31 October 2016

Visualized: Liverpool 4-2 Crystal Palace

Previous Match Infographics: West Brom (h), United (h), Swansea (a), Hull (h), Chelsea (a), Leicester (h), Tottenham (a), Burnley (a), Arsenal (a)

All match data from Stats Zone and Who Scored.

Like most everyone else, I can't help but focus on Liverpool's attack when writing about Saturday's match.

The ferocity. The understanding. The constant movement to flummox, twist, and turn defenses who want nothing more than to drop deep and stay in position.

It goes without saying that Firmino, Coutinho, and Mané's ability to pop up anywhere in the opposition half has gone a long, long way in making Liverpool such a potent side. A striker frequently in name only, a left-winger who can drop into midfield or get into the box, and a right-winger who often comes inside and gets behind the defense. And it's why Daniel Sturridge, often Liverpool's best player in the previous two seasons, can't get a league game.

It's not limited to just the front three. The midfielders, both Can and Lallana (as well as Wijnaldum when he starts), pull into positions vacated by both wingers and strikers. It's most evident in the first goal: as Coutinho cuts in and drops deep, Henderson goes forward and wide, in position to get the return pass from Moreno, while Can bombs into the box, taking up almost the same position that Coutinho scored from against West Brom.

And the clever movement between the front three was most evident in what should have been Liverpool's third goal.

Coutinho cuts across the length of the pitch in possession, eventually linking up with Firmino, who's started the move wide on the right. Meanwhile, Mané's shifting around the center of box, drifting between Dunn and Ward to find space, eventually wide-as-hell open, found by Nat Clyne, who's underlapped into the space created by Coutinho and Firmino playing wide, able to pick up possession in the box from a ricochet off a retreating defender.

There's literally no way to man-mark situations like these, and you've got to be tremendously disciplined to deal with it zonally, as Ward and Dann proved when trying to keep track of Mané.

But Liverpool can also succeed when these attackers can play their "normal" roles, seen in Liverpool's game-sealing fourth: a deep throughball from a central midfielder to a central striker beating the back four. The only switch is Mané dropping deeper and Lallana moving into the space vacated, and it's Lallana's run that's created all that space for Firmino.

It's been ten games, and the interplay is just jaw-dropping. And it's resulted in some pretty tremendous output so far. All four of Liverpool's primary attackers are averaging better than 0.50 goals+assists per 90 so far. Coutinho's not far off 1.00 on his own.

Combined, those four players are averaging more shots per 90 than 10 teams in the league and more goals per 90 than 16 teams.

Saturday saw exactly the sort of movement that Liverpool wholly lacked in the one bad result of the season, at Burnley. There, Liverpool failed to pull Burnley out of position, failed to penetrate behind the back four, and resorted to speculative efforts from distance. 17 of Liverpool's 26 shots that day came from outside the box, with only seven in the Danger Zone.

On Saturday, 12 of Liverpool's 17 shots against Crystal Palace – 71% – came in the Danger Zone, by far the highest proportion since Klopp became manager.

This is a good and fun attack and I like to watch it.

Of course, then there's the opposite end of the pitch. Liverpool failed to keep a clean sheet for the ninth time in ten matches. Liverpool conceded from the first shot on-target for the sixth time in ten matches. Liverpool twice allowed an equalizer, two minutes and 12 minutes after taking a lead, on two wholly preventable goals: one from a unbelievable-if-it-wasn't-Liverpool error, the second after Lovren lost two aerial duels and Moreno couldn't block Zaha's cross. While Liverpool are joint-top scorers in the league, they're joint-ninth in goals allowed.

But for the fifth-straight match, Liverpool faced eight or fewer shots. Palace took seven, the same as both West Brom and Manchester United. No side's taken more than 12 against Liverpool, and Liverpool's taken less than 12 just once this season (nine v Manchester United). Once Liverpool got its two-goal lead, Palace took just two shots: Zaha a minute after Firmino's goal, saved by Karius, and Puncheon from long, long range in the 86th, well off-target.

Limiting opposition shots is good and helpful. But Liverpool were also notably worse than usual in a couple of areas. Five of Palace's seven shots came in the Danger Zone. Six of Palace's seven shots were on-target. Even with few shots, that's too many shots in good positions leading to too many shots on-target for a side prone to conceding.

An 86% shot accuracy is the highest any opposition's registered since Klopp became manager; the only matches which came close were Norwich and Watford putting five of six on target last season, a 5-4 Liverpool win and 0-3 Liverpool loss respectively.

Six shots on-target are also the most Liverpool have faced in a single match this season; only West Ham (10), Swansea (9), Chelsea (7), and Leicester (6) reached that mark against Liverpool last season. Liverpool failed to win any of those games, losing three and drawing one.

Aside from the second goal, none of Palace's shots on-targets seemed especially well-placed, but at least Karius made the necessary saves. And in the routinely soul-crushing set play watch, Liverpool did okay! Three corners and two free kicks led to two shots, both on-target, both from Benteke, both in the 49th minute with Liverpool clinging to a one-goal lead. And Karius saved both, one right-footed, one header.

So it's one more tough test down. Another win in a fixture Liverpool's struggled with in the past. Liverpool still are what we thought they are, for better and worse, but it's working. Ten matches, just one loss, 23 points, level with City and Arsenal at the top of the table. A rip-roaring whirlwind attack that can do pretty much anything is doing enough to make up for a shaky, error-prone, set-play-prone, doesn't-save-enough-shots defense for the moment.

It's exhilarating, to say the absolute least, at both ends of the pitch.

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