16 October 2017

Visualized: Liverpool 0-0 Manchester United

Previous Match Infographics: Newcastle (a), Spartak Moscow (a), Leicester (a), Burnley (h), Sevilla (h), Manchester City (a), Arsenal (h), Hoffenheim (h), Crystal Palace (h), Hoffenheim (a), Watford (a)

Match data from WhoScored, except average position from the SofaScore app.



As has become depressingly usual, there's not a lot to be said that hasn't already been said over the last month.

Yes, Liverpool were better than Manchester United in most phases of the game. Liverpool had more and better chances to win. Liverpool played better than in this fixture last season, when Manchester United were in far worse form and Liverpool in far better.



Liverpool still got the same result as last season. Liverpool still drew. For the fifth time in the last seven matches.

So, yes, Liverpool had two clear-cut chances where United had none. Liverpool had vastly more shots. More shots on-target, and more inside the box.

It's the first time United have been held scoreless this season. United's last shot came in the 43rd minute, which was United's only shot on-target, well saved by Mignolet after Gomez did just enough to put him off. And I'll remind that this United side had scored 33 goals in its first 11 matches in all competitions.

But Liverpool's last shot on-target came in the 41st minute. 10 shots in the second half: four blocked, and six off-target. The final six shots of the match were all off-target. Those two clear-cut chances were saved by De Gea and missed by Emre Can.

Once again, Liverpool have been let down by its finishing. As against Sevilla, Burnley, Spartak, and Newcastle – every single one of those other draws over the last month.

My biggest concern – outside of the overall lack of goals and the results, obviously – is that Liverpool rarely felt capable of getting a winner as the match went on. Increasingly frustrated and increasingly poorer Liverpool shots. Blocked, blocked, blocked, blocked, off-target, off-target, off-target, off-target, off-target, off-target.

It remains difficult to get over Liverpool's substitutions. Yes, we're coming off an international break. Yes, Liverpool play again on Tuesday, in a match where points are arguably even more important; there are 30 league matches left, while there are potentially only four left in the Champions League.

But it remains strange to see Coutinho, Salah, and Firmino taken off when chasing a match-winner. Oxlade-Chamberlain at least looked dangerous and created two chances (albeit both from corners), but neither Sturridge nor Solanke took a shot. Or created a chance. Or did anything of note. And subsequently, Liverpool took just two shots after the substitutions. From Lovren and Matip – Liverpool's two center-backs – both from corners, both off-target.

This is not the first time Liverpool have looked increasingly inept in front of goal as the match progressed.



The last time Liverpool scored a winner after the 75th minute was at Everton in December 2016. The last time Liverpool conceded a late winner was against Southampton in the second leg of last January's League Cup semi-final. The last time it happened in the league was at Bournemouth in December 2016.

Just compare the amount of opposition goals scored after the 75th minute since last January to the amount scored by Liverpool.

Liverpool have yet to score after the 77th minute this season: Sturridge's added gloss in the 4-0 romp over Arsenal. The latest game winner remains Mané's against Palace in the 73rd minute in August. The latest meaningful goal was a minute later in the previous match: Liverpool's second at Hoffenheim, necessary due to Liverpool conceding late in that match, making what would have been an equalizer merely a consolation.

Incidentally, Manchester United have scored 10 league goals after the 77th minute in the league this season, so at least Liverpool didn't allow that. Liverpool didn't look anywhere near allowing that. And that's always a positive with this Liverpool side.

Still, I'm not sure what happened to the side which had those late heroics at Norwich and against Dortmund in 2015-16, or the side which at least persevered to late wins against Sunderland and Everton in the first half of 2016-16.

So, yes, Manchester United are difficult opponents. This is always a narrow fixture, one which Liverpool have struggled in for a few seasons now no matter each side's respective form. In isolation, it's an annoying result, but nowhere near a bad result. Unfortunately, we can't take it in isolation. Not after the last month of results.

Once again, Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool almost always lives and dies by the goals they score. And if they're not scoring...

14 October 2017

Liverpool 0-0 Manchester United

Liverpool played well. Liverpool still got Mourinho'd.

It is frustrating to see United come to Anfield with no ambition other than keeping Liverpool out, but it's what Jose Mourinho does at Anfield.

And it works. It especially works when United are already seven points ahead of Liverpool because of Liverpool's earlier disappointments against the type of sides that United have already blown away.

This fixture's become a damp squib, which is exactly how Mourinho likes it. And it's a damp squib that Liverpool haven't won in the last seven league meetings.

For Liverpool's 62% possession, for Liverpool's 19-6 shot difference, for Liverpool's five shots on-target to United's one, for Liverpool's 1.8-0.3 xG difference, there really isn't that much to regret in front of goal. Compared to previous regrets, at least. De Gea had his usual moment of brilliance at Anfield when denying Matip in the 34rd minute, swiftly followed by Salah firing narrowly wide. Can's awkward close-range flick over from Gomez's wonderful cross in the 56th. A soft-but-seen-them-given penalty shout for Coutinho in the 61st. And that's about all worth mentioning.

So, yeah, three very good chances, and one penalty claim. Which, admittedly, is a lot for this fixture. But it wasn't simply failing to put the damned ball in the damned net, as against Burnley, Spartak, etc. It was the final ball not good enough. It was an inability to deal with Mourinho's damned parked bus, and not for the first time. It was Manchester United's good at the defense; that have conceded just two league goals, after all. Not enough potency, again, but more importantly, not enough guile.

They also need to stop scheduling this fixture right after an international break. This was a lot like last season, except United are in far better form and Liverpool aren't.

At least Liverpool barely gave United a glimpse at their goal. Even less than this fixture last season. United played for counters and set plays – Liverpool's demonstrable weaknesses – and created one moment of note, when Liverpool lost possession in transition, got diced through the middle, and Mignolet denied a fierce but straight rocket from Lukaku just before halftime. Three corners and a couple of free kicks led to nothing, potential counter-attacks were smothered well, especially by Liverpool's full-backs.

That's Liverpool's third clean sheet of the season. Crystal Palace – still yet to score in the league – Arsenal, and Manchester United. It is a weird season and this is a weird team.

It is somewhat surprising to see a side that's scored 33 goals through 11 matches in all competitions, that's scored three or more goals in five of their last six games, play so negatively but hi have you met Jose Mourinho.

So, yes, Liverpool played well. Liverpool still drew, for the fifth time in the last seven matches.

I still maintain that "one win in eight" lies. Liverpool's two losses came because of a red card and in a competition no one cares about. Liverpool should have won approximately three or four more of those matches. But it's still one win in eight.

It'd be better if Liverpool were firing on all cylinders. It'd be easier if Liverpool were bad. But Liverpool are just barely not quite good enough. Either wasting chances, or conceding too easily on those aforementioned counters and set plays, or simply unable to break down the super-powered version of Tony Pulis' Stoke. Almost there. But not quite good enough. Again.

Liverpool are close. But close is only good enough in horseshoes and hand grenades. It's certainly not good enough in this league.

13 October 2017

Liverpool v Manchester United 10.15.17

7:30am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
1-1 (a) 01.15.17
0-0 (h) 10.17.16
1-1 (a; Europa League) 03.17.16
2-0 (h; Europa League) 03.10.16

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-1 Newcastle (a); 1-1 Spartak (a); 3-2 Leicester (a)
United: 4-0 Palace (h); 4-1 CSKA Moscow (a); 1-0 Southampton (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Salah 4; Mané 3; Coutinho, Firmino 2; Henderson, Sturridge 1
United: Lukaku 7; Fellaini, Martial 3; Pogba, Rashford 2; Bailly, Mkhitaryan, Valencia 1

Referee: Martin Atkinson (LFC History) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Mignolet
Trent A-A Matip Lovren Moreno
Wijnaldum Henderson Can
Salah Firmino Coutinho

The international break was good, because it was nearly two full weeks without Liverpool drama. That's always welcomed.

The international break was bad, because it claimed yet another casualty, as it always seems to do. Sadio Mané, with a hamstring, in the conservatory. He'll be out for around six weeks. I doubt I need remind of Liverpool's record without Sadio Mané.

Mohamed Salah will make it less likely that Mané's absence leads to what happened when Mané was absent last winter. But we'll still probably see a more conservative, more defensive, more grinding, and less potent Liverpool – as we saw when Mané was absent at the end of last season. A stretch where Liverpool won five, drew two, and lost just once.

We'll probably see Coutinho move back into the front three, with Henderson, Wijnaldum, and Can in midfield. There are a couple of other less likely options, and we'll probably see all of them over the next few weeks, even if infrequently. Firmino going to the left with Sturridge or Solanke central. Oxlade-Chamberlain in the front three with Coutinho in midfield. A switch to 4-2-3-1, with either Wijnaldum or Can making way for Sturridge or Solanke up top. But we'll probably start with Coutinho in attack, because that seems the XI with the highest possible ceiling.

There's also the question of Trent Alexander-Arnold or Gomez at right-back. Both quick enough to deal with Rashford or Martial, but one ostensibly more attacking and one ostensibly more defensive. Which would suggest Gomez in this fixture, but Trent Alexander-Arnold's a Scouser. There needs to be a Scouser when these sides meet.

So I'm not incredibly excited for this fixture. Not that I ever am.

Liverpool do not have the best results following international breaks: 3W-4D-1L, although they've been mostly difficult fixtures, against Tottenham (twice), City (twice), Leicester, Southampton, Everton, and United. Liverpool do not have the best results in early kickoffs: 7W-5D-8L, although 15 of those 20 games came away from Anfield.

And, as we're all aware, Liverpool have not had the best results of late.

Meanwhile, Manchester United have scored 21 goals through seven league games, behind only Manchester City. United have scored six via set plays – more than any other side in the division – with three from corners and three from crossed free kicks. Romelu Lukaku is the league's top scorer.

United have conceded just twice in the league, both in a 2-2 draw at Stoke, the only league match where they've dropped points this season. They're level on points with Manchester City, five points ahead of third. They're unbeaten in both Champions League matches, each a three-goal win.

At least United didn't come out of the international break unscathed either. Fellaini strained knee ligaments, and will be out for the next few weeks. With Pogba and Carrick already missing, United's midfield has to be Herrera and Matic. Phil Jones pulled out of the England squad, but will probably be available here. Rojo and Ibrahimovic remain long-term absentees.

Which makes tomorrow's likely XI: De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Jones, Young; Matic, Herrera; Mata, Mkhitaryan, Rashford; Lukaku. Maybe Martial starts in place of Rashford, maybe Jones can't go and it's Smalling instead. Those are pretty much the only alternatives.

We know what we're getting with Jose Mourinho's side. And we know what we're getting with Jose Mourinho. United have become a lot more potent this season, mainly thanks to Lukaku, but they're still low-block-and-counter rather than blitzkrieg. Strangle then garrote, rather than Liverpool's ideal fist-to-the-face-and-don't-stop-punching. Only six of United's 21 goals have come in the first half. 10 of the 21 have come after the 80th minute. Which *glances at Watford and Sevilla's equalizers, and Leicester in the League Cup* isn't ideal.

This may not be the ideal fixture for a fresh start, but it's a fresh start all the same. Yes, results were bad over the last month, but the play really wasn't. Yes, United are playing depressingly well. Yes, Liverpool tend to stumble in early kickoffs and after international breaks.

But this is what it is. Liverpool have to deal with it, Liverpool have to overcome it.

I know I am pessimistic far too often for most folks' liking. And I am admittedly pessimistic about tomorrow. But a good performance certainly isn't out of the question. And a win certainly isn't out of the question. We've seen Liverpool storm out of the blocks in a big game at Anfield. We've seen Liverpool convert the chances we saw Liverpool create but fail to convert over the last month. We've seen Liverpool keep an in-form Lukaku completely under wraps.

Liverpool can; we know Liverpool can. The question, as always, is whether Liverpool will.

09 October 2017

Two Years of Jürgen Klopp

Yesterday marked two years since Jürgen Klopp became Liverpool's manager. Jürgen Klopp. It's still hard to believe sometimes.

And it's been a wild two years.

A rebuild, rebirth, renaissance after the nadir in 2014-15. 3-1 Chelsea and 4-1 City little more than a month after Klopp's appointment; 4-3, 3-1, and 4-0 Arsenal; 4-0 in his first Merseyside Derby; multiple three-, four-, and five-goal wins. Two cup finals in his first season. Champions League qualification for only the second time in eight years in his second season.

There has been player development: Coutinho and Firmino are now bonafide stars; Henderson, Lallana, and Can have all improved as well. There have been clever transfer purchases: Mané and Salah are phenomenal, even at the costs, while Matip and Wijnaldum look decent deals as well. There has been youth development: Alexander-Arnold, Woodburn, and Gomez; Solanke, Grujic, Robertson, and Origi are a stage older but will continue to progress; even Emre Can's still only 23.

Liverpool have a young squad but Liverpool also have a settled squad.

And when Liverpool are fun, they're really damned fun. When they're not, welp.

Yes, there have also been issues. You know the issues. The issues are even more suffocating after the month we've seen. We'll talk more about the issues.



After this last month, you will probably not be surprised to learn that Klopp's most common scoreline has been 1-1, with 15 in all competitions and 10 in the league. Next most frequent has been 1-0 – yes, Liverpool can grind out games every now and then – with 13 in all competitions and eight in the league – followed by 2-1 (ten in all competitions; seven in the league), 2-2 (8; 6), and 0-0 (8; 4).

I don't have the stats for the entire Premier League, but I suspect this isn't uncommon. They are, after all, fairly common scorelines. And none of those most common scorelines end in a Liverpool loss.

Good. That's how it should be. Even more impressive is the fact that Liverpool have scored at least three goals in 30 of Klopp's 111 matches – 27%. It's happened in 23 of 75 in the Premier League – 30.7%.

Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool are good at the goals.



Again, Coutinho and Firmino have become fully-fledged superstars. Sadio Mané has less than a full season worth of games due to injury, international absences, and suspension, and already has 16 goals, all in the Premier League. Mo Salah, who's played just 11 games, is already joint-ninth top scorer since Klopp became manager. Liverpool have seen 29 different goal-scorers over the last two years, although only 17 are still with the club (with Origi and Ojo out on loan, futures to be determined).

Goals are good, and goals usually haven't been the problem for Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool – this last month, and last winter last season not withstanding.

So, how have Klopp's two years compared to managers past?



Gulp. That goals against average, especially in the league. Otherwise known as that 'the same struggles in defense, especially against set plays and teams you expect to beat, for two years now.' That 'great at limiting shots, awful at limiting good shots and goals.' That 'yep, you didn't buy a center-back this summer and the internet is still angry.' That 'nate is tired of repeating himself on the internet; I don't know how to keep rephrasing these things.'

Also, that points-per-game average, which is lower than I'd have guessed, and surprisingly less than both Rodgers and Benitez.

There are, unsurprisingly, a plethora of caveats.

Both Klopp and Houllier took over mid-season, which makes a difference, and had much more difficult rebuilds. Rodgers' first season wasn't great, but then 2013-14 happened. And then 2014-15 happened. And then 2015-16 started. That ship ran around and sank quickly. You ain't gonna get me to say anything bad about Rafa Benitez but hoooo boy that first league campaign had a good deal of hot garbage. And the league is vastly, vastly more difficult now than it was for Benitez or Houllier – the bottom teams are richer, and the top teams are really, really richer.

But Benitez had won the Champions League – if slightly flukey – and FA Cup by the end of his first two seasons, and his sides played 11 more games over two years than Klopp's "overwhelming" fixture list. Rodgers guided Liverpool to its best season in nearly a decade in his second year, even if it was very much Luis Suarez-led. By the end of 2000-01, Houllier's "third" season after a midseason appointment – the same time frame that Klopp's Liverpool is at right now – Liverpool had won a Cup Treble.

Gulp.

To be fairer, there's also this:



It's too bad that there aren't more Top 6 teams. Because Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool remains superlative against them. And Liverpool remain unbeaten in the Champions League this season, after going a lot farther in the Europa League that we'd any right to expect in Klopp's first season. Klopp's Liverpool are good against good teams and that's good. But a win percentage of just 53% in league matches against clubs outside the top six isn't going to cut it. Beat The Dross, Win The League™.

We know the weaknesses. Unfortunately, and depressingly, they've mostly been the same weaknesses for almost Klopp's entire tenure, at least in defense. The attack's gotten better and continues to get better, even if Liverpool seemingly can't convert a clear-cut chance of late. The defense, yet again, apparently is what it is.



There have been disappointments. There have been stalls and set-backs, last winter most notably, but this last month to a lesser extent. Progress has been slower than we'd like, but there has been progress.

Year Three has been a key year for all of the aforementioned Liverpool managers. Rodgers' Liverpool fell apart in stages, and continued to get worse, and Rodgers rightfully got sacked. Benitez's Liverpool didn't replicate those early cup successes but consolidated their top position in the league – better in 2006-07, better in 2007-08, and should have won the league in 2008-09. Houllier's Liverpool's won the League Cup, FA Cup, UEFA Cup, Charity Shield, and UEFA Super Cup.

Where Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool goes this year – which is still very much up in the air – may well define where Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool career goes.

02 October 2017

Visualized: Liverpool 1-1 Newcastle

Previous Match Infographics: Spartak Moscow (a), Leicester (a), Burnley (h), Sevilla (h), Manchester City (a), Arsenal (h), Hoffenheim (h), Crystal Palace (h), Hoffenheim (a), Watford (a)

Match data from WhoScored, except average position from the SofaScore app.


This was Liverpool's second-lowest shooting accuracy in a league match since the start of last season, behind only the 1-2 loss against Crystal Palace in April. Two shots from 17 – 11.8% accuracy. The two on-target? Coutinho's thunderbolt and Sturridge's clear-cut chance from Clark's defensive error. That's it. One on-target from inside the box, despite 10 shots, despite three clear-cut chances, and it came solely because of an opposition mistake.

This was the only time that Liverpool have had three or more clear-cut chances in a league match but failed to score any of them. Before Saturday, Liverpool had posted at least three clear-cut chances 14 times in league matches since the start of last season. Liverpool's record in those 14 matches was 11W-3D. Liverpool's goals-per-game average in those 14 matches was 3.07. At least Liverpool have maintained that unbeaten record.

Newcastle scored with its first shot on-target from inside the box. As did Watford, Hoffenheim (h), Sevilla, Burnley, and Leicester (League Cup). Six of the ten matches that Liverpool have conceded in this season.

Liverpool went nearly 30 minutes in the second half without taking a shot. With the score still level at 1-1. During a spell where Liverpool had almost 74% possession. Despite – or, arguably, because of – making both formation and personnel changes. Rafa Benitez, everybody. It ain't easy or fun to play his sides on their ground with the game tied, especially in the later stages. Newcastle have conceded more than once in a league match just once this season: 0-2 against Tottenham on opening day, with both Tottenham goals coming after a Jonjo Shelvey red card.

There's no sugar-coating it. This is yet another in a very bad run of games and an even worse run of results. One win in seven, and that win was arguably Liverpool's worst statistical performance aside from the red card shellacking at Manchester City. Liverpool still have at least one costly moment in defense per match, and have added an unbelievable wastefulness in front of goal to that. We're not getting 3-3s and 3-2s, we're getting 1-1s. Three of them in the last five matches.

But Liverpool are still +2 points on last season's equivalent fixtures. Wins against Palace and Leicester where Liverpool lost last season more than cancel out a loss at City where Liverpool drew and draws against Burnley and at Watford where Liverpool won. This was actually a better result than the comparable fixture from last season as well, a loss at Hull.

But Liverpool, despite this horror show run, are just a point behind Chelsea and Arsenal, and two points behind Tottenham.

It is only October, barely October, and it feels if the season may be running out. But it hasn't yet. There are still 31 league matches left, starting against Manchester United in 12 days. As if that fixture could get any more important.

It seems a very good time for an international break. Get away from Liverpool, and Liverpool's issues – which I maintain are issues of confidence and morale more than underlying structural problems. The shots are there, the chances are there. The opposition's aren't. Despite a month's worth of evidence to the contrary, I maintain that Liverpool aren't far away from fixing things. There's gonna be a match where four or five of those chances go in rather than just one – as against Arsenal little more than a month ago. There has to be.

Clear heads, or at least worry about something else for the next two weeks. Both the players, and us.

01 October 2017

Liverpool 1-1 Newcastle

Goals:
Coutinho 29'
Joselu 36'

After Spartak:
This has become a parody. Liverpool has become a parody of itself.

After Burnley:
But that it's the same pattern which has frustrated us over the last two seasons ... makes it that much harder to stomach.

After Sevilla:
There's only so much you can say when similar things keep happening again and again and again and again.

Okay, campers, rise and shine, and don't forget your booties 'cause it's cold out there today.

We are trapped in an inescapable feedback loop.

Liverpool create chances, mainly in the first 30-45 minutes. But Liverpool don't convert anywhere near enough. They probably get a goal – they've scored in every game except the League Cup loss at Leicester, after all – but not enough, as Liverpool's defense inevitably has a Liverpool's Defense moment.

Again and again and again and again.

Today, a Coutinho goal from Coutinho's spot, his third goal in the last three games. Hurrah! But less than seven minutes later, one defense-splitting pass from Jonjo Shelvey (because of course Jonjo), Liverpool's center-backs flailing and failing on the offside trap, Joselu in. Matip somehow recovers, but his tackle ricochets off Joselu past Mignolet. Because of course it does. Dumb and unlucky, the Liverpool Defense Story.

And the rest of the match is a scramble. The rest is frustration. The rest is not enough.

Do we blame the defense? Once again beaten too easily. Once again beaten unfortunately. Once again beaten despite an almost complete lack of opposition threat.

Or do we blame Liverpool's attack for failing to take those chances, for failing to put possession to use? Dangerous counters breaking down at the feet of Mané and Salah. Wijnaldum hitting the post – the fifth match in the last six where Liverpool have hit the woodwork. Lovren has two efforts cleared off the line from corners (one probably won't go down as a shot, though). Sturridge and Salah fail to convert clear-cut chances in the space of five seconds. Four clear-cut chances: one saved, one blocked on the line, two off-target. Liverpool have had nine clear-cut chances in the last two matches: five at Spartak, four at Newcastle. Liverpool have scored one of them. Incidentally, neither opponent had any.

This fault seems more in players' heads – everyone's heads. This fault has punished Liverpool more in the last two matches, and against Sevilla, and against Burnley. But this fault seems more likely to change with time and luck.

Either way, one feeds the other. And we're caught in the loop.

There were a couple of differences today, so we might as well highlight them.

• Liverpool actually scored first! But then failed to protect the lead, etc etc.

• Klopp did try some different tactical things to change proceedings. First, Mané and Salah switching flanks at the start of the second half, then a 4-2-3-1 formation both before and after substitutions for most of the half. Neither helped. Relatedly, it remains baffling to see Mané and Salah subbed off when Liverpool need a goal, replaced by Solanke and Oxlade-Chamberlain respectively.

• Liverpool put all of two shots on-target today – despite taking 17, despite creating those four clear-cut chances – an absolutely horrific shooting accuracy and far worse than anything we'd seen in the last month.

• Benitez's Newcastle mostly smothered Liverpool in the second half, aside from a Clark error that Sturridge really should have converted, followed immediately by Salah's rebound miss. That and Oxlade-Chamberlain's header over are literally all I remember from the second half, despite something like 75% possession. Possession did not equal control. Newcastle, without threatening until set plays in added time, seemed more in control. But that's Rafa. A compact, well-organized defense that stifled Liverpool all too often and caught Sturridge offside multiple times.

But, otherwise, same old, same old. Again. Dropped points. Again.

I'm close to the point where it stops being painful and is just tiring.

30 September 2017

Liverpool at Newcastle 10.01.17

11:30am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
2-2 (h) 04.23.16
0-2 Newcastle (a) 12.06.15
2-0 Liverpool (h) 04.13.15
0-1 Newcastle (a) 11.01.14

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-1 Spartak (a); 3-2 Leicester (a); 0-2 Leicester (a)
Newcastle: 0-1 Brighton (a); 2-1 Stoke (h); 1-0 Swansea (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Salah 4; Mané 3; Firmino 2; Coutinho, Henderson, Sturridge 1
Newcastle: Lascelles 2; Atsu, Clark, Joselu, Mitrovic 1

Referee: Craig Pawson (LFC History) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Mignolet
Trent A-A Matip Klavan Moreno
Wijnaldum Henderson Coutinho
Salah Firmino Mane

September's over. Finally. It's behind us. It's a new month. Let's see a different Liverpool.

As per usual, there will be a couple of changes, but since Liverpool's midweek match was five days ago rather than three or four, I suspect that there will be fewer than we've seen recently.

Mignolet will almost certainly come back into the side. Maybe Gomez will as well, as Klopp's been hesitant to play Alexander-Arnold in consecutive starts. Emre Can wasn't good midweek and we're seeing stories about how Lovren has had to take painkillers to play recently (not great, Bob!).

But I want to see that front three again. I want to see it supplied by Coutinho in midfield. I want to see the full-backs adding width and creativity; Alexander-Arnold, Moreno, Robertson, and Gomez are all capable of doing so, and have demonstrated it in this short season. I'd hope that playing against his former club will cancel out Wijnaldum's away game curse – he has scored at St James' Park in the Premier League, after all.

I want to see Liverpool convert the chances we know they're capable of creating, the chances we saw at Spartak Moscow on Tuesday; that attack has the potential to do all sorts of rude things to Newcastle's midfield and defense. If Firmino can drag not-the-fastest center-backs out of position, if Mané and Salah get behind Yedlin and Mbemba, if we get the forward movement from Coutinho and Wijnaldum/Can, if everyone or anyone can finish like we've seen Liverpool finish in the past. And I hope that the defense simply won't do anything dumb – the Liverpool Serenity Prayer.

Meanwhile, Newcastle are a Rafa Benitez side that's hamstrung by also still being Newcastle. They keep it simple, it starts from defense. A well-coached team, a solid base, a compact side, a 4-2-3-1 formation. Not many scored, but not many conceded either. A team and manager who will know how they want to frustrate an all-too-easily-frustrated-of-late Liverpool. But, unsurprisingly, Rafa spent the first month of the season complaining about the club's lack of summer transfer business. Because of course he did and of course Mike Ashley didn't.

Newcastle had won three in a row prior to a 0-1 loss at Brighton last weekend – beating West Ham, Swansea, and Stoke – and that trip to Brighton was a match they should have at least drawn if not for an inability to finish their many chances. Which may sound vaguely familiar.

Mitrovic is back from suspension, but I still expect we're seeing the same side as against Brighton. Elliot; Yedlin, Lascelles, Clark, Mbemba; Hayden, Merino; Ritchie, Perez, Atsu; Joselu. There's a couple of alternatives. Mitrovic. Dwight Gayle, who still gives me shudders from his time at Crystal Palace. Jesus Gamez at left-back as a more attacking option. And, possibly, Jonjo Shelvey; I guarantee he's been pleading with Benitez all week, relishing the chance to play against his former club, but he's been Bad Jonjo far more than Good Jonjo over the last few weeks.

This fixture's given Liverpool problems in recent seasons, under both Klopp and Rodgers, under Pardew, McClaren, and Benitez. Liverpool have failed to win in its last three trips to Newcastle, in 2013, 2014, and 2015. Newcastle are just one of three Premier League sides that Klopp's faced and yet to beat – along with Manchester United and Southampton – following a 2-2 draw at Anfield in April 2016, one of the too-many matches where Liverpool threw away a two-goal lead.

Past cannot be precedent. Not after the September we've seen. It's time for Liverpool to play like Liverpool – the Good Liverpool. The materials are often there, but haven't been put together: sometimes in attack, more often in defense, and every now and then, sadly, in either. The Good Liverpool has been something we haven't seen enough in recent weeks, and something we haven't seen enough against this opposition.

Be good, Liverpool.

27 September 2017

Visualized: Liverpool 1-1 Spartak Moscow

Previous Match Infographics: Leicester (a), Burnley (h), Sevilla (h), Manchester City (a), Arsenal (h), Hoffenheim (h), Crystal Palace (h), Hoffenheim (a), Watford (a)

Match data from WhoScored, except average position from the SofaScore app.



(Here's the formation diagram usually included in match reviews.)

This has become a parody. Liverpool has become a parody of itself.

That was nearly as dominant a performance as possible. And, somehow, Liverpool drew. Liverpool took just one point, still level with Spartak in the group and two points behind Sevilla, who they're yet to travel to.

You want to know why? This seems a good place to start.



I probably save that free kick. You probably save that free kick. For all of Simon Mignolet's faults – and there are a bunch – he saves that free kick, 999 times out of a 1000. As does Danny Ward.

Okay. Let's try to be slightly fairer. Spartak have three men screening in the wall and Karius sees it late. Fernando hits it really hard. Karius did not commit the foul leading to the free kick (hi Phil) or play an insane pass backward which was stolen and led to all the trouble (hi Emre).

That's little comfort. Because once again, Liverpool had been dominant but Liverpool had failed to score. And then this happened. Liverpool conceded against the run of play and Liverpool have to chase the game. And that hasn't gone especially well so far this season.

This is the song that never ends. It goes on and on my friend.



Once again, let's be slightly fairer and strip out both the City whomping and the League Cup loss. The red card made the former much more extreme and the latter was a much-changed side in a competition you shouldn't care about.

Liverpool:
94 Shots
28 On-Target
7 Goals

Opposition:
28 Shots
12 On-Target
6 Goals

That isn't much more reassuring. We've complained about it after every setback this season. I am getting bored writing it and I'm certain you're bored of reading it. Liverpool aren't converting enough in attack, despite having some damned good attackers. Liverpool are conceding too much, often because they're allowing too easy chances in defense, often due to individual errors or set plays.

There were some signs of "better" yesterday. Liverpool had four clear-cut chances, their most in a match this month. Those four clear-cut chances came from four different attackers – Firmino, Coutinho, Sturridge, and Salah – and were created by three other players – Mané (twice), Henderson, and Alexander-Arnold. Liverpool's shot accuracy was higher than against Sevilla, Burnley, or Leicester. Liverpool's Expected Goals per shot was around 0.14, which was the second-highest of the season, after only the romp against Arsenal. Liverpool kept creating the kind of chances Liverpool thrive upon, not half-baked shots from distance or hopeless crosses and punts.

And at the other end of the pitch, Liverpool held their opponents to the joint-lowest shot total against Liverpool this season: just four, as Crystal Palace had – a side that's still yet to score a goal or take a point in the Premier League. Only one of those shots came from a dangerous position, in the Danger Zone: a Luiz Adriano open play header which was swiftly blocked. Liverpool kept their opponents from having a clear-cut chance for only the second time this month, as in the 0-2 League Cup loss at Leicester, after allowing six against City, two against Sevilla, one against Burnley, and four against Leicester in the league.

It wasn't enough. It wasn't enough because Liverpool didn't convert enough of the good chances created in attack, and let in at least one goal that shouldn't have been conceded.

Again. The song that never ends...

Nine points from the next four Champions League games will almost certainly be enough. Two wins over Maribor, and at least one from Sevilla away and Spartak at home. Even eight – two draws from the last two games rather than two wins – should do it. That's still absolutely possible. Maybe even less will suffice, at least for second place.

The margins have gotten too narrow for my liking. Sure, Liverpool are a missed penalty, bad finishing, and bad goalkeeping away from six points rather than two. We're inches from sitting here, talking about how Liverpool are strolling the Champions League and not far behind the top three in the league.

But we aren't, because Liverpool have been on the wrong ends of those fine margins in almost every single match this month. And they've been punished for it. Again and again and again.

And Liverpool can't keep this up, in either the Champions League or Premier League, before they truly are punished.

25 September 2017

Liverpool at Spartak Moscow 09.26.17

2:45pm ET, live in the US on Fox Sports 2

Previous CL matches:
Liverpool: 2-2 Sevilla (h); 4-2 Hoffenheim (h), 2-1 Hoffenheim (a)
Spartak: 1-1 Maribor (a)

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 3-2 Leicester (a); 0-2 Leicester (a); 1-1 Burnley (h)
Spartak: 2-2 Anzhi (h); 2-0 Kuban Krasnodar (a); 2-2 Tosno (a)

Goalscorers (Europe):
Liverpool: Can, Firmino, Salah 2; Alexander-Arnold 1
Spartak: Samedov 1

Referee: Clément Turpin (FRA)

Turpin was in charge of Liverpool's 2015-16 Europe League win over Augsburg, giving Liverpool a penalty to score its lone goal of the tie.

Guess at a line-up:
Karius
Trent A-A Matip Lovren Moreno
Can Henderson Coutinho
Salah Firmino Mané

Gomez is suspended; Lallana and Clyne remain absent. Otherwise, no new injuries! It's a *checks calendar* beginning of fall miracle!

That said, there's still bound to be some rotation from Saturday's side. Alexander-Arnold's definitely coming in at right-back. Sadio Mané's almost certain to return on the left, his league suspension finally over but eligible for Europe anyway.

Who gets dropped when Coutinho moves back into midfield – Can or Wijnaldum? Or maybe Mo Salah gets a breather and Coutinho stays in the front three? Is Karius still the European goalkeeper? Will Sturridge replace Firmino – who looked a pale shade of himself on Saturday – up front?

Questions will remain about the XI until we get more evidence on how Klopp continues to deal with two games a week – this just three days after a trip to Leicester but with five days before hosting Newcastle in the last Premier League fixture before another international break.

And questions will remain about this Liverpool side. You know the questions. No matter who plays – in attack, midfield, or defense – can Liverpool convert enough of the voluminous and decent chances in attack to cancel out likely errors and/or misfortune in defense?

Since we won't even bother to pretend to know much about this Spartak Moscow side, I'll direct you to this from the Liverpool Echo.

I like the part about the full-backs' vulnerability. Evidently they're not the quickest? Yeah, start both Mané and Salah.

I also like the part about important absentees.

Quincy Promes – Spartak Moscow's star attacker and supposed former Liverpool target – is doubtful through injury, but given the importance of the contest, you'd think he'll be risked if anywhere near possible. But Glushakov and Zobnin in midfield and Ze Luis up front also seem crucial players. This Echo preview, unlike most I've seen, suggest that both Glushakov and Ze Luis are doubtful rather than confirmed absences, so fair warning.

So let's guess an XI of Rebrov; Yeschenko, Tasci, Bocchetti, Kombarov; Popov, Fernando, Pasalic; Samedov, Luiz Adriano, Promes. Emphasis, obviously, on "guess."

Finally, I also like the part about Spartak's recent struggles.

Spartak Moscow are currently seventh in the Russian Premier League with 14 points from 11 games. They won the league last season. They've won one, lost two, and drawn three in their last six league games, along with a cup win over Kuban Krasnodar and a draw at Maribor in the previous group fixture. And you thought Liverpool had it bad over the last month.

But make no mistake, it's a long, draining away trip to what will be a hostile and very loud ground. It's not an easy fixture regardless of form or fitness. No match in Europe is, especially away from home.

But it's a match where Liverpool should back itself to do well. To do well what it does well, and to push on from a welcomed and needed result earned on Saturday.

Visualized: Liverpool 3-2 Leicester City

Previous Match Infographics: Burnley (h), Sevilla (h), Manchester City (a), Arsenal (h), Hoffenheim (h), Crystal Palace (h), Hoffenheim (a), Watford (a)

Match data from WhoScored, except average position from Liverpool FC



There truly isn't much to say that hadn't been said after Watford, Sevilla, or Burnley. Except that Liverpool won, which makes all the difference.

Liverpool's attack remains really good.

They've now scored at least two goals in six of ten matches in all competitions. Four of those matches have seen Liverpool score at least three, and each of those four had goals from three different players. Liverpool have spread goals around, but Mohamed Salah also has six goals in just eight starts. Liverpool have only failed to score twice: at Manchester City, where a red card explains a lot, and last week in the league cup with a much-changed XI.

And Liverpool are doing it in different ways, from different players, despite Salah's incredible individual output. Each of Liverpool's three goals on Saturday was impressive in its own way. Each came in a difference phase: open play, set play, fast break.

First, a smart switch of play from Can, control and that cross from Coutinho, and Salah's well-taken difficult back-post header for the first.

Second, Coutinho's individual brilliance from a direct free kick – Liverpool's second direct free kick goal of the season and Coutinho's fourth since the start of last season.

Third, a well-timed tackle from Henderson as Leicester are pressing, and the counter's on. Quick to Coutinho, quick to Sturridge, a run at the retreating defense before picking the right pass to Henderson, who's clever enough to take a touch to put off both defender and keeper.

They're good goals, Brent.

Incidentally, this was only the fourth time that Liverpool have scored three or more goals without Sadio Mané in the starting line-up, in 21 matches since the start of last season where he didn't start. 3-0 Derby in the League Cup, 4-0 West Ham, 3-0 Boro, and now 3-2 Leicester.

But, obviously, Liverpool are still allowing too many goals. Again. Either canceling out all the good work in attack or, as on Saturday, coming too damned close for comfort. Liverpool have scored at least two in six of ten matches? Great! Liverpool have conceded at least two in six of ten as well: Watford, Hoffenheim, City, Sevilla, and Leicester (twice). Draw, win, loss, draw, loss, win.

Liverpool have scored in eight of ten matches, Liverpool have conceded in eight of ten matches. They only two where Liverpool kept clean sheets were against Crystal Palace, a narrow 1-0 win where Benteke missed a clear-cut chance – Palace is still yet to score in any league match this season – and against Arsenal, where Arsenal failed to put any of their eight shots on target.

Only Manchester City and Manchester United have scored more goals than Liverpool this season, while Chelsea have the same total as Liverpool, and those are the top three sides in the division. But only Palace, West Ham, and Leicester have allowed more league goals than Liverpool this season. Palace are currently 20th, West Ham are 18th, and Leicester are 17th.

Liverpool are allowing too many easy goals. Because Liverpool are allowing too many good chances.



Through six league matches, Liverpool have had 15 big chances and allowed 15 big chances – an average of 2.5 each match. Last season, Liverpool averaged 1.89 per league match and allowed 1.42.

In the league, 29.4% of the shots Liverpool have faced have been clear-cut chances. In all competitions, it's 20.2%

They're good shots, Brent.

Leicester's clear-cut chances all came from different situations as well. First, Okazaki's goal, from a corner, still Liverpool's bane. Yes, it's all different had the foul on Mignolet been correctly called, but it's still annoying marking with an annoying result. Then, Gray's shot saved directly to an unmarked Vardy, with Matip caught ball-watching. Then, Vardy's penalty – soft but Mignolet kicked through him after barely kicking the ball, and shouldn't have been in that situation.

And, yes, corners. Four of the 18 goals allowed so far this season have come from corners: Watford's opener, Watford's equalizer, Leicester's opener in the League Cup, and Leicester's opener to get them back into the game on Saturday. Only Okazaki in the League Cup, which was second phase after an initial clearance, wasn't a clear-cut chance.

There's a reason why loads of articles came out with Klopp talking about the defense yesterday.

He can't avoid mentioning individual errors – even if he unsurprisingly doesn't (and shouldn't) single individuals out – but this seemed more meaningful to me.

“We had a formation which they could not really cope with. Where we are, where Roberto (Firmino) is, where the ‘third eight’ is in between, where Phil (Coutinho) is, where Mo (Salah) is. So how we build up, that’s all.

“We play with three at the back in the build up, Roberto is a bit higher, that was really difficult for them. But then we stopped doing that, we wanted to control the game but we have to make these small ways still. Then we played the balls a little bit too late, and so they came up.

“As long as we are in a good rhythm and play the ball at the right moment, and good orientation, we couldn’t come in pressing situations after that. They could. So it opens the game a little bit. It’s not a physical thing, we just have to keep our concentration, to want to be dominant still, go and go on.

“If we decide to be a little bit more (controlling), use another rhythm if you want, we have to do it active, not passive."

Individual errors will remain an issue. But defending is first and foremost an entire-team problem, whether in the backline, midfield, or the front. Passivity when out of possession is a problem, in all phases. Fix that, and individual errors will almost certainly subside.

And, yes, Liverpool have been unlucky. Watford's third goal was offside. Maybe Mané isn't shown a red card by most referees. Ninety nine times out of a hundred, Lovren doesn't whiff when trying to clear that cross for Sevilla's opener. An accidental touch from Klavan set up Arfield's goal against Burnley, in a match where most referees would have given Liverpool a late penalty. Even Saturday, despite winning, as Vardy dove for the free kick to set up the corner where Mignolet was fouled for Leicester's opener, and Mignolet's save went straight to Vardy for the second. Individual errors that don't happen all that often, even given Liverpool's proclivity for individual errors, and less than helpful refereeing.

You have to believe that Liverpool's luck will improve, but there's also that old, true cliché about making your own luck.

So, in my mind, the only new takeaway is that Liverpool got away without punishment this time, after failing to do so in similar circumstances against Watford, Sevilla, and Burnley. Thanks to that attack, thanks to Mignolet's redeeming penalty save, thanks to an improved defense performance after that penalty save. They did so against a side seemingly built to exploit Liverpool's issues, and a side that's caused Liverpool numerous problems over the last few seasons, with Leicester having beaten Klopp's Liverpool by two goals in each of the three previous away meetings.

But, as matches against Watford, Sevilla, and Burnley have demonstrated, Liverpool won't get away with it often without improvement.

23 September 2017

Liverpool 3-2 Leicester City

Goals:
Salah 15'
Coutinho 23'
Okazaki 45+3'
Henderson 68'
Vardy 69'

That was Liverpool distilled to almost as pure an essence as possible. Almost.

We got three great Liverpool goals, from three different players, from three different types of moves.

We got stupid and unlucky Liverpool concessions to make a game that should have been settled clearly not settled.

We saw the best of Mignolet and the worst of Mignolet in the space of three minutes, and throughout the entire match.

We saw Liverpool rampant and Liverpool on tilt. We had heart attacks throughout, especially in second-half added time.

Forget "pass and move, it's the Liverpool groove." Dumb and fun, that's how Liverpool run.

The only reason I wrote "almost" is that Liverpool won, thankfully denying us that narrative for at least one more match. Liverpool won, by any means necessary. Liverpool won despite themselves, Liverpool won because of themselves. In spite of opposition that almost always gives them trouble, in spite of a referee who also ruined Liverpool's opening day fixture.

The match started in the almost the best possible manner, with early goals from Salah and Coutinho. Salah's point-blank but difficult-angle header thanks to Coutinho's brilliant cross, then Coutinho's even better direct free kick. Liverpool could have had more had Can's shot from distance not slammed off the post, with Salah poking the rebound wide, or had Firmino converted his left-footed effort on the counter.

Liverpool could have conceded had Mignolet not denied Vardy in the sixth minute after Lovren played him onside, had Okazaki's shot not been deflected after Vardy robbed a dallying Mignolet, or had the linesman missed multiple Leicester players offside on a free kick that Okazaki then put into the net.

Obviously, 2-0 is rarely ever safe for this side, but Liverpool looked like seeing out the half fairly comfortably in spite of those earlier Leicester chances. They hadn't allowed a non-offside shot since the 17th minute. They were controlling tempo and tenor, even if with less possession than usual, and Firmino had just nearly scored a third.

But then, in the second minute of added time, a hopeful punt forward. Mignolet has it covered, charging out to clear, but Matip gets close enough to Vardy to allow him to dive. Which he does. And the free kick's given. And all hell breaks loose.

Mignolet denies Vardy's header from the free kick, but that means a corner. And you know what corners mean. Mignolet rashly charges out to try to punch. He misses, but he's also fouled, but it's also not called. Ndidi's errant header falls to Maguire, who's fouling Gomez, and everyone's out of position and the ball somehow gets to an open Okazaki on the goal line.

Half-time whistle. 2-1. Leicester back in the game.

Would Liverpool, unfairly punished in each their last three matches, fall apart after the restart? Would Leicester, often so good at home, make them pay for it?

Kind of, but not quite.

Leicester took the game to Liverpool more than they had at any other point after the restart. Nervous Liverpool touches, scrambled Liverpool clearances, they come again. But no Leicester shots. But just enough, just like between the 18th and 45th minutes. Liverpool even had the only potential scoring moment of note when Lovren was clearly, clearly, clearly held on a corner, preventing a clean header. Anthony Taylor, in all his wisdom, thoughtfully took everything in then booked Lovren for dissent.

Still, just enough until it almost wasn't, as Vardy got in behind onto Albrighton's through-ball but Matip recovered in time to block. Just enough, barely enough, until it seemed to be more than enough as Liverpool finally clicked on the counter just seconds after Vardy's chance. Henderson's interception, quick to Coutinho, quick to Sturridge, running to the penalty box then centering for Henderson, a touch to shirk the defender and shift the angle, and the two-goal lead restored.

For all of another minute.

Leicester kick-off. A couple of passes, a soft foul, a free kick spread wide to Albrighton, a run away from Gomez, a cross to Gray open at the back post, saved by Mignolet but right to Vardy unmarked six yards from goal.

Liverpool, everybody. Almost as pure an essence as possible.

At 2-1, we'd only seen partial tilt. Now we got full tilt. Three minutes after Vardy scored, Vardy stood on the penalty spot, somehow fouled by Mignolet on another long pass that beat Liverpool's back-line, fouled because Mignolet absolutely whiffed on an attempted clearance.

It had not been a good day for Simon Mignolet. The mistake for Okazaki's chance in the 17th minute. Yes, fouled, but still not strong enough to prevent Leicester's opener. Palming Gray's shot right to Vardy for Leicester's second. And now, conceding the penalty for what looked to be Leicester's equalizer, as Vardy had scored all five of the penalties he'd put on goal.

Simon Mignolet saved it.

Peak Simon Mignolet.

Incidentally, Mignolet has now saved seven of 15 penalties he's faced for Liverpool in the league.

From there, confidence somehow restored. Liverpool somehow almost comfortable – as comfortable as Liverpool get, at least – even when defending an unnecessary free kick in the fifth minute of added time. One Leicester shot in the final 20 minutes, from Ndidi 25 yards out and immediately blocked, compared to not-far-off chances from Sturridge (twice) and Wijnaldum.

So, yeah, it wasn't easy to watch. It rarely is. There were a lot of the good things we've seen from Liverpool: Coutinho and Salah and Henderson and Sturridge as a substitute. And there was a lot of the bad, with Liverpool defending more than adequately until WHAM they don't. Party at the front – even if less so than in draws against Sevilla or Burnley – and a party for the opposition at the back.

But Liverpool won. Despite that bad and that terror. On a ground where they'd lost by two goals all three times they'd faced Leicester under Klopp.

So, yeah, Liverpool once against needed at least three goals to win, as seems to be the case unless they're playing still-goalless Crystal Palace or Arsenal. But we can worry about those recurring defensive issues on set plays and against direct sides and despite having a lead tomorrow. And Monday. And when Liverpool *gulp* travel to Russia *gulp* to face Spartak Moscow on Tuesday.

But not today. When you've failed to win your last four matches, and probably deserved to win three of those four, I do not care how today's was achieved. When you beat opposition that's caused you so many problems recently, I do not care how today's was achieved.

Only that it's achieved.

22 September 2017

Liverpool at Leicester 09.23.17

12:30pm ET, live in the US on NBC

Last four head-to-head:
0-2 Leicester (a; League Cup) 09.19.17
1-3 Leicester (a) 02.27.17
4-1 Liverpool (h) 09.10.16
0-2 Leicester (a) 02.02.16

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-2 Leicester (a); 1-1 Burnley (h); 2-2 Sevilla (h)
Burnley: 2-0 Liverpool (h); 1-1 Huddersfield (a); 1-2 Chelsea (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Mané, Salah 3; Firmino 2; Sturridge 1
Leicester: Vardy 4; Okazaki 2; Maguire 1

Referee: Anthony Taylor (LFC History) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Mignolet
Trent A-A Gomez Klavan Moreno
Wijnaldum Henderson Can
Salah Firmino Coutinho

Only one match left to go on Sadio Mané's suspension. That can't end soon enough. Coincidentally, Liverpool have lost, drawn, drawn, and lost in the matches since Mané's red card.

It's been a fun two weeks. Thankfully, Liverpool supporters – as is their inclination – have taken it in stride. Or the opposite. Whichever.

And to continue the fun, yesterday saw the less than welcome news that Lovren, Can, and Matip are all struggling with injury issues. Coming off a loss to the same opposition, on the same ground, albeit with a team that'll be very different tomorrow, it's not exactly ideal.

Emre Can at least trained on Thursday, but neither Lovren nor Matip did. That's, um, worrisome. That would mean Liverpool would be starting its third- and fourth-choice center-backs – the same two who started on Tuesday. In the sixth league match of the season. For all of the injury problems last season, there was never a time where both Matip and Lovren missed a league match, where Liverpool had to start Lucas and Klavan together.

I remain more forgiving than most, but I still need another reminder as to why Liverpool didn't buy a center-back this summer. I also remain hopeful that Matip will be available, more likely in my mind than Lovren given how that the latter's already missed two matches, but "hopeful" is very much a relative term.

With Can in contention, Liverpool seemingly have two options for the front six. The first is the front three we saw against Burnley, with Can left on the bench – or Wijnaldum, as Liverpool are playing away from Anfield. But more likely, and the guess above, is the most-frequently deployed midfield with Coutinho moving into the front three.

I am not especially inclined to see Firmino and Sturridge start together again. The results have been less than ideal. I admit that it's slightly unfair to phrase it that way rather than "I'd prefer Firmino did not play on the left, thank you" but the results don't really lie. If it's 4-3-3, Liverpool have not done well when those two start. 4-Diamond-2? Fine, although it ain't happening when Salah's available. 4-2-3-1? I'm willing if you are, and I'm honestly surprised we haven't seen it in so long a time. But not 4-3-3. Firmino needs to be central – read: "central" – even if at the expense of Sturridge.

Regardless of who starts, Liverpool have not had the best of times against Leicester since Klopp became manager. Liverpool have won both home matches – one narrowly, one emphatically – but have lost all three at the King Power Stadium. All three by two-goal margins – 0-2 and 1-3 in the league in the previous two seasons, and 0-2 in the League Cup earlier this week.

Leicester, especially on their own ground, are the archetypes of exactly how Liverpool often fail in "these types of matches." Leicester can press, better than they're given credit for, but Leicester are much more likely to sit deep and deny Liverpool, then look to counter against the high line. Liverpool do well, but sputter in the final third, then Liverpool concede against the run of play, then all fresh hell breaks loose. Leicester have done it to excellent effect against Liverpool more than once, even if Leicester are not the only ones.

Robert Huth and Matty James are out, but Jamie Vardy should be back in training after missing the midweek match. Which isn't the best news, as he's scored five goals in his last three games against Liverpool, including two in both of Leicester's away wins. Fuchs should also return from an eye injury.

Leicester's XI seems likely to be Schmeichel; Simpson, Morgan, Maguire, Fuchs; Mahrez, Ndidi, King, Albrighton; Okazaki, Vardy. Which features only three starters from Tuesday's meeting, although Okazaki obviously had an impact off the bench, and either Amartey – who was at right-back on Tuesday – or Iborra could play in midfield rather than King.

For all the complaints, life and Liverpool really aren't the worst. The underlying statistics – even with Mané absent, even with one or even both center-backs missing – suggest someone's due for a hammering. Ideally sooner rather than later. It's still early, this Liverpool side is better than its recent results, and Liverpool have played better than their recent results.

It could well be tomorrow – as happened when these sides met at Anfield in September last season. But, given precedent, I'll still fear the worst until Liverpool proves otherwise.

18 September 2017

Visualized: Liverpool 1-1 Burnley

Previous Match Infographics: Sevilla (h), Manchester City (a), Arsenal (h), Hoffenheim (h), Crystal Palace (h), Hoffenheim (a), Watford (a)

Match data from WhoScored, except average position from the SofaScore app.



(Here's the formation diagram usually included in match reviews.)

One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn't belong...



35 shots is a lot of shots. Like, "happened only six times in the last six and-a-little-more seasons" lot. 35 shots is a shot every two minutes and 35 seconds. For 90 minutes on Saturday, Liverpool took aim at Burnley's goal once every 155 seconds. And Liverpool usually missed.

Sure, three of the above games were Luis Suarez-driven. One was a red card-inspired whooping handed out in one of the most lopsided Merseyside Derbies in most of our lifetimes. And the other happened against a beat-from-the-beginning Hull City when Liverpool were entirely on-fire a year ago.

But Liverpool also managed to score at least four goals in all of them, despite a similar number of shots on-target. Somehow, Liverpool only scored one goal on Saturday.

I ain't blaming just one person – albeit one who took a fifth of those shots – but this wasn't quite welcome back, Phil.



But Sturridge's shot map wasn't much better, but Can's shot map wasn't much better. Salah's was, but still not what we're becoming used to from him. And Firmino's shot map was almost nonexistent.

I ain't blaming just two people, but this wasn't the match where Firmino and Sturridge finally proved they could play together either.



Three wins, three draws, and three losses. Against that opposition. Yikes.

Their individual stats over that series of matches aren't actually bad. Each have taken about as many shots and played about as many key passes as usual, each have surpassed their usual shot accuracy. But Firmino has just two goals – both against Leicester – and one assist. Sturridge has scored once and assisted once. In nine matches. Where – if they all counted for points – Liverpool would have averaged just 1.33 points per game.

This wasn't a problem in 2015-16 under Klopp. Those two started 12 matches together. Liverpool won six, drew five, and lost just one. Sturridge scored seven, Firmino scored two and assisted two. But Liverpool also played 4-2-3-1, with Sturridge up top and Firmino lurking behind and around.

Since the start of last season, Liverpool have tried to shoe horn Firmino and Sturridge into the now-preferred 4-3-3, with either Firmino on the left or Sturridge on the right. And it has not worked. Only the 3-0 win against Boro on the last day of last season saw a change in formation, the 4-4-2 diamond where Liverpool needed a riotous win and got a riotous win.

Liverpool really should have gotten more rewards from their attack in both of their last two matches.



And Liverpool should not have conceded three times from what the opposition's attack did in the last two matches.

Liverpool have now conceded from the opposition's first shot on-target against Watford, Hoffenheim (h), Sevilla, and Burnley. Which is half of the matches so far this season, and four of the six where Liverpool have conceded at all. This annoyance has returned with a vengeance.

It's the same pattern which has frustrated us over the last two seasons. The opposition gets a preventable goal – sometimes early, sometimes late – while Liverpool's attack can't do enough to overcome the at-least-once-a-match lapse at the back.

This time, one long ball – delivered with Burnley not pressed in their own half – one lost aerial duel, one Klavan Kalamity™, and Liverpool are behind. Liverpool immediately get one back through a very well worked move of their own – the type of speed and movement from Salah we knew was so necessary in breaking down opposition like this – but no more. Burnley could have gotten a winner – Mee cleared off the line by Matip then denied by Mignolet, both from corners; Liverpool could have gotten one more – Salah's penalty shout ignored before Solanke poked a clear-cut chance off the crossbar.

So, yes, there's a bit of bad luck about the result. Ignored penalty shouts, woodwork. That many shots probably would have led to far more than one goal on most other days. So, yes, it's not as if this is the first time Burnley have done similar to good opponents, having already beaten Chelsea and drawn Tottenham away, not to mention the two matches against this side last season. This looked a lot like Liverpool's early-season match at Burnley in 2016-17, except at least Liverpool are coming away with a point rather than none.

But that it's the same pattern which has frustrated us over the last two seasons, coming after a week where Liverpool were annihilated by Manchester City and had similar happen against Sevilla, makes it that much harder to stomach.

15 September 2017

Liverpool v Burnley 09.16.17

10am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports Gold

Last four head-to-head:
2-1 Liverpool (h) 03.12.17
0-2 Burnley (a) 08.20.16
2-0 Liverpool (h) 03.04.15
1-0 Liverpool (a) 12.26.14

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-2 Sevilla (h); 0-5 City (a); 4-0 Arsenal (h)
Burnley: 1-0 Palace (h); 1-1 Tottenham (a); 2-0 Blackburn (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Mané 3; Firmino, Salah 2; Sturridge 1
Burnley: Vokes, Wood 2; Ward 1

Referee: Roger East (LFC History) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Mignolet
Trent A-A Matip Lovren Robertson
Alex O-C Henderson Wijnaldum
Salah Firmino Coutinho

As against Crystal Palace two weeks ago, there will be rotation. Probably at least five changes, with one enforced – the first of three matches where Sadio Mané's suspended.

Mignolet for Karius is certain. Coutinho's first start of the season, whether in the front three or midfield, probably is as well. Alexander-Arnold for Gomez, Oxlade-Chamberlain in midfield, and Robertson at left-back also seem likely. But maybe also Klavan for Lovren, Sturridge for Firmino? Maybe Henderson's left out for the first time this season, with Can as the deepest midfielder. Maybe Coutinho in midfield, Firmino on the left, and Sturridge up top?

We could even see a formation change. 4-4-2, whether with a midfield diamond or not, Firmino and Sturridge or Firmino and Salah or Salah and Sturridge. 4-2-3-1, with Firmino or Coutinho lurking as the #10. Or three-at-the-back, which was the switch made when reduced to ten men at Manchester City, for all the good that did.

Liverpool do have more options than last season. It's still early, and we're still not entirely sure how Klopp's going to handle somewhere between 10 and 15 more matches this season than last.

Burnley, level on points with Liverpool after four games, is in terrifying form. But it's not as if they're smashing all comers. Their loss came at home against West Brom, who were just smashed by Brighton, of all sides. And Burnley have failed to score more than once in a league match since opening day.

But it's how they've played in two of those four matches. The 3-2 win at Chelsea on opening day, the surprise of the round which thankfully led to less focus on Liverpool's awfulness at Watford, and a 1-1 draw with Tottenham two weeks ago thanks to a 90th-minute equalizer.

Their two toughest matches, the only two away from home, both against top-four sides. A stunning win and a punishing-for-their-opponents draw. Yikes.

Burnley will most likely stick with Dyche's preferred 4-4-2 formation, that which gave Liverpool problems in both meetings last season, but it is worth nothing he switched to 4-5-1 at both Chelsea and Tottenham. Still, the most likely XI remains Pope; Lowton, Tarkowski, Mee, Ward; Gudmundsson, Cork, Defour, Mee; Vokes, Wood.

I had almost forgotten that Jon Walters, often Liverpool's bane, joined Burnley this summer. Ashley Barnes, who scored Burnley's seventh-minute opener in this fixture last season, is still around as well. Midfielder Jeff Hendrick, a starter prior to injury, is back in training. First-choice keeper Tom Heaton will be out for a few months, and back-up Nick Pope will make his first Premier League start after coming on a sub last week, but that only heightens my expectations for opposition keeper heroics. Record signing Chris Wood's in hot form with two goals in two games, his first two appearances for the club.

These matches are never easy and rarely fun. Burnley love aerial duels, set plays, and frustrating Liverpool. Liverpool seemingly love frustrating us. This was a tricky fixture last season, these are often tricky fixtures, and Liverpool have struggled for consistency, to put it nicely, so far this season. Arsenal and Hoffenheim were great, City was not, Palace was fine, and there was both good and bad against Watford and Sevilla.

Liverpool's attack – even without Sadio Mané, so often the lynchpin – is better than last season's, and should be better than against this opposition last season. But Liverpool's defense will remain terrifying, especially in matches like these, until consistently proving otherwise.

14 September 2017

Visualized: Liverpool 2-2 Sevilla

Previous Match Infographics: Manchester City (a), Arsenal (h), Hoffenheim (h), Crystal Palace (h), Hoffenheim (a), Watford (a)

Match data from WhoScored and Liverpool FC



There's only so much you can say when similar things keep happening again and again and again and again.

Once again, a defensive error that should never have happened proves costly.




Once again, Liverpool drop points from a winning position thanks to a second half concession.




Once again, Liverpool's opponent scores from every single shot on-target.




Liverpool players – especially goalkeepers and center-backs – commit errors at way too high a pace. Liverpool let opposition sides back into games way too frequently. Liverpool don't allow many shots, but Liverpool allow really, really good shots.

This often happens in matches that Liverpool "should" win. They're often matches that Liverpool should have won on balance of play. It continues to happen at about the same rate since Jürgen Klopp became manager.

This time, Liverpool – read: Dejan Lovren – committed an early error which set an awful tone. As against Palace and Watford in 2015-16; Burnley, Southampton (League Cup), Hull, and Leicester in 2016-16.

This time, Liverpool let a lead slip late – the midfielders slow to react to a quick throw-in, Lovren and Moreno caught ball-watching, although give Correa credit where due for the control and finish. Liverpool did similar against Southampton, West Brom, Sunderland, Southampton, Tottenham, and Newcastle in 2015-16; Tottenham, Bournemouth, Sunderland, United, and Bournemouth in 2016-17, and Watford already this season.

Yes, credit where due. That second goal was quite clever, if aided by Liverpool. Sevilla improved as the match went on. Sevilla's changes improved the side. Sevilla finished the stronger side. That shouldn't have mattered after that first half performance.

Liverpool's attack remains very good. Better than last season. Vastly so. But, too often, Liverpool need that attack to take almost every single chance in order to get past these issues we've seen again and again and again and again. Do that, and we get 4-0 Arsenal. Don't do that, and don't turn that first half dominance into at least three goals, and miss a penalty just before halftime, and here we are.

Again.

Visualized: Liverpool 0-5 Manchester City

Previous Match Infographics: Arsenal (h), Hoffenheim (h), Crystal Palace (h), Hoffenheim (a), Watford (a)

Match data from WhoScored.



(Here are the formation diagrams usually included in match reviews: At the start; After all subs.)

I think I can be excused for a few days tardiness because of a hurricane. And, to be fair, there's not a whole lot to say about this anyway, whether said on Sunday or Thursday. We're here almost solely for thoroughness and completeness' sake.

That was an emphatic a whooping as can be. That's not good. Liverpool were second-best, if not by much, for the first 35 minutes, then not even fourth-best after the sending off.

And it was almost as meaningless as a whooping can be.

Well, "meaningless" isn't necessarily the best word for this. That Liverpool rolled over so easily in the second half isn't meaningless. That Liverpool's tactical switch in the second half – shifting to something like a 3-5-1 – completely failed to stem any more damage isn't meaningless. That Liverpool's midfield was so easily passed around and around and around until passed through when down to ten men isn't meaningless; just look at the chalkboards for all four of City's man-advantage goals, especially the second and fourth. This is not a good side when it's not a pressing side, especially in the middle of the pitch, and Manchester City is exactly the type who can and will make them pay for it.

And that Liverpool were already losing 0-1 when Sadio Mané was sent off isn't meaningless.

But once Mané was sent off – and I ain't arguing with the red card; it may have been accidental but it was also all sorts of dangerous play – and especially once Jesus got City's second just before halftime, this match was completely over as a contest. Whether it finished 0-2 or 0-5 only really matters towards goal difference.

To be fair, a Pep Guardiola team is the last team you want to face with a man disadvantage. But that was still all sorts of unacceptable, Liverpool.

13 September 2017

Liverpool 2-2 Sevilla

Goals:
Ben Yedder 5'
Firmino 21'
Salah 37'
Correa 72'

At least it went better than the last time Liverpool faced Sevilla?

But, look, we've been here before. The match started in the worst possible manner and the match ended in a not great manner. In between, especially the first half and very much especially in attack, was competent if not excellent.

But Liverpool did dumb things in defense, and paid for it. Liverpool failed to take enough chances to make up for doing dumb things in defense – a missed penalty in the 42nd minute the most galling – and paid for it.

An Anfield roaring for the return of the Champions League proper should have been the catalyst to blow the doors off Sevilla, as it was against Hoffenheim. And it almost was, it might have been. Liverpool pushed, Can and Henderson tried their luck from distance almost immediately. But one Sevilla attack: Sevilla's first attack, Sevilla's only real attack of the half. One low cross into a dangerous position, but a low cross that should have been easily cleared. One kick through nothing but air from Dejan Lovren. And one goal for Liverpool's opponents from a defensive error. One goal conceded from one shot on-target.

But Liverpool responded. Anfield didn't stop, and that attack didn't stop. Mané and Salah again gave their markers nothing but nightmares. Liverpool's midfield took turns pressing feverishly, giving Sevilla little outlet or time to breathe. Firmino everywhere, overloads everywhere. Liverpool kept coming until Liverpool equalized: pressure and possession finished off by Moreno to Henderson to Moreno, a low cross for Firmino's tap-in, Wijnaldum waiting at the back post if the striker didn't get there.

And Liverpool didn't stop. Can shot narrowly wide after a wonderful, wonderful break. Mercado saw yellow in frustration, again turned inside out by a Liverpool attacker. Liverpool kept pressing and kept breaking, and in the 37th minute, Salah won possession fairly despite protests, looked up, and immediately shot at goal, a lucky deflection taking it over Sergio Rico. You get what you deserve.

And Liverpool arguably deserved even more. Four minutes later, Mané beat Correa all ends up to win a penalty. He could have had two: Correa both handled the ball and pulled Mané back. Liverpool needed two, because Firmino sent his spot kick off the post. Subsequent dangerous crosses from Moreno and Wijnaldum nearly but couldn't quite lead to anything. And yet another full tilt break just before the whistle saw Rico barely keep Moreno's effort out.

But the second half was a different story. Liverpool remained on top, but less so, increasingly less so. Less quick to press, less vicious both on and off the ball. Fewer chances, more speculative chances. Deep curlers from Salah and Mané wide, Firmino from distance wide, Wijnaldum from distance saved.

Sevilla knew they were close to getting away with it. One side grew in stature and the other proportionally diminished. Liverpool at least looked secure? Silly rabbit. Liverpool aren't ever secure.

And in the 72nd minute, Liverpool were finally punished. Henderson and Can were out of position on Sevilla's throw-in and Muriel, who'd been on the pitch less than three minutes, was able to run at the heart of Liverpool's defense. Lovren froze, Correa sprinted behind Moreno, somehow controlled the pass, and beat Karius maybe just a little bit too easily. Again, you get what you deserve, in both attack and defense.

22 Liverpool shots at that point. Six on-target, two goals. That's not bad. Three Sevilla shots. Two on-target, two goals. That's very bad. The one non-goal Sevilla shot? From distance, easily blocked, late in the first half. The other two were clear-cut chances. The other two were goals. Easy goals, avoidable goals. This is not the first time this has happened.

Unlike after conceding early, Liverpool dropped. Liverpool diminished, at an even quicker pace. Probably tired from the earlier exertions. Losing shape and style after substitutions, with Coutinho replacing Can, Sturridge replacing Mané, and Oxlade-Chamberlain replacing Salah. There was little reply. There were just two Liverpool shots: both headers, both from corners, neither threatening.

And Sevilla could have won it late: Muriel again somehow through on goal in added time, shooting wide after being fouled by Gomez, advantage played and the defender sent off for a second yellow. Honestly, I'll take the dismissal rather than the loss.

Literally only two good things happened in the second half. Coutinho came on for his first appearance of the season; sure, he played like lukewarm garbage, but at least he's cup-tied. And Sevilla's manager was sent off for extreme pettiness – twice knocking throw-ins away from Gomez – which is the type of extreme pettiness you can only admire. Although, the Muriel substitution came after the sending off, so maybe that wasn't so great.

So here were are, yet again. It's not the worst result, especially since the other two sides in the group also drew, but it's also not good enough, yet again. Schizophrenic Liverpool, yet again.

Minutes seven though 71 – especially the tenth through 45th – again show what Liverpool are capable of, as they've done in at least parts of every match except last weekend's. But one moment in the fifth minute and everything after the 71st show how much Liverpool still have to improve and still have to overcome if they're going to get anywhere near achieving their goals.

29 August 2017

On Naby Keita

We've got to wait a year – WHICH SUCKS; GRATIFY ME NOW – but it's official. Naby Keita will be a Liverpool player. Later, rather than sooner, specifically on July 1, 2018. 306 days from now. Let the countdown begin.

Liverpool are paying more than next summer's release clause – reportedly around £55m – to ensure that Naby Keita will be a Liverpool player next season. There will not be a chance for other clubs to jump in ahead of Liverpool. He will be a Liverpool player whether or not Liverpool are in next season's Champions League. We'd all prefer it'd be this season than next, but RB Leipzig just weren't going to sell now. If now isn't an option, a year from now is the best possible outcome. Because Naby Keita will be a Liverpool player.

And I cannot wait. Because I do not understand Naby Keita.

Wait, that came out wrong. Let me rephrase.

I do not understand how Naby Keita does everything that Naby Keita does.



I do not understand how a player who scored eight goals and tallied seven assists in the league last season – with only one assist and no goals from set plays; the others all from open play – also averaged more than three tackles and three interceptions every 90 minutes.



I do not understand how that same player – a central midfielder capable of playing in literally any midfield role – also completes more than three successful dribbles per 90, with a surprisingly large amount through the congested center of the opposition's half.



I do not understand how a player this well-rounded, who does almost everything exceptionally well, who has almost no statistical midfield peer (*waves at Thiago Alcantara and Luka Modric and that's about it*), is only 22 years old.



I do not understand Naby Keita. And that is very much a good thing.



*long, low whistle*

Naby Keita's attacking statistics are similar to Adam Lallana's, the most potent of Liverpool's midfielders last season. His defensive statistics are almost all better than both Can and Henderson's. He's more well-rounded that Gini Wijnaldum. There's no point even including Lucas Leiva in the above chart, who played half of his matches as a center-back and still only surpasses Keita in fouls committed and aerial duels. None of Liverpool's central midfielders are anywhere near as talented as Keita when running with the ball; Keita's successful dribbles per 90 and dribble success rate even surpass Coutinho's (2.81 per 90, 61.95% success rate). No central midfielder who made at least 10 Bundesliga appearances averaged more dribbles per 90 minutes than Naby Keita.

The shorter version. His attacking output reminds me of Lallana, but he's seven years younger. His late runs into the box and movement remind me of Wijnaldum, but he's a vastly more influential player. His dribbling reminds me of Coutinho, who played "wide" in the front three for the vast majority of last season. And his recovery when chasing down the opposition, his octopus-esque tackles and interceptions, don't remind me of anyone in the current Liverpool squad, because no one does it anywhere near as well as Keita does.

Let's play the precedent game.

There's some Gerrard to him: a midfielder with an almost complete tool set, but that's not close enough. Keita doesn't have the physicality or size, but is also clearly an out-and-out central midfielder. Unlike Gerrard, who often never seemed disciplined enough, whose best seasons came as a #10 or as a right-winger (and I will probably die with the words "Gerrard should have been a right-back" on my lips).

There's some Yaya Toure to him: a complete midfielder from box to box, a player supposedly his idol. Keita clearly doesn't have Toure's CLANK CLANK REMOVE YOURSELF FROM MY PATH, PUNY HUMANS physicality, but he's also a vastly superior passer and dribbler, much quicker and smarter in possession, and better at taking the ball from the other team.

There's more than some Iniesta to him: his ability with the ball, his ability on the ball, his ability in tight spaces, but there's also a lot more going on in defense. And a similar comparison can be made with the too-quickly-forgotten Deco – a nickname he inherited early in his career and is still referred to in his Instagram handle.

And yes, there's a little bit of Makelele or Kante because of those defensive abilities, but it's a comparison far too facile and made far too often solely because of his skin color. Mascherano applies too, especially in the way he chases down attackers, but Keita is light years upon light years better on the ball than all three.

There are a lot of different archetypes rolled into one midfielder here. And, again, it's a 22-year-old midfielder we're talking about here. Who did all these things when playing for the second-place side in the second- or third-best league in Europe, a side which was playing in the German second division just two seasons ago.

I do not understand Naby Keita. Naby Keita is utterly baffling. And in the best possible way.

There is almost nothing concerning. Almost no weaknesses, which is something you can't write about 99% of the midfielders in football. But there are a couple.

Keita's only real fault is his aerial ability. He's a wee little fella, in a team already full of wee little fellas. Naby Keita is 5'7", which would somewhat frighten if he's deployed as the deepest midfielder in the band of three that Liverpool usually plays, given certain sides' delight at launching long balls into Liverpool's defensive third. That and he commits fouls at a fairly high rate – just like Emre Can – which, considering Liverpool's set play defending, etc etc.

But I also don't think Naby Keita will play as Liverpool's deepest midfielder all that often. There will be times, because of the amount of matches to come, because injuries are inevitable, but that's not where I expect he'll primarily be deployed.

Speaking of injuries, that's the one bane to completing a transfer a year ahead of time. Let us bow our heads and pray, and hope that absolutely nothing happens to our dear Naby Keita over the next 12 months. RB Leipzig know they're not going to have the player after this season – not that they were going to anyway – and if they're absolute jerks, they could run him into the ground. Protect your neck, kid.

And, as with Salah – who's already made a massive difference, even if we'd all appreciate putting away more of his chances – I have absolutely no concerns about the transfer fee.

I write this with no exaggeration. I am no expert – you should know this by now – but having watched far too many of Keita's matches and read into Keita's stats far too deeply over the last two months, I am damned near convinced that he is uniquely, superlatively talented. That he is worth every cent, pence, and euro of his transfer fee, even though it's by far the club record, even though he's still not joining Liverpool for another year.

That Naby Keita is a prototypical Jürgen Klopp type of player. That Naby Keita is already one of the best midfielders in the world. That he'll probably get even better at RB Leipzig over the course of this season, in the Champions League, in a side that every other Bundesliga side will be gunning for. That he has the potential to be one of the best midfielders to ever play the game. And that he is the sort of player who helps you win the league.

It's not a deal that should have any impact on whether Coutinho stays or goes, either this summer or next. But it will make the pain less if the Brazilian does depart next year. I can't do anything but take Liverpool at face value, and continue to believe that Coutinho will still be with the club comes September 1. It's even better if this is the sort of deal that helps convince Coutinho that this is the sort of club he should be at.

Either way, it is another masterstroke by Liverpool's often-criticized recruitment department. Firmino, very much a Michael Edwards and Transfer Committee deal, prior to Klopp's arrival. Mané, Salah, and now Keita for eye-watering fees that are still well-below market value. Wijnaldum and Matip, seemingly successes, if to a lesser extent. Grujic and Robertson odds-on to come good in the future. It's a fantastic deal for a player who'll improve Liverpool immeasurably next season, who will still only be 23 when he joins the club. It's evidence of long-term planning, something which rarely happened under previous managers or transfer committees.

This season's just started – we're just coming off a 4-0 win over Arsenal, for heaven's sake – and I already can't wait for next season.

It truly is fun when Liverpool are fun again.