After Liverpool’s historic loss 7-2 to Aston Villa, the reliable hub of pundits that is Twitter began diagnosing the issues that caused a loss of such magnitude. Almost everyone got it wrong. As expected, Adrian was made to be a scapegoat because Liverpool fans could never cope with the idea that maybe, just maybe, their back four and their midfield three did not play as well as they have done throughout the last two years.
Liverpool’s system relies on the high line they employ against every team, with a sweeper-keeper being required behind the back four to make sure any balls playing the opposition onside which get played in behind can be dealt with. Adrian is a good shot-stopper and he was exactly that at West Ham, but people need to appreciate that just because you’re a solid keeper in one system does not mean you will be a solid goalkeeper in every system.
At West Ham, Adrian was only asked to be a shot-stopper. At Liverpool, he’s being asked to use his feet a lot more and he is not comfortable with this. While, yes, it means he is not good enough for Liverpool, a recruitment department knowing exactly how Klopp likes to play took the decision to hire him anyway.
Liverpool fans present an interesting contradiction. Ask them why Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson are the best full-backs in the world, then they will mainly quote assist statistics at you. If you use stats to justify why Roberto Firmino is a sub-par striker by Liverpool standards, they will make statements they don’t fully understand like “he’s the system” instead, as if Trent and Robertson’s inflated assist statistics don’t come from the same inflation.
Robertson did absolutely nothing of note apart from be part of a back four that let Villa run riot
When Trent, Robertson and Firmino played on Sunday night, all three put in sub-par performances. Trent got caught out multiple times and couldn’t contain Grealish, Firmino kept losing the ball to a dominant Aston Villa midfield, Robertson did absolutely nothing of note apart from be part of a back four that let Villa run riot.
Alleged ‘best centre-back in the world and natural leader’ Virgil Van Dijk showed none of these qualities eight days ago. There is a weak mentality involved in not adapting to what the opponent is throwing at you even after conceding five goals. Grealish managing to nutmeg him really set the tone for the night.
There was a strange parallel to Liverpool’s victory against Roma in the 17/18 Champions League semi-final first leg. Roma only had a Plan A and let Salah run riot behind their high line. It was the only time I watched a football game and felt sorry for the team losing, as centre back Federico Fazio asked coach Esuebio Di Francesco whether they should change tactics and Di Francesco looked clueless and distraught.
In a similar way, there was no Plan B for Liverpool and they suffered for their complacency, especially considering how average their midfield was that night. Aston Villa managed to pounce on so many second balls in midfield and played through Liverpool with ease. Barkley, on his Villa debut, played like he had been in the system since Villa had been back in the Premier League. Keita, Wijnaldum and Fabinho could not match them.
Adrian is not the sole reason why Liverpool lost this game
Mane’s absence exposed how key he is to Liverpool’s press. Time and again, Villa managed to beat Liverpool’s press with ease and then expertly put in a ball over the backline. Pressing as a team is hard, considering how aware you need to be of your teammates and their movement. Subbing in Jota for Mane showed how difficult it can be to replace even one part of the pressing system.
So no, Adrian is not the sole reason why Liverpool lost this game, he was nowhere near the top of the list for reasons why Liverpool lost this game. Deluded supporters would have you believe otherwise, but when you watch the game properly it is key to realise that Villa were just the better team and back-to-front, Liverpool were nowhere near their best.
Villa have shown just how much this team can bleed; I hope the rest of the Premier League takes notice. Liverpool are not unbeatable and Villa are not a team to be taken lightly.