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We need to talk about Trent
Liverpool have a problem. In fact we have a few of them, but there is not enough time to trawl through the growing list of concerns scratching at my extremities since football returned in the summer. Suffice to say the most pressing one for now involves our world-class right-back.
Let’s start with what we know, Trent has truly wonderful technique. His range of passing off both feet, ball striking, vision, creativity and first touch are all sensational. Klopp identified these traits when he was only 18, and through lack of alternative rolled the dice on bringing him in and seeing whether his sublime skills would outweigh his inexperience and lack of defensive nous. He also knew that game time and experience would inevitably expedite his improvement.
Albeit there has been an occasional shit-show along the way, most would agree it has been an overwhelmingly positive outcome. Trent is now the poster boy for young English fans and has a market value of roughly £100m. Subsequently, Jurgen has doubled down on his bet and increasingly created a game plan around exploiting the creativity of his fearsome fullbacks, working to afford them as much space as possible. In fact, their prominence in our attacking plan is as marked as our famed front three.
And again the result of that is supreme league performance over the last two years and significant silverware.
So, what’s the problem?
Well, I think he’s been found out, and so have our tactics.
Although our results for much of the season were reasonably good and the stats positive in comparison to our competitors, I think many fans have been noticing decreasing performance on screen. Its always hard to discern ultimate efficacy with the water muddying variables of form and fitness, but there have been aspects to our play not quite working for a while and chief amongst these is Trent’s form falling of a cliff.
In 18/19 and 19/20 combined Trent had 25 assists and five goals in the Prem from 67 appearances, a return of just under a goal or assist every other game. This season he has two assists and no goals from 15 games. Now its taking him 7.5 games per goal contribution. But to be honest it is not just about the stats and certainly not all about his attacking characteristics.
Trent has never been the most natural defender. A converted midfielder, the club thought his attacking traits could be better utilised in the wide open spaces of right-back. And as discussed they were proved right. However, as has been pointed out many times before, Trent’s natural tendencies are not to look over his shoulder but to look toward his own attackers.
Forget about the guff said about positioning. He was always likely to be occasionally caught out when being deployed so far up the pitch. Getting caught out is a consequence of high-risk attacking and the occasional lack of cover by a central midfielder. No, his main problem is the fact he is a mediocre defender. He is not particularly strong and not particularly quick. He often makes poor defensive decisions, frequently letting balls travel over his head and not spotting an attacker drifting in behind, then lunging immediately and being beaten far too easily. Against West Brom I watched him try and let the ball run out of play for a goal kick, surely lesson no.1 in the defenders’ manual, and then be lightly shouldered off the ball and the attacker go and almost create a goal. It’s the absolute basics that Trent often gets wrong. He has improved some aspects of his defensive play, he doesn’t get beaten quite so easily by someone stepping inside to shoot, but largely his standard has remained fairly abject.
And mainly this has been acceptable because teams don’t attack us that often. He also has exemplary midfield cover designed to reduce his defensive workload. When he offers so much going forward his defensive frailties were mitigated. However, times they are a changing…
This season and the end of last, teams are more than aware where our attacking threat is. Our fullbacks are our creative force. Teams were so frequently massing bodies deep and central to avoid our front three having any space that there was frequently opportunities wide to exploit. However, now their defence is deep and narrow but the midfield wingers routinely pressure our fullbacks. In regards to Trent there is a very specific style of defending him that works very well. And it is highlighted by its failure to stop Robertson on the other side.
If you rush out to close down Robertson he will either knock it past you and run, play the ball off and run past you or if neither of those options are available, pass it sideways or backwards. Defenders have to be cautious about how quickly they close him down for fear of the first two options and him getting in behind. With Trent things are markedly different. Trent is not a dribbler. I have seen him dribble on occasion and he is not appalling but he simply does not have the natural gift of using someone’s momentum closing him down to beat them going the other direction. He is far too inclined to drift deeper and search for space for a long raking pass, than attempt a one-on-one. His inclination to take the same choice allows defenders to deploy the same tactic confidently. They now close him down very quickly, not worried about him beating them, or even taking them on, just simply closing down his space. They are also finding that in this new scenario he is coughing up the ball with incredible regularity. Also the back 4/5 are constantly expecting the long ball when he is in possession because they know its his main strength and too frequently his default option, concentrating on matching any attacking runs.
There is undoubtedly a measure of poor form in Trent’s travails, but he, and Jurgen, need to start accepting that teams have increasingly figured him out. Either he needs to re-evaluate his game plan and add a new dimension, adjust tactics to afford him space in areas he can hurt teams or perhaps move him into the long-destined midfield role.
Either way something needs to be done.
Klopp at fault for this drop-off
Before tearing into Jurgen I want to say that he has done a brilliant job and I would have loved him at United. However, I think this drop off in form is down to his poor management, not this season but last season. He kept playing his first team when there was pretty much nothing to play for at the back end of last season.
Why not give the first team squad a month off knowing that the off-season was pretty much nonexistent the following season would be condensed? It would have given the fringe players the opportunity to get minutes without the crowds on their backs as well.
Having said that, it’s made this season unexpectantly tasty. Hope we can sustain a genuine title challenge. It’s been too long.
Hakim, Sri Lanka
Liverpool and pressure
So Ashwin claims Liverpool ‘can’t play when under pressure, they had a huge points gap last year so kept winning’. Do you think they were just handed that huge gap and started 15 points ahead? Every game last season was a pressure game.
They played second place Leicester this time last year and if Leicester won the gap was down to 5, that wasn’t a pressure game??
They have lost 6 of their last 96 PL matches-incredible consistency so they have proven they can play under any type of pressure.
If only there was a competition that included the best teams from other leagues that culminates in a once off game which decides the winner. A real high pressure game. A Champions fin…. nah, twill never take off.
It’s a long season. There’ll be more ups and downs.
It is now almost a year since Utd fans attacked Woodward’s house and people claimed Utd were years off top 4, never mind the title. Admittedly they will be competing in the Europa in 2021 but they are now a game away from going top.
Ole, Pep, Jose, Frank went from hero to zero to hero again. Now it is Klopp and Lampard’s turn to take the abuse. It’ll be someone else by the middle of February.
Just six months ago the standard of the PL was being belittled, Liverpool had it easy compared to “the invincible” and Utds treble winning team (yes,Utd won a treble, hard to believe as it never gets mentioned by their fan base) & people were yearning for the good old days of tight championship races. And by that, they mean when their OWN team won titles.
Now, it is impossible to correctly predict top four, never mind the champions.
A lot can change quickly…though I can’t see Evertonians, Utd fans, West Ham fans and Karen Brady screaming “null and void” this season. Funny that.
Man United penalties: A simple answer
In relation to Manchester United winning penalties, it’s quite simple – they play counter attacking football with very skillful and tricky players. By this very fact and logically speaking, they are more likely to get a higher number of penalties!
Let’s take away the fact, it’s a foul inside the 18 yard box. For instance… Mr Jack Grealish has been awarded quite a high number of fouls against him all over the pitch… and he gets praised for ‘drawing’ the fouls and ‘winning’ free kicks. Are we to investigate this? Should we form an inquest? Do Grealish and Villa need to be examined closer? Do referees need to be put under pressure to clamp down on awarding free kicks? No, of course not! This would be a crazy notion!
It’s a part of the game. Penalty decisions just aren’t set in stone. It’s not always black and white. You win some, you lose some.
The ridiculous claims about MU being awarded too many penalties is absolute nonsense and screams of certain managers feeling the heat.
Man United and penalties: A less simple answer
15/16 – 13 penalties
16/17 – 6 penalties
17/18 – 6 penalties
18/19 – 7 penalties
19/20 – 7 penalties
20/21 – 10 penalties
15/16 – 3 penalties
16/17 – 4 penalties
17/18 – 3 penalties
18/19 – 12 penalties
19/20 – 14 penalties
20/21 – 6 penalties
Jamie Vardy has won 19 penalties (1 short of Sterling at 20). The way Leicester set up to hit on the counter leaves Vardy with one on one with defenders and he is able to get those fouls from them. United have a similar way of attacking under Solskjaer. Rashford and Martial are more likely to get fouled in the box (No arguments that some are soft penalties) because they have more one on ones in the box compared to Liverpool, who face a packed box almost every time. It is how Solskjaer has set up his team to attack.
It is just too easy to say Liverpool get less penalties per touch in the box. Liverpool have been top for the last two seasons for headed goals and currently lead the way this season as well. With both their fullbacks being excellent crossers of the ball, it makes sense (They currently have the most crosses this season and were second last season). But you can surely not expect to get a lot of penalties using that form of attack as often as they do.
Players do make a difference. Some are just quicker with their feet and use that to get penalties (fairly or unfairly). There is a reason Sterling is at the top. Some go to ground quicker than others. They give referees a decision to make. It’s like appealing in Cricket.
So the whole narrative around United getting unfair penalties is just sour grapes. Lets move on!
Hassan (At least United blame Ole when they lose).
Lipstick, pigs and Man United
In response to Paul Murphy’s query (I’m wondering if United are so loved by the establishment why we haven’t been anywhere near winning anything the last few years), the answer is that you can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig. United haven’t won anything for years because you’ve been rubbish.
It is hard to envisage a scenario where referees could enable the United of recent vintage to win something significant.
Paul, London Red (say what you see)
A penalty solution
Coming a bit late to this but just wanted to provide a solution to poor Jurgen’s penalty problem – how about at the start of every season we award an even 10 penalties to each team to be allocated evenly throughout the season irrespective of players being fouled in the box or handballs. We would have to give some extra penalties to Liverpool for every time Jurgen smiles his big beautiful grin when things are going the way he wants for Liverpool but apart from that it should make things nice and even.
Because penalties should be fair and shouldn’t be awarded based on number of times a team’s player is fouled in the box. That’s the point of them right?
Jonny MUFC (tongue firmly in cheek)
RIP King Colin
I was taken aback last night with just how much the passing of Colin Bell moved me. Without wishing to appear callous, I’m not normally unduly affected by the death of film stars, TV celebrities or sporting legends and the like. You sympathise with those the person has left behind, obviously, but that’s generally it for me.
I was in the middle of the utterly mundane act of changing the bed linen, with TalkSport on in the background, when it was announced. I caught my breath and, almost involuntarily, plonked my ar*e on the bed somewhat stunned. Surprised at being surprised if that makes the slightest sense.
I went to my first game at Maine Road as a kid in 1972 and King Colin was my first, and probably only, footballing ‘hero’. Arguably, and this will sound strange to those that have only known football in the PL era, the best player Manchester City have ever had. Will also eternally be the subject of speculation around what he, City, and England could’ve achieved were it not for the devastating injury he sustained in 1975.
It doesn’t matter if you dislike/hate City. I’d still urge you to watch any of the tribute films/documentaries that are sure to emerge. It’s a bit like watching the same about George Best or Jimmy Greaves, for example. You don’t have to support their respective teams to admire the beauty and skill of the football these geniuses routinely served up during their careers. And especially so when you consider the pitches they played on, the bone-crunching tackles/outright punch-ups that were part and parcel of any Saturday afternoon, as well as the complete absence of anything resembling sport science or, God forbid, a sports-specific diet.
I apologise if this mail reads as a rambling mess. As you’ve undoubtedly gathered, I am simply unable to articulate why I am so upset about the death of a man I’ve never had the honour to meet. Perhaps it’s the combination of the fact that, despite being one of the most talented footballers of the late ‘60s-early ‘70s, peers and friends alike have always attested as to how humble Colin Bell was off the pitch. Which, it seems to me, made the way his career was ended, all the crueller.
Something, by the way, he never moaned about.
King Of The Kippax, RIP.
Mark (A legend and a gentleman) MCFC