28 December 2016

Visualized: Liverpool 4-1 Stoke

Previous Match Infographics: Everton (a), Middlesbrough (a), West Ham (h), Bournemouth (a), Sunderland (h), Southampton (a), Watford (h), Crystal Palace (a), 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.

It's the 12th minute and the sky is falling.

Liverpool had started as Liverpool should. Pressing furiously, Stoke penned in, dominating possession. It had led to just three Liverpool chances – Henderson not far over from distance, Firmino's soft header easily saved, Firmino blocked from outside the box – but, aside from Lallana's goal against West Ham, that was at least more than Liverpool created in the first ten minutes of matches since Coutinho's injury. And, to be fair, Liverpool were up against what seemed most like a back three, for the first time this season. It was going to take some time to break through, but the breakthrough seemed coming.

But then, just a little bit of Stoke possession. A hoofed long ball from Grant, Walters and Crouch holding up play, one cross and Crouch header only half-cleared, a second cross and Walters header converted, with Lovren losing his man and Mignolet's spaghetti wrists at the near post.

And the sky is falling. And Liverpool's on tilt. Liverpool look capable of conceding a second at any moment, and Liverpool's lucky not to concede a second when Klavan and Milner can't decide who's going to clear and Allen's in, and Mignolet wonderfully denies him before Klavan clears Pieters' rebound off the line.

And the sky is falling. And then it isn't. Stoke have just one more chance in the next 15 minutes, Walters from outside the box swiftly blocked. And then Liverpool have an equalizer. Then a second. Then a third. Then a fourth.

Between Liverpool's first and fourth goals, Stoke failed to take a single shot. Afellay's 78th-minute off-target blast from long, long range was Stoke's only effort after the 30th minute. During that spell, Liverpool took ten and scored four goals.

I have no idea why you all thought the sky was falling.

Liverpool have now conceded the opening goal around or before the 30th minute in four matches this season. They've won three of them: 4-3 at Arsenal, 2-1 at Swansea, and 4-1 against Stoke. 0-2 at Burnley remains the odd match out, and increasingly looks more and more of a fluke.

Liverpool came back to win one league match from a similar position last season, 3-1 at Chelsea in Klopp's third league match. They drew twice – against Chelsea and at West Brom in May – and lost four: 1-2 against Palace, 0-3 at Watford, 0-2 at West Ham, and 1-3 at Swansea. Although, admittedly, that record looks a lot better if you include cup matches, i.e. Dortmund, Southampton, Kazan, Exeter.

I still advise not conceding the opening goal. But it's yet more evidence of Liverpool's resilience under this manager.

And it helped that yesterday was probably Liverpool's best attacking performance since Coutinho's injury.

Sure, there are the four goals from four different sources. There are 20 shots, only topped by the 27 against really truly not-good Sunderland in the last month, eclipsing the ten at Bournemouth, 18 against West Ham, 15 at Middlesbrough, and 11 at Everton. There's Origi's increasingly good hold-up play, most evident in the build-up to Liverpool's equalizer, as well as his contribution on Imbula's own goal. There's Firmino finally coming good on the left, five shots with three on-target for the second-straight match, and finally scoring. And he created four chances yesterday; he'd created just three in the four matches prior since Coutinho's injury. There's Mané's permanent threat from his pace even when he's not at his most potent, there's Lallana and Wijnaldum's constant movement, and, hey, there's Daniel ****ing Sturridge coming off the bench to score with his first touch.

But Liverpool still had help.

Liverpool still only put six of 20 shots on-target. Three of Liverpool's four goals were unassisted. All four saw at least one Stoke player get a touch during the move, whether it was Diouf's failed headed clearance on the second or errors directly leading to Liverpool's goals. Stoke committed two Opta-defined errors leading to goals: Johnson's misplaced touch setting up Lallana for the first and Shawcross' ill-advised back pass for Sturridge to score the fourth, and that doesn't count Imbula putting the ball in his own net. That error from Shawcross led to Liverpool's only clear-cut chance of the match, despite taking 20 shots.

Liverpool's starting striker failed to take a shot or create a chance, although in a just universe he'd be credited for an assist on Imbula's own goal.

Stoke kind of shot themselves in the foot, even if Liverpool put and pushed them into situations to do so. There was more than a little of how Bournemouth got their goals against Liverpool in how Liverpool got their goals against Stoke. What goes around often really does come around.

And, nonetheless, Liverpool were due.

Each player scored not long after those tweets. Damned lies and statistics, etc. Their goals had felt coming from some time, with Sturridge especially long overdue considering his output in so few minutes. When good players put enough shots on-targets, good players will eventually get their goals.

Sturridge's goal, his first of the season and Liverpool's fourth, to seal the match, was the 100th Premier League goal that Liverpool have scored under Jürgen Klopp. This was Klopp's 48th game.

It's an average of 2.08 goals per game. 20 different players, as well as two own goals. It's not that long ago that it felt as if Own Goal were one of Liverpool's top two or three scorers for nearly half a season. Of course, it's also not that long ago that Liverpool scored 100 goals in a single league season (*waves at Luis Suarez*).

Still, it's a remarkable total considering Liverpool's output in 2014-15 and the first half of 2015-16. And most impressive is how Liverpool have spread the wealth. There are eight players with at least seven goals, but only three in double-digits and no one with more than 16. Five players are no longer with the club – Benteke as top scorer of the lot with seven goals – although Sakho will soon make six.

I've said it before, and I hope to say it many, many more times. This can be and often is a fun attacking team, with heavy emphasis on the word team. Even without Coutinho. Even when getting some help from the opposition. And, probably most importantly, even when conceding the opening goal and it seems as if the sky's falling.

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