Previous Match Infographics: Manchester City (a), Southampton (h)
As always, match data from Stats Zone, except shot location from Squawka and average player position from ESPN FC.
Two matches from last season were the template for Sunday's victory.
No, neither were against Tottenham, where Liverpool similarly won handily, but also dominated possession and passing totals. They were 4-0 against Everton and 3-0 at Southampton, who, incidentally, were managed by Mauricio Pochettinho.
Against Everton, Liverpool played 4-3-3, albeit a lopsided 4-3-3 with Coutinho in midfield and Suarez, Sturridge, and Sterling up front. The match against Southampton was the first time we saw Liverpool in a 4-4-2 diamond. Balotelli came nowhere near replicating Suarez's output, completing just eight passes and putting just one of five shots on-target, but having that extra forward up front made a massive difference in both how many shots Liverpool took – 17, compared to 12 and 11 in the last two matches – and how the opposition were forced to defend. As did using Sterling in a floating role at the tip of the diamond rather than limiting him to a flank.
Both of those matches last season featured an early Liverpool goal, allowing the team to settle into a groove, and once the second was scored, keep the opposition at bay then counter-attack at will. Liverpool really should have added at least another goal, replicating the scoreline against Everton, if not more.
Like both Everton and Southampton, Tottenham had a mountain of possession in Liverpool's half, but did little with it. At the time, the match against Everton saw Liverpool with its second-lowest possession total under Brendan Rodgers: 39.4%. Liverpool had even less yesterday, and Tottenham's second half 70.3% possession was the most any opposition has had in a single half against Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool, the only time Liverpool have been held under 30% in a half.
Both of those previous matches ended in clean sheets, which was the exception rather than the rule last season: the defense shelling unusually well and without making any crucial mistakes. Well, one mistake yesterday (which led to Tottenham's only shot on target), when Lovren charged out but failed to clear a ball he should have let Sakho deal with, but one which thankfully went unpunished, partly due to Mignolet and partly due to Chadli putting his shot too close to Mignolet. As said in yesterday's match review, I'm curious to see if Liverpool can repeat the performance when (not if) Skrtel reclaims his starting role.
Even Liverpool's final goal was similar to that against Everton: one player winning possession around the halfway line, then tearing past defenders who were pushed high up the pitch trying to rescue the game. Last season, it was Suarez. This season, Moreno. That'll probably be the last time we compare those two players.
But Liverpool did certain things even better than in those two matches last season. That Tottenham were only allowed seven shots despite 60.9% possession is amazing. That's 66.7 completed passes per shot. For comparison, Liverpool attempted a shot every 16.5 passes yesterday, similar to the 13.4 passes per shot against Everton and better than the 25.4 passes per shot at Southampton. Tottenham attempted 160 attacking third passes, but look at how few were completed into the box. The vast majority are 5-10 yards outside the box, or along the flanks.
All three key passes into the box came from deep: a ball over the top to Adebayor, which beat Liverpool's defenders but Adebayor could only chip onto the roof of the net when Mignolet reduced the angle; the ball to Chadli where Liverpool's center-backs (read: Lovren) both went for the ball; and a deep cross to Adebayor, with his contested header looping upwards. Yes, Tottenham probably should have scored from at least one of those, but Liverpool did exceptionally well to limit chances created from close range.
Luis Suarez was the key man in both of those matches last season, with a goal and assist in both. That Liverpool were able to replicate the formula without him, against opposition which expects to be in the battle for a top-four place, is incredibly encouraging. As is the fact they did so with a defense that had made a combined 24 appearances for Liverpool, featuring three defenders signed this summer, including two fullbacks who are all of 20 and 22 years old and were signed from La Liga. One of those fullbacks led the team in interceptions and blocked crosses, and tied for the most successful tackles; the other scored the crucial game-killing third goal.
And Liverpool did this in only the third match of this young season, despite this summer's massive overhaul. Of course, that doesn't ensure future success, and the template certainly won't work against every opponent. But it's still a very promising start.