Attention quickly turns to Liverpool following the diversion into the League Cup. History dictates this is one of the biggest home games of the season, even when they were on their uppers and we are now just getting off ours. Or seem to be at least. Unai Emery is receiving a lot of praise for the changes he is making tactically and mentally.
Which is all well and good. There was an interesting clip on social media of Juan Carlos Carcedo coaching the team through a corner on Wednesday night, with Unai vacating the technical area while his coach took over. Once the danger passed, Emery resumed control. Whether this was before or after Blackpool’s goal is unclear. If it’s before, a clip of
It’s one of the areas which needs addressing. We’re mixing man-marking with a zonal system and that leads to imbalances. Bellerin, for example, found himself marking Harry Maguire against Leicester. Claude Puel’s side is generally strong in the air, so I’d venture a centre-back might fair better against the man ‘lovingly’ nicknamed ‘slabhead’. Certainly a lot better than a 5’10 right-back.
We’re still a work-in-progress all over the pitch which is why I’m surprised that some wonder if we’re title contenders. The rump of this squad stumbled into sixth place last season and is ‘unlearning’ everything it, as well as learning plans and patterns to replace them.
I guess that’s a dozen or so games unbeaten does to you. Raises hope where there was none. Raising hope where there was none is also the fastest way to the slump of disappointment. Keep it real, people. We’re not title contenders, you know it in your heart of hearts. And in your head.
That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the ride. My goodness – not a term I often use, but family readership and all that – it’s nice to feel that the team is on an upward trajectory again. How long that will last remains to be seen.
Saturday evening’s match is the first test of this team for a while. We’ve played tricky fixtures in the past dozen games, matches we lost last season and won this time around. Passed those ‘tests’ so why not this one as well? Why not, indeed. There’s no reason why not; that’s it, no ‘but’.
Liverpool are a good side; unbeaten in the Premier League but not unbeatable, Napoli proved that. There is a danger, however, that this match is being built up out of proportion. It is, after all, just three points. If we play well and are beaten, it shows we still have some way to go. If we play only for the last hour of the game, we know the problems we had in the last dozen games haven’t gone away. We won’t have learned anyhting new.
If we’re outclassed, we file it in the same box as Manchester City. The downsides to this game are no different to any other; three points lost. The upsides – a win, a 90-minute performance – will last a lot longer.
Without being blase about the fixture, it’s almost ‘no-lose’ for us. Liverpool are favourites; they are the team expected to challenge Manchester City for the title. We’re expected to finish fifth, fourth if media dahlings implode in the New Swamp.
Almost ‘no-lose’ but not quite. Three points are up for grabs and that will stand us in good stead, should we take them.
But we’re not going to fall into the tenth circle of hell if we lose.
The Hurt Locker Room
All of which could be a bit of reverse psychology on my part. Knowing our record in recent years – and I define recent as the past decade for the purposes of any outlandish claims which follow – am I preparing myself for the worst?
What worst is that? The worst which has seen us concede at least three in the last five meetings. Yes, we’ve scored three in three of them, but we’ve been generous in defence to say the least. And generous is what our defence has been at times this season.
With Bellerin, Monreal and Kolasinac all “being assessed ahead of Liverpool (h) on Saturday, November 3”, such generosity may continue if one of the left-backs doesn’t pull through. It’s not a game for Jenkinson to be tested out as the latest stand-in; AMN with Xhaka moved back into midfield, for me.
Until I change my mind by tthe morning, that is.