It has been a few days since we lost at Anfield, but it may still be worth making some observations (further to the very fine ones by Djifa/Gino in the previous post).
Eight Observations from a game that simply came too early in the season for Emery:
- I liked Emery’s initial strategy of sitting back and playing with two fast and furious CFs, both positioned on the wings/away from each other to give the Pool defence something to think about. If and when we got the ball forward both Auba and Pepe used the available space well and they had decent chances to put us in front. A bit more sharpness and calm and they could each have scored. If they had done so, it could have been different. Setting his team up to absorb pressure and play on the break, Emery made a good tactical start with the team;
- But it remains to be seen whether scoring first would not have led to the same outcome: a thumping loss. Betis had a similar tactics v Barcelona this weekend and THEY did manage to score first… but they also still ended up losing big (5-2). Pool were clearly the better team both in terms of organisation and individual sharpness, and an early goal against them would probably have spurred them on even more. The issue I have from a tactical point of view is that before and after Pool scored their second goal, we did not see a meaningful Plan-B from Emery and the game was lost in just 10-15 minutes early on in the second half. After the third goal Pool took the foot of the gas and we fought well to somehow get a goal back. But it was this ability of Pool to see the game out and to some extent play with us that I found most deflating (even though they conceded an avoidable goal late on).
- Now many have said that ‘Champions of Europe’, Pool, are a great team and were playing at home so let’s not be too hard on Emery. I respect that point of view. I did not expect us to win but wanted to see the tactical strength of Emery and his in-game tactical decision making; and although Emery made a promising start we withered away as the game went on and the full strength of our squad was never on display. It was also clear that Pool had targeted our right side (tactically) and especially AMN and Guendouzi were put under tremendous pressure to hold the fort… We somehow got away with our lack of defensive strength (numbers of players to prevent a breach of our wall there) but Emery should have intervened. This worried me but there is still time for Emery to get the tactical decisions right this season. And a big test awaits him against the canny Argentinian coach of our bitterest rivals this Sunday.
- Luiz was good, almost great. I know he was involved in the second and third goal by Pool but David gave us structure, believe and leadership in defence. The penalty he gave away was a reflex, he said; and Salah would probably have scored if Luiz had not pulled him back (it was a quick and clever move by the Egyptian after all). I was actually impressed with Luiz for not making the foul on Salah for the third goal. I have no doubt that Koscielny (who?!) or Mustafi would have risked a foul/yellow card and have been sent off as a result. There was still time and space for his fellow defenders to block Salah but Big Sok hesitated for half a second and came too late to the rescue.
- Torreira is back and he looked awesome in our new away shirt. It was important to score a goal and not just for the away fans. We needed that sort of determination from the start and Lucas made a difference when he came on. Play Xhaka as our pivot and the indispensable Torreira next to him in each and every big game, is all I want to say (again and again).
- The big question to ask Emery is of course why did you not play the experienced midfielders of Torreira, Ozil and Mkhi in this game. Guendouzi, Willock and Ceballos were started instead and collectively they were well out of their league. If this is Emery’s attempt to put his own identity on the team – his trademark – he will be out of a job soon. Playing one of these players in an otherwise experienced team is okay, but all three is plain silly. when we face a team like Pool away. Xhaka-Guendouzi does not work: they do not complement each other at all. Willock tried hard to fill in the large spaces in midfield but was lost and poor Ceballos looked like the court jester. We did not display our full potential (and lost the game so easily) once again because of lack of balance in midfield, and Emery’s team selection choices remain a big concern.
- How sexy is the football of Pepe? He makes me think of Donna Summer but that’s for another post! It was nice to see Van Dijk being given a proper game by our new signing and he looks so determined to attack and destroy opponents. Ten games in, he would have scored at least once but he will need to settle in a bit more before we get the full value out of him.
- The away support was great: made themselves heart throughout the game and stood right behind the team, and we are going to need this badly for the 17 remaining away games of course.