How Klopp’s ‘genius’ Alexander-Arnold switch can put Liverpool back on top again…

Editor F365
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp talks to Trent Alexander-Arnold on the touchline at Anfield.

The Mailbox explains why a tweak to Trent Alexander-Arnold’s position will have Liverpool ruling the Premier League again. Also: referees have too much authority, apparently.

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Liverpool’s problems solved with one genius move
In all the controversy about the game on Sunday comparatively little attention has been paid to what was a radical change in tactics by Jurgen Klopp and a potential solving of the Achilles heel that has been holding them back the past 2 years.

Of course I refer to his radical positioning of TAA as a free floating deep lying playmaker hybrid full back. I genuinely think this is a stroke of genius, only confirmed by the fact that Gary “impartial” Neville bashing it afterwards (see also Keane’s immediate slurring of Andy Robertson having the temerity to react to being elbowed in the neck as a sign of infantile behaviour) ie when the Manu blowhards are giving out you’re doing something right.

Anyway I digress.

Trent as a deep lying midfielder in attack firstly solves so many issues for us. He is going to be practically impossible to mark with a field of influence from one goal to the other and the entire right half of the field to pick pockets of space in. In space he is devastating at picking out runners or delivering the perfect pass from the inside right position. Ahead of him Jones/Thiago and Hendo played as aggressive defending 8s. They can and should be upgraded during the summer providing Trent with a shield from behind which to wreck havoc on defences.

So far so good, but not that radical.

The genius comes in the hybrid back 3 this creates. Instead on facing Bambi on ice at full back now you have Konate breathing down your neck with Trent providing auxiliary right sided sweeper cover. If he recovers the ball in this position Liverpool then have their most devastating player on the ball ready to unleash the counter for their runners. Now attack that side at your peril. Big Virg can take up the central Beckenbauer role for the next 5 years of his career away from nippy right sided wingers and Robbo can continue pissing off Manu moaners on the left flank as only he can.

Overall for me it’s the first time in two years I’ve been excited about this team under Klopp. The formula works and will only improve with coaching and fine tuning. Instead of needing a full overhaul like some commentators have suggested we’re only a couple of players short of being competitive again.

Watch out petro-nation state clubs were coming for you.

Final word on Arsenal, please go and win the league now. You’re a wonderful team and club who deserves the title this year. Do it for football.
Dave LFC


Refs have too much authority
There’s something a little snobbish about all the outrage when players approach or, heaven forbid, touch referees. How dare these working class oiks approach authority let alone challenge it?

We don’t like these working class folks getting ideas above their station. They’ve worked hard, used their talent to their advantage and bring us joy every week. But they need to know their place, right? Isn’t it enough that they get to spend all their (ridiculous) wages on fast cars, houses for their mums and (in)offensive tattoos? And then, if all that isn’t enough, they then go and get big media careers whilst simultaneously criticising the government from Twitter.

Of course, I am being a little bit sarcastic but I think there’s often something deeply classist at work when footballers are criticised, either for poor behaviour by the middle-class media or because they’ve got so much money by the fans who are probably more working class over all.

I could be completely misreading the situation but this dynamic exists in normal life with protesters (and sometimes football fans) dealt harshly by the police, increasingly at the behest of the government. These protesters, though often campaigning for things that will benefit everyone are thought of as “disrupting normal people’s lives” and “just causing trouble, for the sake of it”. Everyone is so caught up in their own five minutes of life that they don’t bother to think about who is actually right in this situation.

And so it goes with football. Bruno Fernandes is grabbed by the fourth official yet everyone calls for him to be banned when he swats the official away. The linesman absolutely nails Andrew Robertson in the chin and Robertson is “a big baby” and deserves it because he “grabbed” the official first. It’s seriously backwards and we really need to think about what sort of a relationship we want between the referees and the players.

Referees are treated as gods. Their decisions, until recently, were never questioned. And even now, with VAR, they often get the final say on whether their decision should be overturned or not. If the referee mentions something in their match report or deals with something at the time, there is no retrospective re-judging of the situation. They are the rulers of every football match and cannot be challenged.

Take the Fernandes incident. Because the linesman was involved in that incident it was deemed that the officials had seen and adjudicated that no action was necessary at the time. Very convenient. Had the linesman not involved himself in that situation it’s far more likely that Bruno would have either been sent off at the time or faced retrospective punishment. But as the linesman was involved, the FA or PGMOL couldn’t take any action or else they would be investigating their own linesman. They should have.

There should not be a rule (unwritten or otherwise) that players can not touch officials and not the other way round. A line can be drawn directly from the Fernandes incident, through Mitrovic’s ban to Sunday’s elbow. If Fernandes had been investigated, Mitrovic may not have been so brazen. Had the linesman been called out for grabbing Fernandes then would Robertson have got an elbow in the face on Sunday? I highly doubt it.

There will be continued calls for high handed punishments for players who touch referees. I wouldn’t be surprised if the FA ban Robertson for saying something to or touching the linesman before the elbow. That would be a ridiculously over the top decision and based on zero evidence.

However, the linesman should be given a suspension beyond anything any footballer has received as they were in a position of authority and that is an aggravating factor. As much sympathy as we can have for match officials in terms of the abuse they suffer up and down the exulted football pyramid, we can not have a situation where they all become their own versions of Judge Dredd. I’ve seen lots of people saying well “it’s his livelihood” and it is a shame that it is in jeopardy. But he was the one that put it in jeopardy. Let’s not allow PGMOL to become like the Met where they close ranks and protect each other from punishment when they break the laws they are supposed to be upholding. Also – “it was just a shrug”: Absolutely shocking assessment.

Everyone likes to think that rugby players treat the referees with respect because of the authority of the referees. But it’s more than that, rugby is built, at least in part, on an ethos of respect. It’s one of the reasons you can drink whilst watching the game. Sure, there is bad behaviour in rugby too, but there is more balance between the referees and the players. Football cannot simply give referees more authority over footballers and punish footballers more for dissent. The game needs cultural change from the ground up.

But the FA are resistant to change, and it would be a surprise if PGMOL were to come and take some of the blame for the situation we at least perceive ourselves to be in. Let’s hope that they deal with this linesman accordingly without blaming the players. It wouldn’t be the first time people in authority have blamed others for their own mistakes, especially in relation to Liverpool. And Howard Webb, an ex-South Yorkshire PC, should be well aware of that.
Ash (Rashford noooooo….)


Arsenal’s fault
Some are calling Robertson a baby, while there are others appalled at how Hatzidakis reacted. Shouldn’t we be asking what made Robertson approach the lino at half-time in the first place? The constant play-acting and time-wasting that the Arsenal players were getting away with obviously didn’t go down well with the Liverpool players.

The point is, refereeing standards are shite and refs should be held accountable. Dodgy refereeing decisions costs teams crucial points, players serve suspensions, managers pay fines. But what happens to erring refs? Nothing !


…Was there another incident between Robertson and the linesman that I missed? Seems to be a lot of people saying that Robertson was elbowed and the linesman is doomed. Robertson grabbed the linesman’s elbow. In response to this the linesman, forcefully, shrugged off Robertsons grip and grazed his neck in the process. I don’t see a problem with this. If Robertson doesn’t grab his arm, there is no incident.

If they have any sense and duty of care for officials then the FA, premier League, PGMOL, any and all governing bodies involved will back the linesman. A simple instruction for players, don’t grab them, don’t barge them, don’t get aggressive with them. Exercise the bare minimum of self control. After the sanctions against Mitrovic, which I also agree with, backing down now would undermine refs completely. For all the howling about VAR from fans, pundits and players, it’s probably refs who have been worse impacted. That’s a shitshow for another email but they should scrap it and ban slow motion replays to stop studio pundits saying nothing definitive while they watch 20 replays from multiple angles, and then being “shocked that the ref missed that”. It won’t solve the outrage, the nonsense or the conspiracy theories. But it might be a step in the right direction.
Kev, Dublin


…I’d just like to say bravo to Constantine Hatzidakis. If there’s anyone in the game who deserves an elbow to the throat it’s Andy Robertson. Supposedly he’s Scottish but he’s got that wonderful Italian/Argentine quality of being a true master of the dark arts, but throwing an absolute hissy fit if anyone dares to try any of it back.

One of those things that I absolutely do want to see on a football pitch.

Andy, Cheshire


…There has been a lot of talk about the Robertson incident and that the assistant referee somehow has a case to answer.
This is incorrect. There is no case to answer whatsoever.

Footballers are quite frankly a disgrace in how they treat officials and have been for as long as I can remember. Bearing in mind I’m in my fifth decade on this planet that’s a damning indictment of players and more so of the respective footballing authorities for letting it continue.
In both a professional and a human context, the assistant referee is quite entitled to insist that a player getting in their face, as Robertson did, should step back and allow them some space. If asking a question or protesting is allowed then that’s okay but there is absolutely no requirement to invade the personal space of the officials.
If someone in your place of work approached you excitedly and grabbed your arm, restricting your ability to keep walking, whilst furiously demanding answers to a question, to respond by pushing them away with your arm or elbow is perfectly reasonable and acceptable. This applies to any work environment.
So if anyone thinks what Robertson did is acceptable then a period of self reflection is required. Any ex-players expecting disciplinary action against the official are merely highlighting their own lack of self awareness and self control in their dealings with referees.

Unfortunately but understandably, this incident once again serves to invite the old comparison between the egg-chasers and association football.
In Rugby, players respect the authority of the official. Only the captain addresses the referee. And when they do so, they use the term Sir.
Any player showing dissent or even approaching the officials are immediately and unequivocally disciplined.
This should not be difficult to implement for football. It will require a huge cultural change certainly both in how players conduct themselves and in how officials respond. Yellow cards should be automatic for any contact with the officials. Red if required.
All communication to be done via the Captain.
This is not to render match officials immune from criticism, merely to deliver that criticism in a respectful manner.
And before anyone deploys the defence that a the standard of officiating is poor, you’re correct, but conflating the argument. That’s a separate issue entirely. And to those who cry that a match official must be held to a higher standard, again we agree, but to no higher a standard than the players they are working with should treat them.
Eoin (respect is a two way street) Ireland


…Disappointed to see that Hatzidakis has been “taken off duty” for fairly reacting to Robertson’s ridiculous harassment. Anyone who has watched football for any length of time will have cheered the official for defending himself. The best bit was as everyone walked off the pitch, Robertson walked in slow motion whilst holding his chin and wiggling it back and forward, looking in every direction, searching for outrage, shocked, clearly knowing that he wasn’t even vaguely injured, but not sure who to fake towards. His brain was saying “you’re not hurt, dive on the ground to get someone sent off” and at the same time was telling him “there is no one to con, that was the linesman, who are you faking this to??”.

It makes it even better that Hatzidakis clearly looks like he can handle himself. I’m picturing Robertson, and many other of our overprivaleged “heroes”, playing the big man wherever they go at clubs etc, feeling untouchable, knowing that they can act like d-heads knowing there will be no consequences. Brilliant to see the big barking dog not being able to back up anything and embarrassing himself. I bet he wouldn’t have been so incredibly aggressive toward Hatzidakis if they met in a dark alley behind the pub, though god knows we would all love to see that.

When will we have rules that will stop players abusing officials??? I know it is a topic raised here many times, but it is worse than ever. Talking back to an official should be an automatic yellow. They would soon learn.
MJ (against abuse of any kind, though lovely to see the aggressive footballers (not all of them…) put in their place)


The real problem with VAR
Is there ever a subject John Nicholson won’t get the wrong end of the stick on? His whole article seems to be on the premise that VAR errors cost Brighton. Totally ignoring the fact the on field referee and assistants got the calls wrong first so the outcome would have been the same.

VAR could and should work, it’s operator error that is the problem that needs to be fixed.
Andrew (Sorry to have a go at John Nic, but his whole everything about the EPL schtick grates)

Read more: Premier League VAR is worse under Howard Webb despite clear and obvious solution…

…Crying for VAR to be abandoned isn’t saying what the real problem is. VAR isn’t a “thing”, it’s a person implementing a process. The process is that the officials get a second chance to make the correct decision, the person is a member of a woefully inept group of individuals. Get rid of VAR and the only thing you’re getting rid of is the process, the poor decisions will remain but this time with zero oversight. Brighton still wouldn’t have gotten the two penalties they deserved and Mitoma’s goal is still handball. These weren’t overturned decisions, they were reinforcement of onfield mistakes.

VAR just highlights how unfit for purpose the PGMOL is. That’s all. We need to continue using it because if that’s the only good thing to come from it then that’s good enough.

Football is full of things that people say and everyone just nods without asking “why?”. Why clear and obvious? Why don’t they re-referee games? Who are these decisions benefiting because it’s not the clubs and it’s not the sport. It’s the officials. People say “undermine the ref’s authority” like 1. the ref has any authority and 2. how does it? Being generous it’s trading fairness, judgement and competence for authority. They’d rather be in charge than be correct but if a thing happened then it happened, correct any mistakes. Essentially Brighton have been massively punished to preserve Stuart Attwell’s right to not have his mistakes pointed out. It’s the tail wagging the dog and it needs to be said every time stuff like this happens.

Whatever you think of the Robertson elbow at the weekend, it was reported to the referee that his official had assaulted a player and the referee completely ignored it. This is what protecting the ref’s authority has led to, an obsession that everything is a fight and they can’t do their job for the fear of losing an inch of ground. We’ll talk about if it happened or if Robertson is a cry baby but not the responsibility the PGMOL has for its officials’ behaviour.
SC, Belfast


Poking the bear
Rich, AFC. I can promise you that, as a Liverpool supporter watching the match at home, the gradual “injuries” and timewasting that arsenal did were bothering me, but the incident that got me off my seat with anger and made me want to get a result v Arsenal and for City to win the league was the Xhaka moment with Trent.

It was great to see some fire in Trent’s belly and after that moment Liverpool players were properly fired up as were the crowd. The goal was just the petrol of belief on those feelings.

I was rooting for Arsenal in this race, but that disappeared on Sunday.
Rob, Worthing.


Tackling the issue
Interesting stat time. Of Liverpools starting 10 outfield players on Sunday v Arsenal, 6/10 have a WhoScored statistical weakness “tackling” currently. They are TAA, Van Dijk, Robertson, Fabinho, Hendo and Jones. That is 6/7 of our starting midfield and defence. The only one who doesn’t was Konate who did a fair bit of tackling funnily enough.

As for our forwards 2/3 have a statistical weakness of “defensive contribution,” Salah and Jota.

And of the subs who came on one, Nunez was weak in defensive contribution.

That leaves 4 outfield players (two starters and two subs) who aren’t performing significantly poorly in their tackling and/or defensive duties on the day and 10 who are.

What is this a symptom of? Are these just not those type of players? Did Klopp and his team miscalculate this season as to the requirements of the premier league? Did they just expect all teams to sit back and defend against us for their lives in the face of our footballing magnificence? Do they not train tackling and defensive drills anymore in Liverpool or is it something more elemental in a lack of hunger of the fight, the one on one battle, the need to beat your man and the team opposite you whoever they are?

I don’t know the full answer. But in Munster rugby where I’m from we have a phrase, “Stand up and fight”. Might be worth sticking up on the Anfield dressing room and over Virgil’s bathroom mirror.
Dave LFC


Gunners maths
After winning 7 in a row prior to our draw at Anfield did we really expect to win all our remaining games creating a 16 game winning run and marching to the title? Perspective people.

Yes we have been slowly reeled in over the last few of months but that should be no surprise to anyone. But the draw at Anfield now giving Man City the edge? Possibly, but hear me out. Those that think yesterdays draw has derailed our title bid can take solace in the fact that we can yet draw another 2 games and still win the league by a point. Providing one of those draws is at the Etihad. No pressure!
Frankie AFC (let’s deal with West Ham first though)

Finally catching up with Everton
I’m so easy to bait, sometimes I wonder if the W&L compiler knows when I’m going to come wading in. In the Winners & Losers section, one of the winners was “Brighton’s position on the moral high ground.”

So, it was THIS incident (which I didn’t see or hear about until today) which was the real straw that broke the camel’s back over at the hallowed F365 towers? Seriously? I guess better this straw than none. For years, not months, my Everton have been at the absolute arse end of a multitude of refereeing errors, poor decisions, VAR overturns, penalties that weren’t and should have been, penalties that were and shouldn’t have been, and non-VAR interventions. I don’t have the stats but before someone shouts out “It happens to all teams !!!,” yes, yes it does, but NOT to the amount and degree it happens to Everton on a consistent basis. Or maybe better put, not to the degree that it effects your Champions League position or in our case, your potential relegation status.

I don’t recall F365 discussing Everton’s moral high ground, nor do I remember PGMOL finding themselves in the losers section for any one of the issues that Everton have been rightly aggrieved over. I haven’t heard a peep from F365 about the FA diving panel nor their decision to no longer penalize simulation in the game after only penalizing two players, one from Everton and one from West Ham (if you have commented on this in the past, I missed it.)

I actually laughed out loud when I read this sentence under in the losers section under PGMOL: “You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to start to wonder what is happening to refereeing standards.” Well, if you’re an Evertonian, you’ve been called a conspiracy theorist for oh, the last few years. We barely escaped relegation last year. One website looked at all the incorrect decisions last season and, wait for it, Everton were at the top of the list for points dropped due to these decisions. Enough points dropped that we wouldn’t have been in a relegation dogfight. This season, I couldn’t tell you, but nothing has improved on the officiating front (or the Everton playing front for that matter.) I always hear the common, and misinformed refrain, “These things even themselves out at some point.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

So F365, I applaud you (this is not sarcasm.) I applaud that you’ve finally seen what we’ve seen for two years now. I applaud that you’ll now use this platform to call out the poor level of officiating that the Premier League has fallen to, and lastly, I applaud the fact that you’ve taken a stand when a team has been utterly screwed by the officials. I look forward to seeing more from you in the future, including what might be done to improve this area, not just from you, but from the mailbox contributors as well. Perhaps a separate weekly section dealing with just this issue and highlighting both good and poor officiating incidents.
TX Bill (McTominay shoves Coleman then kicks ball into him, no yellow card naturally but nothing to see here, again.) EFC


Waning Vardy
There’s a component to this year’s relegation battle that I think has been under discussed; time’s withered claw finally catching up with the game’s other magic chin, Mr James Vardy.

From 2015 to 2022, Vardy has scored at least 15 league goals in every season bar 1 (in which he got 13). That’s an incredibly rare commodity for a non-elite club to have for such a prolonged period of time. There was a spell for about 3 or 4 seasons where I genuinely believe he was one of the top 10 strikers in the world. I remember reading some stats that showed his shot conversion rate was easily the highest in the division. Were it not for his age and, well, just generally being Jamie Vardy, I’m sure bigger fish would have been circling, and if there wasn’t a even more prolific magic chin sporting striker in the pecking order, he’d surely have gained a lot more England caps too.

Despite scoring 15 last season, I felt the signs were there that his powers were starting to wane and this season, he seems to have dropped off a cliff with just the solitary goal. That must be an incredibly difficult thing to replace, especially when skint, and it’s one that Leicester have completely failed to do. Iheanacho has had the odd flurry of goals here and there, but that aside, the likes of Daka have failed to fill the big man’s shoes.

I think one could argue that it goes beyond just the goals too, he’s been the talisman for a long time now too, the last man standing from the miracle of 2016. He’s been the leader, heartbeat and chief sh*thouse.

Where would Leicester be if he’d chipped in with double figures again? It wouldn’t solve their inability to defend set pieces, but I highly doubt they’d be second bottom.
Lewis, Busby Way


Sorry from Scotland
Two apologies from Scotland:
1) for Andy Robertson’s wee drama queen turn against Arsenal, big baby is right. Andy is usually one of the good guys but that display of dishonesty was pathetic, as was Harry Kane’s recent ‘mammy he strangled me’ act. Shameful behaviour from grown men.
2) for the whole ‘Celtic v Rangers one of the biggest games in the world’ bollocks, to Mark MCFC let me assure you every football follower in Scotland outside the Old Firm agrees with you and has been heartily embarrassed by both clubs support for decades. The rest of Scotland sees the Old Firm and its support for what they are, needy and loud.


Old Firm
Someone needs to tell Mark there were no Rangers supporters at Celtic Park in the Old Firm match on Saturday. Maybe check your facts first. So there was no sectarian singing between 2 sets of fans.
Also if you’d bothered to watch, it was actually a cracking game!
And whilst I’m a proud Scotsmen I’m also British so the Union Jack is also my flag so it’s perfectly reasonable for it to be displayed by Rangers fans.
Best wishes
Neil. Now in Crete, normally Glasgow


VVD v Vida
It’s Bank holiday Monday and depression has well and truly kicked in it’s like the Sunday feeling doubled but to my surprise the “expert” pundit that is Jamie carragher managed to cheer me up and make my day because I haven’t laughed so much in a long time until I read “van dijk far better than vidic” hahahaha come on really? Talk about short sightedness and a short memory. I would take Vidic all day every day over any centre back currently playing right now. If you had to pleasure to watch him week in week out in his prime you would agree he even made Ferdinand look decent. According to carragher because he had a few bad games against Torres he’s inferior really?? Van dijk is a super defender credit were credits due but no way better than Vidic. Nemanjjja ohhhhhh ooooh…..
Kenneth, Dublin