17 December 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 3-1 Manchester United

Previous Match Infographics: Napoli (h), Bournemouth (a), Burnley, Everton (h), Paris St-Germain (a), Watford (a), Fulham (h), Arsenal (a), Cardiff (h), Red Star Belgrade (h), Huddersfield (a), Manchester City (h), Napoli (a), Chelsea (a), Southampton (h), Leicester (a), Brighton (h), Crystal Palace (a), West Ham (h)

Match data from WhoScored, except average position from the SofaScore app. 



Finally.

Yes, yes, that Europa League match in 2016. But it's been far too long since Liverpool beat Manchester United in the Premier League, a run of three draws and five losses, with Liverpool's last league win in 2013-14.

So it's fun to do it in dominating fashion but also needing a damned bit of luck with both the second and third goals, two from a substitute to win the match with less than 20 minutes remaining. Lucky and good, my absolute favorite.

Let's start with the most dominating part.

36 shots is the most allowed by any Manchester United side since Opta began keeping records in 2003. It's the most shots taken in a league match so far this season. It's the second-most shots that Liverpool have taken in a league match in the last eight league seasons.

This was just the seventh time that Liverpool have taken more than 30 shots in a league match since the start of 2011-12, with four of those coming under Jürgen Klopp. Unsurprisingly, the other three came in 2013-14.



That's some esteemed company that Manchester United are in. Sides that finished 12th, 13th, and 19th in 2013-14; a hilariously bad Everton in a late-season Merseyside Derby; a to-be-relegated Hull in 2016-17; and last season's Burnley, wizards at making sides take lots of shots from bad locations with a bunch of players in the way. It wasn't the first time Burnley frustrated Liverpool similarly.

That Burnley match is honestly the best comparison for yesterday's match. Which, again, says more than a bit about this season's Manchester United, and is a comparison I will gladly perpetuate. Pack the defensive third, double-mark opposition attackers, encourage deeper players to stride forward and shoot as a last resort. Which is also very much a favored Jose Mourinho tactic in matches where he hopes to do no more than spoil. See (sigh) Liverpool 0-2 Chelsea in 2013-14.

There's a lot of possession and a lot of shots, but a lot of not very good shots. Liverpool's xG per shot in this match was around 0.07, which is a hilariously low total.

And that's what happened to Liverpool against Burnley last season. Shot after shot after shot after shot, with little response from the opposition since they'd gotten a first-half goal they'd little right to expect. And we're shouting at the side as an infuriating 1-1 looks likelier and likelier.

But this incarnation of Liverpool didn't finish the match 1-1. This incarnation finally put together a decent move to get deep into United's penalty box, and put the damned ball in the back of a damned net for the much-needed second time.

By hook, crook, and deflection, this Liverpool found a way to break through. And now I can't stop thinking about the differences between how those two matches ended. Liverpool did have chances in the last 20, 30 minutes of last season's match against Burnley. Sure, too many of them were low-value, from distance, but there's also a clear-cut chance from Solanke which cannons off the woodwork that still sticks in the teeth.

There are two sides to this.

That's the difference in fortune. One clear-cut chance ricochets off the crossbar rather than in off the underside of it. 15 months later, Liverpool get an opportunity coming from a kick-save going straight to an attacker and that attacker's shot getting the most helpful of deflections.

But there's also the difference in being able to bring on Xherdan Shaqiri rather than Dominic Solanke. And that's not trying to be unnecessarily mean to Solanke, who's still probably got a promising future. It's just that Xherdan Shaqiri's future is now. As Liverpool's also seems to be.

I wrote about it less than two weeks ago, but it's again worth pointing out the effect that substitutes have had on Liverpool's season so far. Here's that chart again.



That's now eight substitute goals in 24 games so far this season. And four of those goals were game-winners, with another as a late, late, late equalizer. Even in 2015-16, when Liverpool scored 16 substitute goals, only three won Liverpool a match, with three more 90th-minute equalizers. So not only are Liverpool's substitutes having an effect on matches, Liverpool's substitutes are doing more to win Liverpool matches.

Incidentally, Liverpool had just five substitute goals last season, in matches that Liverpool won 4-0, 7-0, 3-0, and 3-0.

Liverpool truly are better this season, even if the side's not been at its most exhilarating. That's evident in the results earned, more than enough to prove it hasn't been a fluke and increasingly convincing since that ever-so-fun winner against Everton. And if not for an out-of-character blunder from a keeper who's far, far better than that, this probably isn't even as much of a contest, but with similar disparities in statistics.

Liverpool are increasingly comfortable in this 4-2-3-1 formation, evident in Fabinho's dominating performance, Wijnaldum's greater involvement, Firmino's much, much greater involvement, and Salah's output in the previous couple of games against Burnley and Bournemouth even if he wasn't at his most effective here. Mané did well from the right and Keïta, like Oxlade-Chamberlain the season before, is getting time and experience from an outside-but-tucking-in berth.

It is December 17th and Liverpool are 19 points ahead of Manchester United, and a 3-1 score line both affirms and emphasizes the gap. It is December 17th and Liverpool remain unbeaten in the Premier League. It is December 17th and Liverpool are still atop the table, despite the pressure put on by the oligarchs breathing down their necks, with the most recent step forward coming again the most hated of opponents.

16 December 2018

Liverpool 3-1 Manchester United

Goals:
Mané 24'
Lingard 33'
Shaqiri 73' 80'

It was all set up for another Mourinho Moment.

I do not need or want to list the litany of disappointments and failures against Jose Mourinho's sides, whether at Chelsea or United. It has felt like voodoo at times, Mourinho's deal with the devil fully in focus.

This looked all set to be another example. Another example made especially worse because Liverpool were actually good.

Liverpool were doing the pressing and the possession and the rolling at an opponent like an incoming tide. After a fourth minute United set play that frightened, with Young's delivery past everyone into the net but Lukaku rightfully ruled offside, United couldn't get out, Liverpool kept coming, Liverpool kept shooting.

Sure, most of Liverpool's shots were from distance, because that's what Mourinho defenses force, but the goal felt coming because Liverpool kept coming. And then it came, wonderfully, in the 24th minute: Fabinho's delicious pass over United's five-man defense finding Mané's run, chest control, weaker foot goal past De Gea.

1-0, three-quarters of the match to go, this is gonna be fun. But then it wasn't. Out of nothing, United attack down Liverpool's right, the midfield bypassed, Lukaku with the ball on the flank, Dalot open behind Robertson for the low cross. But when the low cross came in, it's headed straight for Alisson instead of Dalot. Phew. Except not, because Alisson spills the ball when claiming, bouncing off his knee directly to Jesse Lingard. The goal keeper who's saved Liverpool multiple times already this season – including in the 92nd minute of the Champions League just five days ago – literally hands an equalizer to the most hated of rivals.

Life is not fair. It is not just that Mourinho's sides frustrate and shut down, but all sorts of evil somehow arises. Gerrard's slip. Ibrahimovic's late offside equalizer. Multiple 0-0s with missed chances and uncalled penalties. And now Alisson's flub.

And now we can go full Mourinho. Liverpool, still in control, still in possession. Liverpool, still shooting from distance, more and more with worse and worse result. To make matters worse, Fellaini replaced Dalot to start the second half, a shift away from the basically 3-4-1-2 to a basically 4-4-1-1, with Fellaini there to man-mark Firmino when out of possession and win headers when in.

Now we've actually reached Full Mourinho.

And we're frustrated. And we're pegging shots from nowhere that almost certainly aren't going in, first the forwards, then the midfielders, and then even the center-backs, with both Lovren and van Dijk even "trying" their luck. 29 shots by the 72nd minute, 15 of them from outside the box, 14 of them blocked. It's all set up for torture, it's all set up for pain.

But then Xherdan Shaqiri comes into the game. Less than two minutes later, Liverpool are in front. Less than ten minutes later, Liverpool are 3-1 up. With both goals from Liverpool's substitute.

It is better to be lucky than good. It is best to be lucky and good. Wijnaldum's long cross-field finds Robertson, who gets the ball to Mané. The run to the byline's dangerous. The cut-back can go anywhere after Matic's touch and De Gea's kick save. It falls to Shaqiri, who thankfully gets there before Clyne, smart enough to make the run into the box as United's defenders retreat to the six-yard box, his shot arrowing in off both Ashley Young and the underside of the cross bar.

Seven minutes later, that man again. Liverpool counter, Mané to Shaqiri to Firmino, laid off hopefully for Salah but again somehow magnetized for Shaqiri's boot, then magnetized to find a United defender and United's goal, a massive swerve off Bailly's knee beating De Gea.

It could not be more heartening for Liverpool, because it could not be more dispiriting for Manchester United. They've got to suffer through ten more minutes after Shaqiri seals the game – ten more minutes with more Liverpool chances, ten more minutes with Anfield alternately singing in full voice and shouting "Olé!" as Liverpool rub salt in all the wounds.

Now, Liverpool return to the top of the table. Now, Manchester United are closer to the 20th-placed side than to Liverpool, with 19 points separating the two teams as we enter the third week of December.

It is further evidence of Liverpool's strength in depth, with yet another crucial substitute goal. Two, in fact.

It is further evidence of Liverpool's versatility, with another return to the 4-2-3-1 formation, but with Keïta wide left, Mané on the right, Clyne making his first league start in forever, and Firmino pretty much everywhere. Shaqiri's entrance shifted Mané to the other flank, where he was able to set up Liverpool's winner, then Henderson's entrance saw Liverpool in a 4-3-3 to both shut down proceedings and counter more effectively.

It is further evidence that Liverpool have good players, with Fabinho superlative, Firmino and van Dijk not far off, Wijnaldum metronomic, Robertson still running up and down the touchline, and a sumptuous goal from Sadio Mané. All this without Salah having the impact we always hope he'll have.

It is further evidence that this might actually be Liverpool's time. The frustration ultimately ends if Liverpool keep doing Liverpool. The voodoo gets broken. The bad guys lose in the end. No matter the egregious error equalizer, no matter the fifty minutes of frustration. Mourinho can't do this every time, United can't do this every time.

Not to this version of Liverpool.

12 December 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 1-0 Napoli

Previous Match Infographics: Bournemouth (a), Burnley, Everton (h), Paris St-Germain (a), Watford (a), Fulham (h), Arsenal (a), Cardiff (h), Red Star Belgrade (h), Huddersfield (a), Manchester City (h), Napoli (a), Chelsea (a), Southampton (h), Leicester (a), Brighton (h), Crystal Palace (a), West Ham (h)

Match data from WhoScored, except average position from the SofaScore app. 



Except for Liverpool's finishing, that's pretty much where Liverpool want to be. Which is a nice thing to write when it's a match to decide whether you progress in the Champions League or get knocked down into the ugly stepsister competition.

Just like in the last match at Bournemouth, Liverpool's game plan went as hoped. Need 1-0? Score in first half, counter as the game goes on. Go back to the 4-3-3, a better set-up for pressing, a better set-up for fast breaks from that front three. And that's exactly what happened. Except, you know, scoring multiple times on said fast breaks and preventing us from biting fingernails and day drinking as ninety minutes refused to run out.

Liverpool control possession for the first half-hour, then get the necessary goal in the 34th minute through Mohamed Salah. Possession and more possession, and a refusal to let Napoli clear, keeping the ball until Milner spots Salah's run, sliding off Mario Rui and finally beating the impressive Koulibaly before nutmegging Ospina with his weaker foot from no angle.

That was fun.

And then Liverpool proceed to contain rather than control, but both limit chances and increasingly create more of their own. Liverpool take more than twice as many shots in the second half compared to the first half. Liverpool have four clear-cut chances in the final 15 minutes. Liverpool really should have sealed the game long before the final whistle.


It's still swings and roundabouts when it comes to actually putting the damned ball in the damned net. Liverpool put almost half their shots on target and score with almost all of said shots on-target at Bournemouth? Three days later, Liverpool put just four of 22 shots on goal and score with just one, missing the target with three of four clear-cut chances. Similar happened after winning 3-0 at Watford, when Liverpool put seven of ten shots on-target and scored three times in 22 minutes, then struggled to shoot or score against both PSG and Everton.

Except Mo Salah keeps scoring.

That's now 13 goals in 23 appearances this season, Liverpool's top scorer with almost twice as many as Mané in second place, scoring in ten different matches. He's got the opening goal in eight of those ten matches, with seven ending up as the game-winner when Liverpool's gone on to keep a clean sheet. Liverpool have played four 1-0 matches this season; Salah has been the lone scorer in three of those four. He is an absolute force of nature, especially at Anfield.


Also, it's nice to be able to praise the midfield that we've had so many issues with this season – rightly or wrongly. Both Wijnaldum and Milner were heavily involved in both the attack and the press, their average position on the same line as Firmino and Mané. Wijnaldum led the side in shots, albeit with none on-target and three of the four in the final ten minutes. Milner created five chances, behind only Trent Alexander-Arnold, including the penetrating assist for Salah's goal, with Wijnaldum also registering the hockey assist. Not coincidentally, those two midfielders led the side in tackles along with Mané, with Wijnaldum attempting four and successful with three, while Milner successful with five of six.

There's probably a reason that Klopp keeps using these three in big matches, the starting midfield in the 3-2 v PSG, 1-1 at Chelsea, 0-0 v City, 1-2 at PSG, and now this – as well as the 2-1 win at Leicester back at the beginning of September.

And then there's the defense. Again. Liverpool's last two defensive signings starred, again, with van Dijk again imperious, and Alisson again heroic. That late save truly did save Liverpool, denying Milik from point-blank range in the 91st minute, only the third save he had to make yesterday and the only that was truly taxing.

It's almost apt that Milik got that chance by shirking off Lovren, with the defender on as a substitute after an injury to Alexander-Arnold. Lovren got caught ball-watching. Lovren didn't contend the cross, on his back foot as Milik controlled. To be fair, Lovren was hamstrung by a slight deflection off Fabinho. To be less fair, that's seemingly often an issue with Dejan Lovren: a perfectly cromulent defender for 85 minutes – honestly, better than cromulent – but then somehow caught in the wrong place at the wrong time doing the wrong thing. Dejan Lovren is now third or fourth-choice defender in this team rather than first-choice he'd been for a few seasons. A few seasons which saw a few more goals conceded.

But there's also Andy Robertson bombing up and down the left. There's Trent Alexander-Arnold with six key passes and the only Liverpool player with more than one interception. There's Jöel Matip with maybe the best game of his Liverpool career, completely in control against both Mertens and Insigne.

There's an outstanding defense, a midfield performing to its function in a match that suits how they function, and an attack that's still getting there but clearly getting there. An attack that's closer to there than they were a month, two months, three months ago.

And so it ends as yet another massive European night. You know the list. This is now on it. Liverpool have still yet to lose a European match at Anfield since Klopp became manager, stretching back to that embarrassing 0-3 loss to Real Madrid in October 2014.



Bring on the Round of 16 and woe to the side that draws Liverpool.

10 December 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 4-0 Bournemouth

Previous Match Infographics: Burnley, Everton (h), Paris St-Germain (a), Watford (a), Fulham (h), Arsenal (a), Cardiff (h), Red Star Belgrade (h), Huddersfield (a), Manchester City (h), Napoli (a), Chelsea (a), Southampton (h), Leicester (a), Brighton (h), Crystal Palace (a), West Ham (h)

Match data from WhoScored, except average position from the SofaScore app. 



There's honestly not a ton to write about this. I love when a plan comes to fruition. And I love when Mohamed Salah just slaps folks who jump up to get beat down.

That was a continuation of the previous four league matches, with Liverpool incrementally better, more cohesive in each, with Liverpool deservedly winning each.

Liverpool scored multiple goals, as they did against Fulham (h), Watford (a), and Burnley (a), with ten of 12 goals in these four matches – as well as the last-second winner against Everton – coming in the second half.

We haven't seen the away struggles that have defined the Champions League campaign so far, with Liverpool's away form almost exactly comparable to that at home, conceding four more on the road but also scoring four more. Liverpool have scored three, three, and four in their last three away games, albeit against Watford, Burnley, and Bournemouth. And Liverpool have played two more away games than home, having already travelled to Tottenham, Chelsea, and Arsenal.

As against Watford, Liverpool did it with a paucity of shots, taking just ten and putting just four on-target, but scoring with three of them. It's a 40% shot accuracy – which is better than usual – and a conversion rate of 42.86%, the highest of the season. Between The Posts (via 11Tegen11) had Liverpool's Expected Goals at 2.09 xG, which gives an xG per shot on 0.209, an egregiously high total.

Liverpool kept yet another clean sheet, the fourth in the last five games and tenth in 16 league games. Bournemouth's xG was 0.5 and xG per shot was 0.0625, which is egregiously low, and put just two shots on-target: Brooks' reasonable effort just before Salah opened the scoring and Stanislas' long-range free kick straight at Alisson after Liverpool were already 3-0 up.

Alisson was once again brilliant in moments, because he's only been needed for moments. The aforementioned save on Brooks' shot. A tremendous clearing header under pressure from Josh King, unable to use his hands on Milner's wild, errant clearance. Just as he was against Burnley, just as he's been since he joined the club.

This was the fourth time this season that Liverpool have scored four goals in a match, but it's the first time away from Anfield. It's the first time Liverpool have scored four or more away from Anfield since the 5-0 win at Porto back in February, and the first time it's happened in the league in a week shy of a year, when Liverpool beat *checks notes* Bournemouth 4-0 on December 17, 2017.

There was one key difference, though. Mohamed Salah was much more influential than he's been in recent matches. Than he's been pretty much all season.

Sure, there were the three goals. One poacher's goal, heavily involved in the buildup and there to finish off Firmino's rebound, then two counter-attack goals – Firmino's press winning possession for the first, then Lallana's long pass and Salah's speed up against Cook for the second. He had space to run and used that space brilliantly. He had chances and finished off those chances.

But just as important was how much more involved Salah was.




My main criticism of the 4-2-3-1 formation used most frequently of late is how Salah just isn't getting the ball. Sure, he's not getting it in his favored positions, on the flank, with room to run, but he's just not getting it enough in general.

That wasn't the case on Saturday. Salah received passes at almost double the rate as in the previous three matches. And every Liverpool starter found Salah with at least one pass.



Only Firmino registered an assist, but Shaqiri's through-ball released Salah for his first shot in the 14th minute, while Lallana's pass set him up to destroy Steve Cook for Liverpool's fourth goal. Robertson and Firmino tied for the most passes to Salah with eight each, but Liverpool's central midfielders – so often struggling to link with the attack – also found Salah with five passes each, while Keïta routinely got the ball to Salah as well.

We've seen that Liverpool can do it without Salah if necessary. Or, maybe more accurately, with 50-75% of Salah. Now they're finding more and better ways to get him involved in this new role.

Liverpool were getting results even before this formation began coalescing. Liverpool were getting results without Salah being this involved in the overall play, let alone scoring multiple goals in the same match while still playing more key passes than any other Liverpool player.

Liverpool were already getting results, keeping pace with a much more impressive City despite wobbles and complaints in almost every match. And now, with the season reaching the frenetic festive flurry, almost to the halfway point, Liverpool are rounding into form, ahead of Manchester City as we enter the fifth month of the campaign.

08 December 2018

Liverpool 4-0 Bournemouth

Goals:
Salah 25' 48' 77'
Cook OG 68'

That was about a good as it gets.

Sure, we've seen more thorough beat-downs. We've seen more comprehensive performances. But that was comfortable, despite being away from home, in the midst of a run about about a million games a month, and with five changes and a different formation from Wednesday's similarly heartening win at Burnley.

Liverpool monopolize the ball for the opening 25 minutes until scoring, a well-taken but fortunate goal with Salah just offside on the rebound to Firmino's shot from distance. Liverpool then slowly invite Bournemouth forward but remain untested, limiting shots and dealing with multiple Bournemouth corners.

Then Liverpool pull away in the second half. The all-important second comes within three minutes of the restart via Liverpool's press. Firmino robs Lerma and feeds Salah, staying on his feet despite a foul from Cook, bursting past Daniels to score an archetypal Salah goal. The game-killing third comes midway through the half, cross field from Firmino to Salah to Robertson to Fabinho to Robertson, a vicious cross towards Mané pinballed into the net by Cook. The fourth is just rude, with Salah twice dancing around Begovic after receiving Robertson's pass following an interception, waltzing towards goal as three Bournemouth players retreat to the goal line, unable to prevent the tap in.

It's a rolling tide for the first quarter of the game, then an older brother holding the younger at arm's length while intermittently counter-punching to remind each of their station for the other three-quarters. And it's not as if Bournemouth are a bad side, massively improving on last season's performances, in a dead heat with Everton and United as "best of the rest."

Mo Salah scores a hat-trick, now joint-top scorer in the league despite having a "bad" season so far. Keïta and Fabinho start together for the first time – with all four of Liverpool's summer signings in the XI – even if the former played on the left flank. Liverpool demonstrated their depth, with five changes from Wednesday's side which had seven changes from last Sunday's side. Liverpool were versatile, with Keïta on the left flank, Milner at right back, and Firmino and Salah more of a strike partnership in a 4-2-2-2 rather than the 4-2-3-1 we've seen more often. Mané returned from the cut on his foot, Lallana returned from whatever injury kept him out this time.

It was a team-wide performance, with no scapegoats in the slightest and headlined by Salah, who'll take a ton of confidence from this productivity. He's now scored 42 league goals for Liverpool in just 52 appearances, the most of any player under Klopp and faster to the mark than any other Liverpool player in the Premier League era. And at the other end of the pitch, Liverpool kept its tenth clean sheet in 16 Premier League games, conceding just once in the five games since that annoying 1-1 draw at Arsenal. Liverpool continue with its best start to a top-flight campaign in the club's history, now top of the table for at least a couple of hours.

It wasn't great, but that's what makes it good. We've still not hit the dizzying heights of last season, but it's all coming together in these last five matches. Diligent and mostly comfortable in three of the five, a tenacious comeback in the fourth, and that Merseyside Derby. Still unbeaten, still neck and neck with Manchester City.

Right when the season starts to get serious.

07 December 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 3-1 Burnley

Previous Match Infographics: Everton (h), Paris St-Germain (a), Watford (a), Fulham (h), Arsenal (a), Cardiff (h), Red Star Belgrade (h), Huddersfield (a), Manchester City (h), Napoli (a), Chelsea (a), Southampton (h), Leicester (a), Brighton (h), Crystal Palace (a), West Ham (h)

Match data from WhoScored, except average position from the SofaScore app. 



This did not start well.

Seven changes from the XI which started the Merseyside Derby, as well as a different formation. Sturridge and Origi both start up top – the latter making his first league start since August 2017. It's Keïta's first start in more than two months. There are rare appearances for Matip and Moreno. There's James Milner on the left flank. There's no Firmino, no Salah, and no Mané, the first time none have started a Liverpool match since the beginning of last season.

And then Joe Gomez has to go off before the match is a quarter gone, fracturing his left leg.

And there are no Liverpool shots, against the side who allows the most shots in the league, until the 29th minute. Despite more than 70% possession. Despite playing a side who'd failed to win their previous seven games, who sat just a point above the bottom of the table. An often-broken attack remains so, despite the change in personnel and formation.

It's not going well. It gets better, little by little. Liverpool at least start to register shots. And they're either putting them on target or seeing them blocked, which is better than the "miss, miss, block, miss, maybe on-target" we've become more accustomed to.

Of course, Liverpool are still living dangerously, with Barnes putting the ball in Liverpool's net from a Burnley free kick only to see it ruled out for offside. It takes just one moment, after all.

Which Burnley get, after a bit of a flurry from Liverpool. Van Dijk misses a couple of set play chances, blocked by Tarkowski and headed off-target, while Keïta thunders an effort that Hart saves onto the post. But Burnley somehow progress down the field, van Dijk has to clear a cross behind, and Burnley have a corner. Gudmundsson. Tarkowski over Alexander-Arnold, save. Barnes the rebound, save. Cork, goal. Even though Wood looked offside going for Tarkowski's shot. Even though it appeared that Barnes kicked the ball out of Alisson's hands. Even though Liverpool had dominated, had been the better side, etc etc.

Oh fuck.

But this is where Liverpool proved that Liverpool are actually good at the football. That Liverpool belong near the top of the table. That Liverpool rightly are one of the best sides in the league.

Because the best sides in the league score three times in half an hour after going behind. The best sides in the league win the difficult mid-week away games, despite missing players, despite almost wholly changing the team, despite going behind.

Eight minutes after Burnley scored, we're level. Seven minutes after that, we're ahead. And in the first minute of added time, we've got a game-sealing third.

Each goal was very "this is what Liverpool can do to you." The first, a 26-pass move, rope-a-dope before the knockout, and only Liverpool's second open play goal from outside the box this season. The second a set play. The third a lightning counter from goalkeeper to opposition goal with five touches in fewer than ten seconds.

And the last two goals saw the impact that substitutions can have.



Firmino's goal was Liverpool's 33rd by a substitute since Klopp became manager. It's the sixth already this season. Eight of those have been game-winning goals – including three this season – while five more were equalizers. And we can't downplay Salah's assist to Shaqiri, perfectly weighted into the Swiss' path with the outside of his left foot, without even thinking of trying to control Sturridge's chip.

Sure, we don't want to be bringing Salah and Firmino off the bench every match. And it's not as if substitute goals are a new feature under Klopp; Liverpool are on pace for more this season, but nothing's yet topped Klopp's first season when Liverpool substitutes scored 16 times. But it is more proof of Liverpool's strength in depth. In that 2015-16 season, the majority of Liverpool's sub goals were scored by Christian Benteke, while Origi was the only other player with more than one. This season, they've been scored by Sturridge (twice), Firmino (twice), Shaqiri, and Origi. Somewhat stronger attackers than those in Klopp's first season.

And Liverpool are – as we're well aware after the start to the season – stronger at the back as well. Good lord, Virgil van Dijk.



But a few other players deserve a mention too. James Milner started on the left, ran his ass off, scored the vital equalizer from outside the box, then spent the next 30 minutes at left back. Naby Keïta massively improved the midfield, leading Liverpool in shots and putting four of those six shots on-target. Alisson made a massive save at 2-1, then started the counter-attack for Liverpool's third, and should have gotten credit for denying Tarkowski's 54th minute shot before Wood was offside but uncalled.

Liverpool are getting performances, consistent performances, from players who don't necessarily always get the headlines. They're getting performances from players signed in the last 12 months: van Dijk, Keïta, and Alisson. They're getting performances from players who aren't Salah, Firmino, and Mané.

And even when we're worried, when we're frustrated, Liverpool find a way to get three goals to beat a side that'd given them fits, has given them fits in the past. They're getting goals, and shots on-target, when those things have been hard to come by in previous matches this season.

They're getting wins, more and more, with more points earned at this stage of the season than in any previous campaign.

04 December 2018

Liverpool at Burnley 12.05.18

2:45pm ET, live in the US on NBC Sports Gold

Last four head-to-head:
2-1 Liverpool (a) 01.01.18
1-1 (h) 09.16.17
2-1 Liverpool (h) 03.12.17
0-2 Burnley (a) 08.20.16

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-0 Everton (h); 1-2 PSG (a); 3-0 Watford (a)
Burnley: 0-2 Palace (a); 1-2 Newcastle (h); 0-0 Leicester (a)

Goal-scorers (league):
Liverpool: Salah 7; Mané 6; Firmino 3; Milner, Shaqiri, Sturridge 2; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Origi, Wijnaldum 1
Burnley: Vokes 3; Barnes, Gudmundsson, Tarkowski 2; Hendrick, Lennon, Vydra, Wood 1

Referee: Stuart Attwell (LFC History) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Alisson
Trent A-A Gomez van Dijk Moreno
Milner Henderson Keïta
Salah Sturridge Shaqiri

The first midweek league match of the season. The second of eight matches in December.

You have to assume there will be changes, will be rotation. But your guess is as good as mine as to how or whom.

What formation Liverpool plays is probably dependent on who plays. So let's guess a few absentees. There are two new injury doubts: Mané's got a cut on his foot which needed stitches, Robertson has a minor knock. Firmino's struggled for form. Liverpool have five available midfielders with Keïta fit and Henderson back from suspension.

With Mané potentially absent, Sturridge or Origi in line for a start, and all the central midfielders in contention, 4-3-3 seems more likely. I'm dubious of completely changing the midfield, but Fabinho's struggled in 4-3-3 and Wijnaldum's played more minutes than any other midfielder so far. So, there's the above guess, along with the preferred back four but with Moreno for Robertson, although I wouldn't be surprised to see Lovren or Matip either. But that's almost certainly going to be wrong in some places.

I wouldn't be completely surprised to see something more a 4-4-2 than the 4-2-3-1 we've seen lately, with two from Sturridge, Firmino, Origi and possibly Salah up front, but I'm also skeptical. If Firmino plays with another striker, it'll probably be 4-2-3-1. Origi's goal on Sunday is a wonderful story, but I doubt it makes him more likely to start matches, at least at this point.

Meanwhile, Burnley. Yikes. Karma catches up with you eventually.

Burnley had been the wizards of the Premier League in the previous two seasons. Over-performing both xG and xG against. A supremely difficult side to play again, allowing a ton of shots but very few good shots, and conceding surprisingly few goals while scoring *just enough.*

That hasn't been the case this season. At all. Well, they're still over-performing xG both for and against, although not by a ton. They've just been bad at the football. Only Huddersfield, Palace, Newcastle, and Southampton have scored fewer goals. Only Fulham has conceded more goals. They're 19th place, a point ahead of Fulham. They haven't won in more than two months, with five losses and two draws since the end of September.

And the only real line-up change from last season is Joe Hart in goal, so make of that what you will.

Burnley can't even blame injuries or absentees, other than Hart starting ahead of Nick Pope. They've again had one of the more settled sides in the league. Sure, Defour, Brady, and Tarkowski are doubtful for tomorrow's match, but the latter seems likely to start anyway and Burnley have experienced replacements for the two others.

If both Brady and Defour miss out, it'll probably be Hart; Lowton, Tarkowski, Mee, Taylor; Lennon, Westwood, Cork, Gudmundsson; Hendrick; Wood. Either Vokes or Barnes could start ahead of Wood up front. Maybe Burnley go more 4-4-2 with one of them paired with Wood in place of Hendrick. If Defour's available, he'll replace Westwood. If Brady is, he could play on either flank.

For all of Burnley's struggles, I remain nervous. A midweek match, with key players likely absent for Liverpool. An opponent who's given them problems in the past, no matter current form; last season's 1-1 at Anfield, the 0-2 at Burnley in 2016-17, even last season's 2-1 win at Burnley, decided thanks to Ragnar Klavan's only league goal for Liverpool, scored in the 90th minute. Liverpool are coming off a massive, morale-boosting win, but one achieved via fluke rather than force. Liverpool still aren't in the best form either, especially going forward.

We're reaching the point of the season where it doesn't matter how wins are achieved, with this many matches in quick succession, with crucial players needing rest or recuperation. Which, to be fair, is how we've felt for almost the entire season so far – a record amount of points at this phase of the season for Liverpool, but earned without ever truly impressing.

No matter. Just keep doing that. By any means necessary.

03 December 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 1-0 Everton

Previous Match Infographics: Paris St-Germain (a), Watford (a), Fulham (h), Arsenal (a), Cardiff (h), Red Star Belgrade (h), Huddersfield (a), Manchester City (h), Napoli (a), Chelsea (a), Southampton (h), Leicester (a), Brighton (h), Crystal Palace (a), West Ham (h)

Match data from WhoScored, except average position from the SofaScore app. 



In case you were wondering how vital the press is to creating chances, yesterday was a good example.

It is no secret that Liverpool's attack has struggled lately, whether playing 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1. And that attack struggled some more against Everton, needing a hilariously – I mean HILARIOUSLY – flukey 96th minute winner.

But Liverpool also had five clear-cut chances, for the first time in the league since Opening Day. Liverpool should have scored long before Jordan Pickford wrote his name in Merseyside lore.

Two of those clear-cut chances came from scrambled set plays, both from Origi in the dying minutes, both from about a combined two yards out, the first off the cross bar, the second the winner. A third came from quick build-up, hoofed out from the back, Fabinho to Firmino to Mané in the 54th minute. But the other two came from possession regains in Everton's half by Liverpool's midfielders. The other two came from Liverpool's press.

12th minute. Wijnaldum tackles Andre Gomes, who's trying to carry the ball out of his defensive third. Robertson picks up, to Salah, to Mané, blazed over.

34th minute. Fabinho tackles Gueye inside Everton's half, playing the ball directly to Salah. Turn, passed wide to an open Shaqiri, the shot too close to Pickford.

Not coincidentally, those were Liverpool's first two clear-cut chances, taking the game to Everton early in the match, before the sides settled into a more familiar pattern, before both Liverpool and Everton began to tire.

Similar goes for Everton, though. They had two clear-cut chances of their own. A set play – where Mina should have been flagged for offside – and robbing Salah of possession in Liverpool's half, quickly transitioning to the move which saw Gomes' point blank shot saved then cleared off the line.

Transitions matter, deeply. And Liverpool have not been able to transition often enough and quickly enough in recent weeks, whether due to how the opposition are playing and how often Liverpool's front six choose when and where to press. Liverpool pressed more vigorously yesterday, especially in the first half, while Everton's style of play under Marco Silva also allowed Liverpool more opportunities to press.

And if for better finishing, this game would have been over long before Pickford had the opportunity to go Full English Goalkeeper in the 96th minute. So that's still an issue with the attack. Once again, Liverpool fail to put shots on target, with only three of 16 on goal – a horrific 19% shooting accuracy. It was Liverpool's second-lowest shot accuracy in the league so far this season, after only putting two of 11 shots on-target in the 1-0 win at Huddersfield in October.

Once again, I also remain worried about both Salah and Firmino in this 4-2-3-1 formation. Neither played badly; Firmino took three shots and set up Mané's 53rd minute clear-cut chance, Salah was Liverpool's most creative player with four key passes, two of them for clear-cut chances.

But Firmino was still nowhere near as involved as he's been in previous matches, dropping increasingly deep to pick up possession, with just 27 passes attempted, the vast majority around the center circle. And is the best use of Salah as Liverpool's most creative player rather than shot taker, shot scorer? Salah's lone shot was a 20-yard curler, receiving possession with his back to goal marked by a central defender, pushed wide of the post. So many long passes played towards him by midfielders and defenders, in the hopes of finding him before being too closely marked, with little success. It's one thing to use him as a central striker when Liverpool have already scored, when the game's stretched, when there are chances to counter. It seems another to use him as an orthodox front-man, back to goal and marked by at least one center-back rather than in space to run down the right flank. Salah attempted just one dribble yesterday, in the ninth minute, unsurprisingly unsuccessful.




But, to be fair, that's all a bit moot for at least two more days, when Liverpool travel to Burnley. It's the Merseyside Derby; who gives how it happens, as long as it's a good result after 90 minutes. I'd rather focus on the result. I'd rather focus on Jordan Pickford doing this in the 96th minute.



And I still cannot stop laughing.