20 March 2019

Visualized: Liverpool 2-1 Fulham

Previous Match Infographics: Bayern Munich (a), Burnley (h), Everton (a), Watford (h), Manchester United (a), Bayern Munich (h), Bournemouth (h) West Ham (a), Leicester (h), Crystal Palace (h), Brighton (a), Manchester City (a), Arsenal (h), Newcastle (h), Wolves (a), Manchester Utd (h), 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. 



Yes, yes, we know.

This could and maybe should have been West Ham, United, Everton again. The recent away debacles, the recent away draws. Liverpool's struggles against a deep defense, Mohamed Salah's struggles. Liverpool scored, unlike the previous two away matches, but then Liverpool also conceded, thanks to an incredibly bad error from the two players who've revolutionized that Liverpool defense.

It wasn't great, and there seems little point in hammering some of the recent negative traits over and over and over and over.

So let's talk about some other stuff.

Like how Sadio Mané is on another planet right now.




11 of 11 from inside the box, with nine in the Danger Zone. Eight of 11 from clear-cut chances. An apex predator.

Five from right-footed shots, three from left-footed shots, and three from headers. Capable of finishing with either foot or his header, from crosses or from passes on the floor. Versatility personified. But only one from a set play: the opener at Bournemouth, from a corner but a second phase, the initial ball cleared but Alexander-Arnold's cross back in converted.

Every single goal in the first 30 minutes or the final ten. Six opening goals, three game-winners. Picking his moments.

And they've been crucial, not only in timing but also just in scoring, as Salah has three goals and one assist over those 11 games (and two of the goals came in the first game of this stretch), while Firmino has three goals and three assists.

Sadio Mané's doing work. It ain't gonna last forever, so enjoy it while it lasts.




We could also talk about how Liverpool got three points after a difficult Champions League knockout match, something they've not been able to do often under Jürgen Klopp.

To be fair, it's not just a Jürgen Klopp thing. Liverpool have struggled in league matches after European knockout ties for years now. Most teams have, most teams do.

But still.



Six wins following European knockout round matches, with four draws and four losses. An average of 1.57 points per game. 1.57 goals per game, 1.0 conceded per game. Not great.

But it's even more stark away from home. Including the penalty shootout loss at Wembley, which we're counting as both a draw and an away match for simplicity, Liverpool's away record after European knockout games is 2W-3D-4L. Which is an average of a point per game, scoring an average of a goal per game and conceding an average of 1.33 per game. Which is really, really not good.

So a win, any win, even if tortured, even if against the 19th-placed side in the league, is very much welcomed after the midweek exertions.

Or how Liverpool won the match in the final ten minutes, which most memorably happened at Everton back in December, but also against Palace in January, against United in December, and against PSG in November, with Sturridge's equalizer at Chelsea back in September also worth a mention.

Or how it's Liverpool's first league win away from home since beating Brighton on January 12.

Or how Liverpool have already equaled Klopp's previous high for a Premier League campaign. 76 points, the same as in 2016-17, and a point better than last season's total.

Or how Liverpool are back at the top of the table, albeit only by two points against City's game in hand, but they're there, rather than taking just one point and remaining level with City despite that game in hand.

So, sure, it was most definitely not the best match. Sure, there are still seven games to go, and an excellent chance that it still ends in tears. No matter. There was good – good that some of the frustration and the pressure has made us forget – and there was a win. Try to enjoy the ride.

17 March 2019

Liverpool 2-1 Fulham

Goals:
Mané 26'
Babel 74'
Milner 81' [pen]

And breathe.

Good lord. I cannot believe Liverpool have gotten away with that.

The narrative was perfect. Just perfect. You couldn't write it better. And somehow, it doesn't come to fruition.

We start with the same old problems seen in basically every away match of 2019 except Wednesday. West Ham, United, Everton all over again. A mountain of possession, another deep defense that Liverpool strains to get past. Even when Liverpool open the scoring midway through the first half, unsurprisingly through Sadio Mané, with his 11th goal in the last 11 games.

But they don't get two. What looked certain to be a thorough whooping after 30 minutes looks a 1-0 grind at best by 60 minutes. Both pace and passing tail off as opportunities dwindle. Crosses and corners aren't finding Liverpool's players, and those are what Liverpool increasingly turn to. Firmino and Salah are particularly off-color, the former struggling to link up with his line-mates and the latter tackled in the final third time and time again.

Still, it's probably going to be okay, because the opposition ain't gotten shit going forward.

Until they do.

To be slightly fairer to Fulham, it felt possible for ten or so minutes before the goal, the home side starting to actually unsettle Liverpool. It felt more Liverpool complacency than anything else, but Sessegnon for Seri gives also Fulham another threat. Fulham have the ball in Liverpool's goal in the 65th minute, a counter-attack following Firmino's sloppy pass in the final third ending with Anguissa's shot redirected home by an offside Ayite, who then has a fast break shot blocked by Lallana.

But Liverpool steadies. And then Liverpool just absolutely Liverpools.

Milner, just on a substitute, hacks a Sergio Rico goal kick up and behind. A goal kick which came from Sadio Mané hitting the crossbar. Van Dijk leaves it for Alisson, who leaves it for van Dijk. Whose header back to Alisson is soft and with back spin and falls instead to Ryan Babel for a tap-in.

Let's go through that again. James Milner, Liverpool's most experienced player and one of the few title-winners in the squad. Virgil van Dijk, who we all rightfully called the best center-back in the world just three days ago. Alisson, who's literally saved Liverpool, the position Liverpool have had the most problem with for years.

And Ryan Babel, ex-Liverpool player and punchline, now a kitchen-sink option mercenary for a team near-certain to be relegated.

Oh, yeah, and Liverpool did this against the 19th-placed side in the division, on their third manager of the season, who'd lost ten of their last 11 matches, who'd only taken two points off top-ten sides: a draw against Watford back in September and dawn with Leicester in early December.

While smack in the middle of a title race where their competition just does not stop winning.

*chef kissing fingers emoji*

But then Liverpool go and ruin it less than seven minutes after Fulham's equalizer. Salah's into the box and gets it wrong again, his shot straight at Sergio Rico, but Rico palms it down rather than catches, Mané steals in, and Rico hugs Mané to the ground. And Milner, who'd started the calamity seven minutes earlier, absolutely nails the penalty down the middle. And we're done here, with Salah still somehow unable to score, a couple of efforts off-target and a clear-cut chance too close to Sergio Rico.

So, yeah. It is hard to think anything other than this is a different season than all the seasons before. A different Liverpool. A Liverpool that doesn't 4-4 with Arsenal or slip against Chelsea. It was not good and it doesn't really bode well and there are still those regrettable draws over the last two months but Liverpool still won and Liverpool go into the international break atop the league by two points.

There are still seven games left to break our hearts. Manchester City is only behind on games played, and can break said hearts through no further fault of Liverpool.

No matter. Ride the fortune as long as it'll last. And continue to believe that the best remains possible.

15 March 2019

Visualized: Liverpool 3-1 Bayern Munich

Previous Match Infographics: Burnley (h), Everton (a), Watford (h), Manchester United (a), Bayern Munich (h), Bournemouth (h) West Ham (a), Leicester (h), Crystal Palace (h), Brighton (a), Manchester City (a), Arsenal (h), Newcastle (h), Wolves (a), Manchester Utd (h), 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. 



Man, it's been a while since Liverpool had space to play like that away from home. And Liverpool did what Liverpool does with space.

Just 42% possession. Just ten shots. But six on-target. And three goals: two from long passes – one behind the back line, one a quick set play – and one from a corner.

The defense to soak up the pressure – even if there were some frights in the first half – and the attack to punish multiple times when given the chance.

It's Liverpool's Champions League recipe. We saw it in all of the knockout rounds last season. And, once again, the Champions League Round of 16 is Sadio Mané's time to shine.

This wasn't as emphatic as those knock-out rounds last season, but this Bayern Munich side is better than Roma or Porto, and Liverpool aren't quite as vicious in attack as they were a year ago. Liverpool very much took its chances in the first legs against all three opponents, and did *enough* in the second.

This time, Liverpool needed the performance under second-leg pressure, at the ground of a side who'd qualified for the Champions League semi-finals in five of the previous six seasons. This is a Bayern side that's top of the Bundesliga on goal difference and in form; they were six points behind Dortmund at the winter break and are now on pace to win the damned thing yet again.

But make no mistake, this could have gone differently. Liverpool were under frequent threat in the first half, both before and after Mané's opener. But a threat without fruition as Bayern also had little to show for their possession dominance. Liverpool were disjointed, struggling to link passes together, whether to get out of their half or get into Bayern's. And we were frightened. But Bayern weren't much more effective over the first 25 minutes, and then Liverpool scored, and the tie's finally completely different.

Sure, Bayern almost got back into it, an own goal equalizer 13 minutes after Mané's opener, but nothing more. Bayern took just one shot between their equalizer and Liverpool's second goal: Alaba's 30-yard free kick straight at Alisson. The rest of their efforts: Gnabry and Goretzka swiftly blocked by Robertson and Matip in the 78th and 81st minutes, and Sanches from distance not close in the 83rd.

Liverpool did to Bayern what too many sides have done to Liverpool lately, at least at Liverpool's end of the pitch. A struggle to get through, despite the impetus, needing an own goal to get their lone goal over 180 minutes. And then Liverpool, sharper at the other end of the pitch than United or Everton were against them, also needing to score because of the requirements of the competition.

Had Liverpool taken its chances at Anfield, this could have been a lot like City last season, rather than needing this performance in Munich to advance.



Sadio Mané loves him some Champions League. Two clear-cut chances missed in the first half of the first leg against Bayern, two goals from clear-cut chances two days ago: a perfectly-timed run behind Rafinha, with the control to dance around the on-rushing Neuer and chip retreating defenders for the first, a striker's run and headed goal just like his opener against Watford for the second. Mohamed Salah continues to struggle in front of goal, but almost totally makes up for it in his creation, looking for teammates as often as his shot when getting into the box, a delicious assist for Mané's game-killing third.

I like this attack, it's still a good attack. Especially when they've got space to counter-attack into, whether through the front three's runs on the ball or receiving passes from van Dijk, Matip, and Fabinho over the opposition's defense.

But I remain most impressed by Liverpool's defense. What did Robert Lewandowski over two legs? Sure, he'd have been on hand to tap in had Matip not stutter-stepped a clearance into his net own net, but otherwise? Two off-target shots, no key passes, just two seven when contesting aerial duels (including losing both on Wednesday), and the fewest touches by a Bayern player over two legs. And that was the case whether he drifted onto van Dijk or Matip, or even Fabinho in the first leg.

Last season's knockout stages were an announcement of that front three to the world. This season's, at least so far, announces Virgil van Dijk as the best center-back in the world.

And he wasn't even that busy in defense! A handful of interceptions and clearances, a tackle or two. But not even tested with a defense aerial duel, as Lewandowski found next to no joy in the first 10-15 minutes and shifted onto Matip early. He's there organizing the defense both in open play and on set plays, holding the offside line, compressing the space.

But there he is with long passes for Liverpool's first and third goals: over the back line to find Mané's run in perfect stride, then with the quick free kick to Origi in space. But there he is rising highest for the tie-sealing second, out-jumping the pretty-damn-good-themselves Hummels and Süle to head in Milner's corner for his fourth goal in the last three months.

Liverpool remain basically unbelievable at the back, with just those two flukes against Burnley and the own goal on Wednesday the only goals conceded in the last seven matches. Alisson, Robertson, and Matip have started all seven matches; van Dijk missed the first leg through suspension, Alexander-Arnold missed the Bournemouth and United matches when returning from injury.

It's almost hard to believe when facing this caliber of opponent, but Liverpool will have harder fixtures to come. Because as good as Bayern is, and as well as Liverpool's played, at least over the final 50-60 minutes, this remains the type of game we should worry less about. As strange as that is to write about a team with that pedigree. Liverpool defense is, more often than not, going to be really good. And Liverpool's attack can be as well. But they've more trouble when space is at a greater premium.

When Liverpool's opponents fear Liverpool far more than Bayern Munich did. Which the Premier League has very much learned to do by now.

12 March 2019

Visualized: Liverpool 4-2 Burnley

Previous Match Infographics: Everton (a), Watford (h), Manchester United (a), Bayern Munich (h), Bournemouth (h) West Ham (a), Leicester (h), Crystal Palace (h), Brighton (a), Manchester City (a), Arsenal (h), Newcastle (h), Wolves (a), Manchester Utd (h), 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. 



I'm still not sure if that was a good attacking performance.

Which is weird, because Liverpool took 23 shots and had six clear-cut chances and scored four goals. Those are all good things! Mané both created and scored, Firmino scored, and Salah took more shots and created more chances than in any match since Bournemouth a month ago.

23 shots is Liverpool's most since taking 36 (!!!) in the 3-1 win over United back in December. And that's especially heartening considering the dearth of shots against Leicester, West Ham, United, and Everton over the last five weeks, although three of those four were away from home.

But ten of those 23 were blocked by Burnley defenders. Eight were off-target. Ten came from outside the box. Only one on-target shot didn't result in a goal: Salah in the 88th minute. It's not terrible accuracy, but it ain't great accuracy either.

More importantly, only three of those six clear-cut chances were created by Liverpool players: Robertson's cross for Wijnaldum's header in the 67th minute, Alexander-Arnold's low cross which Mané slammed into the crossbar, and Sturridge's assist for Mané's second goal deep into added time. The other three came off of Burnley players: Taylor's tackles on Salah falling for Mané and Firmino, Firmino's tap-in after both Tarkowski and Mee muffed Salah's byline pass.

Those, to be fair, were Liverpool's best three chances of the match. Those were Liverpool's first three goals. And they very much depended on a fortunate bounce of the ball, no matter Salah's good work in the build-up for the first or Lallana's pressing to start the second.

But, like Palace, like Bournemouth, like Watford, Liverpool have won yet another game while scoring bunches of goals at Anfield, even if I'm still not sure about the overall level of competence. Liverpool were better able to turn possession dominance into efforts at goal, Liverpool were better able to press the opposition in the opposition's half, Liverpool turned shots into goals.

And that's a good sign. Maybe that's almost something of a turning point. Liverpool struggled with deep defenders and blocked shots at both United and Everton, to say nothing of a handful of matches which came before. Liverpool still got shots on Sunday, still got clear-cut chances on Sunday – where they didn't against either United or Everton – and still got goals.

But the home versus away disparity remains stark as stark can be.



Liverpool's last eight home matches over the last three months? Three, four, five, four, one, three, five, and four goals scored. An average of 3.63 goals scored per game.

Liverpool's last six away matches over the last three months? Two, one, one, one, zero, and zero goals scored. An average of 0.83 goals scored per game.

On a related note, I certainly ain't worried about Burnley's goals. The first never should have stood, and Westwood would struggle to replicate it even with Alisson being fouled. The second was a gift, Liverpool shut off in injury time when up by two, and Burnley still needing a fortunate deflection of their own from Keïta's tackle. It is just the second time that Liverpool have allowed two or more goals in a league match at Anfield, after 4-3 Palace two months ago.

Liverpool have conceded nine goals in 15 home games, eight goals in 15 away games. They've nine clean sheets at home and eight clean sheets away.

The venue doesn't really matter for Liverpool's defense, the two goals conceded on Sunday not withstanding. It seems to very much matter for the attack. No matter whether Salah or Firmino are the striker, whether Liverpool play 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3, whether Liverpool are reliant on crosses or get help from the midfield.

Liverpool have had similar amounts of possession in pretty much all of these last 14 matches, the loss at City and romp over Arsenal the only real exceptions. It's where the possession's taken place: Liverpool remain far more active in the opposition half at Anfield, both in threading moves together, finding attackers with long passes out of defense, and, yes, an ability to press, this time led by Adam Lallana. They haven't gotten those chances away from home, for all the reasons above. Or not doing the things listed above. Both the way the opposition's played and how Liverpool has – and, I'm assuming, the opposition's comfort level on their own ground.

Liverpool have four matches away and four matches at home left. Fulham, Southampton, Cardiff, and Newcastle – sides that Liverpool scored two, three, four, and four against at Anfield. The home slate is harder over the next two months – Tottenham and Chelsea, as well as Wolves – but I suspect the away matches will be more decisive.

Beginning first with Bayern in the Champions League, then in London against Fulham on Sunday.

10 March 2019

Liverpool 4-2 Burnley

Goals:
Westwood 6'
Firmino 19' 68'
Mané 29' 90+3'
Gudmundsson 90+1'

Liverpool often face adversity when playing Burnley. And somehow usually thrive.

The reverse fixture: a 3-1 win after conceding first, stifled for over an hour but immediately replying to Burnley's opener. Last season: 2-1 at Burnley thanks to Klavan's late winner after Burnley equalized in the 87th minute and a 1-1 draw after Salah canceled out Arfield's opener. And at Anfield in 2016-17, another comeback win after conceding in the opening seven minutes.

It's yet another comeback win after conceding first. After conceding stupidly and unfairly and the world is ending it's happening again the title's gone and we're all gonna die. It's Liverpool behind, but not for long, and then Burnley not in the match.

This opener takes some beating. A corner that never should have been, but Jöel Matip gets his wires crossed on a hopeful hoof forward. Alisson fouled by two different Burnley players as Westwood's cross comes in, uncalled, as Westwood's cross goes directly into Liverpool's goal. For Westwood's first goal for Burnley, his first goal in three years. For the first goal that Liverpool have conceded in 517 minutes of football. A day after Manchester City opened the scoring in their match with one of the most offside goals you'll see. Six minutes into today's match.

So that didn't start well.

It finished just fine.

Firmino equalizes within 13 minutes, tapping in after both Tarkowski and Heaton muddle up Salah's low byline cross. Mané gives Liverpool the lead after Lallana's pressing blocks a Burnley clearance, falling straight to Salah, tackled by Taylor but the rebound rammed home. Firmino extends that lead after a period of dominance without reward, another rebound from another Taylor tackle on Salah, this time set up by Heaton's goal kick going directly to the Egyptian.

Burnley give us a tiny fright, Gudmundsson pulling one back in the first minute of added time, Liverpool switched off and failing to clear before Vydra slid in his fellow substitute, but Mané relieved it two minutes later, rounding Heaton when put through by Sturridge's wonderful through ball from the flanks.

4-2 is somehow closer than it should have been and a wider margin than it should have been.

Liverpool could easily have scored more, but Mané hit the crossbar from about four yards out late on, Burnley made a few last-ditch interceptions and blocks that didn't fall directly to Liverpool players, and Liverpool's attack – read: Mohamed Salah – still isn't firing on all cylinders despite those four goals. And fortune almost made full amends for Burnley's opener, with Liverpool getting help for three of their four goals. Either Tarkowski or Heaton should have cleared before Firmino's tap-in; Bardsley could have avoided Lallana's pressing, with both Lallana's block falling straight to Salah and Taylor's tackle falling straight to Mané; and Heaton's goal kick going directly to Salah, again with a Burnley tackle setting up Mané. Three unassisted goals, with the last touch coming off Burnley defenders.

It wasn't quite Bournemouth or Watford, as a rampant Liverpool attack utterly dismissed an opponent. But it's still four goals. And still three points.

And once again, there are parallels with recent matches. Palace at Anfield, as Palace score first but Liverpool score four. But Burnley were nowhere near as threatening as Palace, both because Burnley does not have Palace's players and because Liverpool's defense was even more in control despite conceding twice.

Burnley took just three shots. Three. And they were lucky to get that. There was that corner. Hendrick from distance in the 34th minute, swiftly blocked. That late, unnecessary consolation. Virgil van Dijk, with help from his friends, allowed no more. It's weird to say when scoring four and conceding two, but Liverpool's defense remains Liverpool's best feature.

Still, Burnley did beat Tottenham two weeks ago, did draw 2-2 at Manchester United a little over a month. They've scored in six of their last seven games, with at least two in four of them. Sean Dyche remains the most hateable anti-football warlock, especially now that Stoke and Tony Pulis are out of the league.

So, regardless of the score line, it wasn't the most coherent performance. It wasn't the most thorough attack, but again a multi-goal performance at Anfield, as against both Bournemouth and Watford. Lallana, in a surprise start, might well have been Liverpool's most impressive player, a needed link between midfield and attack, especially since crosses were almost an impossibility in that wind. But Firmino and Mané both scored twice; Salah did *okay* despite failing to score for the fifth game, at least in position to get chances and set up teammates even if again too often tackled by a last defender as at Everton; Fabinho remains almost as crucial to protecting Liverpool from counters and long balls as Virgil van Dijk; and Robertson was more influential than usual, needed with Alexander-Arnold off-color.

It was good enough. Good enough to get all three points, good enough to keep Liverpool just a point behind Manchester City. More than good enough, because at this point of the season, the points are all that matters. Somehow get goals, somehow keep the other guys from doing so. By any means, etc. And it's even more encouraging that Liverpool, yet again, did so despite a set-back through little fault of their own, despite conceding with the match barely started.

The chase, now that it's become a chase, remains on. When it could easily have been lost by a less resilient side.

05 March 2019

Visualized: Liverpool 0-0 Everton

Previous Match Infographics: Watford (h), Manchester United (a), Bayern Munich (h), Bournemouth (h) West Ham (a), Leicester (h), Crystal Palace (h), Brighton (a), Manchester City (a), Arsenal (h), Newcastle (h), Wolves (a), Manchester Utd (h), 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. 



We are settling into a routine. And it's a routine I'm not especially fond of.

For all the "this is like the 3-0 win over Bournemouth, maybe we're okay" after housing Watford, we're back to "oh hell everything's boned," just like after 0-0 United.

The last two home matches have been basically the same. And now, the last two away matches have been as well.

And it's all about the attack.



Part of this is simply Liverpool's failings. Had Salah's touch been better when Coleman and Keane made their last man tackles, had Fabinho's been better when Digne made his, had Matip actually put his free set play header on-target.

More of this has to do with what the opposition did. Or, more appropriately, what the opposition wouldn't let Liverpool do.

In one word: press. More words will do, but that's a starting point.






Get rid, get rid quick. Dump it long, force Liverpool to restart, get men back. And if Liverpool don't turn you over when you're penned deep, Liverpool ain't gonna create much. There are damned few counter-attacks coming the length of the pitch when the opposition's able to bunker at 0-0.

It is not coincidence that Liverpool's best chance, Liverpool's only clear-cut chance, came when Fabinho won possession in the center circle and immediately found Salah on the run.

That's when Liverpool resort to long passes of their own, playing far more than usual just as Everton did, hoping that they'll find one of the front three's runs, runs which became fewer and farther between as the match when on.

That's when Liverpool resort to crosses. Which, sometimes it works (hi Watford) and sometimes doesn't (hi United), depending on both the quality of delivery and opposition defending.

That's when Liverpool hope for something from set plays. But the deliveries weren't consistent enough, van Dijk was well defended, and neither Fabinho or Matip could convert the half chances they got: Fabinho receiving van Dijk's header across the six-yard box after a short corner, unable to control, and Matip's free header wide.

Liverpool's attempted remedy, to make this different than Liverpool's last away match, was to keep the same surprising front three which started against Watford. Which is understandable; that took both Watford and us by surprise and worked to a tee. Well. On Sunday, Sadio Mané did not register a shot or a key pass as the central striker. Divock Origi had one off-target chance similar to that he scored against Watford, but also an average position on the halfway line, deeper than Wijnaldum, Henderson, Alexander-Arnold, Mané, and Salah. Salah had Liverpool's best openings, but Salah couldn't convert; which, to be fair, also happened against Watford.

Granted, away matches are harder than home. Everton and United are tougher than Watford and Bournemouth; Watford's higher in the table than Everton, but a derby's still a derby's.

On the plus side, there's one thing the last four matches all have in common. Zeroes for the opposition scoreline. That's now four consecutive league clean sheets, five in all competitions. Liverpool haven't kept five consecutive clean sheets since November-December 2006. 2006!

Liverpool's opponents haven't registered an xG total higher than 0.63 in these last four matches. Watford's, with Gray's clear-cut chance denied by Alisson, actually posted the highest total. Bournemouth's xG was 0.39, United's 0.48, and Everton's 0.24. That Gray chance and a Paul Pogba set play header are the only clear-cut chances Liverpool have allowed in these four games, and I very much quibble with classifying Pogba's chance as one.

Liverpool had a higher xG in a single match against Bournemouth or Watford than the last four opponents have had combined. That, contrary to current opinion, bodes fairly well.

This is a historically good Liverpool defense. It's a defense propelling Liverpool's title challenge. And I doubt many would've guessed that happening back in August.

At the current rate, Liverpool are on pace for 22 league clean sheets, which would be the most for a Premier League side since Manchester United in 2008-09. Liverpool already have 17, which is the most for the club since 2009-10, Rafa Benitez's final season. Liverpool are on pace for 91 or 92 points, which would have won the Premier League in all but three of 26 previous seasons, all except 2004-05, 2016-17, and 2017-18. No side's ever earned more than 90 points and failed to win the league.

Unfortunately, Liverpool are also in a title race with one of the most dominant sides that the Premier League has seen. And the margin for error is basically zero.

03 March 2019

Liverpool 0-0 Everton

We watched this exact match a week ago. It annoyed then, and it annoys even more now.

Like Manchester United, a point's more than good enough for the home side. A point's great, not only because Liverpool have been a better side all season long and are higher in the table and can absolutely gut you if you let them (hi Watford) but because of where Liverpool are in the table and what Liverpool could possibly achieve this season.

Keeping Liverpool from achieving that is worth far more than three points. Which is exactly how I'd feel in the same situation.

So, yeah. 0-0. Again. The fifth draw in the last seven matches. 1-1, 1-1, 0-0, 0-0, 0-0. Not enough shots; just ten taken today with only three on-target. The lone clear-cut chance saved, Salah taking the angle too tight to Pickford. Three last-man tackles from Everton, from Coleman, Keane, and Digne on Salah, Salah, and Fabinho.

Liverpool profligacy and an opponent defending as if their lives depended on it. As if 0-0 was a World Cup winner. Again. Can't blame 'em.

As against United, Liverpool started well enough. And as in the M62 Derby, it's a typical start for a Merseyside Derby. Blood and thunder and pressing and running and it looks like there will be goals or red cards or maybe both and then everything just ebbs away. Liverpool get frustrated, Everton get emboldened.

So many passes go awry in the final third. There are the misses and those last-man tackles, all three due as much to poor Liverpool control as fantastic Everton defending. Alexander-Arnold's crosses are nowhere near as effective today. Mohamed Salah amazingly can't control in the final third. Nor can Mané. Joel Matip's Lego Head puts a free set play header off-target. Etc. Etc. Etc.

As against United, substitutions baffle. Of course you bring on Firmino and sure, Milner for Wijnaldum makes sense I guess, but Lallana for Mané? With Shaqiri and Keïta on the bench? Unsurprisingly, the game gets worse as the game goes on, both due to Liverpool's disjointedness and Liverpool's overwhelming frustration, while Everton's subs – Richarlison, Tosun, and Andre Gomes – actually improved their side. Everton are probably the better side over the final 20 or so minutes.

Of course, that's the point where Liverpool usually win it. See: Sadio Mané in the 94th minute, Divock Origi in the 96th. But no such luck today. And, yes, I absolutely mean luck. But I also mean bad attacking and worse finishing.

Liverpool had a seven-point lead on Manchester City when they met exactly two months ago. Now, City are a point clear, in addition to their superior goal difference. And it's the goals that have done it. Those 1-1s and now these 0-0s.

Yes, there are still nine matches left. There have been nine matches since Liverpool traveled to City. A lot can happened in nine matches. But we all remember the times we've been here before. Goals drying up and too many draws ruined Liverpool title charge in 2008-09. and you can't help but worry that it's happening again.

28 February 2019

Visualized: Liverpool 5-0 Watford

Previous Match Infographics: Manchester United (a), Bayern Munich (h), Bournemouth (h) West Ham (a), Leicester (h), Crystal Palace (h), Brighton (a), Manchester City (a), Arsenal (h), Newcastle (h), Wolves (a), Manchester Utd (h), 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. 



I may have been hasty in dismissing Liverpool's ability to score from crosses after Sunday's match. Maybe Trent Alexander-Arnold crosses aren't the same as James Milner crosses.

So that was something. After successive 0-0 draws, having scored just one in two of the three league games before those 0-0 draws, we get five goals. Five goals, for the second time this season. Five goals, in back-to-back matches against Watford at Anfield.

Last season, it was the Mohamed Salah show, scoring four and notching an assist: two tightrope runs in the box, one back post cross met, and one fortuitous rebound. This time, it was Liverpool's full-backs and crosses and Sadio Mané and Virgil van Dijk. And Liverpool crosses from Liverpool full-backs.

Four of Liverpool's five goals came from crosses: three from Alexander-Arnold and one from Robertson. Two from open play, two from set plays.

The last Liverpool player to tally three assists in a match? Alberto Aquilani, a 4-0 win over Burnley in in April 2010. A few months shy of nine years ago. Which is not who I would have guessed was last. Alexander-Arnold's now the youngest player to play three assists in a Premier League game.

So, Liverpool can actually thrive on crosses, whether from open play or set plays. As long as the crosses are that good, and we get that front three movement – whether it's Salah every which way down the right flank, Mané shifting side to side and dropping deep but also splitting center-backs, or Origi cutting in from the left – and we get that ferocity of finishing.

Easier written than done, I suspect.

We still only got one key pass from a Liverpool midfielder: Milner's short pass for Salah down the sideline midway through the first half, allowing the Egyptian to once again run at Adam Masina before ballooning a shot over from just outside the box. When Liverpool cross that well, when Liverpool attack that well, it's easy to ignore what the midfield creates. It's easy to remember that Liverpool don't always (or even often) need the midfield to create.

When we get that production from fullback and that production from the front three, it's perfectly fine for Milner and Wijnaldum to shuttle and harry, and for Fabinho to destroy. More than fine. As if that's all they do, mind.

That Origi started on the left with Sadio Mané up front initially baffled, but it worked spectacularly.

Kristian Walsh cleverly highlighted Origi's role in both of Mané's goals, an extra target in the box, requiring attention at the back post to help free Mané to receive Alexander-Arnold's wicked crosses. He also did well tracking back when needing, and can carry the ball inside as Mané can when on that flank, evidenced by his goal that finally killed the game.

But Mané was the focus, at least in the first half, and especially after scoring those goals. Those perfectly Sadio Mané goals. The first, a header that any and every striker would be proud of. The second, with a first touch of lead and a second of platinum, Sadio Mané encapsulated to a tee. Errant control than a spectacular, impudent, why would you even try and how did you actually do it back-heel from 12-yards out. Good lord, Sadio.

As per usual, it's more than just the goals.

It seems almost churlish to make the comparison, but look at Mané's passes received in 77 minutes against Watford versus Sturridge's in 59 minutes at Manchester United.



More a spearhead than a central hub, less effective when pressing because who isn't, but just as active and just as everywhere as Roberto Firmino usually is. Which is exactly what Liverpool needed from a central striker in a match like this, when the defense will be too deep to fully exploit Salah in the middle and when the Egyptian's so effective against Masina on the right anyway. Whether the central player looks to run behind the back line, create, or score, they need to be involved. Heavily. Which is something that both Sturridge and Origi have struggled with at times.

Mané's played as a lone striker for both Southampton and Senegal in the past, but this was the first time he's done it for Liverpool. It went alright, I guess.

But there's also Salah, somehow kept off the score sheet for the first time against Watford, but absolutely embarrassing Adam Masina all match long, heavily involved in the buildup for Liverpool's first two goals as well as winning both a foul and a yellow card before Liverpool's fifth. He somehow attempted 18 (!!!) take-ons yesterday, even if only successful with seven.

There's also Fabinho, who led the side in both tackles and interceptions, dominant in defensive midfield. And just look at one of those tackles.



Unsurprisingly, Gerard Deulofeu did nothing, literally nothing, after this. Fabinho both tackled and terrified him out of the match.

There's also Andy Robertson, with two assists to complement Alexander-Arnold's three.

There's also Virgil van Dijk, again a colossus at the back, again a clean sheet, but also adding two late set play goals (thanks for taking off Troy Deeney!) to run up the score even more.

There's also Alisson, with little to do until the 76th minute, then denying what looked a certain Andre Gray goal, if only likely to be a consolation at that point, when wide open ten yards out after a second phase blown offside line. He'd made a couple of decent saves on Janmaat and Gray prior, but that was special. It's difficult to stay in the match when Watford don't even take a shot until the 52nd minute and you're even less needed to pass the ball around the back than usual, but Alisson made it look easy. Again.

That makes four consecutive clean sheets, for first time since the final four games of 2016-17, where Liverpool rode both defense and luck to a Champions League place.

And, while Watford isn't the most difficult of fixtures – see: this score line in this fixture last season – they did score five in their last match, beating Cardiff 5-1 on Saturday. They'd lost just once in 2019, 1-2 at Tottenham when conceding in the 80th and 87th minutes. They are joint-best of the rest, only behind Wolves in seventh on goal difference thanks to this match.

This is what Liverpool needed. As against Bournemouth a couple of weeks ago, it may well just be one match against opposition that Liverpool usually does well against. But it's a lot better than the alternative, which we'd seen against Leicester, West Ham, and United.

Still top of the pile, still only by a point. Ten games left.