18 March 2016

Visualized: Liverpool 1-1 Manchester Utd

Previous Match Infographics: Manchester United (h), Crystal Palace (a), Manchester City (h), Manchester City [League Cup] (n), Augsburg (h), Augsburg (a), Aston Villa (a), Sunderland (h), Leicester (a), Stoke [League Cup] (h), Norwich (a), Manchester Utd (h), Arsenal (h), Stoke [League Cup] (a), West Ham (a), Sunderland (a), Leicester (h), Watford (a), West Brom (h), Sion (a), Newcastle (a), Swansea (h), Bordeaux (h), City (a), Crystal Palace (h), Rubin Kazan (a), Chelsea (a), Southampton (h), Rubin Kazan (h), Tottenham (a), Everton (a), FC Sion (h), Aston Villa (h), Norwich (h), Bordeaux (a), Manchester United (a), West Ham (h), Arsenal (a), Bournemouth (h), Stoke (a)

As always for Europa League matches, all data from WhoScored.

(Nota Bene: Here's the formation diagram usually included in match reviews.)

Draws don't get much better than that.

Once again, Liverpool are able to equalize after going behind, getting back to level (or winning) despite conceding first. Liverpool have now come back from a deficit in 11 of Klopp's 37 matches (if you include the League Cup final "draw" before penalties), with five wins and six draws, the majority of those with Liverpool conceding the opening goal. That's already more comebacks than Liverpool had in either 2014-15 (nine; 4W-5D) or 2013-14 (seven; 3W-4D).

Sure, it'd be a lot better if Liverpool didn't concede at all. Or Liverpool simply scored more, scored earlier – as they did in 2013-14. But I'll absolutely take this as a consolation.

It'd have been very easy for Liverpool to go on tilt after conceding an eminently preventable spot kick opener in front of a roaring Old Trafford, for Liverpool to curl up into a ball and plaintively scream "not the face, not the face!" at assertive opposition. It's probably what Liverpool would have done last season, had last season's Liverpool even gotten to this point. But not this season's Liverpool. Had Rojo converted a clear-cut chance in the 43rd minute, less than two minutes before Coutinho's equalizer, another set play breakdown after an initial half-clearance, it's probably a much different post-match write-up. But that's football and that's sport, and Liverpool were the "better side" after going behind: Sturridge's free kick off the woodwork, Henderson's ballooned clear-cut chance, Firmino's deft flick rising over the bar.

Liverpool responded. Again, and this time against the Evil Empire. That's no small matter.

United were always going to come out with guns blazing. They had little to lose, in front of their own fans facing a deficit, to "save their season" against the hated rivals. Meanwhile, Liverpool had everything to lose, a chance to make the last eight of European competition for the first time in six years, the first time ever for the majority of these players. Liverpool were tentative, Liverpool were reactive, and Liverpool were sloppy, especially Coutinho's giveaway which directly led to United's penalty.

But Liverpool recovered, and not for the first time this season. They recovered impressively, the scapegoat for United's goal the star of Liverpool's, with a wonderful run past a young right-back and an even better finish past the second- or third-best goalkeeper in the world. A feint inside, a dip of the shoulders, a burst of speed, an immaculate chip. An absolute moment of brilliance from a player more than capable of it, who just needs to demonstrate such more often. A player who, it's worth remembering, remains only 23-years-old.

And from there, United were done, with a capital D, and capital O, N, E. United controlled possession, but Liverpool controlled the game, with only four mediocre United chances of note: Rashford wide, Fellaini's soft header straight at Mignolet, Martial well over, Fellaini well over. All before the 75th minute; by that time, United fans had started streaming out of the ground. That's always a welcomed sight.

It's partly due to United's weaknesses, and the United manager's decisions, but even more due to how Liverpool played after equalizing. How Liverpool defended after equalizing. It was shaky for the first 30-35 minutes, but the second half couldn't have been better. The defense was a team effort, including a midfielder at left-back and a center-back who's been lambasted for more than a year, but special mention need be made of Mamadou Sakho and Emre Can.

Woof. Thanks for nothing, transfer committee. It's clear one doesn't have a best position and isn't a proper central midfielder, and the other's just too awkward to be reliable.

But once again – and it's easy to write from the comfort of computer and desk chair – many of Louis van Gaal's decisions baffled. Fellaini starting again, seen as the best chance of upsetting Liverpool's defense. Which, once again, he didn't. Mata used as a right-winger with right-winger Lingard used centrally, despite Liverpool needing to play Milner at left-back. And then the substitutions; with United needing three goals, van Gaal replaced his starting full-backs with two marginally more attacking full-backs, then made a like-for-like defensive midfielder substitution. United's top scorer in Europe, despite his massively disappointing season, stayed on the bench throughout. United kept the same formation, and same attackers in the same positions, throughout.

Manchester United are almost as injury-plagued as Liverpool were at their worst over the winter, but that still seems little excuse. After four consecutive wins over Liverpool, this last week has been quite the plummet back to Earth for van Gaal.

Regardless, Liverpool deserved to win the tie. When you put 15 shots on-target over two legs compared to the opposition's four (Four. In 180 minutes.), you should win the tie. When you create five clear-cut chances to the opposition's three over two legs, scoring two to the opposition's one, you should win the tie. When the two-legged Expected Goals looks like this, you should win the tie.

In the last leg, Liverpool won when they dominated the ball, and should have won by more. In this leg, Liverpool drew, but Liverpool only needed a draw, and drew despite United's overwhelming control of the ball. Over 180 minutes, Liverpool were better in attack, better in midfield, and better in defense. The only position where United were better was goalkeeper, and that's no fault of Simon Mignolet's.

Liverpool are still yet to lose a Europa League game this season. They've drawn more than we'd like – six draws, four wins – but remain unbeaten and in the final eight. And since Klopp became manager, Liverpool have conceded just three Europa League goals in eight Europa League matches. Martial's penalty was the first that Liverpool conceded in 458 minutes of Europa League football, since Bordeaux's opener back in November (a match that Liverpool still won). Liverpool have yet to concede an open play goal since 15 minutes into Klopp's first Europa League match, Kazan's opener at Anfield. That was 705 minutes of play ago. Almost eight full matches. Almost 12 hours.

Liverpool have been surprisingly competent in this competition. As always, you want and expect more going forward, but the defense has become both consistent and superb.

They'll have to be even better – vastly better – if that statistic, and Liverpool, is to survive the next round.

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