A particular sports term I’ve grown fond of over the years is “The Lid,” first used by Skip Bayless in the book God’s Coach from the early 1990s. A close inspection of the passage in God’s Coach reveals that Bayless did not invent the term – it was instead coined by a frustrated athlete. (I bring up the 2nd point only because Bayless’ modern incarnation as a clown-car show on ESPN and Fox has made sports fans across America disregard all of his ideas out of habit.)
Anyway, “The Lid” refers to reckless and strict forms of coach-player discipline. Think of every sportsman’s ego on a professional club – his personal ambition, lifestyle, and charisma – as a single ball in a basket. The entire roster forms a pile in the basket, and a smart manager allows the orbs to orbit the container or at least pop up from the pack every now and again. But less-wise coaches always try to push The Lid down instead.
When you push The Lid down, the egos tend to squirm out of the sides. It’s not always pretty.
Given that this is a preview of Liverpool’s meeting with United in Premier League action this Sunday, you may assume that I’m going to apply the metaphor of The Lid to the visiting Red Devils and their embattled, controversial skipper Jose Mourinho. The Lid is certainly applicable to United’s situation at this point in the season, no doubt about that.
But it turns out that The Lid is a handy concept to describe other situations in sports, especially English football’s relationship with the media. And it may provide a clue as to why Manchester United should not be taken lightly this weekend – despite Mourinho’s woes, despite playing at Anfield, and despite being a decided underdog on the 3-way moneyline.
Liverpool vs United: Moneyline Gambling Odds and Analysis
It’s tough to say where the Red Devils are getting a harder time handed to them – in the mainstream media or in Las Vegas.
United’s betting odds for Sunday’s match are not optimistic. Mourinho’s club is a (+440) wager on the moneyline, compared to Liverpool’s (-175).
The goal spread at BetOnline is a straight-up (-1) for the favored Reds and not an Asian Handicap (miracles do exist in this world). The Over/Under is hovering between (2 ½) and (3) total goals in 90+ minutes.
Meanwhile, “draw” on the 3-way ML is at almost 3-to-1 payoff odds.
The Lid Closes Down…With Pictures at 11
If you ask the British press, Manchester United should be a plus-billion underdog in every match. Paul Pogba, the Red Devil midfielder who recently claimed a gold medal with Les Bleus in Russia, is being slammed in multiple publications following a YouTube debate in which former Liverpool backliner Jamie Carragher and Valencia skipper Gary Neville bickered over a fictional pick-up game featuring the rosters of Sunday’s warring sides.
Turns out United only received a few spots in each pundit’s lineup, and even those didn’t come easy. Red Devil keeper David De Gea made it onto both squads, but Pogba only made it onto Neville’s midfield. “I didn’t pick him with much conviction to be honest with you,” the coach laughed. “I was clutching at straws.” Carragher went on to call Pogba the “most undisciplined player of all time.”
The former Liverpool defender is simply trash-talking his old club’s opponent. Calling Pogba the worst “of all time” in any category is stupid on its face. But managers should know better.
No disrespect to Neville, but I wouldn’t be hee-hawing it up over Paul Pogba if my squad had to play against the French footballer this week. Come to think of it, Pogba is sitting a lot of minutes for Mourinho right now – whether or not he’ll be back in the starting United lineup this week is an open question. Maybe that’s why Neville sounds so brave hurling insults.
It’s funny what losing a few matches can do to the reputations of a club’s individual players. I promise that the Paul Pogba we saw on the pitch in Russia is (at least in flesh-and-blood terms) the same midfielder that graces Old Trafford for United. It’s not a different guy.
But the media has its own version of The Lid. It squeezes The Lid down on otherwise vibrant reporting, making the sports news into basket of nonsense. Stories – especially trash-talk in English tabloids – are designed to go in particular categories and import particular themes. Often, the headlines appear to be pre-written with only the details to be filled in.
When a squad is winning, even if the victorious effort is 90% a product of good managing and teamwork, individual players will be praised in the media as having “stepped up in form” or some similar phrasing. When they’re not winning matches, the same athletes will be trod-upon by an unforgiving beat.
That’s not reality, though – it’s The Lid at work. The soccer ball doesn’t know who’s been winning or losing. Losing creates problems, and those problems include great athletes being underrated and criticized. The stories are cookie-cutter, and The Lid shuts-out any insightful commentary.
However, if we’ve learned nothing else, it’s that the media buzz creates betting opportunities. Set aside the cheap laughs and the hate on social media. What % chance do the visiting Red Devils have to turn an upset against Liverpool?
United at Last?
If you haven’t paid much attention, it might shock you to hear this – but Manchester United hasn’t lost a football match since exactly a month ago.
On November 11th, following a 2-1 victory over Juventus in UEFA Champions League play, the Red Devils lost to City 3-1. United’s lone tally came on an Anthony Martial penalty attempt in the 58th minute, and the Sky Blues roared at home with goals from Silva and Agüero. United was out-passed, out-classed and out-guarded by the EPL front-runners for most of 90 minutes.
It was the club’s 4th Premier League loss of the still-young season.
But since then, Mourinho’s squad has shown signs of turning things around. 1 goal in 2 follow-up matches against Crystal Palace and Young Boys didn’t seem to auger well, but the Red Devils didn’t lose either time.
In early December, United played to an entertaining 2-2 draw with Arsenal after an own-goal was followed almost immediately with a tying tally from diminutive Three Lions midfielder Jesse Lingard.
Despite Romelu Lukaku scoring his 6th goal of the campaign in a 4-1 pounding of Fulham last Saturday, it’s not as if the Red Devils are suddenly without problems. Antonio Valencia has been in and out of the starting lineup; Pogba and others have at-times played as if they’re just riding out the schedule and waiting for a new club or a new coach to come along.
You can’t argue with results, however. United is officially once again a hard club to beat. Whether the Red Devils can start winning enough matches to make a real run at the top of the EPL table is another matter…and will depend partially on how Salah and the Reds perform this Sunday.
Klopp, Stock and Barrel
Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp is a rather typical sort in the sense that he tends to caution supporters not to get too excited. “We’re not quite there yet,” “It’s a process” and so on. But as of late, those types of quotes are starting to ring a tad hollow…in a good way.
With City’s loss to Chelsea, the Reds are now the lone Premier League squad without a loss. Allison’s goalkeeping is unquestionable, any backline featuring talent like Virgil van Dijk and Scottish National Team captain Andrew Robertson is a quality unit, and the midfielders do an outstanding job of feeding Salah and Robert Firmino the football at the front of the formation.
The past week has only brought more triumph. Salah scored a strange kind of “unofficially” pure hat trick in a 4-0 win over Bournemouth, with a trio of tallies only interrupted with an own goal by the frustrated and beaten Cherries in the 68th minute.
Days later, Liverpool notched a 1-0 win over Napoli to advance to the Champions League Round-of-16. You don’t need 2 guesses as to who scored the winner.
Mo Salah puts Liverpool on top 1-0 over Napoli
Salah to score the game's fist goal: +350 ? pic.twitter.com/A7IdGwtgvn
— FanDuel Sportsbook (@FDSportsbook) December 11, 2018
Salah may have had a slow start in 2018-19, but he’s as hot as everyone else in the lineup. Firmino has only scored a handful of goals in 20-odd matches, but he’s happy to play a supporting role. Sadio Mané remains a dangerous presence on the wing.
Still, I can’t help but wonder if all of the emotional highs will add up to an emotional low at some point. A level-headed manager like Klopp doesn’t even want his squad to play 38 Matchdays and the entire UEFA schedule at a fever-pitch of intensity. They’ve got whole seasons – as in Vivaldi’s seasons – to go before the English football season winds to a finish.
The last time Liverpool played a squad with elite talent up and down the roster, the Reds drew with City 0-0. Prior to that match, they lost to Napoli 1-0 at the start of October. November’s maiden match was a 1-1 draw with Arsenal in which Liverpool struggled to gain and keep possession of the ball.
Klopp’s squad might turn out to be the best in the Premier League this time around. But they’re far from invincible.
Handicapping Reds vs Red Devils: Moneyline and Goal Spread Picks
Not to have the “betting value doesn’t amount to a true prediction” lecture all over again, but finding value is always about the gambling lines vs a club’s actual chances.
I like Liverpool to play well and most-likely beat United on Sunday. But do you know what I like more? A high-payoff moneyline pick.
An underdog with all kinds of talent, currently improving in form (and drawing result after result), is an especially solid weapon in the hands of the betting shark. Not to sound silly, but I’m also leaning United’s way because everyone seems to be laughing at them.
There’s a term for what can happen when a confident, nuclear-hot home team floats into its own comfortable stadium to play a match in which it is favored. It’s called a trap. The giggles from current coaches and ex-jocks will stop right around the time Lukaku makes his first dash at the Liverpool box.
However, I’m not buying that De Gea is a better goalkeeper than Allison right now, under the current circumstances. The United keeper hasn’t looked fully comfortable all season. Salah and Mané could capitalize on a steal and take over the attack at any point for Liverpool. If the Red Devils stake out to an early lead (I’ve got a hunch that they might) then Liverpool is likely to strike back by the end.
I’m sensing a 1-1 or 2-2 result with the value on a moneyline draw bet, or United plus a goal on the spread.