12 September 2016

Visualized: Liverpool 4-1 Leicester

Previous Match Infographics: Tottenham (a), Burnley (a), Arsenal (a)

All match data from Stats Zone and Who Scored.

It's always strange to write these when there's almost nothing to complain about. It's assuredly harder, but I suspect that's a personal problem. Obviously, it's "almost nothing" because of the preposterous goal conceded and subsequent twitchiness until halftime, but that's literally it.

Everything else – in defense, in midfield, and absolutely in attack – was great. Honest-to-goodness great. I could spend this entire piece picking out random stats and facts about every player involved.

Mignolet? A clear-cut chance saved, two vital claims, and a necessary punch in the 30 or so minutes after Leicester scored, incurring both a bloody nose and cut above his eye.

Lucas and Matip? Strong passing and a combined 18 clearances (including 15 headed clearances).

Clyne? Joint-second chances created, outstandingly pinning both Albrighton and Fuchs deep.

Milner? Riyad Mahrez created just two open-play chances and had both shots blocked.

Henderson? Just three misplaced passes all game, starting the moves for Liverpool's second and third goals, and playing a crucial pass to unlock the defense for Liverpool's second and fourth goals.

Wijnaldum? His second assist in four games, his strong link play with the two other central midfielders and Firmino, and a now mostly forgotten moment of necessary tracking back when Liverpool were a bit on tilt.

Lallana? Only Lucas and Milner had more touches of the ball, only Lucas attempted more passes (despite Lallana playing as the furthest forward of the three midfielders). Ran farther than any player in a league match this season. Oh, and that goal. Liverpool have now won nine, drawn four, and lost just once when Lallana scores (2.21 ppg).

Firmino, Mané, Sturridge? Yeah, you saw Liverpool's attack. Special mention goes to Firmino's continuing productivity (0.81 G+A per90 in the league under Klopp), Sturridge's movement and work rate, and the difference that Mané's pace makes from last season's side to this one.

But Saturday was less about individual performances and more about how each player worked within the unit: in the three distinct phases as well as the team as a whole. Which is exactly what Jürgen Klopp wants from his side.

It always helps when you put 64.7% of your shots on-target (11 of 17), which is the second-highest shot accuracy in a league match since Klopp took over. Only nine of 11 in the six-goal romp at a horrific Aston Villa last season surpasses that mark, and the 4-1 win at Manchester City was the only other match where Liverpool put better than 60% of their shots on-target.

Liverpool put just two shots off-target all match: Wijnaldum in the 37th minute and Henderson in the 79th. Combined, Firmino, Sturridge, Mané, and Lallana put 11 of 12 shots on-target, Sturridge's 30th-minute blocked shot from just outside the box the lone exception.

And while there were a fair amount of shots from outside the box – eight of Liverpool's 17 – almost everything inside the box was an excellent chance. Four of those nine in-box shots (and four of the seven in the Danger Zone) were clear-cut chances.

Upon review, Opta took away Henderson's 79th-minute miss (and probably rightfully so), but Mané's goal, Firmino's second, and Sturridge twice brilliantly denied by Schmeichel were all big chances. It's further evidence of how thoroughly Liverpool diced Leicester open, something that rarely happened to last season's title winners. And it's even more impressive that Liverpool did it at home.

Liverpool had four or more clear-cut chances just once in the league last season: the emphatic 4-1 win at Manchester City. Liverpool's ability on the counter has often made the team more productive away from home.

Liverpool scored four or more goals away from home under Klopp four times – 4-1 City, 6-1 Southampton (LC), 5-4 Norwich, 6-0 Villa – before it happened at Anfield. Liverpool have gotten better in this regard – Liverpool have, after all, gotten better in most regards under Klopp – but goal-fests are still more likely to occur away from Anfield.

Each of Liverpool's first three goals began with Liverpool winning possession in the middle of the pitch – Sturridge tracking back to intercept, then Henderson twice picking up possession after loose clearances – then immediately going backwards, drawing Leicester a bit further out then changing the angle of attack as quickly as possible. That's incredibly important when facing a team that likes to defend compactly. Stretch them forward, then stretch them wide. Find ways to create potential gaps. Then go for the throat.

You still need Sturridge's run to create space and Firmino's touch on the first; the weight of Henderson's pass and the pace of Sturridge and Mané on the second; Sturridge's cut inside and Wijnaldum's burst into the box on the third; and outstanding strikes from all three scorers. You need Leicester's lack of a press on the first, and Leicester's frantic, slightly wayward clearances on the second and third. But the movement – backwards, sideways, and then forward, all at pace – was the base from which each came from. It's the base from which Liverpool can succeed against deep defenses, something we've discussed endlessly over the last year (and longer).

But even though all of Liverpool's goals were outstanding, featuring clever on- and off-the-ball movement from all involved, both of the crucial second and third goals needed a bit of luck, each featuring a deflection off a Leicester player from a Sturridge pass: his back-heel slightly redirected by Simpson, a throughball that might have been behind Wijnaldum slowed down by Morgan. Schmeichel got a hand to Mané's strike, but

I've said it countless times, and I'll assuredly say it again. It's best to be lucky and good.

On Saturday, Liverpool were a bit lucky – aside, obviously, from the goal conceded – and Liverpool were very, very good.

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