Klopp’s men had 29 shots.
It was, by any metric, a hammering, which in itself was no surprise to anyone, but still it had the feel of a Premier League giant versus a non-league minnow, such was the nervous, tentative, and damage-limitation approach deployed by David Wagner.
If you choose to take on the role of minnow do so wholeheartedly. Play with the fire, passion, and bravery of one – with the heart of Newport County and the fearlessness of Maidstone. But no. It was into the shell from minute one. No puffed-out chests. Just immediately into position for some belly-tickling.
To opt to play Ashley Barnes as the lone striker but with a narrow block of five in place to protect the back four stifled any realistic prospect of getting up the pitch with any regularity.
While I appreciate the plan was to contain and then break, with Gabby Sara, Onel Hernandez, and Christian Fassnacht supporting Barnes – all eminently sensible – the reality becomes hellishly difficult when you have so little of the ball and are spending the whole time chasing shadows. The legs are tired and the thinking muddled.
All of this is obviously against the backdrop of Liverpool being an elite group of players who have been coached to an elite level – we expected them to be better than us in every aspect of the game – but it wasn’t because of their superior quality that Fassnacht switched off and gave Curtis Jones a free header after just 16 minutes, that Ben Gibson made a complete hash of a headed clearance or that Adam Idah gave Virgil van Dijk a free header from ten yards.
Those are basic mistakes that can be ill-afforded against any opponent, let alone one of the best sides in Europe.
The afternoon wasn’t without positives. As already mentioned, to score two goals at Anfield under any circumstances is a decent effort, and for the second of those to be an absolute belter from Borja Sainz in front of the City fans made for a nice moment. Wagner will have his reasons for not starting Sainz – workload-related I suspect – but there is no doubt we are a better side when the Spaniard is in it.
Having said that – before anyone reminds me – it wasn’t Onel’s worst game yesterday, and he was one of the few who looked capable of getting us up the pitch with his ability to run with the ball. Therein also lies part of the disappointment though because this Liverpool team does famously give opponents a chance with their high defensive line.
Klopp’s rationale is that by utilising that ultra-high starting position they condense the play into a smaller area, thus making their suffocating and well-drilled high-press doubly effective. As Messrs Sara, Nunez, and McLean will testify, it’s a tactic that works.
Composure on the ball when under pressure becomes king and with that not being one of our strong suits, it was always destined to be a difficult afternoon, but with Barnes leading the line solo, there was zero chance of us being able to exploit that high line and get in behind.
But it wasn’t just the midfield who had nightmares in trying to negotiate that suffocative press. The back four and Long were subject to the same intensity when attempting to pass the ball through the Liverpool lines into non-existent spaces.
The criticism of their opting not to launch it and instead persisting in trying to break the Liverpool press was valid to a degree, as it led to many comedic moments (for the commentators and neutrals at least), but the alternative was to bang it long to Barnes, who was invariably surrounded by two or three defenders.
The set-up was destined to create the very no-win situations we all witnessed.
The bench too was a subject of much pre and post-match discussion, as it contained two keepers and no rising stars of the academy, of which we have a few (yes, I know Caleb Ansen is an academy player, but he was one of the two keepers). No… I didn’t understand either.
But, it was Liverpool. And we’re unlikely to have to suffer that fate too often in the short term.
We all feared the worst and just about avoided it, however disappointing parts of the performance were. And, while the horrendous scenes at The Hawthorns were deplorable and an untimely throwback to the bad old days of the 1970s, the delay did at least spare those of us watching on TV a 30-minute Klopp love-in.
On that score too it could have been so much worse.
Of infinitely more importance than getting humped by Liverpool is Saturday’s clash with Mark Robin’s Coventry. Win that game and we are still in what can loosely be described as a playoff hunt, but lose it and we risk heading back into one of those Wagner dips we all find so painful.
We also have the closing days of the transfer window to occupy ourselves – one where Wagner is talking up very little in terms of incomings but where the rumour mill is heavy with tales of Adam Idah to Verona on loan.
An interesting, if not frustrating, week awaits.