28 November 2015

Liverpool v Swansea 11.29.15

11:15am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
1-0 Liverpool (a) 03.16.15
4-1 Liverpool (h) 12.29.14
2-1 Liverpool (h; League Cup) 10.28.14
4-3 Liverpool (h) 02.23.14

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-1 Bordeaux (h); 4-1 City (a) 1-2 Palace (h)
Swansea: 2-2 Bournemouth (h); 0-1 Norwich (a); 0-3 Arsenal (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Coutinho 5; Benteke 4; Ings, Sturridge 2; Firmino, Milner, Skrtel 1
Swansea: Ayew 6; Gomis 4; Sigurðsson 2; Shelvey 1

Referee: Anthony Taylor

Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Skrtel Lovren Moreno
Milner Allen Can
Lallana Coutinho

The easy line-up question: Joe Allen will probably replace the suspended Lucas, although there's a very, very remote chance that Klopp attempts a two-man midfield of Milner and Can. I wouldn't.

The trickier questions are what formation will Liverpool play – 4-3-2-1 or 4-2-3-1 – and to Benteke or not to Benteke?

My suspicion is that it's the same XI and formation as against City, even though Liverpool are home, even though Liverpool are facing a side that'll look to defend and counter. The tight-spaces interplay between the front three was beyond phenomenal a week ago, and Liverpool will need to carve open tight spaces. Benteke has looked a bigger threat when used off the bench, when he's better able to truck tiring legs.

But there's an equal chance that Benteke starts, with one of Milner, Lallana, Firmino, or Coutinho left out. I obviously hope it's not Coutinho, but he is still carrying the slight hamstring strain suffered at City. In theory, and increasingly (even if not increasingly enough) in practice, Benteke's aerial ability and strength should also make space and create chances for Liverpool's diminutive attackers.

It's seemingly a good time to face Swansea. They've won just once in the last 10 matches. The home draws against Tottenham and Everton were at least acceptable, but 0-1 losses to Norwich, Stoke, and Watford, as well as a 1-3 defeat at Southampton, certainly weren't. There have been rumors about Garry Monk's employment status for more than a month now.

Swansea have no injury concerns, but like Lucas, Jonjo Shelvey is suspended for five yellow cards. It's better to not face Jonjo Shelvey. Jonjo Shelvey tends to be the void in these fixtures, the alpha and omega, the hub of good and bad and hilarity. Previous highlights include the 2-2 draw in 2013-14, when he had a hand in every goal; trying to start a fight with Balotelli in the 2-1 League Cup win last season; and his game-killing own goal in the 4-1 win last December.

Swansea's XI will likely be Fabianski; Naughton, Fernandez, Williams, Taylor; Ki, Cork; Ayew, Sigurðsson, Montero; Gomis. Maybe Routledge starts in place of Montero, maybe Britton instead of Cork. Last week against Bournemouth, Swansea made a number of changes to its usual lineup, going down 0-2 before at least getting back to honors even. I suspect we'll see a more familiar XI tomorrow.

The story of Swansea's attack this season has been if not Ayew or Gomis, no one. The former has six goals, the latter four; the only others to score in the league this season are Sigurðsson (2) and Shelvey (1). There's a lot of Benteke to Gomis' style of play, which at least is something that Skrtel usually enjoys. Ayew, ostensibly playing on the right of a 4-2-3-1, will counter and cut inside dangerously, which will put a lot of pressure on both Moreno – who, to the detriment of Liverpool's attack may have to limit his runs forward – and Lovren.

Swansea have won just one of their away matches this season, at bound-to-be-relegated Aston Villa, their only win during this ten-match run. Otherwise, they've drawn twice (Chelsea and Sunderland, the first two away matches of the season) and lost four (Watford, Hull, Southampton, Norwich).

But it's not as if Liverpool have been superlative at home either, as you're well aware. Liverpool have beaten just three teams at Anfield this season: Bournemouth (twice, 1-0 both times, in the league and league cup), Villa, and Bordeaux. Otherwise, five draws (Norwich, Carlisle, Sion, Kazan, Southampton) and two losses (West Ham, Crystal Palace). Eek.

Nor have Liverpool played anywhere near their best after this season's Europa League matches, yet to win after a midweek European contest. A draw against Norwich after a draw at Bordeaux, a draw at Everton after a draw against Sion, a draw against Southampton after a draw against Kazan, a loss to Palace after a win at Kazan.

Swansea have something to prove tomorrow: to get their season back on track, to save their manager, and to spite the club that fired their previous manager.

But Liverpool have much to prove as well.

27 November 2015

Visualized: Liverpool 2-1 Bordeaux

Previous Match Infographics: City (a), Crystal Palace (h), Rubin Kazan (a), Chelsea (a), Southampton (h), Rubin Kazan (h), Tottenham (a), Everton (a), FC Sion (h), Aston Villa (h), Norwich (h), Bordeaux (a), Manchester United (a), West Ham (h), Arsenal (a), Bournemouth (h), Stoke (a)

As always for Europa League matches, all data from WhoScored.

(Nota Bene: Here's the formation diagram usually included in match reviews.)

Despite being at home, against the 13th-place Ligue 1 side, Liverpool didn't dominate possession, at least in the second half, happy to settle into a defensive shell for the final 40 minutes with a one-goal lead. Liverpool didn't shoot well or enough: just 11 shots, just four on-target, just four in the Danger Zone. Liverpool pressed effectively, but not very often.

But Liverpool defended well, aside from that baffling moment of madness from Simon Mignolet. Which, to be fair, is rarely if ever called, but you still probably shouldn't hold onto the ball for more than 20 seconds.

Bordeaux put just two shots on target: both from the holding midfielder Saivet, both from free kicks. Only four of Bordeaux's 13 shots came from open play; nine came from set plays. Seven of Bordeaux's shots came from outside the area, only one close to threatening Mignolet. Only one of Bordeaux' inside-the-box shots came from open play: Contento's ballooned effort in the 68th minute. And that's despite Bordeaux utterly dominating the ball in the second half.

Liverpool won its first penalty of the season – its first penalty in the last 23 matches – and Benteke scored a wonderful Benteke goal.

Whatever. Good enough. Liverpool need to remember – or, to possibly be more accurate – to learn how to win, by any means necessary, against opposition they're supposed to beat at Anfield. 1-2 Palace, 1-1 Kazan, 1-1 Southampton, much of Brendan Rodgers' last year, etc etc.

We're far to used to Liverpool either drawing or losing these matches. Liverpool are far to used to drawing or losing these matches. But Liverpool didn't! As against Kazan and Chelsea, they came back from conceding the first goal. As against Chelsea, they went on to score at least one more. Liverpool have gotten at least a point despite conceding first in three of Klopp's nine matches, winning two of the three. Since the start of 2014-15, it happened all of seven times under Rodgers: three wins and four draws.

We're especially used to Liverpool drawing or losing these matches in Europe, whether home or away. Last season's abysmal Champions League campaign and elimination from the Europa League at the first time of asking; an indifferent, if satisfactory, performance in the group stage of the 2012-13 Europa League before losing to Zenit in the first knockout round. Brendan Rodgers won back-to-back European matches just once: the 3rd-qualifying round fixtures against Gomel, Rodgers' first two matches for Liverpool. It's Europe. It doesn't really matter how you win. All that matters is that you win.

And, despite sitting on two points, in third place in the group, when Klopp took over, Liverpool have now sealed qualification from the group with a game to spare. Before Sion, who had a three-point lead on Liverpool just two matchdays ago. Liverpool have won five of Klopp's first nine games, Liverpool have won five of its last six games.

Liverpool are remembering – or, to possibly be more accurate – learning how to win on a consistent basis. And that's happening even when Liverpool's nowhere near its best, or playing anywhere near its strongest lineup. And that's no small matter.

25 November 2015

Liverpool v Bordeaux 11.26.15

3:05pm ET, live in the US on Fox Sports 1

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 4-1 City (a); 1-2 Palace (h); 1-0 Kazan (a)
Bordeaux: 2-2 Rennes (a); 3-1 Monaco (h); 1-1 Sion (a)

Previous rounds:
Liverpool: 1-0 Kazan (a); 1-1 Kazan (h); 1-1 Sion (h); 1-1 Bordeaux (a)
Bordeaux: 1-1 Sion (a); 0-1 Sion (h); 0-0 Kazan (a); 1-1 Liverpool (h); 1-2 Kairat (a), 1-0 Kairat (h); 1-0 Lamaca (a), 3-0 Lamaca (h)

Goalscorers (Europe):
Liverpool: Lallana 2, Can, Ibe 1
Bordeaux: Crivelli, Diabate, Jussie, Khazri, Maurice-Belay, Poko, Thelin, Toure 1

Referee: Alon Yefet (ISR)

Yefet has actually done a Liverpool match before: the 2-2 home draw with Young Boys almost exactly three years ago.

Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Toure Lovren Moreno
Lucas Allen
Lallana Firmino Ibe

As per usual: there will be some changes, but not as many as we're used to in Europa League matches because a) Liverpool still have a lot of players absent through injury and b) if Liverpool win tomorrow, Liverpool seal qualification to the knockout rounds. But, at the same time, the lesson of Crystal Palace must be remembered. A full-strength squad in Kazan worked for that match, but did not work for the next league match.

So let's just go down the list. Liverpool still have no alternatives at fullback, so Clyne and Moreno will continue to play until their legs fall off. Sakho's still out injured, and Skrtel's ill, which means Toure and Lovren. That Lucas is suspended for Sunday's match against Swansea should mean he starts tomorrow, partnered by either Can or Allen. Ibe will definitely start and Coutinho will definitely miss out with a hamstring strain, ideally fit for Sunday, so the other two players in the attacking line of three will be two from Firmino, Lallana, and Milner. It'll be Benteke or Origi up front, almost certainly the former, with Sturridge probably limited to a potential first substitute appearance under Klopp.

Whoever plays, it'll be a lot stronger XI than we saw when these sides met in September, where Rossiter, Origi, Chirivella, and Gomez all had starring roles. It was about a young a team as possible, and it was a match that Liverpool should have won if not for conceding an equalizer in the final ten minutes. It was a very Brendan Rodgers match, for better and worse.

At home, with a more experienced and potent line-up, Liverpool will dominate proceedings, Liverpool will control possession and tempo. Liverpool won't be able to play as Liverpool played on Saturday. It will be much more 1-2 Palace, 1-0 Bournemouth, 1-0 and 1-1 Kazan than 3-1 Chelsea or 4-1 City. Liverpool will need to be more expansive, Liverpool will need its fullbacks to make solid contributions in attack, Liverpool will need Benteke to Benteke and Ibe to Ibe.

At least Bordeaux will have similar lineup concerns, coupled with much worse league form. Like Liverpool, they'll be missing loads of key players: Khazri's suspended; Sertic, Pallois, Pablo, and Toure are all out injured.

Bordeaux played a 4-4-2 diamond against Liverpool in the last meeting, but have lined up as a 4-3-3, 5-4-1, or orthodox 4-4-2 in the last month of matches. With so many players absent and given the experimentation with formations recently, I won't embarrass us both by trying to guess an XI. Crivelli, one of Bordeaux's better players in the previous meeting and whose good work led to Jussie's equalizer, should start up front. The experienced Chantome and Plasil will form a solid base in midfield. With both Pablo and Pallois missing, Liverpool will have to take advantage of an unfamiliar center-back pairing, putting similar pressure on whoever plays as they did against Demichelis and Mangala.

Since facing Liverpool two months ago, Bordeaux have won three, drawn five, and lost four. 3-1 wins over 2nd-place Lyon and Monaco were impressive, albeit at home. The 1-6 loss to Nice and 0-2 loss to 16th-place Gazélec Ajaccio were less so.

My overriding feeling remains that the Europa League is the Europa League is the Europa League. We hope Liverpool play well. We want Liverpool to qualify for the next stage tomorrow. Liverpool need to build momentum, build on Sunday's outstanding victory, and prove as capable against deep-sitting opposition at home as they've looked against better opposition away from home.

It's easier when the European mid-week match is at Anfield. But I also hope that Liverpool have learned that with the squad as it is, Liverpool can't sacrifice the subsequent league game for Europa League success.

23 November 2015

Visualized: Liverpool 4-1 Manchester City

Previous Match Infographics: Crystal Palace (h), Rubin Kazan (a), Chelsea (a), Southampton (h), Rubin Kazan (h), Tottenham (a), Everton (a), FC Sion (h), Aston Villa (h), Norwich (h), Bordeaux (a), Manchester United (a), West Ham (h), Arsenal (a), Bournemouth (h), Stoke (a)

As always, match data from Stats Zone, except shot location from Squawka and average player position from ESPN FC.

As said in Saturday's match review, that was the first time we can actually compare Liverpool to the 2013-14 version. In potency, in counter-attacking ability, and even in a surprisingly effective defensive shell once taking a lead. They're not yet that side, they're not yet close to that side, but there were actually signs. Even if it's just one match, that's a tremendous positive.

Liverpool put nine of its 14 shots on-target against City. That's the second-most shots on-target in total this season, behind the 12 (of 21) at Aston Villa. Liverpool's 64.3% shot accuracy was, by far, the highest of the season. As was Liverpool's goal conversion (which excludes blocked shots): 27.3%, which isn't even that impressive, but still the highest since last season's 2-0 win at Southampton, where Liverpool scored twice from five non-blocked shots.

Manchester City's defense is very different, and vastly weaker, without Kompany at center-back or Fernandinho screening the defense, but that's still an impressive total.

Besides Manchester City, there are only two other teams on that list which could be classified as top opposition: 2013-14 Tottenham, where Liverpool won 5-0, and 2014-15 United, where Liverpool lost 0-3.

10 of 14 shots came inside the box, seven of 14 inside the Danger Zone. More importantly, six of the seven Danger Zone shots (85.7%) and eight of the 10 inside-the-box shots (80%) were on-target. Prior to Saturday's match, Liverpool had averaged 37.3% shooting accuracy inside the box and 31.5% accuracy in the Danger Zone. Which is horrific. Really, really horrific.

Liverpool created five clear-cut chances: Coutinho's goal, Firmino's goal, Firmino's shots saved in the 35th and 60th minutes, and Benteke's shot saved in the 80th minute. Prior to Saturday's match, Liverpool had created just 13 clear-cut chances – an average of 1.1 per match – with a single match high of three, against both Norwich and Bournemouth, scoring just once in each. It's no small matter than all five were on-target either.

And it led to the first time that Liverpool have scored four goals in a match since the 4-1 win against Swansea on December 29, 2014. 50 matches ago. Coincidentally, that was also the last time Liverpool scored an own goal. More own goals = better results. Correlation is obviously causation. Q.E.D.

Liverpool have now scored as many goals in their last two away league matches (7) as they managed in the 11 before that, going all the way back to the 1-0 win at Swansea last March. If Liverpool scored away from home – which had been a big if – Liverpool scored just once; prior to the 3-1 at Chelsea, you've got to go back to the 2-0 win at Southampton in February for the last time Liverpool scored more than once away from home in the league. The last time Liverpool scored four or more away from home? The 6-3 win at relegated Cardiff in March 2014. Otherwise known as 20 months ago.

Meanwhile, Liverpool's 67.9% pass accuracy was lower than any total in a league match under Brendan Rodgers; the previous low was 72.3% in the 3-0 win at Southampton in 2013-14. Liverpool completed fewer than 265 passes just once under the previous manager: the 0-0 draw at Arsenal earlier this season.

Worse pass accuracy and less possession clearly isn't why Liverpool won. But it shows how Liverpool's tactics – no messing around at the back, get it out, get it up to Coutinho and Firmino – worked exactly as planned. If Liverpool lost possession in doing so, fine, press quickly then get back into position. Liverpool's top five passing combinations were Can and Firmino, Coutinho and Firmino, Lallana and Milner, Lallana and Clyne, and Can and Firmino. Skrtel, Lovren, and Lucas – the players who usually lead Liverpool in passing – were nowhere to be seen.

It's also similar to how Palace and West Ham beat Liverpool this season. Liverpool won't be able to play in this manner against most opponents, but it's nice not being on the receiving end of that game plan.

Finally, Liverpool weren't just potent – at long last – up front.

Since 2012-13, Liverpool made more than 32 successful tackles in a league match just three times, all in 2013-14: 37 in the 3-0 at Manchester United, 36 in the 3-2 at Norwich, and 35 in the 5-1 v Arsenal. All matches, I suspect you remember, where Liverpool scored early, defended deep, and tried to pick opponents off on the counter.

Since 2012-13, Liverpool have never come anywhere near 32 interceptions in a league match. The previous high was 22, twice, both times at Arsenal: the 0-0 draw earlier this season and the 2-2 draw in 2012-13. Ten fewer than Liverpool made on Saturday.

Liverpool's highest tackles and interceptions total under Brendan Rodgers was 53, in the aforementioned 3-2 win at Norwich in 2013-14: 36 tackles and 17 interceptions. But it's not as if Liverpool just sat deep and hoofed clear when under pressure on Saturday; the two teams made a similar amount of defensive clearances – 28 for Liverpool, 26 for City. Liverpool actually won the ball back, and looked to start the break.

It was nearly as good an away performance against top opposition as possible. And it was a very Klopp performance: a mobile side, a fervent press, quick attacking transitions, counter-attacking fluidity, reasonably secure at the back. Limit the opposition's chances and take yours.

As against Chelsea, we've now seen what Liverpool are capable of in these types of matches. And it's something that Liverpool were rarely, if ever, capable of under the previous manager. But now we need to see Liverpool succeed in the other types of matches: the 1-2s against Palace, the 1-1s against Kazan. Because, with Liverpool now finished with its brutal away schedule to start the season, Liverpool will have a lot more matches where they need to break down determined opposition rather than given the opportunity to thrive on the counter.

21 November 2015

Liverpool 4-1 Manchester City

Mangala OG 7'
Coutinho 23'
Firmino 32'
Agüero 44'
Skrtel 81'

That was unexpected.

It's the first time in a long time we were able to remember 2013-14 without wanting to jump off of the tallest building in town, the first time Liverpool looked like that side since the loss-that-shall-not-be-named at Anfield.

And Liverpool did it at Manchester City, last season's runners-up and this season's title favorites, at a ground where Liverpool haven't won in the league since October 2008. Manchester City hadn't ever conceded four goals in the Etihad Stadium, hadn't lost at home by such an emphatic scoreline since February 2003.

Early goals – the first within seven minutes, three in the first 32 minutes. Counter-attacking goals, set play goals, absolutely sublime goals – especially Liverpool's third. Sure, there was a goal conceded that didn't need to be conceded, but there was also a surprisingly resilient defensive shell, happy to allow the opposition possession but limiting opposition chances.

Even in 2013-14, we rarely saw that sort of blitzkrieg, that sort of counter-attacking fluency, or that sort of scoreline away from home against top opposition. United certainly doesn't count, Tottenham barely does. Otherwise, Liverpool lost 0-2 at Arsenal and 1-2 at Chelsea and City that season. It's rude to kick a man while he's down, but I can't help but pointing out that Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool never beat Chelsea at Chelsea or City at City, and Klopp's now done it in the last two away matches.

Like in a few of those 2013-14 massacres – especially those against Tottenham – it's tough to decide how much to credit Liverpool and how much to blame the opposition. Manchester City were not good today. At all. A lot of that was down to how well Liverpool started, and the fact that a good start actually led to an early goal, even if it was an own goal. But Liverpool were also lucky that Kompany, Silva, Bony, and Zabaleta were unavailable, that Fernandinho – for whatever reason – wasn't picked to start, that Agüero couldn't play for more than an hour.

Silva is the metronome of City's attack. Bony would have given City an alternative to the still-recovering Agüero who's both older than 20 and is actually a striker. Fernandinho would have given Liverpool a lot less space to operate in City's half. Chances are that Zabaleta isn't caught on the ball as Sagna was before Liverpool's opener. City have conceded just one league goal in the 720 minutes Kompany has played, compared to 12 in the 450 minutes he hasn't.

But still. Well done Liverpool. Whatever the scoreline – and I'm certainly not complaining about 4-1 – the most encouraging feature was Liverpool's fluency in attack, especially the link between Coutinho and Firmino, ably aided by both Can and Lallana. None of Liverpool's goals were the low-percentage thumpers that Liverpool have often relied upon when winning big matches in the last year and a half; the first three goals all featured some jaw-dropping interplay, especially between Liverpool's two attacking Brazilians.

Those two were the epicenter of all three of Liverpool's first-half goals: Coutinho to Firmino then the Mangala own goal; Firmino's work-rate before finding Coutinho for the second; Can's back heel to Coutinho to Firmino for the third. And Firmino could have had two more before the interval, both set up by Coutinho, the first well-saved by Hart, the second pushed just wide of the post.

But City eventually sprang to life, aided by a couple of Liverpool mistakes: Skrtel's failed clearance and Lucas, already on a yellow, unable to bring down Agüero. Who then Agüeroed the ball straight past Mignolet from 20 yards out with a minute left in the half. Sigh.

And then City were much more secure to start the second half, completely (and necessarily) revamping the midfield, replacing Toure and Navas with Fernandinho and Delph, switching to a 4-3-1-2 formation to match Liverpool in the middle. Despite all the good that'd come before, you couldn't help worry that Liverpool are still the Liverpool we know and fear; had City gotten a second, by hook or crook, through City class or Liverpool error, it's more than likely that City also get a third.

For 15 minutes, no one really had any chances: City usually in possession but still end-to-end, both defenses – especially Liverpool's – doing just enough. Then, another miraculous Hart save on Firmino, supplied by Can via Lallana's dummy. Then, Coutinho with the ball in the net, but rightfully ruled offside. Liverpool in the ascendancy? Yep. But then, because Liverpool, it was swiftly followed by Milner's sloppy back pass putting an otherwise irrelevant Raheem Sterling in on goal, laying off to Agüero, Liverpool's defenders doing just enough to deny the striker an opportunity before Mignolet could scramble back into position and subsequently claw away the shot. Phew.

Seconds later, rather than build on that moment, Agüero, just back from a extended injury absence, went off. And City, forced to use 19-year-old Iheanacho and 20-year-old Sterling up front, never really threatened again. Liverpool continued to look dangerous on the counter, especially after Ibe's fresh legs replaced the cramping Coutinho and Benteke came on for Bobby Firm. Yet another outstanding Hart save denied Benteke when through on goal – seriously, 6-1 wouldn't have flattered Liverpool, and would have happened if not for England's #1 – but Skrtel thunderously half-volleyed the resulting corner. 4-1. A mass exodus from the Etihad, the final 10 minutes a moot point.

It is, admittedly, one game. Two if you count the similar high after beating Chelsea. Both were wins that Liverpool needed, both were deserved, and both were results that Liverpool rarely got under its previous manager.

The frightening part is that Liverpool can get better. Liverpool were vastly improved on the counter, and Liverpool probably won't play as well on the counter in most matches. But, even against the likes of City, Liverpool can assert more control in midfield, Liverpool can be more resilient in defense, Liverpool can further reduce individual errors, Liverpool can take even more of its chances. Liverpool played the majority of the match without Benteke, and were again without both Sturridge and Henderson.

The last match before the international break demonstrated Liverpool's floor; not an especially bad performance, but an especially bad result.

Today's match gave us a glimpse of Liverpool's potential ceiling.

20 November 2015

Liverpool at Manchester City 11.21.15

12:30pm ET, live in the US on NBC

Last four head-to-head:
2-1 Liverpool (h) 03.01.15
1-3 City (a) 08.25.14
3-2 Liverpool (h) 04.13.14
1-2 City (a) 12.26.13

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-2 Palace (h); 1-0 Kazan (a); 3-1 Chelsea (a)
City: 0-0 Villa (a); 3-1 Sevilla (a); 2-1 Norwich (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Benteke, Coutinho 4; Ings, Sturridge 2; Milner 1
City: Agüero 6; Sterling 4; De Bruyne 3; Bony, Fernandinho, Kompany, Toure 2; Iheanacho, Kolarov, Nasri, Otamendi, Silva 1

Referee: Jon Moss

Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Skrtel Lovren Moreno
Milner Lucas Can
Lallana Coutinho

Maybe it's just me, but it seems like it's been a long time since Liverpool played a match. Stupid international breaks.

I have two questions: whether Liverpool stick with the more recently used 4-2-3-1 or revert to the 4-3-2-1 and, regardless of formation, which two from Milner, Firmino, and Lallana start.

Whichever formation Klopp chooses, there won't be many surprises in the XI. Liverpool's current player availability doesn't really allow for surprises.

In theory, the 4-3-2-1 could provide more midfield protection and congestion, leaving less space in front of Skrtel and Lovren and making it easier to double up on the dangerous Sterling and de Bruyne. Benteke up front gives Liverpool a potential much-needed out-ball if (when) the side's pinned back, although that front three – any front three – will probably be isolated against this side on this ground. It'd be a big day for Milner and Can as the side midfielders, both in defense and attack. But we haven't seen Liverpool line up in this formation since the 1-1 draw against Southampton a month ago.

As for the personnel. If it's 4-3-2-1, Milner will definitely start, with either Firmino or Lallana opposite Coutinho behind Benteke. If it's 4-2-3-1, it's harder to guess; Firmino or Lallana centrally, Milner or Lallana on the right. Your guess is as good as mine. With six weeks of practice, it's become easier to forecast what Klopp's going to do, but there are still some surprises.

One that won't be a surprise is Daniel Sturridge. It's great – absolutely great – that he's finally back in training. He remains a game-changing difference to this team and club. With a fit Sturridge, the sky's the limit. Without, Liverpool are a fairly standard upper mid-table club who need help and luck to be better than average. But he's not going to start. Off the bench? I think so, I hope so; 20-30 minutes to potentially make all the difference. But from the opening whistle? That seems way too large a gamble considering the player's length injury history, no matter the opposition.

Unlike Sturridge, I expect Sergio Agüero will be risked from the start. He's further along in his recovery, and Manchester City has plenty of experience with the timeline for Agüero's hamstring problems. And, like Sturridge, Agüero is utterly crucial to City performing to maximum capacity, even if they're obviously better able to cope with his absences. However, Kompany, Nasri, and Bony are out, while Silva, Zabaleta, and Delph are questionable.

Which suggests an XI of Hart; Sagna, Otamendi, Mangala, Kolarov; Toure, Fernandinho; Navas, De Bruyne, Sterling; Agüero. Maybe Yaya Toure's pushed further forward, with a midfield base of Fernando and Fernandinho, leading Navas on the bench. Both Iheanacho and Sterling are capable of playing up front if Agüero's to be used as a substitute. But I suspect we'll get Agüero, because he's Agüero, and we'll get Navas in the hopes of exploiting the space behind Moreno and outside of Lovren. And regardless, City are City, and even with absentees, City are strong.

Admittedly, City haven't had the easiest time with injuries, especially in attack. But that XI should have a lot more points than 26 through 12 matches, only ahead of Arsenal on goal difference. That XI should have a lot more goals than 26 through 12 matches, even if that total still leads the league.

As usual, they've one of the strongest sides, if not the strongest, in the league. Which, I guess is what happens when you take last season's second-place side and add £54m Kevin De Bruyne, £49m Raheem Sterling, and £32m Nicolas Otamendi.

I guess here is where I make mention of Raheem Sterling, even if I'd rather not. I still believe it was a good deal for both clubs: City needed the player, the player had no desire to stay at Liverpool, and Liverpool got a lot (a lot!) of money for a 20-year-old. That said, I've seen far too much 'hahaha Liverpool ripped them off for an unproven, overrated player with no football intelligence.' Both then and now. Sterling has his flaws: he doesn't always make the right decision in the final third and he's a fairly awful finisher. He's 20! Only Agüero has more league goals for City than Sterling; almost always used in a wide left berth, Raheem has the same amount as Liverpool's two top scorers. Only Fernandinho, Sagna, Hart, Toure, and Kolarov have played more minutes in the league and Europe than Sterling has. He gives City exactly what City needed: pace in the final third and a bit more width on the left. I am exceedingly fearful that he will punish Liverpool tomorrow.

This match-up has seen what were arguably Liverpool's two best wins in the last two seasons: 2-1 last season, 3-2 in 2013-14. Liverpool played well, Liverpool's game plan worked to near-perfection, Liverpool were resilient, Liverpool took its chances. But both of those matches were at Anfield. Liverpool haven't beaten City in the league at the Etihad since 2008-09, with four losses and two draws in the last six PL matches, comprehensively outplayed in the last two losses in the last two seasons.

However, Liverpool have been marginally better away from home than at Anfield this season: 2W-2D-2L at home, 2W-3D-1L on the road, made more emphatic when you look at who Liverpool's played in those matches. Bournemouth, West Ham, Norwich, Villa, Southampton, Palace at Anfield; Stoke, Arsenal, United, Everton, Tottenham, Chelsea away.

This is, finally, the last of Liverpool's Fury Road hellscape of away fixtures to start the season. After tomorrow, Liverpool will have played all of last season's top five on their ground; the only teams in the last season's top 10 that Liverpool have yet to travel to are Southampton, Swansea, and Palace. And, so far, Liverpool have lost just once: at Manchester United.

Any sort of result that involves a point – let alone three – tomorrow is a good result, considering form, fitness, finances, location, recent history, etc. And if Liverpool can get a good result, it puts them in good stead for the second half of the season given what's come before. Seven points behind fourth, currently 10th, is a long, long way back, but there's still a long time left in this season.

17 November 2015

Steven Gerrard: 710 Games, 186 Goals [Infographic]

Click on the image to make even bigger in a new window

This is something I should have finished over the summer, but when I didn't, I promptly forgot about it. Whoops. A lack of football – or even any interesting football "news" – during yet another international break at least gave me the opportunity to finally do so. Sorry about that. Now, it's much less timely, but still fairly fascinating (if I may so say myself, etc etc).

The graphic is self-explanatory. Steven Gerrard played a lot of games for Liverpool, Steven Gerrard scored a lot of goals for Liverpool. Just because we're in a different place now – for better and for worse – doesn't mean we can't still bask it in.

For thoroughness' sake, here's my exhaustive, way-too-extensive spreadsheet for all the goals.

As per usual, these historical infographics simply wouldn't be possible without LFC History. This YouTube video of all 186 goals was also quite helpful.

09 November 2015

Visualized: Liverpool 1-2 Crystal Palace

Previous Match Infographics: Rubin Kazan (a), Chelsea (a), Southampton (h), Rubin Kazan (h), Tottenham (a), Everton (a), FC Sion (h), Aston Villa (h), Norwich (h), Bordeaux (a), Manchester United (a), West Ham (h), Arsenal (a), Bournemouth (h), Stoke (a)

As always, match data from Stats Zone, except shot location from Squawka and average player position from ESPN FC.

We've seen this movie before.

We've seen Liverpool miss multiple chances before, we've seen Liverpool's shooting cost the side points before. More times than I'd like to list or remember. And it's been especially bad against Crystal Palace. The two matches against Crystal Palace last season saw Liverpool's second- and sixth-worst shooting accuracy in the league: 8.33% away (one on-target from 12) and 16.67% at home (three on-target from 18).

Yesterday's was 18.18%: four shots on-target, nine off, nine blocked. Which is bad, of course, but still just the fourth-worst through 12 league games, behind West Ham (7.69%), Bournemouth (11.11%), and Southampton (13.33%), the last of which, you'll remember, happened under Liverpool's current manager and at Anfield.

What makes yesterday worse is that Liverpool took 22 shots – the most under Klopp, and the second-most in a league match this season behind the 23 against Norwich – and that 16 of Liverpool's 22 shots came from inside the box, with 12 from in the Danger Zone. Just 25% of the Danger Zone shots (three of 12) were on-target – Liverpool, even with last season's abhorrent shooting, averaged 41.8% accuracy in the Danger Zone in 2014-15 – with the other four inside-the-box shots either off-target (1) or blocked (3). Both of last season's losses to Crystal Palace saw fewer shots in total, fewer shots in the Danger Zone, and more shots from outside the box.

This makes for depressing viewing:

You'll notice that five of the eight shots here are from Benteke – all five of his shots in the match. Sigh.

We've also seen those Crystal Palace goals before. Can's clearance across his box to the opposition scorer? Everton's equalizer a month ago. Mignolet punching the ball to the scorer from a corner? Norwich's equalizer at Anfield six weeks ago.

Both of those went down as Opta-defined defensive errors, that sometimes-useful, often-vague stat. Liverpool committed four yesterday: those two leading to goals and two other Can giveaways. Liverpool committed a single defensive error in each of Klopp's three league matches, but none led to a goal; that hadn't happened since Can at Everton. Liverpool last committed four defensive errors in back-to-back losses against Newcastle and Chelsea a year ago.

Liverpool allowed Palace just nine shots in total, fewer than the 15 and 16 they took in last season's losses. Only three of those shots came in the Danger Zone. But they were Bolasie's goal, Dann's goal, and Dann's first shot before his rebound goal. Otherwise? Five speculative efforts from outside the box and Bakary Sako's box-left big chance into the side netting.

Liverpool under Klopp are still doing a better job creating better chances, getting reasonably good shots, and preventing opposition shots. But Liverpool weren't good enough to convert their chances or to prevent errors and/or stop the opposition's, and the blame seems to be on factors we've decried over and over and over and etc etc.

It is probably not coincidence that Liverpool's two main scapegoats – Can for the first goal conceded and other errors, Benteke for his missed opportunities – played 90 minutes in Kazan on Thursday. Liverpool looked a side that played in Russia a few days ago; Palace looked a side that had a week between matches. This was the worry after Thursday's win.

A loss was always going to come, and sooner rather than later. That Klopp managed to go six games unbeaten to start his tenure remains impressive and reassuring. It's infuriating that this loss happened with Liverpool missing multiple chances, it's infuriating that both conceded goals were preventable, it's infuriating that it was against Liverpool's all-too-frequent bête noire. But Liverpool's problems still seem remediable, and this "bad loss" is still a dramatic improvement on last season's bad losses.

But just when we thought we were out of the woods, we're dragged back in again.