16 January 2017

Visualized: Liverpool 1-1 Manchester United


Previous Match Infographics: Sunderland (a), Manchester City (a), Stoke (h), Everton (a), Middlesbrough (a), West Ham (h), Bournemouth (a), Sunderland (h), Southampton (a), Watford (h), Crystal Palace (a), West Brom (h), United (h), Swansea (a), Hull (h), Chelsea (a), Leicester (h), Tottenham (a), Burnley (a), Arsenal (a)

All match data from Stats Zone and Who Scored.


A day later and it's still hard to focus on anything other than a linesman's incorrect decision.

But, yes, Liverpool did a lot of good things.

Liverpool remain the only top-six side not to lose to a top-six competitor this season.

Liverpool held United to their joint-lowest shot total during this now-16-match unbeaten run, tying the nine that United took against Swansea, a match where they went three up after 33 minutes and bothered to take just one shot in the second half.

The only match where United took fewer shots this season was the 0-0 at Anfield, where they totaled all of seven.

Liverpool did this while missing half its preferred backline, one through unexpected injury and one through unsurprising FIFA shenanigans. An 18-year-old right-back made his full league debut at Old Trafford, up against the quick and tricky Anthony Martial. And while United caused a few problems down that flank, Alexander-Arnold coped adequately, especially after the first 25 minutes and especially considering his age and experience. And Liverpool did well to protect him, with Lovren, Can, and Henderson all helping to cover, all four players accounting for multiple tackles and Lovren and Alexander-Arnold combining for six interceptions.

Liverpool's +4 shot differential is the joint-highest against United this season, tying what league-leading Chelsea did in their 4-0 home romp over United, a match which prefaced this current United unbeaten run.

Liverpool's 11 in-box shots also matches Chelsea's total in that contest, another high against United this season. In the 0-0 at Anfield three months ago, five of Liverpool's nine shots came from outside the box.

United took all of two shots between the start of the second half and the move leading up to the equalizer, both from outside the box and off-target. A spell that United supposedly "dominated." During that spell, Firmino, Lallana, and Wijnaldum all had in-box chances to extend Liverpool's lead on the counter. From the 45th to 83rd minutes, Liverpool took six shots to United's two.

Which leads into the annoying fact that Liverpool did some bad things as well.

Liverpool shouldn't have been in the position to concede a late equalizer because of those second-half counter-attacking chances. Firmino's was too close to the keeper. Lallana's was tame. Wijnaldum had time to control with his chest rather than attempt a much-more difficult header, then tamely shot at De Gea in injury time.

Liverpool were absolutely nowhere near their potent heights, but this could have come at least a little close to the supreme counter-attacking performances against City and Chelsea last season had Liverpool converted one or even two of those chances. Score in the first half, control the match, extend the lead, go home happy. Sigh.

Liverpool are yet to score an open play goal in 2017. Two corners at Sunderland and a penalty at United (which came from a corner), goalless with the kids against Plymouth and at Southampton in the League Cup. Four matches. 360 minutes. Zero open play goals. That's not good.

It can't, or shouldn't, be solely down to Coutinho and now Mané's absences. Sure, take two of the best attackers out of almost every side and they suffer, but Liverpool need to be able to better cope. There's still attacking talent in this side. This is, as I suspect you remember, not the first time I've written this. With Coutinho returning, I'm hopeful I'll be writing it less. Liverpool have averaged 0.6 xG less per game since Coutinho's injury, from 1.8 to 1.2. Firmino had five goals and three assists before Coutinho's injury, he has just one goal (in the 4-1 win over Stoke) since. I remain convinced this, coupled with a small squad and a couple of other absentees, is the main reason for Liverpool's festive season slump. Incidentally, all four second-half chances mentioned above came after Coutinho came on.

While a second goal probably would have sealed a win, once again, with a narrow lead late into the game, Liverpool concede. Even if, yes, it shouldn't have stood because it shouldn't have gotten to that position. It's the fourth time that's happened this season: Spurs, Bournemouth (who went on to win), Sunderland (a), and now United this season. That's nine points lost. Don't look at the table.

There have been a few matches that Liverpool won with goals in the final 20 minutes – at Swansea, against Sunderland, Leeds in the League Cup, and at Everton – but they don't quite make up for the points dropped. At least it's better than last season?

Still, all considered, there are probably more positives from yesterday than negatives. Liverpool could and probably should have won at Manchester United for the first time in three years, Liverpool did enough to merit that win. It's just, as usual, the negatives – whether from Liverpool or the officials – will stick far longer in the memory.

15 January 2017

Liverpool 1-1 Manchester United

Goals:
Milner 27' [pen]
Ibrahimovic 84'

It is hard not to feel incredibly aggrieved.

Liverpool were without Clyne because injury – requiring a first league start for 18-year-old Trent Alexander-Arnold – Mané because the African Cup of Nations, Matip because FIFA, and Coutinho because he was only fit enough for the bench. Liverpool compensated with something of a diamond: Firmino and Origi up front and Lallana everywhere. Sometimes it looked 4-3-3, but it mainly allowed Firmino to play more centrally, revitalizing both player and press.

Liverpool were ahead for 83 minutes. Deservedly so, if only after Milner opened the scoring. United had seemed the more threatening side before Pogba crazily handled a corner, with Milner's penalty hit too fiercely for De Gea to save. The concession not only knocked United back but emboldened Liverpool, and Pogba – who had impressed prior – fell off the face of the earth. The diamond increasingly controlled the midfield, with United needing the flanks to get forward.

Michael Oliver gave Liverpool absolutely nothing after the penalty he simply had to give, ignoring four possible yellows and an "I've seen 'em given" red or two.

Liverpool had defended excellently, at least in the second half, with Mignolet responsible for keeping United off the scoreboard in the first, brilliantly denying Ibrahamovic's free kick and Mikhitaryan's wide box effort. After the restart, United took just two shots before the move leading to the equalizer, both from outside the box and off-target.

Liverpool could and should have extended the lead with chances on the counter, Firmino and Lallana denied and Wijnaldum heading over, Liverpool looking better in attack after Coutinho came on for Origi, but for the most part, Liverpool did what Liverpool needed to do.

And then, with United needing to resort to Fellaini and crosses and headers and not much more, United equalize. Valencia's cross to Rooney, Rooney's cross to Fellaini off the post, then Valencia's cross to Ibrahimovic and a stooping header looping over Mignolet with Alexander-Arnold unable to clear off the line. In the 84th minute. Sigh.

Oh, and Valencia was clearly offside in the build-up.



I am told this is something like United's fifth or seventh goal at Old Trafford thanks to an uncalled offside this season and maybe hashtag fake news I don't really remember but I absolutely believe it.

All told, it's a lot like Liverpool's draw at Tottenham in August. A point's not the worst result and a lot of supporters would have taken it pre-match. United had won nine consecutive matches in all competitions and Liverpool hadn't won at Old Trafford in almost three years. But Liverpool should have won. Liverpool seemingly did enough to win. Liverpool would have won if they'd taken just one more chance and Liverpool would have won if a linesman did his job.

And, of course, it's much, much worse because it's Manchester United and how aggrieved we all rightfully are.

Unfortunately, it is what is it. Two points dropped and an equalizer conceded in the final 15 minutes, not for the first or second or third time. Liverpool remain without a win in 2017 with three draws and a loss in all competitions. But Liverpool also remain in the hunt in three competitions. Liverpool remain third in the league, level on goal difference with Tottenham, three points ahead of City, five ahead of United, and seven behind Chelsea. Liverpool remain unbeaten against a top-six side. Liverpool remain in a good position going forward, with 17 games still to play, with Coutinho and Henderson returning and the Matip situation probably getting figured out if FIFA doesn't completely FIFA.

And now, another interlude with the kids in the FA Cup before Liverpool go again against Swansea on Saturday. Back to work. There's nothing else Liverpool can do.

14 January 2017

Liverpool at Manchester United 01.15.17

11am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
0-0 (h) 10.17.16
1-1 (a; Europa League) 03.17.16
2-0 Liverpool (h; Europa League) 03.10.16
0-1 United (h) 01.17.16

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-1 Southampton (a); 0-0 Plymouth Argyle (h); 2-2 Sunderland (a)
United: 2-0 Hull (h); 4-0 Reading (h); 2-0 West Ham (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Mané 9; Lallana 7; Firmino 6; Coutinho, Milner 5; Origi 4; Can 3; Lovren, Sturridge, Wijnaldum 2; Henderson, Matip 1
United: Ibrahimovic 13; Mata, Pogba 4; Rashford 3; Martial, Mkhitaryan 2; Blind, Rooney, Smalling 1

Referee: Michael Oliver

Guess at a line-up:
Mignolet
Clyne Matip Lovren Milner
Lallana Henderson Wijnaldum
Firmino Origi Coutinho

Ugh. This fixture. I will never pretend to like it, at least until it's over. An age-old rivalry, which Liverpool has been on the lesser end of lately, a vastly important match for Liverpool's title race and top-four aspirations, and Liverpool currently on a three-match winless streak, for the first time this season. And that lot. Rooney. Ibrahimovic. Pogba. Mkhitaryan. Talented and mostly dramatically unlikeable, and now led by Jose Mourinho.

Ugh.

Liverpool's XI is contingent upon players who *might* be available, in attack, midfield, and defense.

Coutinho is the closest, having featured for 30 minutes at Southampton (and was the best player during that spell), but Henderson and Matip are both crucial and close, having been in training for the last couple of days.

I'll be optimistic here – probably for the only time this weekend – and guess all three to start. I don't need to convince you how important all three are to Liverpool's success. Without Coutinho, Liverpool's attack is prone to stuttering, especially now that Mané is away, and it'll mean either both Origi and Sturridge up front or, more likely, Lallana in the front three, where he's never hit the heights shown in midfield this season. Without Henderson, Can or Lucas plays at the base of midfield. Without Matip, it's Klavan in defense, which is sometimes perfectly fine and sometimes that game at Southampton on Wednesday.

If I'm being honest, Can instead of Henderson and Klavan instead of Matip is probably more likely, given that neither Henderson nor Matip has even made the bench yet, but the run-up to this fixture often features me lying to myself.

The only other line-up debate seems to be Origi or Sturridge. If either. Sturridge started against both Sunderland and Southampton, the latter an ignominious performance. But he's still Daniel Sturridge, even if an annoyingly growing section of the fanbase doesn't appreciate his abilities. Origi has been preferred in matches like this, away from home with Liverpool probably out of possession a fair amount, his pace and work without the ball preferred. But I write "if either" because Firmino has been even more preferred as the "striker" in matches like this. I just don't know if Liverpool's squad will allowed it; if Henderson and Coutinho both start, maybe we'll get a Firmino-Coutinho-Lallana front three (see: at Chelsea and City last season). But I doubt it, considering the squad, considering how the season's gone.

While Liverpool are without a win in their last three games, Manchester United are unbeaten in 15, since losing to Fenerbahce at the beginning of November. Their last league loss was a whooping at Chelsea back on October 23. They have nine consecutive wins in all competitions.

It took a little over two months, but a collection of expensive and talented footballers have actually become a team. It's become very Manchester United and very Jose Mourinho. Despite often overwhelming talent, they don't really bum rush you. They grind you down. They score offside goals. They somehow avoid multiple opportunities for red cards. They just win. Infuriatingly.

For the most part, one man has been responsible for the goals: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, top scorer with 13 with the next closest on four. I'm terrified of jinxing it by even mentioning, but he's never scored against Liverpool in five matches. His side's never beaten Liverpool: a loss and a draw with Juventus, two losses with Inter Milan, and a draw with Manchester United earlier this season.

Ibrahimovic was ill against Hull midweek but is almost certain to return. Which is a decent segue into a massive reason for Manchester United's renaissance. While Liverpool have struggled with absentees over the last few months, United absolutely haven't. Only Rojo's questionable through injury, while Bailly's away at the African Cup of Nations.

With a full contingent to choose from, my best guess at their XI is De Gea; Valencia, Smalling, Jones, Darmian; Herrera, Carrick; Mkhitaryan, Pogba, Mata; Ibrahimovic. But it's not as if they're without alternatives: Martial, Rashford, Rooney, Young, and Lingard in attack; Fellaini's elbows and afro for a different style in midfield; Blind, Rojo, and Shaw in defense.

Liverpool haven't beaten Manchester United in the league since 2013-14, since Moyes, since that 0-3 win at Old Trafford featuring three penalties and tons of schadenfreude. Liverpool lost all four league matches against United under van Gaal, three with Rodgers and one with Klopp. But there are also last season's Europa League meetings: a raucous 2-0 home win that should have been more and a 1-1 away draw that was all Liverpool needed to easily advance.

Still, precedent is hard when Manchester United add more than £100m worth of players every summer. And this also won't look like the last time these teams met, when United had yet to gel and United were peak bad-Mourinho: at least eight men perpetually in their own half and happy with 0-0, which they achieved regrettably easily.

Since Klopp became manager, Liverpool have lost just one of 13 league matches against the other top six teams: 0-1 to Manchester United at Anfield last March, bossing the game but unable to score before conceding on a late set play. Otherwise, six wins and six draws. It looks even better when considering just away matches: four wins and two draws, with both draws against Tottenham, Klopp's Liverpool yet to travel to Old Trafford for a league match.

Pick your omens.

You try not to put too much stock in one match, especially when it's just mid-January. But sometimes you can't help it. Especially when it's Liverpool against Manchester United.

10 January 2017

Liverpool at Southampton 01.11.17

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

Last four head-to-head:
0-0 (a) 11.19.16
2-3 Southampton (a) 03.20.16
6-1 Liverpool (a; League Cup) 12.02.15
1-1 (h) 10.25.15

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-0 Plymouth (h); 2-2 Sunderland (a); 1-0 Manchester City (h)
Southampton: 2-2 Norwich (a); 0-3 Everton (a); 1-2 West Brom (h)

Previous rounds:
Liverpool: 2-0 Leeds (h); 2-1 Tottenham (h); 3-0 Derby (a); 5-0 Burton Albion (a)
Southampton: 2-0 Arsenal (a); 1-0 Sunderland (h); 2-0 Palace (h)

Goalscorers (all):
Liverpool: Mané 9; Firmino, Lallana, Origi 7; Coutinho, Sturridge 6; Milner 5; Can 3; Lovren, Wijnaldum 2; Henderson, Klavan, Matip, Woodburn 1
Southampton: Austin 9; Rodriguez 4; Redmond, van Dijk 3; Bertrand, Boufal 2; Clasie, Hesketh, Long, Tadic, Ward-Prowse 1

Referee: Neil Swarbrick

Guess at a line-up:
Karius
Clyne Lovren Klavan Milner
Lallana Can Wijnaldum
Firmino
Sturridge Origi

It's the League Cup semifinal – which Liverpool are in for the third-straight season, I'll add. This has to be a full-strength side, or nearly so, with Karius likely to start, even though Liverpool travel to Manchester United on Sunday.

Now, "full-strength" remains slightly difficult to pull off. Coutinho and Matip are back in training, but the former will probably be available off the bench at best, while the latter needs a little longer. Henderson's still out. Milner's not 100%, but I assume he'll still start. And *checks watch* Mané's still away with Senegal for a couple of weeks.

If Coutinho's not ready to start – and while it's not out the question, it seems safe to assume – Liverpool continue to have a hole in the front six. My above guess is just playing the six best available players, even though that makes the 4-3-3 a bit more difficult. Because I'm not entirely sure what a front three of Firmino, Sturridge, and Origi looks like. Sturridge or Origi wide? Something of a diamond?

The only other option seems to be someone else in midfield, whether it's one of the kids – Stewart or Ejaria the more likely candidates, I guess – or possibly Lucas or Milner; neither has played there yet this season, but we know they're both capable having done so in the past.

I remain concerned about Can's discipline as the deepest midfielder and Liverpool's shot creation without Coutinho, but those are known, recurring issues that Liverpool are trying to correct and will continue to try to correct.

Meanwhile, it's not the best time for Southampton either. They're winless in their last four matches. They're missing Austin (their top scorer by some distance), Boufal, Targett, and Pied through injury, Jose Fonte won't play after handing in a transfer request last week, and Cedric Soares is questionable. They remain stingy in defense, because Southampton – they're yet to allow a goal in this competition despite playing three Premier League opponents – but only Middlesbrough and Hull have scored fewer league goals. Not that the league record necessarily matters in a cup tie, but the last time Southampton scored more than once in a league match was October 16, a 3-1 home win over Burnley. In the 19 games in all competitions since, they've done it three times: against Inter (2-1, Europa League), at Arsenal (2-0, League Cup), and at Norwich (2-2, FA Cup).

I suspect you remember when these sides met six weeks ago. That was one of the more-than-a-couple of matches where Liverpool's opponent did nothing but defend. Southampton kept everyone in their own half, took just three off-target shots, and literally never looked like scoring. And it worked, holding Liverpool scoreless as well. Holding Liverpool to just two on-target shots from 15 in total. And Liverpool had Coutinho for that match. Which is another reason why I'm "screw it, start with both Sturridge and Origi up top."

Southampton's starting XI, as with Liverpool, seemingly has to be full-strength. Something like Forster; Soares, Yoshida, van Dijk, Bertrand; Højbjerg, Romeu, Davis; Tadic, Long, Redmond. Maybe Jay Rodriguez up top instead of Long; Clasie and/or Ward-Prowse could start in midfield; and it'll be Martina at right-back if Soares is unavailable. It will be, aside from Charlie Austin's absence, typically Southampton.

That this is only the first leg bears repeating. Whatever happens, there will be at least 90 more minutes at Anfield in two weeks.

That said, start as you mean to continue. Liverpool won the first leg semifinal at Stoke last season, and went on to win the tie, albeit on penalties. Liverpool drew the first leg semifinal against Chelsea in 2014-15, and lost the tie after extra time.

Liverpool have yet to win in 2017, held to annoying draws against both Sunderland and Plymouth. This would be a good time to do so.

08 January 2017

Liverpool 0-0 Plymouth Argyle

This is the Magic of The FA Cup©®™.

It's not the fading prestige of a domestic cup competition. It's not match-ups like this that we otherwise wouldn't see. It's not CUPSETS, and it's certainly not a League Two side earning a replay that Liverpool really didn't want.

The magic is this season's first appearances for Joe Gomez and Sheyi Ojo this season after long struggles with injury.

It's a full senior debut for Ben Woodburn, and a couple of dancing dribbles in the box.

It's third starts for Ovie Ejaria and Trent Alexander-Arnold, Ovie's awareness and movement and Trent's crosses and runs up and down the flank. It's Kevin Stewart, bless his heart, blasting too many unlikely shots from distance. It's a starting XI with an average age of less than 22 years. It's Liverpool's youngest starting XI is club history. It's Lucas Leiva having more Liverpool appearances (328) than the other ten players combined (319).

It is getting to see the future.

The future remains very, very bright, but I'd have preferred the future did better today.

That admittedly wasn't all that fun to watch. 77% possession. 28 shots, but 18 of them from outside the box. No clear-cut chances. 18 Liverpool corners, and the only close call coming when one of them almost went in off a Plymouth player. Woodburn denied from close range and a couple of headers Ojo didn't head well enough are about all that's worth mentioning until Klopp brought on reinforcements in the last half an hour.

Those reinforcements – Sturridge, Firmino, Lallana, for Can, Woodburn, and Ejaria – didn't help enough, with a couple of Sturridge shots from just outside the box dragged wide of note. Liverpool simply didn't do enough to break though, or even merit a break-through.

There's no real way to say "good for Plymouth" without sounding patronizing, but good for Plymouth, a side that's conceded just eight goals away from home in 11 League Two matches. Liverpool's youngest XI in club history spent 96 minutes unsuccessfully crashing into a green wall. It happens, to better and more experienced sides. It's happened to better and more experienced Liverpool sides.

Just like last season against Exeter, we'll get a replay, in an already-packed January featuring three more league fixtures and a League Cup semi-final, except this time the away match follows the home. Almost 300 miles away in the far southwest of England. Midweek next week, between a trip to Manchester United and hosting Swansea. So be it.

At least we'll get to see the future again.

07 January 2017

Liverpool v Plymouth Argyle 01.08.17

8:30am ET, live in the US on Fox Sports 1

Last four head-to-head:
3-2 Liverpool (a) 04.28.62
2-1 Liverpool (h) 12.09.61
1-1 (h) 03.24.61
4-0 Liverpool (a) 11.05.60

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-2 Sunderland (a); 1-0 Manchester City (h); 4-1 Stoke (h)
Plymouth: 0-1 Barnet (a); 2-0 Crawley Town (h); 3-3 Wycombe (h)

Previous rounds:
Liverpool: n/a
Plymouth: 1-0 Newport County aet (a); 0-0 Newport County (h); 2-1 Mansfield (a)

Goalscorers (all):
Liverpool: Mané 9; Firmino, Lallana, Origi 7; Coutinho, Sturridge 6; Milner 5; Can 3; Lovren, Wijnaldum 2; Henderson, Klavan, Matip, Woodburn 1
Plymouth: Carey 10; Jervis 7; Slew, Tanner 5; Bradley, Bulvitis 3; Donaldson, Smith, Songo'o, Spencer, Threlkeld 2; Fox, Garita 1

Referee: Paul Tierney

Guess at a line-up:
Karius
Alexander-Arnold Lucas Gomez Moreno
Eiaria Stewart Wijnaldum
Ojo Origi Woodburn

This won't be last season's XIs against Exeter, mainly because yikes look at that defense, but we won't be far off either. After a packed, tiring festive schedule with few changes to Liverpool's lineups, we'll certainly see loads tomorrow.

And, for the most part, the line-up seems to write itself.

Milner, Henderson, and Sturridge are dealing with injuries and won't be risked, as are Grujic and Brannagan. Coutinho and Matip are close to returning, but aren't there yet. Mané's now with Senegal at the African Cup of Nations, for at least the next couple of weeks.

So it pretty much has to be Karius in goal, Lucas and Gomez as center-backs, Alexander-Arnold and Moreno at full-back. Stewart and Ejaria in midfield. Origi up front, with Woodburn and Ojo – who's probably the most doubtful given his season-long struggles with injury – on the flanks.

Even after filling the line-up with the expected youngsters and back-ups, Liverpool still have at least one midfield spot for a senior player. Lallana's probably the least likely given his mind-boggling efforts over the last couple of weeks, so it's seemingly whether Klopp wants Wijnaldum's link-play or Can's physicality, provided each is at the appropriate fitness level. The only reason I've guessed Wijnaldum is because I remain concerned about Henderson's heel and his availability over the next couple of weeks, which means Can will be absolutely necessary in filling that position. I also may still be a little cranky about Can's performance against Sunderland.

Maybe Lovren or Klavan keep their place in defense, also allowing Lucas to play in midfield if so desired. Maybe Firmino is used on the flanks in place of either Woodburn or Ojo. But those are pretty much the only other options. On a unrelated note, it doesn't look like Liverpool are planning to buy anyone in the January transfer window.

Meanwhile, Plymouth Argyle are second in League Two, four points behind Doncaster. They were in a similar position a year ago before losing in the promotion playoff final. I approve of this match-up almost solely because these sides haven't met in more than 50 years, since Liverpool were last in the second division.

And I won't insult either your or my knowledge by pretending to know much more than that. Both This is Anfield and The Anfield Wrap have helpful interviews with Plymouth supporters, who both point out the dangers of Plymouth's top scorer, Graham Carey, who'll play as the #10.

The ever-excellent Ben Mayhew has Plymouth has one of the better attacks in League Two and a competent but relatively busy defense: see his attacking and defensive scatter plots and E Ratings. Plymouth have also over-performed their Expected Goals nearly all season.

Finally, I'll point to Who Scored's preview, which is where I'm getting a guess at Plymouth's XI. McCormick; Miller, Songo'o, Bradley, Threlkeld; Smith, Fox; Jervis, Carey, Donaldson; Slew – which seems to be pretty much the first-choice XI. I will readily admit I've never heard of any of these players, let alone seen them play. My bad. There is one former Liverpool academy player on Plymouth's books – Jakub Sokolik – but he signed for Argyle literally three days ago, and he's not eligible to play having already featured for Southend in the competition.

With Liverpool second in the league and in the League Cup semi-finals, this competition's clearly third on the totem pole. But it remains a chance for the back-ups to prove their worth more playing time, and a chance for needed players such as Ojo and Gomez to make the necessary first steps after a difficult, injury-ridden campaign.

"Magic of the FA Cup," whatever, be damned. It's another competition. But it's a competition that Liverpool are in, so it's a match that Liverpool will want to win.

03 January 2017

Visualized: Liverpool 2-2 Sunderland


Previous Match Infographics: Manchester City (a), Stoke (h), Everton (a), Middlesbrough (a), West Ham (h), Bournemouth (a), Sunderland (h), Southampton (a), Watford (h), Crystal Palace (a), West Brom (h), United (h), Swansea (a), Hull (h), Chelsea (a), Leicester (h), Tottenham (a), Burnley (a), Arsenal (a)

All match data from Stats Zone and Who Scored.


The moral of the story remains the same as yesterday. If Liverpool hadn't committed two avoidable, asinine penalties, Liverpool win a difficult game, despite the lack of rotation, fatigue, relative mediocrity, etc. Sometimes, it really is that simple.

Still, there's more than a bit of aberration in this match and result.

The last time Liverpool committed two penalties in a match was the first match of Brendan Rodgers' tenure, at West Brom in August 2012. Pepe Reina saved one, but Liverpool still lost 0-3. The last time Liverpool conceded from two penalties was (again) at West Brom, this time under Dalglish, in April 2011.

It's not something that happens often.

Before yesterday's match, Liverpool put 15 or more shots on-target just once since the beginning of 2013-14: against Watford two months ago, where Liverpool put 17 on-target and scored from six.

The previous high for shots on-target away from home in a Premier League match this season was 10. No keeper has made as many saves in a league match as Mannone did yesterday.

Liverpool surpassed yesterday's 71.4% shooting accuracy just twice since the beginning of 2013-14: last season's 6-0 win at Aston Villa and a 0-1 loss at Hull in April 2015.

Incidentally, Liverpool didn't put 15 shots on-target or have a shooting accuracy above 70% in any match during the 2013-14 Suarez-led attacking tornado. For what's it's worth.

In the three above matches, you've got two six-goals-scored wins and a 0-1 loss.

That Hull game is probably a decent comparison. Away against a soon-to-be-relegated side. Nine of 12 shots on-target, but a lot of low-value chances, with almost half of those shots on-target came from outside the box. That day, Liverpool lost because Liverpool did something dumb – the then-frequent and still-possible inability to deal with the second phase of a corner. At least Liverpool didn't lose yesterday? Not that striving to match results from 2014-15 is any sort of goal.

But putting that many shots on-target – even if too many are soft or speculative – and having such a high shooting accuracy but still failing to win is not something that happens often.

Liverpool were the only side who played both Saturday and Monday and made just one change. Southampton (L) made six; United (W), Boro (D), and Leicester (D) made five; City (W) and Everton (W) made four; Sunderland (D) and West Ham (L) made three; West Brom (W), Burnley (L), and Hull (L) made two.

I can't help but wonder what would have happened had Liverpool made just two more, say Stewart for Can or Wijnaldum and Moreno for Milner (which happened at halftime anyway). But that's obviously moot now.

Sturridge's potent return was a welcome sight. Mignolet made three excellent open play saves and also prevented Defoe from getting a shot off when through on goal. Firmino was again more influential on the left than he had been. Emre Can did at least improve as the deepest midfielder in the second half. Liverpool were reasonably creative on a ground and against opposition where it's often tough to do so under normal circumstances. Liverpool scored two goals from corners in one match for the third time this season. All things considered, it really wasn't that bad, except for those penalties.

Liverpool still sit second, even if the gap to third has lessened. Liverpool still have one of the highest point totals they've taken from the first 20 games in the club's history. Both the fixture schedule and Liverpool's injury concerns will ease over the next few weeks, starting with rests for the majority of first-team players in this weekend's FA Cup match. Hell, Liverpool might even add a player or two in January (I recommend doing this if possible).

As annoying as yesterday was, there's still some aberration about it and it still isn't the end of the world. The title race has gotten harder, the top four race has gotten narrower, but we'd still have grabbed this position with both hands at the start of the season.

Liverpool can be better, Liverpool should be better, and Liverpool will be better. You know, as long as they just stop doing dumb, avoidable things.

02 January 2017

Liverpool 2-2 Sunderland

Goals:
Sturridge 19'
Defoe 25' [pen] 84' [pen]
Mané 72'

In retrospect, obvious trap game is obvious. Playing less than 48 hours after your last match is not fun.

To be fair, Sunderland were under the same constraints, albeit at home after an away match last time. And with even fewer possible changes given their unbelievably long injury list. Of course, Sunderland also saved their energy at Burnley after getting absolutely annihilated from the opening whistle.

Maybe some rotation would have helped. We all were sure surprised when Liverpool's XI was announced, the only change an enforced one, Sturridge replacing the injured Jordan Henderson. Yeah, Klopp's not a big fan of rotating his side. Yeah, Liverpool's bench – Karius, Origi, Moreno, Lucas, Stewart, Alexander-Arnold, and Ejaria – didn't offer many options. Still.

Physical fatigue and mental fatigue are two different things. And both exist. Physically, Liverpool were okay, or at least as okay as is possible with matches in quick succession. Mentally, Liverpool were not. "Mentally" is absolutely the reason why Liverpool conceded both goals, both incredibly unnecessary penalties to have given away.

That said, this is going to be an apex "stats lie" game. Total shots, shots on-target, expected goals, possession, etc etc. Mannone made 15 saves. Sunderland created only four chances from open play, three leading to shots from outside the box, the other immediately blocked. Sunderland needed two penalties to get the draw.

It's misleading. Liverpool only scored twice because of Sunderland's defending on corners. Mannone made some good saves but a lot of those shots were tame or from long range or both. Mignolet twice saved excellent Sunderland opportunities, especially when stealing the ball off a through-on-goal Jermain Defoe two minutes after Sunderland equalized. Sunderland could have had a third penalty for a fairly obvious Emre Can handball.

Liverpool weren't good. Liverpool still probably should have won, but it was a lot closer than it seemed, despite Sunderland's luck and Liverpool's errors. And I can't help but blame fatigue, more mental than physical.

Credit where due. Sunderland actually are a much better side, if only relatively speaking, at home. Sunderland didn't look a side missing nine potential starters through injury, most of them certain. Sunderland didn't look a side that played just 48 hours ago. It's no secret that Liverpool struggle when their pressed in their own half in games such as these; see: Burnley, Bournemouth. It's one thing when Manchester City does it, because Liverpool are a lot more defensive and a lot more compact. It's another when Liverpool want and expect to attack attack attack and are wide open more often than a pervert's trench coat.

So Liverpool struggled to get into an early rhythm. There were one or two nice passing moves, Sturridge looked threatening, but Sunderland came at Liverpool. Like Burnley did, like Bournemouth did. And I can't help by beginning my litany of complaints with the one change to Liverpool's holding midfielder and center-back trio.

Emre Can did not look comfortable. That shouldn't have been that much of a surprise given how he's played this season: as a tank rolling downhill, charging around, charging forward, capable of rolling in the wrong direction but usually just get out of his way. You can not do that in the holding role. So Liverpool are exposed more than you'd rightfully expect, Liverpool are misplacing and misplaying passes when transitioning to attack, and Liverpool aren't really getting the ball forward enough.

But then Liverpool strike from a set play, through Sturridge, the type of goal that Liverpool conceded far too often last season and earlier in this. Lovren misplays an attempted volley but Sturridge is far quickest to the second ball as Sunderland fail to react, a lovely cushioned header looping over Mannone. Okay. You've got your goal. Just do smart things and be patient and be good and we'll all be fine.

Ha.

Six minutes later, the score's level, thanks to Can mis-controlling a pass from Klavan, Ndong getting around Wijnaldum from the throw-in, and Klavan's wholly unnecessary and frankly stupid penalty, late to hang a leg out with Lallana right there to cover. Sigh. Mignolet goes the right way, but Defoe's spot kick is too good, because that's what Defoe does.

And then it's the tilt thing that Liverpool are too prone to. "Oh hell, we screwed up, we can't screw up, crap we screwed up again." Almost immediately, Can's misplaced pass, Can not tracking Ndong, Klavan caught flat-footed when not sure whether to follow (an offside) Ndong or Defoe, and Defoe's through on goal. Thankfully, Mignolet reacts surprisingly fast and pokes it away, with defenders back quickly to block Borini's attempt.

And little by little, Liverpool got its act together, but only enough to stop the rot rather than truly threaten for the rest of the half. Some good defensive blocks, because Sunderland and Moyes and denying space, Sturridge again denied from distance, but it wasn't enough.

And then, more of the same in the second half, even as Moreno replaced Milner (I'm not sure whether through injury/fatigue or his yellow card or Klopp wanting a more threatening wide option, but I suspect the latter). Mané should have done better with a header from Clyne's cross and Mannone did well to save Sturridge's effort when the striker was right on top of him, but otherwise tame efforts from Can and Firmino (twice). Meanwhile, Sunderland howled as they were denied a second penalty when Can blocked a cross with his arm.

Thankfully, in the 72nd minute, second verse same as the first. Liverpool get a corner and Sunderland don't defend the second ball. This time, Moreno's delivery was really good and Djilobodji was unfortunate to flick on into a dangerous area, but Mané was first to react. Back in front. Time to shut up shop, etc.

Ha.

It was odd that Origi finally came on right after the goal, replacing Wijnaldum in what had to be a pre-planned substitution. Now with a lead, Liverpool were potentially more exposed when playing 4-4-2 with a midfield of Can and Lallana. But Sunderland didn't threaten, couldn't really threaten. It was gonna work, guys!

Then Lucas came on.

Okay, that's not really fair. But there's a reason why "late Lucas foul in a dangerous position" is a running joke. Sure enough, less than two minutes after coming on, there's Lucas and there's Defoe on the ground, and there's a dead ball situation dead center less than 25 yards from goal. It shouldn't have mattered, nor should it have mattered that Defoe actually dived, because Larsson sent his effort straight at the wall, most likely traveling wide if it avoid contact. But for some reason, Mané stuck his arm straight out to block, and Anthony Taylor literally had no choice to point to the spot. And then second verse same as the first.

Both of Sunderland's penalties are the textbook definition of avoidable. With pictures and everything. Rested players are far less likely to make those mistakes. And, with Sturridge having gone off for Lucas and less firepower up front when Liverpool actually need it, we finish with ten minutes of Liverpool trying but Liverpool tired, and Sunderland wasting time and denying space, and tame Klavan and Firmino headers straight at Mannone.

This should not have happened.

Sure, there's more than a good bit of one-off fluke in that result, due to scheduling, due to the errors, due to Liverpool being otherwise comprehensively better in attack. But it's not as if we've never been here before.

The lesson of this story is a lesson we'd hoped Liverpool would have learned by now. Just don't do dumb things. Just don't. You can and you probably will be punished for it. I suspect the potential for dumb would have been lessened with more changes to the XI, but these are professionals. It is not an excuse.

Sort yourselves out.