03 October 2016

Visualized: Liverpool 2-1 Swansea

Previous Match Infographics: Hull (h), Chelsea (a), Leicester (h), Tottenham (a), Burnley (a), Arsenal (a)

All match data from Stats Zone and Who Scored.

That could and probably should have gone a lot worse. But it didn't. But Liverpool won.

Whether that's reassuring or a sign of imminent disaster depends on your weltanschauung.

Over the last year, if Klopp's Liverpool doesn't score in the first half, Klopp's Liverpool are often in trouble. As said in Saturday's match review, that had happened in 16 games prior to this weekend; Liverpool won just four, drawing five and losing seven. And Liverpool were level at 0-0 in three of those four wins, eking out 1-0 victories; the only comeback was 2-1 at Crystal Palace thanks to Benteke's very late and slightly dubious penalty. Liverpool had failed to score in the first half just once this season, and I suspect you still remember the 0-2 loss at Burnley.

Liverpool didn't even put a shot on-target in the first half on Saturday.

It's not as if Klopp's Liverpool necessarily come out guns blazing – Liverpool have actually scored the lowest percentage of goals in the first 15 minutes under Klopp compared to the previous four Liverpool managers – but they tend to score a lot between the 16th and 45th minutes, 38% of all goals scored since Klopp became manager.

Just look at the first goal in the games so far this season:

- Arsenal: 45'
- Burton Albion: 15'
- Tottenham: 43'
- Leicester: 13'
- Chelsea: 17'
- Derby: 24'
- Hull: 17'

Win, win, draw, win, win, win, win. News flash: early Liverpool goals are often good things, and often lead to more.

Meanwhile, Liverpool have conceded a first-half opening goal in nine of Klopp's 36 league matches prior to Saturday. They came back to beat Chelsea (a) and Arsenal (a), drew with Chelsea (h) and West Brom (a), and lost to Palace (h), Watford (a), West Ham (h), Swansea (a), and Burnley (a).

There's a pretty clear distinction between classes of opposition. Liverpool can come back against the likes of Chelsea and Arsenal, but Liverpool have usually been absolutely boned when conceding early against the likes of Watford, West Ham, Burnley.

And the likes of Swansea, which we saw in last season's 1-3 loss, but which was admittedly with a radically different and under-strength XI. Still, the pattern held.

It didn't hold on Saturday.

Swansea certainly started the better side. They should have opened the scoring in the fifth minute. They did open the scoring in the eighth. Swansea had four clear-cut in the first 26 minutes, somehow only converting one (two missed, both headers, and one saved).

Through the first six league matches of the season, Liverpool had allowed just four clear-cut chances combined: one at Arsenal, two v Leicester, and one at Chelsea.

The most clear-cut chances that Liverpool had previously allowed in a match under Klopp was three, in three different matches last season: 0-3 at Watford, 3-3 v Arsenal, and 1-3 at Swansea. Since 2012-13, Liverpool had allowed four clear-cut chances in four matches: 1-6 at Stoke in 2014-15, 3-2 at QPR in 2014-15 (lol QPR), 1-3 at Southampton in 2012-13, and 1-2 at United in 2012-13. And that's it.

Five clear-cut chances is an egregious amount even for "free-scoring" Liverpool. They've had four or more clear-cut chances in just three league matches under Klopp: 4-1 at Manchester City, 4-1 v Leicester, and 5-1 v Hull. That Swansea created that many chances that good and scored just once is a bit bonkers.

All four of Swansea's first-half big chances came from crosses, as did the fifth in second-half added time, which could have easily spoiled Liverpool's comeback. Two of the early four came from set plays.

How did they happen?

5' - Loss of Liverpool possession on Matip's hopeful cross-field pass leads to a counter down Liverpool's left
8' - Lallana dispossessed in final third leads to counter leads to corner
21' - Swansea possession with Liverpool down to 10 men after Lallana's injury, Sigurðsson's chipped cross coming from the area where Lallana plays
26' - Henderson fouls Cork when Swansea attack from a long header out of defense

To recap: four of four from crosses, three of four from quick transitions from Swansea's half, two of four from set plays. Four clear-cut chances from five shots in total. Liverpool still don't allow a lot of chances, but Liverpool still allow high-value chances.

In case you were wondering where Liverpool still have issues. In case you somehow weren't already aware.

So it should have been game over within half an hour. It should have been an even clearer repeat of 0-2 Burnley, with Liverpool needing a much more difficult comeback. Liverpool were very, very lucky it wasn't. And that luck is a big reason why Francesco Guidolin's out of a job this morning.

But, by hook and by crook, Liverpool held on for those first 30 minutes. Liverpool took 10 or so minutes to settle after Sturridge's introduction, adjusting to the new shape. From five Swansea shots in the first 26 minutes to just three for the rest of the match: Sigurðsson's deep free kick saved in the 44th, Fulton's header blocked in the 72nd, and van der Hoorn late late late chance. From just one Liverpool shot in the first 26 minutes (Lallana from distance not close) to 17 in the subsequent 65.

Still, it ain't as if Liverpool were any great shakes, at least from open play. Swansea still blocked half of Liverpool's total shots. Six of Liverpool's 10 in-box shots were blocked, six of Liverpool's 10 in-box shots came from set plays or the penalty.

And Liverpool's two clear-cut chances came from a set play and a penalty. Thankfully, and in contrast to Swansea, Liverpool took advantage of both of them.

It was just Liverpool's second headed goal of the season, after Firmino's against Burton Albion. It was just Liverpool's third free kick goal, after Coutinho's direct blast at Arsenal and Lovren's back post strike at Chelsea. But it was Liverpool's fourth penalty of the season, through just seven games.

Liverpool won just two penalties in last season's league campaign: Ibe's cross handled by Neil Taylor against Swansea and Benteke brought down at Crystal Palace. And that's it.

This season, Firmino has twice been brought down in the box, Sturridge brought down once, and Elmohamady handled Coutinho's goal-bound effort. It's early, small sample size, random variance, etc but this seems an example of Liverpool's better movement in the final third and increased willingness to get into the box and do something in said box.

That's something.

Basically, the takeaways are easy to pick out. It's reassuring that Liverpool had the fortitude to come back despite all the evil early on, with similar starts leading to awful results in the past. It's reassuring that Liverpool did it despite the long-standing precedent of not being able to do it often enough in this sort of fixture. It's reassuring that Liverpool did it away from home, at a ground where they've historically suffered, and despite needing to change shape and tactics after 20 minutes due to an injury to one of Liverpool's best players so far this season.

But Liverpool still need to do better. Liverpool still need to start better away from home in "winnable" matches; Liverpool still need to defend better against crosses, set plays, and quick transitions. Liverpool still struggle and concede chances when opposition forwards press in Liverpool's half. Liverpool still struggle against deep defenses in open play, even if slightly less than than they have in the past.

Liverpool could have lost, Liverpool probably should have drawn, but Liverpool won.

And we've seen similar to that before as well. Barely October and beginning to draw parallels with 2013-14 probably isn't clever, but we saw this match a few times that season, most notably 2-0 v Hull (needing two set plays to break down a side that embarrassed Liverpool earlier in the season) and 2-1 at West Ham (Gerrard scoring two penalties, Liverpool conceding from a corner to make it nervous).

Win when you don't play well. Survive and come back in a difficult away match. By any means necessary, take the points, learn from it and move on. And then do better next time.

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