When it comes to a pundit like Michael Owen, sometimes it's a case of blaming the delivery and not the sentiment.
Owen has zero ability to analyse how a match ended up the way it did. He has no more understanding of this than the most partisan and hysterical fans on either side of any particular debate, and following Liverpool’s unfortunate Champions League exit to Atletico Madrid, he, Rio Ferdinand and the interminable Steve McManaman showcased their lack of intellect and, also, why BT prefers to dumb down their coverage for the sake of stupid soundbites.
But - and it's a big but - if Owen's thoughts were actually delivered with any kind of substance to his ramblings, people wouldn't think he's such an illiterate fool.
“Please spare me all this Diego Simeone masterclass nonsense,” he said on Twitter, his double-down to remarks made during the BT broadcast, where he stated post-match: “Liverpool are out, and I've got no doubt that they are the best team in Europe.
“Yes they've been beaten over two legs, but they are still the best team in Europe.”
Please spare me all this inevitable Simeone masterclass nonsense. There’s nothing genius about putting 11 top class footballers behind the ball. Liverpool absolutely pumped them throughout.— michael owen (@themichaelowen) March 12, 2020
He has been ridiculed from every conceivable angle and it doesn’t help that his demeanour, coupled with his post-career PR choices, make him the ultimate King of Cringe. But the crime here is not what he said, but the lack of coherence in the argument.
When he asks to be spared the ‘Simeone masterclass nonsense’, he’s probably right. This wasn’t the Atleti of the first leg which drastically restricted every one of Jurgen Klopp’s tactical manoeuvres and meant goalkeeper Jan Oblak barely had a save to make. If Owen were to read up on Expected Goals he would see that this was a match where Liverpool won that battle by 3.48 to 1.18 (via Infogol data).
This means that the Reds were good for easily three goals, while could reasonably have expected to concede just over one (not even taking into account Adrian’s blunder). Furthermore, Oblak made a huge nine saves, earning a FC Rating of 7.9.
While on reflection most of them were reasonably routine for such a good goalkeeper, a Simeone masterclass isn’t in the business of giving up many chances at all - and the fact that the Argentine compared his shot-stopper to Lionel Messi afterwards speaks volumes. This was, in fact, a pretty ragged defensive display in which Liverpool were able to get into excellent scoring positions on all-too many occasions.
Liverpool also completely dominated territory and the ball, completing 712 passes to Atleti’s 215, having 71% possession in the process. But this wasn’t endless recirculation with no real end result, as Barcelona and Manchester City have been guilty of recently.
The attacking momentum data shows an endless array of dangerous attacks, meaning they were regularly getting close to Atleti’s goal. And their passes-per-shot total was 25 - easily the lowest of the Champions League round. By comparison it took Atleti 36 passes for each shot they managed. This was an efficient attacking performance up to a point, one probably outdone more by profligacy and poor decision-making than robust defending or inspired goalkeeping.
Andrew Robertson (0.65 xG) hit the crossbar from just six yards. Roberto Firmino failed to get a toe to a brilliant delivery from Trent Alexander-Arnold that should have been converted. Sadio Mane was uncharacteristically poor in his choices of either shooting or passing. There were occasions where TAA lacked composure or crossed into an area when an alternative was available. Atletico players, to give them credit, also threw themselves in front of everything, blocking seven shots - double the amount of any other team in the Champions League this week. And they made a gigantic 72 clearances as literally anywhere would do to ease the pressure.
But Owen is incapable of imparting any of this knowledge, nor is Rio, nor is McManaman. It could be a few things. Maybe BT don’t want to talk numbers - which is likely. Maybe Owen isn’t interested in them or doesn’t understand them - equally likely. Maybe everyone’s told to get a soundbite out there which will keep people talking about us in the morning - depressingly plausible.
And it all adds up to a deeply unsatisfying whole. Liverpool have been off it recently - there’s no doubt about that. But this wasn’t one of those games. And Owen’s assessment of Simeone’s approach and indeed the opinion that Liverpool are the best team in Europe - despite this exit, there’s no team in any league on their level at the moment - was largely correct.
The problem lies in the inane delivery and toe-curling partisan pandering which renders any reasoned analysis totally moot. BT have been at this for three seasons now and you can conclude that this isn't an error. They want the coverage to be this stupid, and in many cases we probably get what we deserve.