We dare dig into the controversy surrounding the Reds’ VAR-assisted draw at the AmEx.
In what was mostly a messy and bad 90 minutes from both sides, we still got the maximum possible amount of drama, as VAR took center stage in deciding the outcome of the match. Below, we take a closer look at how messy and bad it was, how messy and bad it will continue to be, and whether or not the replay dramatics are worth the column inches they will receive.
Andy Robbo: We’ll get to his injury time involvement in a second, but this was a captain’s performance from the Scot. As the only remaining member of the first choice back line, Robertson looked the part, bossing his comrades around, and getting up and down the pitch like he hadn’t played more minutes than any other player this season, in the most physically demanding position in the system. He would’ve had an assist too, were it not for the devilish video assistant.
While he can occasionally be a bit of a liability for the offside line and has never been a spectacular man defender, Robbo has stepped up huge when needed in recent weeks, and all we can do is cover him entirely in bubble wrap and hope and pray he can stay healthy.
Neco Williams: It can’t be easy. Coming up as a young right-back at one of the biggest clubs in the world is a massive challenge in and of itself, but doing it as an academy graduate, in the immediate footsteps of what looks set to be the greatest talent that academy has produced in two decades, seems nearly impossible.
Neco Williams is 19. Nobody knows how good he might turn out to be, but he probably isn’t ready to be second choice at a club of this stature, and he definitely shouldn’t be starting for them every week. That will nonetheless probably continue to be the case, however, as Trent Alexander-Arnold remains unavailable, and guess what, so does every other option at the right-back position, because…
That Squad Depth: It’s taking a real beating right now. After Neco was hauled off at half-time, James Milner, an 18-year pro turning 35 in a month and a half, and coming off 180 minutes in the preceding five days, was moved to right-back. That lasted for about half an hour, before he had to be replaced by another midfielder in Curtis Jones after apparently feeling a hamstring issue.
Hamstring trouble also saw Naby Keïta subbed off last weekend, and Liverpool are already missing Alexander-Arnold, Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez in the backline, while Thiago, Jordan Henderson, Xherdan Shaqiri, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are all various levels of unavailable, even though the captain did feature for a half today.
This is the deepest squad Jürgen Klopp has had in his Liverpool tenure and a quarter of the way through the season, we are seeing fourth and sixth choice centre-backs pairing up, while the lone healthy midfielder, Georginio Wijnaldum, continues to look more and more ragged each passing game. It’s real bad, and in a campaign that will be filled with firsts and unknowns, it is literally impossible to guess how the starting XI will look a month from now.
We’re gonna have to talk about it so we might as well give it a whole segment.
VAR intervened thrice today, and on all three occasions ruled against Liverpool in score-deciding situations, taking the Reds’ VAR tally on the season to negative eight in only ten matches. It’s a staggering handicap on paper, but not one that should necessarily feed fans’ persecution complex.
Mohamed Salah is offside for the first goal. In the end, it was closer than it looked initially — two or three inches, maybe — but there was no confusing sleeves or armpits, just a toe — similar to João Moutinho’s toe at Anfield last season — planted slightly in front of the last defender as Salah was slow to walk back from behind the line. It stings, because it takes away a spectacular assist from Roberto Firmino and a slick into-the-ground-and-over finish from Mo, but, by a frustrating but genuine margin, it was the correct decision.
Sadio Mané is offside for the second goal. This one was pretty clear — by a foot or so — even though, unlike the previous call, it never occurred to this writer that he was off when watching it live. Camera movement and the cluster of bodies made it hard to tell, but the replay made it undeniable. It was a tremendous header too, with what would have been Mané’s sixth touch of the match, but again, quite correctly called back.
Andrew Robertson kicked that man. He didn’t get much of him, but with a wild swing of his boot in his own area, Robbo missed the ball and caught Danny Welbeck’s foot, as the Englishman’s dangling ankle can attest to. It’s an aggravating one, because it happens so late, and it’s the third call that goes against them, and they’d already given up one penalty, and Robbo had been really good all game, and even Welbeck thought it was soft, but if we’re going to defend a penalty for, say, the contact Mohamed Salah received in that one-goal win at West Ham, it is difficult to deny Brighton this one.
(Yes, Jordan Pickford should have been sent off and banned in the derby.)
What Happens Next
The mess continues, as the Reds host Ajax on Tuesday, knowing that a draw will be enough to ensure qualification from Group D on tiebreakers, before facing off with Wolves at Anfield the following Sunday, after a majestic five day rest.