23 September 2016

Liverpool v Hull 09.24.16

10am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
0-1 Hull (a) 04.28.15
0-0 (h) 10.25.14
2-0 Liverpool (h) 01.01.14
1-3 Hull (a) 12.01.13

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 3-0 Derby (a); 2-1 Chelsea (a); 4-1 Leicester (h)
Hull: 2-1 Stoke (a); 1-4 Arsenal (h); 1-1 Burnley (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Coutinho, Firmino, Lallana, Mané 2; Henderson, Lovren, Milner 1
Hull: Snodgrass 3; Diomande, Hernandez, Maloney 1

Referee: Andre Marriner

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

At Arsenal on opening day? Cake. Away to both Tottenham and Chelsea? Not a worry. Inaugurating a renovated Anfield against the defending league champions? Yawn.

A "routine" home match against a bottom-half, promoted side? EVERYBODY FREAK OUT!

And rightfully so. I'll continue to harp on it, unfairly or not, until Liverpool settles everyone's nerves. These are the matches where Liverpool have had a greater tendency towards failure, at least compared to what Liverpool's objectives should be. These are the matches where Liverpool have let us, and themselves, down.

Liverpool control possession and tempo. Liverpool dominate the shot count, albeit with far too many from outside the box. Liverpool become frustrated, Liverpool take even more low-percentage shots, and at some time, Liverpool make a mistake, or fail on a set play, or get beat on the counter, and Liverpool lose or draw a match we expected them to win.

To be slightly fairer, the worst examples have come away from Anfield: Newcastle, Watford, West Ham last season; Burnley (sigh) this season. The bigger problem at home has been letting sides back into the match: 1-1 v Southampton, 2-2 v Sunderland, 2-2 v Newcastle. Not only do Liverpool have to score, not only will it help if Liverpool score early, Liverpool need to stand on necks and then not let go.

So, are Liverpool more likely to do that with Sturridge or with Coutinho? I still think that's the line-up debate. Despite Coutinho's goal and assist (well, assist and a half) on Tuesday, his two goals and assist in the league, I can't help but suspect that Liverpool's best attack against deep-lying, often passive defenses is Firmino-Sturridge-Mané, as we saw against Leicester. Sure, that's a small sample size, but we've got a larger one with Coutinho blasting away from distance against that type of defense for little reward. Firmino, Sturridge, and Mané's movement simply amazed in the last match at Anfield, while I still worry about the Firmino-Coutinho-Mané front three against deeper defenses. Maybe it's recency bias, but that seems to work better in the "big games": the Arsenals, the Tottenhams.

But Sturridge is more likely to change the game off the bench if it comes to that. And Sturridge didn't train for three days this week, following a minor concern from the Chelsea contest. And we only saw the aforementioned front three v Leicester because of Coutinho's post-internationals fatigue; he's rarely if ever left out when fully fit. Even though I don't necessarily like it, and probably wouldn't pick it, I suspect this will be the front three.

Either way, this match will go a long way in confirming or refuting one of our long-held beliefs.

The only other line-up question seems to be Karius or Mignolet; the rest of the XI writes itself. We want to see Karius. But Mignolet's been – shock horror – surprisingly adequate since Karius returned from injury, seemingly pushed by the competition. Of course, that's two matches compared to the three seasons which came before. Maybe Hull at home is a good start for Liverpool's new signing, not likely to be too troubled, but one mistake, costly or not, could set Karius back a long way. Still, you bought him. He's fit. Let's see him.

Hull, albeit under different managers for both sides, have been a problem for Liverpool in recent seasons. Four matches following their previous promotion: one Liverpool win, one draw, and two losses. Thankfully, this is a very different Liverpool team, but that doesn't mean we're convinced it'll be a different result.

And despite the different managers, Liverpool's often-mentioned struggles against a deep defense were on show in each of those meetings. Hull scored three in the first meeting of 2013-14: from a giveaway in Liverpool's half, from a set play that Liverpool failed to clear, and from a counter-attack. All three are too-familiar concessions. Their winner in 2014-15 came from well-worked corner kick. Liverpool tried and tried and failed to score in both meetings in 2014-15, but, to be fair, Liverpool failed to score in more than a few matches that season. The lone win against Hull came thanks to two set play goals: Agger's header and Suarez's direct free kick. As did Liverpool's one other goal: Gerrard's direct free kick consolation in December 2013.

The last time Liverpool scored from open play against Hull was six meetings ago, seven years ago, in a 6-1 win at Anfield: a Torres hat-trick and Babel brace, Liverpool biggest victory in a season that saw Rafa Benitez sacked.

Incidentally, three of Hull's six league goals so far this season have come from set plays – a corners against Leicester and Swansea, and Snodgrass' direct free kick against Burnley – along with one penalty.

And while Hull have kept just one clean sheet – one more than Liverpool – they've allowed just one goal in three of the other four matches, against Leicester, United, and Burnley, the same amount they've allowed in the two cup ties against Exeter and Stoke.

The exception was Arsenal's 4-1 home win, the template for what Liverpool need to do: early pressure leading to Alexis Sanchez's 17th minute goal, forcing Hull to come out bit by bit, eventually adding three more (plus a missed penalty). Of course, it helps when Hull have a player sent off in the 40th minute. Liverpool should try that too.

Hull remained cagey, Hull fought for every loose ball, and Hull won a penalty to get it to 1-2 before Arsenal's class won out. Arsenal didn't get too frustrated, Arsenal kept ticking over, and Arsenal finally saw the match out after Hull added a bit of impetus; even if Arsenal bent, they made sure not to break. And that's exactly what Liverpool will need to do.

The same XI has started each of Hull's league games so far: Jakupovic; Elmohamady, Livermore, Davies, Robertson; Clucas, Huddlestone, Meyler; Snodgrass, Hernandez, Diomande.

But I wouldn't be surprised to see three players who did well against Stoke in Wednesday's League Cup win: Ryan Mason, Hull's record signing, in midfield rather than Meyler; ex-Cardiff keeper David Marshall in goals and winger Markus Hendriksen, who scored the 90th-minute winner, in place of Diomande. The six (!!!) players signed on deadline day to fill out a scarily sparse squad have seemingly had time to gel with their new teammates. Hull are still missing center-backs Michael Dawson and Alex Bruce, right-back Moses Odubajo, and keeper Allan McGregor.

It's no surprise that Klopp heavily emphasized 'patience' in his pre-match quotes. Liverpool can struggle in matches like this when it takes time to score. Liverpool become frustrated far too easily, and it can be exacerbated by the crowd.

So far, one game excluded, this has been a fairly different and fairly fun Liverpool side this season. Liverpool needs to play its game, in attack and in defense, from the first to the 90th minute. The rest will follow.

No comments :