23 May 2019

Premier League Cann Table 1995 – 2019


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So, Cann Tables. Seasons on the X-Axis, points on the Y-Axis. A way to look at the actual points gaps season by season. Liverpool's points total was really good in 2018-19, especially compared to the rest of the league save one side, compared to the previous couple of seasons, compared to Liverpool over the past two decades and more. I, unsurprisingly, wondered how much.

The above shows the last 24 seasons, the Premier League's history minus the first three seasons, when there were 22 sides in the division.

And it looks as if the league is getting more spread out.

4th place has remained fairly consistent – you need right around 70 points for an almost-assured Champions League place, as it's seemingly always been. But City are putting up record points over the last two seasons, with Liverpool hot on their heels in this one; it's gonna take more to win the league these days. The range between 5th and 17th is getting steadily wider – better sides at the top, fewer truly terrible sides at the bottom. But there has usually been at least one or two hilariously bad relegated teams over the last few seasons – no one to the level of Derby's record low in 2007-08, but consistently one if not two sides below 30 points over the last five-to-ten seasons.

And then there's Liverpool, bouncing their way across the upper echelons of the division. Peaks and valleys.

We're all well aware that Liverpool finished with the highest points total for a second-place side in 2018-19. That Liverpool finished with the third highest Premier League points total ever, behind only City in this season and the last.

What else, what else…

• It's the largest gap between a second and third placed side: 25 points. The previous high was 19 in 2011-12, when the Manchester sides finished even on goal difference with Arsenal leading the trailing pack far behind.

• It is just the fifth time in the last 24 years that the title has been decided by a point or less: 1997-98 and 1998-99, Arsenal over United and United over Arsenal; Chelsea over United in 2009-10; and City over United on goal difference in 2010-11. The gap between 1st and 2nd has been reasonably substantial since: 11 points in 2012-13, two points in 2013-14 (sigh), eight points in 2014-15, ten points in 2015-16, seven points in 2016-17, and 19 points (!!!) in 2017-18.

• Liverpool's average points totals from the last 24 seasons is exactly 69 points. The average points total for 4th place over the last 24 seasons is 68.96. I'm just saying.

• Maybe most meaningfully, this was Liverpool's third largest season-to-season improvement, 22 points better than last season, behind only the 24 gained from 2004-05 to 2005-06 in Benitez' first and second seasons and the 23 in 2012-13, Rodgers' first and second seasons. Incidentally, Liverpool regressed by 14 points in 2006-07 and 22 points in 2014-15.

More like "potentially" most meaningfully, I guess. Because consistency. Consistency is the next step. That and Manchester City.

14 May 2019

Visualized: Liverpool 2-0 Wolves

Previous Match Infographics: Barcelona (h), Newcastle (a), Barcelona (a), Huddersfield (h), Cardiff (a), Porto (A), Chelsea (h), Porto (h), Southampton (a), Tottenham (h), Fulham (a), 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. 



In a lot of ways, this was very much an end-of-season affair, at least once news of City's goals filtered through. Both sides were below average in shots and Expected Goals. There were a couple of goals from the home side, early and late, to keep the process moving, but nothing truly special.

We've been here before. So let's just go over a few notes we've hit before.

Liverpool is good at crossing and gets a lot of goals from it.


That's 40 goals from crosses – out of 113 in total. Here's a spreadsheet with greater detail.

Liverpool gets a lot of those crosses and assists from its fullbacks. 30 of them, in fact. Well, 30 if we count two Alexander-Arnold non-assists that should have counted as actual assists. Trent Alexander-Arnold – all of 20 years old – set the record for assists from a defender in the Premier League. Andy Robertson merely tied it.

Notice how many of the assists came in the second half of the season.



Liverpool also got a late goal to settle any lingering nerves. Yes, from a cross and full-back assist.



Seven of those 32 goals after the 75th minute were equalizers, with one leveling matters and 11 more with just a one-goal lead, all but making a win certain.

And Liverpool won at Anfield. Again. Unbeaten in the league this season on their own ground, as they were last season. The only loss at Anfield this season came in the League Cup, a 1-2 defeat thanks to Hazard's late goal with a very much changed Liverpool XI.



That's a lot of days.

So, yeah, it's a perfectly fine – and almost perfectly fitting way – to end the league campaign. Except for Liverpool's final standing in the league table.

The campaign did not end the way we'd hoped, but it ended as well as Liverpool could manage. And better than we'd any right to expect. Liverpool did what Liverpool needed to do, again. We saw Liverpool win, again. And hopefully not for the last time this season.

Because there are still some important matters to come.

12 May 2019

Liverpool 2-0 Wolves

Goals:
Mané 17' 81'

That was a wild 20 minutes, huh? Minutes which didn't have an awful lot to do with this match.

Liverpool ending the season with the title was always unlikely, even going into the final day with a chance. And then Liverpool took the lead here with City at Brighton still level, a near-carbon copy of Wijnaldum's first goal against Barcelona on Tuesday. This time, Alexander-Arnold controls the cross-field pass rather than needing to win it back via press, beats his defender and whips in a low cross, one which is deflected but deflected right to Liverpool's late runner into the box. Sadio Mané this time, his 21st of the league campaign.

And then Brighton scored, or so Anfield thought, the stadium slowly erupting into delirium while the television commentators tried to confusedly explain. And then Brighton did score. Which, holy hell this might actually happen.

Reader, it did not.

City scored right away in riposte. And then again. And then twice more in the second half for good measure. As the Liverpool match went to *whatever*.

Sigh.

City have been doing this for months, but there's still the insanity of the run-in. Phil Foden's first and only league goal in a scrappy 1-0 over Tottenham a month ago. City the worse side at United four days later until all of a sudden they weren't. Agüero's winner at Burnley barely two centimeters over the line two weeks ago, then Kompany's hapax legomenon against Leicester last week. And now responding immediately to conceding on the final day with your rivals already ahead. Responding with fury, with fire and blood.

Manchester City won 14 straight to take the title by a single point. They last dropped points on January 29. I mean, fuck, what are you gonna do? They *sigh* *deep breaths* deserve it. Or bought it. Whichever. Both.

Anyway.

So, yeah, once City scored, this very much became a last-day game. And one coming five days after beating Barcelona 4-0, somehow overhauling an 0-3 by force of will. The team could feel it because the crowd knew it and the team could feel it because their legs felt like lead weights.

So the final 50 minutes were kind of crap. Klopp's hollering, both before and after the interval. At least Liverpool are keeping possession, if sloppy in the final third, until they aren't, with all seven of Wolves' shots between the 36th and 73rd minutes.

But Liverpool did enough, and Alisson came through when needed, denying two clear-cut chances from Jota, to keep Liverpool in front and a 21st clean sheet, winning the Premier League Golden Gloves in his first season in England.

And we finally got another Liverpool goal ten minutes from time, a goal which saw Mané go level with Salah (and Aubameyang) for the Golden Boot and Alexander-Arnold set the record for assists from a Premier League defender. You know the routine: Alexander-Arnold cross, Mané header at the back post after the cross just eludes Salah. A second goal, in the final 15 minutes to thankfully put the match to bed. We've seen a few like them before.

2-0, we're done here, everybody clap and smile and maybe have a sneaky sob.

So we've got Salah, Mané, Alexander-Arnold, Alisson, and Virgil van Dijk – PFA Player of the Year and now Premier League Player of the Year – deservedly earning individual accolades. And we've got Liverpool on 97 points, having lost just one league match all season. A total that's 22 points and two places better than last season's, while still maintaining the remarkable run in Europe.

No side's ever taken 97 points and not won the league. No side's ever gotten to 90 and not won. The gap between Liverpool in second and Tottenham in third is 25 points, bigger than the gap between seventh-place Wolves and relegated Cardiff.

It's not fair. But life ain't either. Plus, let's be honest, it's very on brand.

We'll do more season review stuff in the coming weeks, and we've still got a Champions League Final to look forward to. At the moment, and even believing that's there was damned little chance going into the day, it's hard to encapsulate the contest or the campaign. It's sad now but it was good. Damned good. Incredibly good. Probably the best Liverpool I've seen, regardless of the points tally or how the season ends.

And that's still present tense. Because it ain't over yet.

09 May 2019

Visualized: Liverpool 4-0 Barcelona

Previous Match Infographics: Newcastle (a), Barcelona (a), Huddersfield (h), Cardiff (a), Porto (A), Chelsea (h), Porto (h), Southampton (a), Tottenham (h), Fulham (a), 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. 



"Football is a funny old game" doesn't come close to satisfying. Football is fucking hilarious sometimes.

Liverpool just beat Barcelona 4-0. In a Champions League semi-final. After losing 0-3 a week ago. Without Mohamed Salah or Roberto Firmino. Or Naby Keïta. With Andy Robertson going off through injury at half time, requiring 33-year-old James Milner to play nearly a full half there. Without Sadio Mané taking a single shot.

Divock Origi – with all of five starts going into this, sent out on loan last season, nearly sent out of loan or sold this January – scored the opening goal and winner. Gini Wijnaldum – with all of three goals going into this game, horrific as a #9 last week, coming off the bench only because Luis Suarez kicked Robertson out of the match – scored the second and third.

You cannot make this stuff up sometimes.

True, a lot of what we saw is what we've seen Liverpool do well all season. The first goal's capitalizing on an opposition mistake. The second's pressing and full-back crosses. The third's a cross. The fourth's a set play.

That's what Liverpool does. That's what Liverpool wanted to do on Tuesday, what Liverpool needed to do on Tuesday. That's how Liverpool have won matches since August.

But as much as 0-3 in the last leg lied, 4-0 in this does.



Between 1-0 and 2-0, Barcelona had the better chances. Matip's last millisecond tackle on Messi in the 16th minute, denying a near-certain goal. Alisson saving Jordi Alba's clear-cut chance just before the interval and then Suarez's clear-cut chance in the 51st minute. The Brazilian stopped five Barcelona shots on-target; he made just two saves in the last leg.

That said, Barcelona took just eight shots on Tuesday. Lionel Messi took five of them, and created three chances for the others. Being a one-man team is incredibly difficult, even when you're the best player ever. There's precedent for Barcelona's collapse – you could see Roma on every Barca player's face after Wijnaldum's first goal – and it probably doesn't help that seven of Barcelona's starting XI is 30 or older – Messi, Suarez, Pique, Rakitic, Alba, Busquets, and Vidal. Incidentally, both of Liverpool's first two goals started from mistakes from one of those 30-year-olds: Jordi Alba, with a misplayed header to release Mané for the first, pressed out of possession by Alexander-Arnold for the second.

Take your damn chances and you'll probably win the damn game. Force the opposition into more mistakes than you make and you'll probably win the damn game.

Sometimes football's simple. And sometimes man plans and Liverpool laughs.

There's this season's Liverpool. The fucking mentality giants. The side with 30 goals in the final 15 minutes of matches, the most prolific 15-minute period for this side this season. Late winners against PSG, United, Palace, Fulham, Tottenham, Southampton, Newcastle, and now Barcelona – at least kinda sorta, if not technically. The side who's won eight straight in the league to keep pace with a City side that's won 12. The side who'll finish with the most league points in Liverpool history.

And there's Liverpool in Europe.



Olympiakos. Istanbul. Dortmund. Barcelona. We can go back farther – it is "five times," after all – but let's stick with recent memory.

June 1st will see Liverpool's third European final in Jürgen Klopp's fourth season.

Sometimes sport is pain. As we're all well aware. But, sometimes, we are inevitable.

06 May 2019

Visualized: Liverpool 3-2 Newcastle

Previous Match Infographics: Barcelona (a), Huddersfield (h), Cardiff (a), Porto (A), Chelsea (h), Porto (h), Southampton (a), Tottenham (h), Fulham (a), 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. 



I feel like I have written a lot of this before.

Once again, we've got full-back assists, two from Alexander-Arnold to go level with Andy Robertson: 11 in the Premier League, 13 in all competitions.



Incidentally, ten of Alexander-Arnold's 13 assists have come in the last 14 matches, since his three against Watford at the end of February.

Once again, we've got goals from crosses: both assists from Alexander-Arnold as well as Shaqiri's free kick delivery for Origi's late winner.

We've got set play goals: Van Dijk's opener from a corner, the aforementioned winner from a free kick. Even Liverpool's second could have been classified as one, with just two passes following a throw-in. Those were Liverpool's 22nd and 23rd set play goals of the season;

And we've got late goals. Liverpool winning a match in the last 15 minutes. As against PSG, Everton, United, Palace, Fulham, Tottenham, and Southampton. Four of those have come in the last month and a half.

Once again, we've got Liverpool doing a lot of what Liverpool intended to do, and it's a reasonable amount of good, and it's enough to win. It's Liverpool's eighth league win in a row, to return to the top of the league at least until City host Leicester in a few hours.

But. There was a fair amount of NOT GOOD as well. Almost too much. Thankfully, only almost.

Liverpool conceded twice in a league match, for just the fourth time this season. 1-2 City. 4-3 Palace, 4-2 Burnley, and now this. Which, hey, just four times! But also, it's Newcastle, and three of the four have happened in the second half of the season, with two in the last two months. Against Burnley (15th place) and Newcastle (14th). Not ideal.

Liverpool were out-shot for first time in the league since the 1-1 West Ham draw in early February. This was just the fourth time in 37 league matches that's happened this season, along with this, the 1-2 loss at City, and the 1-0 win over Huddersfield (yeah, your guess is as good as mine).

Divock Origi's goal – in the 86th minute – was Liverpool's only shot after Rondon's equalizer. 40 minutes of action. A tie game, a game you need to win. One shot, from a set play. That's not usually a recipe for winning a match you've given up two equalizers in.

And said winner came from a free kick that Liverpool were fortunate to win, with Fabinho falling under little to no contact, even if he was arguably fouled a few steps before hurling himself to the carpet. And Origi's header went in off Lascelles, on-target but unlikely to beat Dubravaka without the redirection.

That free kick and winner weren't the only times that Liverpool were fortunate. Liverpool were incredibly lucky that Atsu scored in the 20th minute, preventing Alexander-Arnold's dismissal when he handled the earlier shot on the goal line. And that Perez hit the woodwork less than two minutes before Salah scored.

It wasn't the first time Liverpool have been lucky this season. It wasn't the first time that Liverpool have won ugly.

I do not care. By any means necessary.

Liverpool had not won a Premier League away game following a European away game under Jürgen Klopp since this most recent run.



Two losses – bad losses – following Europa League away matches in 2015-16, a late collapse and a thorough B-Team stomping. A draw and two losses following Champions League away matches last season. Three consecutive away league wins following three Champions League away matches this season, over these last two months of Liverpool madness.

It is May 6. There is one game left in Liverpool's league campaign, having already achieved the club's record points total. Liverpool were without Firmino, without Keïta, Salah going off through concussion. Liverpool's starting XI featured seven players who've already got more than 3000 minutes under their belts this season, with Henderson and Fabinho not far behind. I do not care that Liverpool did not dominate. I do not care that Liverpool needed to win ugly. All that matters is that Liverpool won. Again.

Back over to you, City.

03 May 2019

Visualized: Liverpool 0-3 Barcelona

Previous Match Infographics: Huddersfield (h), Cardiff (a), Porto (A), Chelsea (h), Porto (h), Southampton (a), Tottenham (h), Fulham (a), 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. 



I mean, it ain't rocket science.

Liverpool got out-ruthlessed by a team that does what Liverpool does well, and often does it even better. And also has the greatest player of all time.

Which sucks.

The game plan wasn't bad. The game plan was surprisingly and satisfyingly bold.

Do you. You're the first or second-best team in the first or second-best league in the world. You've lost just one domestic match all season. You're fighting for the title in your league against one of the most expensively assembled sides ever. You're good at the football. Do you.

And Liverpool tried.

Liverpool had Barcelona on the ropes at the Camp Nou for surprisingly long stretches, both in the first and second halves. You show up at Barcelona and look to take the game to them. You press, you possess. You control distinct periods of the match, especially the first 20 minutes of the first half and first 15 minutes of the second half.

But after Liverpool initially impress, Barcelona wins the ball in midfield, cross-field switch, cross-field switch, full-back cross, full-back assist, attacker goal from close range.

But Barcelona counter-attacks late in the match, 15 minutes remaining, hanging onto a one-goal lead, and gets an incredibly fortunate bounce of the ball. Not just once, but twice. First, Messi's through ball to Sergi Roberto not tackled by van Dijk, the pass squirming towards Luis Suarez. Then, Suarez' shot off the woodwork, falling directly to Messi.

But Barcelona adds gloss with a set play. Albeit a direct free kick, which Liverpool have scored one of this season and Lionel Messi's scored eight, but still. Set play goal with a lead.

All of this feels vaguely and unsettlingly familiar.

Barcelona put five of their 12 shots on-target, compared to four of 15 from Liverpool. Barcelona scored two of three clear-cut chances, with the other off the crossbar to set up their third goal. Liverpool failed to score any of their three: Mané off-target when Robertson's low cross bobbles in front of him not long after Suarez' goal, Milner shooting straight at Ter Stegen not long after halftime, and Salah off the post in the 84th minute, when an away goal would have at least given Liverpool hope.

The smallest margins are punished at this level vastly more than at lower. This is the semi-finals of the Champions League, and Liverpool are up against a side that's won this competition three times in the previous ten seasons and their league in eight of those ten. They have been here before, repeatedly. Liverpool are just beginning to reestablish themselves as regulars.

And also, shit happens. Especially when Lionel Messi is involved.

So, yeah, not great, and not entirely Liverpool's fault. Still, Klopp's two big line-up decisions did not work as hoped.

Bobby Firmino is as close to irreplaceable in this side as anyone. Yes, Van Dijk, Alisson, Salah, but his work rate as the spearpoint of the press, the ability to drop deep to link up play but also create chances in the final third and repeadtedly demonstrate those necessary predatory instincts.

Wijnaldum – and it's not entirely his fault – did few of those things. Here's Gini's 79 minutes of work:



No shots. No dribbles. No tackles. One key pass, an in-box layoff to Milner just after half time.

More specifically, here's Gini's 79 minutes of passing.



There are a reasonable amount of passes received both in the box and in the zone just outside. There are few passes played and no shots taken from said positions. Where did the ball go?

I am not entirely sure why Wijnaldum was preferred to Origi or Sturridge. Pressing? Hold-up and link play in the #9/#10 role? Would either have been more influential? Maybe not. But they've at least played the position before. They're at least attackers. Liverpool rarely thrives with just two attackers; even in matches won without one of the front three – which thankfully doesn't happen often – Liverpool's had that other in Origi, Sturridge, Shaqiri, Keïta, or even Lallana.

So who becomes the third shot-taker? James Milner. Which – and we all love Hamez Thrillner – is welp.

This was the one glaring example of Liverpool not doing Liverpool.

And while Joe Gomez is a better defender than Trent Alexander-Arnold, he also hadn't started a match in five months. It's Gomez who's caught two against one after Vidal's cross-field switch, trying to close down both Coutinho and Alba because Henderson's unable to get back in time, neither able to stop Alba's cross into Luis Suarez for the opener.

Gomez only created one chance: a cross for Mané in the 67th minute, headed off-target. Robertson, with 13 assists this season and an average of 1.3 key passes per 90 minutes, failed to create any. That has not happened often this season. Sure, Liverpool had chances to score – good chances, clear-cut chances, even if not as many as we'd like – but Liverpool's full-backs are usually far more involved in creating said chances. And often to Liverpool's benefit.

But it's not Klopp's fault that Keïta went off through injury in the 24th minute. Henderson helped in certain regard, especially in the right half-space; it was his cross for Mané's first-half clear-cut chance, and he increasingly combined well with Gomez until Semedo came on around the hour mark. But he does not break lines like Keïta, press like Keïta, tackle like Keïta, or get in the box like Keïta.

It's not Klopp's fault that Liverpool put so few shots on-target or failed to convert one of three clear-cut chances, which is an awful lot against Barcelona at the Camp Nou.

And it's not Klopp or Liverpool's fault that Lionel Messi is Lionel Messi, who's now scored 600 goals in 683 games for Barcelona. Which, holy crap.

But this tie ain't over. Roma came back from a three-goal deficit against Barca in the quarterfinals last season, albeit with an away goal going in. Liverpool have won 11 matches this season by a three-goal margin or more. Of course, Barcelona haven't lost by three yet this season, and have conceded three or more just twice: 3-4 Betis and 4-4 Villarreal, with both fixtures featuring a red card.

It ain't gonna be easy. And, honestly, it probably ain't gonna happen. But that doesn't mean it can't. And, often, that's all this Liverpool team needs.

29 April 2019

Visualized: Liverpool 5-0 Huddersfield

Previous Match Infographics: Cardiff (a), Porto (A), Chelsea (h), Porto (h), Southampton (a), Tottenham (h), Fulham (a), 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. 



That's what Liverpool can do against a deep but not particularly organized defense.

We complain about deep defenses all the time. Sometimes Liverpool finds a breakthrough because of the magic front three. As against Chelsea or, to a lesser extent, Fulham in the last month. Sometimes it's set plays, as at Cardiff last week. Sometimes it's luck, as with Origi against Everton.

And sometimes that deep defense just isn't good enough.

It's been awhile since we've seen those long poke, prod, and pass sequences leading to goals. We got three of them on Friday. Liverpool's second goal saw 22 passes over more than a minute, the third 12 passes, the fifth 20 passes. Liverpool pushed and pulled Huddersfield around before delivering a stiletto between shoulder blades time and time again.

It wasn't blitzkrieg. It wasn't set plays. It was jab, jab, jab, jab, uppercut. It's nice to be reminded that Liverpool can still do so when the opportunity presents.

Look at how damned open Liverpool players were for the final ball.



Mané probably shouldn't have that much space between center-backs. And maybe get closer to Andy Robertson.



Yep, he's between defenders caught on the back foot again. And maybe get closer to Jordan Henderson.



At least Durm's watching Salah, about to make a run behind in the top left corner, but maybe somebody tell Kongolo that he might need to help here.

Of course, an early goal helps. The last time Liverpool scored in the first minute of a match was in the 5-1 win over Arsenal back in 2013-14, Skrtel hammering in Gerrard's free kick after 50 seconds – another five-goal romp. Scoring after 15 seconds is the quickest that Liverpool have struck in a match since 1984. It's probably not the best way for the worst side in the division to begin a match at Anfield.

And none of this is to take away from Liverpool's overall quality. Both in general play – the complete control of proceedings, the comfort at the back, – and in all five goals, both in chance creation and conversion. And the creation came from more of the same notes we've hit in recent weeks.

Those crosses though; Liverpool have scored 32 goals from crosses by my count so far this season. Assists from fullbacks; 66 of Liverpool's 104 goals in all competitions have been assisted, and Robertson and Alexander-Arnold are responsible of 24 of those 66. 36%, more than a third. Woof. And assists from Jordan Henderson, who's now got four plus a goal in his last 400 minutes. And an opening goal from pressing, thanks to an opponent who actually allowed Liverpool to press in the final third early on.

It was exactly what Liverpool can do, and what Liverpool wanted to do, from the absolute start to finish. Complete control, thankfully reflected in the score line. Assists from Liverpool's top creators, goals from Liverpool's top scorers. Another clean sheet for van Dijk – the newly minted PFA Player of the Year – Alisson, et al, and Lovren coming back into the side without issue. Continued improvement from Naby Keïta – another goal, a better understanding of Liverpool's pressing timing and rhythm, and Liverpool's top tackler with Fabinho rested – and a well-rounded midfield with Keïta both destroying and running from further forward, Henderson in a more advanced role, Wijnaldum more than capable as the #6, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain returning after a year out.

It was as much as we could have hoped for, and almost as good as Liverpool can be, at this point of the season. With two league games left to play and a Champions League semi-final on Wednesday. Unfortunately, it may not be enough.

22 April 2019

Visualized: Liverpool 2-0 Cardiff

Previous Match Infographics: Porto (A), Chelsea (h), Porto (h), Southampton (a), Tottenham (h), Fulham (a), 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. 



I enjoy this team a lot. For the most part, they're all surprisingly likable. They're almost all quite good at the football.

And, somehow – in the meat of the season, with the pressure ratcheted up to 11, in a two-team race with one of the best sides this league's ever had – they just keep winning.

In a lot of ways, we've seen this match before. Quite a bit lately. The stutters and the suffering. The grinding. The 90 minutes of torture.

To be fair, the first half was better than 0-0 suggested. Two clear-cut chances untaken: Firmino ballooning when put through and Salah denied by Etheridge. A couple other reasonable chances through Mané and Firmino. But it's close and it's in the balance and we're on edge, because that's where we are in the season and the standings.

So we get the stutters and the suffering and the grind and a fairly unremarkable first half, but Liverpool finally opens the scoring not long into the second.



I love it too. This is not only a hard-working, never-say-die side. It's not only a very, very talented side. It is a surprisingly clever side, one that's increasingly capable of reacting in-game, whether through the players or manager.

To be fair, we have seen quite a few set play goals so far this season.



There are a handful of goals against Liverpool's peers. The opener at Tottenham back in September, the winner at Bayern, the winner over Tottenham. But the vast majority have come against the bus-parkers. The dross.

West Ham, Leicester, Southampton, Fulham (both matches), Watford (both matches), Burnley, Wolves, Newcastle, Bournemouth, and now Cardiff. Sides currently sitting 11th, 9th, 16th, 19th, 8th, 15th, 10th, 13th, 14th, and 18th. And you can pick whichever category you'd like to put Everton in.

If we're being charitable to Everton, that's four of six opening goals against the dross. And five of the eight game-winners. Aside from running up the score against West Ham, Newcastle, and Watford, they've all been meaningful goals – not that many goals aren't.



I'm sure it's just coincidence that the two seasons in the last ten years where Liverpool led the league in set plays goals were 2013-14 and 2018-19.

And Liverpool needed Sunday's set play goal.



I know that stat's right and I'm still tempted to go look line-by-line over the last two seasons. Liverpool's front three do not let the side down often, but it is essential that Liverpool get goals from other sources the few times that they do.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the pitch. As far as Liverpool matches go, only the reverse fixture saw less opposition possession than Sunday's, and no side's attempted or competed fewer passes against Liverpool this season. But Cardiff at least posed a little bit of a threat. Mendez-Laing helped to pin Alexander-Arnold back early in the first half. The average position diagram suggests that Cardiff targeted Matip and Alexander-Arnold on that flank, as does Cardiff's attacking direction. But Matip and van Dijk cleared nearly everything asked, with both heavily involved in Liverpool's attacking build-up.

More notable was Sean Morrison's clear-cut chance in the 64th minute, just seven after Liverpool scored. But Alisson got the faintest of touches on the cross in, and the ball hit Morrison on the back rather than the head and popped into the air rather than the back of Liverpool's net. As per usual, a bit of luck and a bit of skill – Alisson also did well to save Niasse's corner header just before halftime – and the score stayed at 1-0, and we survive another day.

Morrison's clear-cut chance was Cardiff's last shot of the afternoon, a warning to push Liverpool back into gear, and a reminder that what set plays giveth, set plays can taketh away. Liverpool shut it down, Morrison did a stupid in truing to wrestle Salah, Milner notched the penalty, and we're done here.

And we'll do it all over again in a week. More than likely in a similar manner.