30 January 2017

Liverpool v Chelsea 01.31.17

3pm ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
2-1 Liverpool (a) 09.16.16
1-1 (h) 05.11.16
3-1 Liverpool (a) 10.31.15
1-1 (a) 05.10.15

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-2 Wolves (h); 0-1 Southampton (h); 2-3 Swansea (h)
Chelsea: 4-0 Brentford (h); 2-0 Hull (h); 3-0 Leicester (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Mané 9; Firmino 8; Lallana 7; Milner 6; Coutinho 5; Origi 4; Can 3; Lovren, Sturridge, Wijnaldum 2; Henderson, Matip 1
Chelsea: Costa 15; Hazard 9; Pedro, Willian 5; Alonso, Cahill, Moses 3; Batshuayi, Fabregas, Kante 1

Referee: Mark Clattenburg

Guess at a line-up:
Alexander-Arnold Matip Lovren Milner
Wijnaldum Henderson Can
Lallana Firmino Coutinho

It's obviously not a great time to host the league leaders. Liverpool are in disarray. Liverpool have one win in 2017, at League Two Plymouth Argyle with a second-string side. Liverpool have lost their last three matches, all at Anfield – the first time that's happened in more than four years. Liverpool haven't lost four in a row at Anfield since 1923, the only time that's happened in Liverpool's history.

Or is it?

No, no it's probably not. At least January will finally be over.

We can hope this fixture inspires Liverpool out of this current funk. And there is precedent for such. Liverpool were mediocre in Klopp's first few matches, having drawn five of their last six, before traveling to Chelsea and comprehensively winning 3-1. There were a couple of games at Anfield in 2009-10 – 2-0 wins over United and Tottenham – to arrest multiple-match slides which came before. And Liverpool do have an excellent recent record against Chelsea. Liverpool do have an excellent recent record against the current top six.

That Sadio Mané won't return to Merseyside until tonight probably means tomorrow's too soon to start. I hope he's available, for obvious reasons, and Klopp didn't rule it out. Liverpool have desperately missed him, for his qualities and how the rest of the team takes shape around him. More specifically, it'd allow Lallana to play in midfield – another crucial piece of the puzzle – with Wijnaldum the most likely to make way.

At least Adam Lallana's fit again, even if he's likely to play in the front three – don't expect Sturridge or Origi to start unless there are issues with either Wijnaldum or Can besides their rocky form. But Nat Clyne isn't, absent from training in the last few days, which means Alexander-Arnold. Against Eden Hazard. *gulp, tugs collar*

But, of course, it's not as if Eden Hazard is Chelsea's only threat. Chelsea are nothing but threats. Hell, even Victor Moses has become a threat.

Chelsea are eight points ahead of second, and ten ahead of Liverpool. They've won 14 of their last 15 matches in all competitions, and 16 of their last 17 in the league. They've kept clean sheets in 13 of those 17 matches, allowing just six goals, and haven't conceded in their last three games in all competitions.

They're near perfectly balanced between attack and defense, the stingiest side in the league but with Costa, Hazard, Pedro, and Willian all adding goals. Once this Chelsea gets a lead, that's almost certainly it. They won't be as deep as other opponents Liverpool have faced during this awful month, but they congest the middle just as effectively due to both system and personnel. They smother, steal, and transition quickly – capable of doing in through the middle with to Costa, Hazard, and Pedro/Willian's tricks, or up the flanks with Moses and Alonso's pace.

So, yeah, they're good. Liverpool have been very good at times this season as well. But unlike Liverpool, Chelsea are playing good too.

Tomorrow's XI seems fairly easy to predict. It will be what it's been. Courtois; Azpilicueta, Luiz, Cahill; Moses, Matic, Kante, Alonso; Pedro, Costa, Hazard. The only potential alteration is Willian rather than Pedro. Chelsea have no injuries because Chelsea not having any injuries is a big reason why they're first. As with Leicester last season, as with Chelsea the season before.

Chelsea's lone league loss since September is the template. Tottenham's 2-0 home win at the beginning of the month: press, strangle, and restrict Chelsea, both goals coming when Tottenham won the ball in the middle third, stretched the defense with width and pace, and crossed for Dele Alli headers.

Or, in a similar vein, it will take a performance like Liverpool's against Manchester City before this slide started: get the goal (and ideally more!) – with Wijnaldum's not dissimilar from Alli's against Chelsea – then defend like demons. Ideally more than one goal. Ideally better in attack, probably needing to take more than five shots, and especially needing to be better when there are opportunities to counter.

Which makes Liverpool's 2-1 win at Stamford Bridge a template as well. Liverpool started well despite missing a crucial player (Firmino) and scored twice in the first half, enough to see out the win, under pressure after Diego Costa pulled one back but no closer. But that performance took luck as well as skill, especially for Liverpool's goals: Chelsea's complete set play breakdown (which has not happened often since then) for Lovren's opener, then a unlikely bazooka from distance by Henderson.

Liverpool have still lost just one of 14 league matches against the current top six, 0-1 against Manchester United last season. This season, they've beaten Arsenal and Chelsea away and City at home, drawn at Tottenham and against United.

Liverpool have been very good at times this season. Being good again is long, long overdue, and it will happens sooner than later with the schedule easing and Mané returning. But they'll need to be at their best to get something from tomorrow's match.

28 January 2017

Liverpool 1-2 Wolverhampton

Stearman 1'
Weimann 41'
Origi 86'

Should we be reactionary when a Liverpool side with a ton of changes and a ton of kids and a ton of players who haven't really played together lose?

Yes, yes we should.

Because that was hilariously bad. And it's not for the first time this month, no matter the Liverpool XI. In isolation, it's almost excusable. In the context of the winter of our discontent, it's absolutely infuriating.

Liverpool are almost certainly completely out of the title race, out of the League Cup, and now out of the FA Cup after three consecutive home losses in seven days. To Swansea, Southampton, and Wolverhampton. After not losing at home for more than a year.

The last time Liverpool lost three in a row at home was September/October 2012. That was to Arsenal, Manchester United, and Udinese. This lot's a bit different than that lot.

Incidentally, Liverpool's next three home games are Chelsea, Tottenham, and Arsenal.

We can do this entire review with comparisons to previous failings.

Liverpool conceded early, as against Burnley. Liverpool conceded unnecessarily, after being pressed and giving the ball away (Lucas) and committing a dumb foul (Moreno). Liverpool conceded from a set play, with Stearman arguably, marginally, but probably never getting that call offside. Liverpool conceded from the first shot on-target.

An early concession allowed the opposition to sit deep even more comfortably, preventing a Liverpool side which dominated possession from coming anywhere near breaking through. As we've seen in almost every single match this month.

Liverpool conceded a second on the counter-attack, giving the ball away in the final third then hilariously exposed. As in the aforementioned Burnley match. As happened for Swansea's third a week ago. As happened for Southampton's added aggregate gloss three days ago.

Liverpool failed to put a single shot on-target in the first half for the second time during this three-match losing streak – as against Swansea – restricted to four shots despite almost 80% possession, with three of the four from outside the box.

And despite changes – Coutinho for Randall at halftime, switching to three at the back; then Sturridge for Firmino; then Can for Ejaria – it was more of the same in the second half. Finally, a first shot on-target on the hour mark, an easy 30-yard slow roller from Coutinho. A second from Sturridge 15 minutes later, a similar position with a similar outcome. 41 minutes of unsuccessfully ambling face-first into a brick wall then starting over. 13 of 20 Liverpool shots coming from outside the box, 11 of 14 before Origi finally scored. As we've seen against etc. etc. etc.

Yes, there was a glimmer of unwarranted and unwanted hope in the 86th minute, Origi from Sturridge's header across goal following a corner. Another set play goal. Liverpool are still limited to two open play goals in eight 2017 matches, both from Firmino against Swansea. And Origi nearly had a second a minute later, after a scramble following another corner, denied by Burgoyne's kick save.

And that was that. No more chances, with Wolves killing the clock efficiently. Another loss, this probably the most deserved. None except I guess Ben Woodburn coming out of this fiasco with any credit, although at least Coutinho livened up Liverpool's attack a little bit. Multiple players coming out of this fiasco with a ton of criticism, especially Randall, Moreno, and Lucas – admittedly three who don't often feature, but the full-backs exposed and harassed on multiple occasions and Lucas doing Stereotypically Bad Lucas.

Less than a month ago, halfway through the league campaign, Liverpool had scored the most goals in a single half-season in their history. It was Liverpool's fourth-best points total after 19 games, Liverpool's joint-fifth best goal difference.

And now we're here. With one win in eight matches in 2017, a narrow 1-0 win thanks to a set play against League Two Plymouth. Three draws – Sunderland, Plymouth, and Manchester United – and now, three consecutive losses. To Swansea, Southampton, and Wolves. Swansea. Southampton. And Wolves.

It will probably get better, as the fixture list eases, as players return to fitness and form and the African Cup of Nations ends. When Liverpool get one, they'll probably get two and then three. But right now, it's getting worse. Every game. So, sure, it was a reserve line-up, but the rot continues and the rot worsens. The reserve line-up and the rot feature the failings we've seen time and time again this month.

And there are no signs of abating or improving.

And Liverpool host the runaway league leaders in a little more than 72 hours.

27 January 2017

Liverpool v Wolverhampton 01.28.17

7:30am ET, live in the US on Fox Sports 1

Last four head-to-head:
3-0 Liverpool (a) 01.31.12
2-1 Liverpool (h) 09.24.11
3-0 Liverpool (a) 01.22.11
0-1 Wolves (h) 12.29.10

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-1 Southampton (h); 2-3 Swansea (h); 1-0 Plymouth (a)
Wolves: 1-3 Norwich (a); 1-0 Villa (h); 2-0 Stoke (a)

Previous rounds:
Liverpool: 1-0 Plymouth (a), 0-0 Plymouth (h)
Wolves: 2-0 Stoke (a)

Goalscorers (all):
Liverpool: Mané 9; Firmino, Lallana, Origi 7; Coutinho, Sturridge 6; Milner 5; Can 3; Lovren, Wijnaldum 2; Henderson, Klavan, Matip, Woodburn 1
Wolves: Costa 9; Edwards 7; Cavaleiro, Doherty, Mason 4; Bödvarsson, Oniangue, Teixeira 2; Batth, Coady, Hause, Saville, Wallace1

Referee: Craig Pawson

Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Matip Gomez Moreno
Wijnaldum Henderson Can
Firmino Origi

I am of two minds about this.

It's still the FA Cup, even if made slightly more important by Liverpool's exit from the League Cup on Wednesday, and made slightly more important by successive home losses, but the FA Cup nonetheless. It ain't the league, and it certainly ain't a league match against Chelsea this coming Tuesday.

I want to think it's still predominantly an opportunity for the kids, a line-up more like that against Plymouth Argyle than not. It could well be this season's last senior opportunity, at least as starters, for a lot of these kids.

But that's probably not going to be the case.

Klopp revealed he intends to name a ‘slightly more’ experienced team to that which twice faced Plymouth Argyle in the competition, though checks will be made on several players.

“It’s not final who we can line up tomorrow, because we had a few knocks after the game and have to wait a little bit,” he said at his pre-match press conference.

“But we’ll have enough and a very good team for tomorrow. We will not make 10 changes or something. A few changes we have to make."

Which is fair. Liverpool aren't in a good situation at the moment. Liverpool's only win in 2017 came in this competition, against a League Two side, and Liverpool very much need to get back to winning ways. That seems even more true with the league leaders to come to Anfield a matter of days after this.

That said, I've probably got too many senior players in the above guessed XI. I remain concerned about Henderson's lingering heel injury and Coutinho only recently back from an extended absence. Matip's in a similar situation – a lingering injury and not long back from an extended absence – but he's also much more in need of matches. Clyne's 50-50; it sounds like Klopp wants to start him if at all possible, but I'd be tempted to hold off until Tuesday regardless.

I also remain concerned about Firmino's utility out wide, whether on the right or left, which is why the above guess is shaped in a midfield diamond. Even if that's the case – which, again, there's a good chance it won't be – it'll still look 4-3-3 an awful lot of the time.

I want to see Gomez, especially when paired with Matip. I wouldn't mind seeing Moreno, although that's a dangerous thing to write. I expect to see Karius keep his place in the cups, again impressive against Southampton. There could well be spots for Stewart, Ejaria, or Woodburn even with a more senior XI.

As with Plymouth Argyle, I'm in the position of previewing opposition I know little about. And, not to be patronizing, but it's probably safe to assume we'll see a good deal of what we saw in that match. What we saw against Southampton. What we've seen in the majority of Liverpool matches of late. Opposition coming to Anfield and happy to sit deep, first and foremost and everything else focused on preventing Liverpool from scoring, congesting the final third, refusing to allow anything through the middle, forcing Liverpool out wide, then counter-attacking through direct football if and when given the chance.

That might be a bit unfair on Wolves. They've lost just two of their last seven matches, winning four, including a thorough and deserved 2-0 victory at full-strength Stoke in the last round. They're 18th in the Championship, but that has more to do with the manager fired earlier in the season – after taking over at the end of July, replacing Kenny Jackett, who'd managed the club for three years and got them promoted from League One – than the current one, a reasonable start to the season followed by just two wins from 15 from the end of August through November. Paul Lambert, appointed in November, has steadied the side over the last two and a half months, even if it's only seen Wolves climb a solitary place in the table.

Wolves hover right around the median in all of Ben Mayhew's Championship scatter graphics, which is a bit confusing for a side that sits 18th. It should provide a warning that Wolves can play, and if given the chance, Wolves can hurt Liverpool.

My best guess at an XI is what's listed in WhoScored's preview, also basically the XI which started the 1-3 loss at Norwich a week ago. Burgoyne; Iorfa, Stearman, Batth, Doherty; Price, Edwards; Costa, Mason, Weimann; Bödvarsson. Edwards has been at Wolves for seemingly forever, and played in the Wolverhampton team which (sigh) beat Roy Hodgson's Liverpool at Anfield in 2010. Mason scored against Liverpool in the 2012 League Cup final for Cardiff. Weimann, while at Aston Villa (under Paul Lambert), gave Liverpool fits on multiple occasions.

The two changes from last Saturday's match is that goalkeeper Carl Ikeme's suspended (oh joy, another opportunity for a back-up keeper to play out of his mind against Liverpool) and Cavaleiro doubtful through injury. Ex-Liverpool player Conor Coady's only started two of Wolves' four matches this month, his spot in midfield taken by Academy graduate Jack Price and more often used as right-back under Lambert.

Liverpool, no matter who starts, just need to stop the rot. It'd be nice to stay in this competition. It'd be even nicer to avoid a replay. But more important is Liverpool finding confidence and playing Liverpool football. And you're probably not going to find confidence without winning, and you're not winning without playing Liverpool football.

Play Liverpool football.

24 January 2017

Liverpool v Southampton 01.25.17

Southampton lead 1-0 after the first leg.

3pm ET, live in the US on BeIN Sports

Last four head-to-head:
0-1 Southampton (a; League Cup) 01.11.17
0-0 (a) 11.19.16
2-3 Southampton (a) 03.20.16
6-1 Liverpool (a; League Cup) 12.02.15

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-3 Swansea (h); 1-0 Plymouth (a); 1-1 United (a)
Southampton: 3-0 Leicester (h); 1-0 Norwich (h); 0-1 Burnley (a)

Previous rounds:
Liverpool: 0-1 Southampton (a); 2-0 Leeds (h); 2-1 Tottenham (h); 3-0 Derby (a); 5-0 Burton Albion (a)
Southampton: 1-0 Liverpool (h); 2-0 Arsenal (a); 1-0 Sunderland (h); 2-0 Palace (h)

Goalscorers (all):
Liverpool: Mané 9; Firmino, Lallana, Origi 7; Coutinho, Sturridge 6; Milner 5; Can 3; Lovren, Wijnaldum 2; Henderson, Klavan, Matip, Woodburn 1
Southampton: Austin 9; Rodriguez 5; Redmond 4; van Dijk 3; Bertrand, Boufal, Long, Tadic, Ward-Prowse 2; Clasie, Hesketh 1

Referee: Martin Atkinson

Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Matip Lovren Milner
Lallana Henderson Wijnaldum
Sturridge Firmino Coutinho

If there's going to be a reaction to the failings of the last month, now's absolutely the time for it.

I have seen something like six different personnel suggestions for fixing Liverpool's attack, for how Liverpool should line-up without Sadio Mané and needing to overturn a one-goal deficit. And that's just from different Echo writers.

It should be Sturridge, playing central. It should be Sturridge, playing on the right. It should be Sturridge and Origi. What about Ojo or Woodburn? Can Trent Alexander-Arnold play further forward? What about Milner further forward with Moreno at left-back?

We're all blindly tossing darts at an unmarked board. That's where Liverpool's attack has gotten us of late.

My starting point is that Adam Lallana needs to play in midfield rather than wide right, with Emre Can the most likely to make way. He's been nowhere near as effective in the front three, and Liverpool badly need an effective Lallana.

And if that's the case, it comes down to whether it's Firmino central and Sturridge right or the opposite. I don't think Origi's in the discussion due to form, I don't think two strikers and a diamond midfield is in the discussion either. My belief is Firmino's more important and much, much better when in the middle – literally the only attacker who did anything good on Saturday, almost single-handedly rescuing the game for Liverpool.

So, Coutinho left, Firmino central, and Sturridge on the right, where he's at least capable of cutting inside to shoot on his stronger left foot and has the protection of Lallana and Clyne – better defenders than those on the opposite flank – when he does much less tracking back than anyone else who'd play in that role. What could possibly go wrong? Oh, right, the only time we've seen that front three start a match was 0-2 at Burnley.

Let's hope Liverpool have learned something in the subsequent months.

Otherwise, Joël Matip's finally back, which is no small matter for the defense. Karius will probably keep his place in goal for the cup matches, responsible for keeping this tie at just a 0-1 deficit.

How well Liverpool's attack plays will also have something to do with Southampton's personnel. Specifically, whether or not Virgil Van Dijk is fit.

Van Dijk has owned Liverpool in the last two meetings, in both league and cup. He's the main reason Liverpool have been held scoreless in 180 minutes against Southampton. He picked up an ankle injury in the second half of Saturday's match and seems unlikely to play, but hasn't been completely ruled out. And his possible absence makes Southampton's job even harder considering Jose Fonte's recent exodus to West Ham in search of one last big pay day.

Austin, Boufal, Hesketh, and Targett are definitely out. Steven Davis, who's missed all three matches since the last meeting, is – like van Dijk – doubtful.

So let's guess an XI of Forster; Soares, Yoshida, Stephens, Bertrand; Ward-Prowse, Romeu, Clasie; Redmond, Rodriguez, Tadic. Højbjerg and Harrison Reed are other options in midfield. Shane Long could start up front instead of Rodriguez; both are scoring goals lately.

Southampton, still struggling with the aforementioned injuries, have improved since the win over Liverpool two weeks ago. Coming into that fixture, they were winless in four, including three successive league losses. They proceeded to lose the next match, 1-0 at Burnley (not naming names, but better than some sides have done at Burnley), but beat Norwich in a replay with a much-changed XI then housed Leicester over the weekend, scoring three goals in a match for only the fifth time this season in all competitions and the first time in a little over a month.

Chances are that this match looks a lot more like the league meeting than the last leg. A lot of teams have sat deep and solely defended at Anfield. That was probably the most defensive of any of them, regardless of Klopp's comments post-Sunderland.

And it worked to perfection, not only holding Liverpool scoreless but severely limiting Liverpool's shots and shots on-target. And that was with a front three of Coutinho, Firmino, and Mané.

All Southampton need to do is hold Liverpool scoreless. But Liverpool need to hold Southampton scoreless as well. Away goals only count after extra time, but they still count after extra-time. A one-goal Liverpool lead, no matter the score line, gets us 30 more minutes of football, but if it's anything other than 1-0, Southampton win without penalties.

I remain concerned about Liverpool's ability to score two or more, to get or maintain a two-goal lead. And, considering where we were two months ago, that remains an amazing statement.

23 January 2017

Visualized: Liverpool 2-3 Swansea

Previous Match Infographics: Manchester United (a), Sunderland (a), Manchester City (a), Stoke (h), 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.

I don't have much to add to Saturday's match review except to reiterate how unforgivable almost all of this was. And on a weekend where Tottenham, City, and United also dropped points. Tottenham and City have the consolation of doing it to each other, United while getting a late equalizer at a ground that's difficult to go to.

They also all at least got a point. Meanwhile, Liverpool lost to the worst team in the division at home.

So, in lieu of writing a bunch about a match that you don't want to read about, here are a few charts and also some words because I really can't help myself.

Admittedly, Coutinho's injury isn't the sole catalyst, by far. There's the much busier winter schedule, defenses realizing that all they need to do is still deep then launch long to avoid the counter-press, Henderson's injury, Matip's injury then unavailability, Mané's absence in the last two league games, both Sturridge and Origi wildly off form and we're not quite sure how they fit into this system which seemingly requires Firmino up top. But it's a handy dividing line, especially as it happened right when fixtures became more frequent.

But, you say, "Well, that doesn't really matter when first the defense was bad and dumb to start the second half on Saturday, then Liverpool scored twice and looked on pace for a third, and then the defense was bad and dumb again and Klavan committed an error, and that's the match."

And there's something to that. Liverpool's points per game during this less-than-fun stretch recovered almost exactly parallel to a drop in Liverpool's goals conceded, even as shots and shots on-target allowed remained on exactly the same pace. Liverpool have been notably bad and/or dumb defensively in six or so league matches by my count this season (at Burnley, at Swansea, at Palace, at Bournemouth, at Sunderland, v Swansea), and won two, drew one, and lost three – all three of Liverpool's league losses this season.

Yet I still remain of the belief that Liverpool's defense pretty much is what it is. It is better with Matip, it will probably be better with Gomez (if only beginning next season), and Liverpool should probably look to buy another center-back this summer. No matter who plays, Liverpool will do a decent job limiting opposition shots. Sometimes, Liverpool will also commit dumb errors and/or fail on a set play. Liverpool have at least gotten better at both of those things as the season's gone on, even if that's hard to remember after matches like Saturday's.

If Liverpool's attack is firing at the start of the match, rather than only after going 0-2 down, all of this is probably a moot point. As it was when hosting Leicester, Hull, and Watford earlier this season. There were only six first-half shots, but five of them were in the Danger Zone, one of them (Can's errant header) a clear-cut chance. Five of six were off-target, the other blocked.

Liverpool's successes in the last season and a half still mainly derive from the successes of Liverpool's attack more often than not. More often than not, Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool will live and die with its attack. And right now, this ain't living.

21 January 2017

Liverpool 2-3 Swansea

Llorente 48' 52'
Firmino 55' 69'
Sigurðsson 74'

2017 remains an uncontrollable, inexhaustible garbage fire.

We got every single bit of Bad Liverpool, in separate phases. A dire attack against nine defenders for the entire first half, as in almost every 2017 match so far. Dumb and avoidable concessions from a corner then cross in quick succession after halftime. Liverpool finally starting to play after going 0-2 down and actual hope with two goals in 14 minutes from Firmino to equalize, but then an unlikely Swansea winner five minutes later on a counter, unable to stop the attack before a Liverpool player accidentally set up the goalscorer.

Three goals conceded from three shots on target. Each one the type of goal that Liverpool had been prone to conceding but had been better about not conceding lately: the second ball from a corner, a towering header over (multiple) defenders, and both stupid and unlucky on the counter-attack when vainly and fruitlessly for the go-ahead goal.

Against the bottom side in the league. Who hadn't scored three goals away from home in the league all season. Who'd conceded three or more goals in 11 of 21 league matches this season. Who'd lost six of their last seven games by a 20-4 margin. Who'd never won at Anfield. Ever. For Liverpool's first loss at Anfield in 370 days.

It'd be unbelievable if it weren't, you know, Liverpool.

There is literally zero consolation here. There are almost no positives except for Firmino's almost single-handed fight-back, which is muted by all the evil which came before and after.

It's been hidden by the horrific results and three different managers, but Swansea had shown at least bits of this potential before. The reverse fixture was one of Liverpool's worst performances of the season, only a Liverpool win because of exceptionally bad Swansea finishing (which was not the case today) and more single-handed Firmino heroics in scoring the equalizer and earning the penalty winner. 4-0 at Arsenal is one of those results which doesn't do the match justice, Swansea the better side until Giroud's goal from a fortunate deflection, then proceeding to collapse, giving Arsenal two own goals then a late defensive error.

The first goal matters. As it did today.

Swansea's plan worked better than Liverpool's plan. A side that'd been free-flowing before Coutinho's injury and before Liverpool had to play two matches per week almost every week for the last two months once again wasn't. Nearly every Swansea player sat in Swansea's half for the entire first half. Four defenders, three central midfielders, and two very deep wingers blocked off pretty much everything in the final third, coupled with an incredible performance from Llorente on Henderson, closing down Liverpool's necessary metronome at every opportunity.

And it led to the first time this season that Liverpool's been held without a shot on-target in a first half at Anfield this season. The only other times it's happened this season were the 1-0 win at Everton and (*drum roll*) 2-1 win at Swansea.

Then that second half happened. And, while Llorente was boss and thoroughly punished Liverpool, it was much more about what Liverpool both did and failed to do than what Swansea did.

Swansea's first attack of the half, which only resulted in a corner because Lovren idiotically tried to head a hopeful cross over the lone attacker back to Mignolet and completely failed. Then, Lovren lost Fernandez on the ball in, and Swansea reacted quicker than Liverpool to the scramble. Four minutes later, Swansea break, literally from a failed Liverpool attack because Coutinho tried to center to Lallana instead of shooting from inside the box and put it two yards behind him. Nice interplay from new signings Carroll and Olsson, then Carroll's cross to Llorente, who's surrounded by three Liverpool defenders (Milner, Wijnaldum, Klavan, responsible in that order). Llorente wins easily.

0-2 down, 52 minutes gone, and hey, welcome to the match Liverpool thank you for showing up. Liverpool's 16th cross of the match finally leads to something: good from Milner and even better from Firmino to get in front of Olsson and head past Fabianski. 14 minutes later, even better from Firmino, good control from Wijnaldum to get into space on the left but a lofted, hopeful cross in. But Firmino's chest control to take away two defenders and left-footer on the half-volley and woof.

2-2 against the bottom side in the league who'd conceded that many goals, and at Anfield. 25 or so minutes to play. One point is the absolute minimum and three should be likely, no matter how the first 55 minutes went.


Less than five minutes later, Liverpool have basically everyone forward, but the attack breaks down and Fabianski claims. A hopeful kick long. Swansea win the second ball, then Llorente holds up play up excellently to allow attackers to get forward. Fer gets away from two, Llorente finds space in front of Lovren to set up Carroll, and somehow Klavan's tackle falls perfectly for a wide open Sigurðsson. Disappointing And Unlucky: The Liverpool Story. Throwing Away Points In The Last 20 Minutes of Matches: The Liverpool Story.

And from there, toilet. Liverpool back to being unable to break Swansea down, the lone noteworthy chances in quick succession from Lallana, first a lucky ricochet deflected onto the bar then a header over. Substitutions that didn't help Liverpool, and probably made them worse.

First, Sturridge for Coutinho – inoffensive rather than troublesome, Sturridge unable to make a difference but not really changing proceedings in either direction, with Coutinho only able to complete 56 minutes probably what bothers me most. Then, Origi for Can, planned before Liverpool's equalizer but still gone through with after scoring. That unbalanced Liverpool. Maybe it doesn't help, maybe it does, but having Can as at least another body in midfield – no matter how mediocre (at best) he was today – makes stopping Swansea's third at least slightly more likely. Origi's total contribution probably equalled Sturridge – the former put a tame shot on-target, the latter created the chance for Lallana's header, and that's about it from either – but the effect was to further unbalance a side that had actually started to get its act together. This is not the first time that's happened (*glares at the Bournemouth result again*).

2017 has started in the worst possible manner. And Liverpool are in deep, deep trouble. Despite results like today's (and Burnley, and Bournemouth, and Sunderland, and ...), Liverpool remain a reasonably good side, at least usually – in goals scored, chances created, and shots allowed. Much better than previous seasons. Analytics still really like this side, and they also pass the eye test more often than not, even without Mané or Coutinho, which admittedly makes life that much harder.

Reasonably good is not good enough this season. Nowhere near good enough. Not with the rest of the Top 6 playing like they are. Liverpool could be fifth by the end of the day, just two points ahead of sixth, which is currently a side they were ten points ahead of less than two months ago. Manchester City is currently the only side in that group stuttering as Liverpool's stuttered – the other four have been excellent – and you look at City's squad then Liverpool's and it's not hard to wonder who has a better shot of fixing things quicker.

There are 16 matches left in this league campaign. Liverpool will have to fight like hell, and dramatically improve, to even remain in the Champions League places.

20 January 2017

Liverpool v Swansea 01.21.17

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

Last four head-to-head:
2-1 Liverpool (a) 10.01.16
1-3 Swansea (a) 05.01.15
1-0 Liverpool (h) 11.29.15
1-0 Liverpool (a) 03.16.15

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-0 Plymouth Argyle (a); 1-1 United (a); 0-1 Southampton (a)
Swansea: 0-4 Arsenal (h); 0-2 Hull (a); 2-1 Crystal Palace (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Mané 9; Lallana 7; Firmino, Milner 6; Coutinho 5; Origi 4; Can 3; Lovren, Sturridge, Wijnaldum 2; Henderson, Matip 1
Swansea: Fer, Llorente 6; Sigurðsson 5; Routledge 2; Baston, Maison, Rangel, van der Hoorn 1

Referee: Kevin Friend

Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Lovren Klavan Milner
Can Henderson Wijnaldum
Lallana Firmino Coutinho

We're almost back to full-strength Liverpool. It's very much needed.

I'm annoyed to say, and it's probably reactionary given how and who Liverpool have played recently, but neither Sturridge nor Origi have done enough in recent weeks to get another start now that almost everyone's fit.

As of Klopp's press conference an hour ago, FIFA hadn't been in touch about Joël Matip. Which has caught everyone by surprise, I know. There's still a few hours before close of business but, knowing FIFA, chances are Liverpool are without him for no good reason again.

There's better news on Nat Clyne, back in full training for the first time since his rib injury. Which probably makes him 50-50 or so for tomorrow. Alexander-Arnold could deputize again, growing into the game after a tough start at United and one of Liverpool's better players (especially the best defender) once Plymouth needed to attack on Wednesday. But if Clyne's even close to fit enough, Clyne will play, as per usual.

Otherwise, everyone's available except Sadio Mané, at the African Cup of Nations and scoring for fun, having tallied in both of Senegal's matches so far. Most importantly, both Coutinho and Henderson are back, the former in line for his first league start since injury two months ago.

Liverpool have desperately missed both, especially Coutinho. Yes, they've already featured in a couple of games, but building up match fitness takes time, especially in the case of a player who missed two months. You're probably sick of me writing it, but Liverpool are still yet to score an open play goal in 2017, having tallied from three corners and the penalty spot in the five games so far. Liverpool's lone win in those five games came on Wednesday, that narrow 1-0 victory at League Two Plymouth Argyle, a match that would've gone to extra time had Jake Jervis' 75th-minute set play clear-cut chance gone inside rather than onto the post.

We need Liverpool to be a lot better than they've been since the start of the month.

Meanwhile, Swansea make no sense. They should not be this bad. They should not be in such disarray.

Gylfi Sigurðsson's great. Ki Sung-yueng and Jack Cork are competent midfielders; Routledge, Dyer, and Fer are competent attackers who've drifted around the league for years, valuable players in admittedly mediocre-to-bad teams. Both Amat and Fernandez have stifled Liverpool attackers in previous contests. Llorente's still scoring, at age 31 in his first Premiership season. Borja Baston is the club's record signing and he's started all of four league matches.

They're on their third manager of the season – this'll be Paul Clement's third match; they're yet to win or draw and yet to score – and the fourth if you count Alan Curtis' two games as caretaker.

They've conceded 49 goals in 21 league matches, which is near-record pace. They've conceded three goals in seven matches, four goals in three matches, and five goals in one. They've conceded 8.2% of all the Premier League goals scored this season.

They've lost six of their last seven matches, six in the league and one in the FA Cup, outscored 20-4 in those seven matches.

And yet, they're only two points from safety, and two rather than one solely because of goal difference, because Palace, Hull, and Sunderland have been nearly as bad.

And yet, they gave Liverpool an incredibly difficult time in the reverse fixture last October, unlucky to not get at least a point after honest-to-goodness dominating the first half and then missing a clear-cut chance to equalize in second-half injury time.

And yet, in Paul Clement's first league match as manager last weekend, they were actually good against Arsenal until they very much weren't, the better side until conceding against the run of play and then blown away 4-0. After the 37th-minute opener, they gave Arsenal two own goals and an Routledge error leading to the fourth.

Swansea make no sense.

And given that Swansea make no sense, I'm at a loss to guess the XI. Chances are it won't be what I'd pick without context, knowing most of the players but not especially aware of form or relation to teammates or manager.

Chances are, it'll look like the team that lost against Arsenal, but with one or two changes from a manager still getting to know his squad. Something like Fabianski; Naughton, Fernandez, Mawson, Olsson; Cork, Carroll; Sigurðsson, Fer, Routledge; Llorente. Both Carroll and Olsson are new signings, the former in hopes of fixing what's been a bafflingly bad midfield (Leon Britton doesn't even make the match day squad anymore), the latter adding pace to a stolid back-line and depth with perma-fixture Neil Taylor out for an extended spell. Barrow, Montero, and Narsingh join Taylor on the injury list.

There's seemingly two ways this goes. Ideally, a nearly full-strength Liverpool finds its form – specifically its goalscoring form – against not good opposition at Anfield, and we get something in the vein of 5-1 Hull or 6-1 Watford. Even with Liverpool struggling for goals and Swansea likely to be better than they have been, it's possible, considering Swansea's form and that it's at Anfield. But – and maybe it's my perpetual pessimism – just as likely is a Swansea revival, able to do what Sunderland, Plymouth, and others have done to Liverpool lately, as Liverpool most notably continue to stutter in front of goal, better at the back in recent weeks but still prone to calamity.

How it goes is up to Liverpool.

17 January 2017

Liverpool at Plymouth Argyle 01.18.17

2:45pm ET, live in the US on Fox Sports 1

Last four head-to-head:
0-0 (h) 01.08.17
3-2 Liverpool (a) 04.28.62
2-1 Liverpool (h) 12.09.61
1-1 (h) 03.24.61

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-1 Manchester Utd (a); 0-1 Southampton (a); 0-0 Plymouth Argyle (h)
Plymouth: 4-2 Stevenage (h); 0-0 Liverpool (a); 0-1 Barnet (a)

Previous rounds:
Liverpool: 0-0 Plymouth Argyle (h)
Plymouth: 0-0 Liverpool (a); 1-0 Newport County aet (a), 0-0 Newport County (h); 2-1 Mansfield (a)

Goalscorers (all):
Liverpool: Mané 9; Firmino, Lallana, Origi 7; Coutinho, Milner, Sturridge 6; Can 3; Lovren, Wijnaldum 2; Henderson, Klavan, Matip, Woodburn 1
Plymouth: Carey 10; Jervis 8; Slew 6; Tanner 5; Bradley, Bulvitis 3; Donaldson, Garita, Smith, Songo'o, Spencer, Threlkeld 2; Fox, Goodwillie 1

Referee: Graham Scott

Guess at a line-up:
Alexander-Arnold Lovren Gomez Moreno
Ejaria Stewart Wijnaldum
Ojo Sturridge Coutinho

"We have, in general, a very young team. I said before the last game we had a lot of good reasons to line up like we did and it will be same case for Wednesday, we will have good reasons for the line-up," [Klopp] explained.

"The first and best reason is we want to win the game and want to go to the next round of the FA Cup. We will see.

"Probably, it will be different to the team we had in the first game but that's not 100 per cent sure so we have to wait a little bit. It will be good." -- Jürgen Klopp

Parsing press conference quotes is fun.

So, it'll be the "same case" but "different to the team" which started at Anfield. Okay. I'm taking that to mean a couple more senior players in the starting XI, but still a relatively young and inexperienced side. I may well be wrong.

Let's guess who anyway.

First, Sturridge. Because why not. Origi started on Sunday, Origi didn't do much, Sturridge remains Liverpool's best natural goalscorer. And let's go with Coutinho, who should be ready to start after two 30-minute substitute appearances.

We'll need at least one senior midfielder to go with Stewart and Ejaria. It was Emre Can last time, but Can's also started the last five matches in a row, since City on New Year's Eve, the only Liverpool player to do so. It could be Henderson, further forward than usual because of Stewart's inclusion, it could be Wijnaldum, it could be both. As Henderson's also not far removed from injury, let's go with Gini.

Finally, the center-back to partner Joe Gomez. Lucas is dealing with a knee bruise, but has a small chance to be available. There have been scattered reports/rumors that Liverpool are will to push FIFA and play Matip, daring the organization to do something about it. I reckon Liverpool would lose that game of chicken. Mamadou Sakho still does not exist, don't even think about it. So it might have to be Lovren.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe it'll be almost all kids again. Maybe even more kids. Liverpool kept a lot of them out of yesterday's u23 game, including Harry Wilson, who's never made a senior squad. But I suspect Liverpool has a point to prove, and while there are still a lot of midweek games coming up, it's not quite "oh you played less than 48 hours ago? Too bad."

And maybe it's because I don't know different, and my only real experience with Plymouth Argyle remains last week's 0-0, but I suspect we'll see a similar side and style to the match at Anfield from them as well.

Argyle have played just one match since the draw ten days ago, and used almost exactly the same XI, the only exception Connor Smith for Miller, who was injured at Anfield. And, hosting Stevenage, Argyle scored four goals for the first time since October 1. Uh oh, Happy learned how to putt, etc etc.

Fine. Let's be slightly fairer, and try to do so without patronizing. Argyle will be more attacking, even if relatively speaking. They've scored four, two, three, and two in their last four home games, albeit against their League Two peers, compared to zero, zero, one (in extra time), and zero in their last four away. There are no more replays; if this finishes level, whether 0-0 or 2-2, we're going to extra time and possibly penalties. They have more incentive to try to score, and a better (if only marginally) chance to do so.

And while Plymouth were incredibly defensive in the last meeting, it's not as if they were under constant serious threat. Liverpool had the possession, nearly all of the possession, but Liverpool struggled to create real chances. This has been a recent trend even when Liverpool had used a more established XI against better and less defensive sides.

If it's the same Plymouth XI as against Stevenage, it'll be McCormick; Threlkeld, Songo'o, Bradley, Purrington; Smith, Fox; Jervis, Carey, Slew; Garita. If there are changes, my guess is they'll be in attack. Former Blackburn striker David Goodwillie's back from injury, scoring as a substitute last Saturday. Craig Tanner, also used as a substitute against Stevenage, looked more of a threat when coming on at Anfield than the player he replaced.

Liverpool actually have multiple points to prove. Not only the indignity of a replay against a League Two side but the fact they're still winless in 2017. The fact they've yet to score an open play goal in 2017. The need to put the difficult festive season behind them and regain the form that got them to second in the table less than a month earlier.

But make no mistake, Plymouth Argyle will ensure it won't be easy.

16 January 2017

Visualized: Liverpool 1-1 Manchester United

Previous Match Infographics: Sunderland (a), Manchester City (a), Stoke (h), 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.

A day later and it's still hard to focus on anything other than a linesman's incorrect decision.

But, yes, Liverpool did a lot of good things.

Liverpool remain the only top-six side not to lose to a top-six competitor this season.

Liverpool held United to their joint-lowest shot total during this now-16-match unbeaten run, tying the nine that United took against Swansea, a match where they went three up after 33 minutes and bothered to take just one shot in the second half.

The only match where United took fewer shots this season was the 0-0 at Anfield, where they totaled all of seven.

Liverpool did this while missing half its preferred backline, one through unexpected injury and one through unsurprising FIFA shenanigans. An 18-year-old right-back made his full league debut at Old Trafford, up against the quick and tricky Anthony Martial. And while United caused a few problems down that flank, Alexander-Arnold coped adequately, especially after the first 25 minutes and especially considering his age and experience. And Liverpool did well to protect him, with Lovren, Can, and Henderson all helping to cover, all four players accounting for multiple tackles and Lovren and Alexander-Arnold combining for six interceptions.

Liverpool's +4 shot differential is the joint-highest against United this season, tying what league-leading Chelsea did in their 4-0 home romp over United, a match which prefaced this current United unbeaten run.

Liverpool's 11 in-box shots also matches Chelsea's total in that contest, another high against United this season. In the 0-0 at Anfield three months ago, five of Liverpool's nine shots came from outside the box.

United took all of two shots between the start of the second half and the move leading up to the equalizer, both from outside the box and off-target. A spell that United supposedly "dominated." During that spell, Firmino, Lallana, and Wijnaldum all had in-box chances to extend Liverpool's lead on the counter. From the 45th to 83rd minutes, Liverpool took six shots to United's two.

Which leads into the annoying fact that Liverpool did some bad things as well.

Liverpool shouldn't have been in the position to concede a late equalizer because of those second-half counter-attacking chances. Firmino's was too close to the keeper. Lallana's was tame. Wijnaldum had time to control with his chest rather than attempt a much-more difficult header, then tamely shot at De Gea in injury time.

Liverpool were absolutely nowhere near their potent heights, but this could have come at least a little close to the supreme counter-attacking performances against City and Chelsea last season had Liverpool converted one or even two of those chances. Score in the first half, control the match, extend the lead, go home happy. Sigh.

Liverpool are yet to score an open play goal in 2017. Two corners at Sunderland and a penalty at United (which came from a corner), goalless with the kids against Plymouth and at Southampton in the League Cup. Four matches. 360 minutes. Zero open play goals. That's not good.

It can't, or shouldn't, be solely down to Coutinho and now Mané's absences. Sure, take two of the best attackers out of almost every side and they suffer, but Liverpool need to be able to better cope. There's still attacking talent in this side. This is, as I suspect you remember, not the first time I've written this. With Coutinho returning, I'm hopeful I'll be writing it less. Liverpool have averaged 0.6 xG less per game since Coutinho's injury, from 1.8 to 1.2. Firmino had five goals and three assists before Coutinho's injury, he has just one goal (in the 4-1 win over Stoke) since. I remain convinced this, coupled with a small squad and a couple of other absentees, is the main reason for Liverpool's festive season slump. Incidentally, all four second-half chances mentioned above came after Coutinho came on.

While a second goal probably would have sealed a win, once again, with a narrow lead late into the game, Liverpool concede. Even if, yes, it shouldn't have stood because it shouldn't have gotten to that position. It's the fourth time that's happened this season: Spurs, Bournemouth (who went on to win), Sunderland (a), and now United this season. That's nine points lost. Don't look at the table.

There have been a few matches that Liverpool won with goals in the final 20 minutes – at Swansea, against Sunderland, Leeds in the League Cup, and at Everton – but they don't quite make up for the points dropped. At least it's better than last season?

Still, all considered, there are probably more positives from yesterday than negatives. Liverpool could and probably should have won at Manchester United for the first time in three years, Liverpool did enough to merit that win. It's just, as usual, the negatives – whether from Liverpool or the officials – will stick far longer in the memory.

15 January 2017

Liverpool 1-1 Manchester United

Milner 27' [pen]
Ibrahimovic 84'

It is hard not to feel incredibly aggrieved.

Liverpool were without Clyne because injury – requiring a first league start for 18-year-old Trent Alexander-Arnold – Mané because the African Cup of Nations, Matip because FIFA, and Coutinho because he was only fit enough for the bench. Liverpool compensated with something of a diamond: Firmino and Origi up front and Lallana everywhere. Sometimes it looked 4-3-3, but it mainly allowed Firmino to play more centrally, revitalizing both player and press.

Liverpool were ahead for 83 minutes. Deservedly so, if only after Milner opened the scoring. United had seemed the more threatening side before Pogba crazily handled a corner, with Milner's penalty hit too fiercely for De Gea to save. The concession not only knocked United back but emboldened Liverpool, and Pogba – who had impressed prior – fell off the face of the earth. The diamond increasingly controlled the midfield, with United needing the flanks to get forward.

Michael Oliver gave Liverpool absolutely nothing after the penalty he simply had to give, ignoring four possible yellows and an "I've seen 'em given" red or two.

Liverpool had defended excellently, at least in the second half, with Mignolet responsible for keeping United off the scoreboard in the first, brilliantly denying Ibrahamovic's free kick and Mikhitaryan's wide box effort. After the restart, United took just two shots before the move leading to the equalizer, both from outside the box and off-target.

Liverpool could and should have extended the lead with chances on the counter, Firmino and Lallana denied and Wijnaldum heading over, Liverpool looking better in attack after Coutinho came on for Origi, but for the most part, Liverpool did what Liverpool needed to do.

And then, with United needing to resort to Fellaini and crosses and headers and not much more, United equalize. Valencia's cross to Rooney, Rooney's cross to Fellaini off the post, then Valencia's cross to Ibrahimovic and a stooping header looping over Mignolet with Alexander-Arnold unable to clear off the line. In the 84th minute. Sigh.

Oh, and Valencia was clearly offside in the build-up.

I am told this is something like United's fifth or seventh goal at Old Trafford thanks to an uncalled offside this season and maybe hashtag fake news I don't really remember but I absolutely believe it.

All told, it's a lot like Liverpool's draw at Tottenham in August. A point's not the worst result and a lot of supporters would have taken it pre-match. United had won nine consecutive matches in all competitions and Liverpool hadn't won at Old Trafford in almost three years. But Liverpool should have won. Liverpool seemingly did enough to win. Liverpool would have won if they'd taken just one more chance and Liverpool would have won if a linesman did his job.

And, of course, it's much, much worse because it's Manchester United and how aggrieved we all rightfully are.

Unfortunately, it is what is it. Two points dropped and an equalizer conceded in the final 15 minutes, not for the first or second or third time. Liverpool remain without a win in 2017 with three draws and a loss in all competitions. But Liverpool also remain in the hunt in three competitions. Liverpool remain third in the league, level on goal difference with Tottenham, three points ahead of City, five ahead of United, and seven behind Chelsea. Liverpool remain unbeaten against a top-six side. Liverpool remain in a good position going forward, with 17 games still to play, with Coutinho and Henderson returning and the Matip situation probably getting figured out if FIFA doesn't completely FIFA.

And now, another interlude with the kids in the FA Cup before Liverpool go again against Swansea on Saturday. Back to work. There's nothing else Liverpool can do.

14 January 2017

Liverpool at Manchester United 01.15.17

11am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
0-0 (h) 10.17.16
1-1 (a; Europa League) 03.17.16
2-0 Liverpool (h; Europa League) 03.10.16
0-1 United (h) 01.17.16

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-1 Southampton (a); 0-0 Plymouth Argyle (h); 2-2 Sunderland (a)
United: 2-0 Hull (h); 4-0 Reading (h); 2-0 West Ham (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Mané 9; Lallana 7; Firmino 6; Coutinho, Milner 5; Origi 4; Can 3; Lovren, Sturridge, Wijnaldum 2; Henderson, Matip 1
United: Ibrahimovic 13; Mata, Pogba 4; Rashford 3; Martial, Mkhitaryan 2; Blind, Rooney, Smalling 1

Referee: Michael Oliver

Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Matip Lovren Milner
Lallana Henderson Wijnaldum
Firmino Origi Coutinho

Ugh. This fixture. I will never pretend to like it, at least until it's over. An age-old rivalry, which Liverpool has been on the lesser end of lately, a vastly important match for Liverpool's title race and top-four aspirations, and Liverpool currently on a three-match winless streak, for the first time this season. And that lot. Rooney. Ibrahimovic. Pogba. Mkhitaryan. Talented and mostly dramatically unlikeable, and now led by Jose Mourinho.


Liverpool's XI is contingent upon players who *might* be available, in attack, midfield, and defense.

Coutinho is the closest, having featured for 30 minutes at Southampton (and was the best player during that spell), but Henderson and Matip are both crucial and close, having been in training for the last couple of days.

I'll be optimistic here – probably for the only time this weekend – and guess all three to start. I don't need to convince you how important all three are to Liverpool's success. Without Coutinho, Liverpool's attack is prone to stuttering, especially now that Mané is away, and it'll mean either both Origi and Sturridge up front or, more likely, Lallana in the front three, where he's never hit the heights shown in midfield this season. Without Henderson, Can or Lucas plays at the base of midfield. Without Matip, it's Klavan in defense, which is sometimes perfectly fine and sometimes that game at Southampton on Wednesday.

If I'm being honest, Can instead of Henderson and Klavan instead of Matip is probably more likely, given that neither Henderson nor Matip has even made the bench yet, but the run-up to this fixture often features me lying to myself.

The only other line-up debate seems to be Origi or Sturridge. If either. Sturridge started against both Sunderland and Southampton, the latter an ignominious performance. But he's still Daniel Sturridge, even if an annoyingly growing section of the fanbase doesn't appreciate his abilities. Origi has been preferred in matches like this, away from home with Liverpool probably out of possession a fair amount, his pace and work without the ball preferred. But I write "if either" because Firmino has been even more preferred as the "striker" in matches like this. I just don't know if Liverpool's squad will allowed it; if Henderson and Coutinho both start, maybe we'll get a Firmino-Coutinho-Lallana front three (see: at Chelsea and City last season). But I doubt it, considering the squad, considering how the season's gone.

While Liverpool are without a win in their last three games, Manchester United are unbeaten in 15, since losing to Fenerbahce at the beginning of November. Their last league loss was a whooping at Chelsea back on October 23. They have nine consecutive wins in all competitions.

It took a little over two months, but a collection of expensive and talented footballers have actually become a team. It's become very Manchester United and very Jose Mourinho. Despite often overwhelming talent, they don't really bum rush you. They grind you down. They score offside goals. They somehow avoid multiple opportunities for red cards. They just win. Infuriatingly.

For the most part, one man has been responsible for the goals: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, top scorer with 13 with the next closest on four. I'm terrified of jinxing it by even mentioning, but he's never scored against Liverpool in five matches. His side's never beaten Liverpool: a loss and a draw with Juventus, two losses with Inter Milan, and a draw with Manchester United earlier this season.

Ibrahimovic was ill against Hull midweek but is almost certain to return. Which is a decent segue into a massive reason for Manchester United's renaissance. While Liverpool have struggled with absentees over the last few months, United absolutely haven't. Only Rojo's questionable through injury, while Bailly's away at the African Cup of Nations.

With a full contingent to choose from, my best guess at their XI is De Gea; Valencia, Smalling, Jones, Darmian; Herrera, Carrick; Mkhitaryan, Pogba, Mata; Ibrahimovic. But it's not as if they're without alternatives: Martial, Rashford, Rooney, Young, and Lingard in attack; Fellaini's elbows and afro for a different style in midfield; Blind, Rojo, and Shaw in defense.

Liverpool haven't beaten Manchester United in the league since 2013-14, since Moyes, since that 0-3 win at Old Trafford featuring three penalties and tons of schadenfreude. Liverpool lost all four league matches against United under van Gaal, three with Rodgers and one with Klopp. But there are also last season's Europa League meetings: a raucous 2-0 home win that should have been more and a 1-1 away draw that was all Liverpool needed to easily advance.

Still, precedent is hard when Manchester United add more than £100m worth of players every summer. And this also won't look like the last time these teams met, when United had yet to gel and United were peak bad-Mourinho: at least eight men perpetually in their own half and happy with 0-0, which they achieved regrettably easily.

Since Klopp became manager, Liverpool have lost just one of 13 league matches against the other top six teams: 0-1 to Manchester United at Anfield last March, bossing the game but unable to score before conceding on a late set play. Otherwise, six wins and six draws. It looks even better when considering just away matches: four wins and two draws, with both draws against Tottenham, Klopp's Liverpool yet to travel to Old Trafford for a league match.

Pick your omens.

You try not to put too much stock in one match, especially when it's just mid-January. But sometimes you can't help it. Especially when it's Liverpool against Manchester United.

10 January 2017

Liverpool at Southampton 01.11.17

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

Last four head-to-head:
0-0 (a) 11.19.16
2-3 Southampton (a) 03.20.16
6-1 Liverpool (a; League Cup) 12.02.15
1-1 (h) 10.25.15

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-0 Plymouth (h); 2-2 Sunderland (a); 1-0 Manchester City (h)
Southampton: 2-2 Norwich (a); 0-3 Everton (a); 1-2 West Brom (h)

Previous rounds:
Liverpool: 2-0 Leeds (h); 2-1 Tottenham (h); 3-0 Derby (a); 5-0 Burton Albion (a)
Southampton: 2-0 Arsenal (a); 1-0 Sunderland (h); 2-0 Palace (h)

Goalscorers (all):
Liverpool: Mané 9; Firmino, Lallana, Origi 7; Coutinho, Sturridge 6; Milner 5; Can 3; Lovren, Wijnaldum 2; Henderson, Klavan, Matip, Woodburn 1
Southampton: Austin 9; Rodriguez 4; Redmond, van Dijk 3; Bertrand, Boufal 2; Clasie, Hesketh, Long, Tadic, Ward-Prowse 1

Referee: Neil Swarbrick

Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Lovren Klavan Milner
Lallana Can Wijnaldum
Sturridge Origi

It's the League Cup semifinal – which Liverpool are in for the third-straight season, I'll add. This has to be a full-strength side, or nearly so, with Karius likely to start, even though Liverpool travel to Manchester United on Sunday.

Now, "full-strength" remains slightly difficult to pull off. Coutinho and Matip are back in training, but the former will probably be available off the bench at best, while the latter needs a little longer. Henderson's still out. Milner's not 100%, but I assume he'll still start. And *checks watch* Mané's still away with Senegal for a couple of weeks.

If Coutinho's not ready to start – and while it's not out the question, it seems safe to assume – Liverpool continue to have a hole in the front six. My above guess is just playing the six best available players, even though that makes the 4-3-3 a bit more difficult. Because I'm not entirely sure what a front three of Firmino, Sturridge, and Origi looks like. Sturridge or Origi wide? Something of a diamond?

The only other option seems to be someone else in midfield, whether it's one of the kids – Stewart or Ejaria the more likely candidates, I guess – or possibly Lucas or Milner; neither has played there yet this season, but we know they're both capable having done so in the past.

I remain concerned about Can's discipline as the deepest midfielder and Liverpool's shot creation without Coutinho, but those are known, recurring issues that Liverpool are trying to correct and will continue to try to correct.

Meanwhile, it's not the best time for Southampton either. They're winless in their last four matches. They're missing Austin (their top scorer by some distance), Boufal, Targett, and Pied through injury, Jose Fonte won't play after handing in a transfer request last week, and Cedric Soares is questionable. They remain stingy in defense, because Southampton – they're yet to allow a goal in this competition despite playing three Premier League opponents – but only Middlesbrough and Hull have scored fewer league goals. Not that the league record necessarily matters in a cup tie, but the last time Southampton scored more than once in a league match was October 16, a 3-1 home win over Burnley. In the 19 games in all competitions since, they've done it three times: against Inter (2-1, Europa League), at Arsenal (2-0, League Cup), and at Norwich (2-2, FA Cup).

I suspect you remember when these sides met six weeks ago. That was one of the more-than-a-couple of matches where Liverpool's opponent did nothing but defend. Southampton kept everyone in their own half, took just three off-target shots, and literally never looked like scoring. And it worked, holding Liverpool scoreless as well. Holding Liverpool to just two on-target shots from 15 in total. And Liverpool had Coutinho for that match. Which is another reason why I'm "screw it, start with both Sturridge and Origi up top."

Southampton's starting XI, as with Liverpool, seemingly has to be full-strength. Something like Forster; Soares, Yoshida, van Dijk, Bertrand; Højbjerg, Romeu, Davis; Tadic, Long, Redmond. Maybe Jay Rodriguez up top instead of Long; Clasie and/or Ward-Prowse could start in midfield; and it'll be Martina at right-back if Soares is unavailable. It will be, aside from Charlie Austin's absence, typically Southampton.

That this is only the first leg bears repeating. Whatever happens, there will be at least 90 more minutes at Anfield in two weeks.

That said, start as you mean to continue. Liverpool won the first leg semifinal at Stoke last season, and went on to win the tie, albeit on penalties. Liverpool drew the first leg semifinal against Chelsea in 2014-15, and lost the tie after extra time.

Liverpool have yet to win in 2017, held to annoying draws against both Sunderland and Plymouth. This would be a good time to do so.

08 January 2017

Liverpool 0-0 Plymouth Argyle

This is the Magic of The FA Cup©®™.

It's not the fading prestige of a domestic cup competition. It's not match-ups like this that we otherwise wouldn't see. It's not CUPSETS, and it's certainly not a League Two side earning a replay that Liverpool really didn't want.

The magic is this season's first appearances for Joe Gomez and Sheyi Ojo this season after long struggles with injury.

It's a full senior debut for Ben Woodburn, and a couple of dancing dribbles in the box.

It's third starts for Ovie Ejaria and Trent Alexander-Arnold, Ovie's awareness and movement and Trent's crosses and runs up and down the flank. It's Kevin Stewart, bless his heart, blasting too many unlikely shots from distance. It's a starting XI with an average age of less than 22 years. It's Liverpool's youngest starting XI is club history. It's Lucas Leiva having more Liverpool appearances (328) than the other ten players combined (319).

It is getting to see the future.

The future remains very, very bright, but I'd have preferred the future did better today.

That admittedly wasn't all that fun to watch. 77% possession. 28 shots, but 18 of them from outside the box. No clear-cut chances. 18 Liverpool corners, and the only close call coming when one of them almost went in off a Plymouth player. Woodburn denied from close range and a couple of headers Ojo didn't head well enough are about all that's worth mentioning until Klopp brought on reinforcements in the last half an hour.

Those reinforcements – Sturridge, Firmino, Lallana, for Can, Woodburn, and Ejaria – didn't help enough, with a couple of Sturridge shots from just outside the box dragged wide of note. Liverpool simply didn't do enough to break though, or even merit a break-through.

There's no real way to say "good for Plymouth" without sounding patronizing, but good for Plymouth, a side that's conceded just eight goals away from home in 11 League Two matches. Liverpool's youngest XI in club history spent 96 minutes unsuccessfully crashing into a green wall. It happens, to better and more experienced sides. It's happened to better and more experienced Liverpool sides.

Just like last season against Exeter, we'll get a replay, in an already-packed January featuring three more league fixtures and a League Cup semi-final, except this time the away match follows the home. Almost 300 miles away in the far southwest of England. Midweek next week, between a trip to Manchester United and hosting Swansea. So be it.

At least we'll get to see the future again.

07 January 2017

Liverpool v Plymouth Argyle 01.08.17

8:30am ET, live in the US on Fox Sports 1

Last four head-to-head:
3-2 Liverpool (a) 04.28.62
2-1 Liverpool (h) 12.09.61
1-1 (h) 03.24.61
4-0 Liverpool (a) 11.05.60

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-2 Sunderland (a); 1-0 Manchester City (h); 4-1 Stoke (h)
Plymouth: 0-1 Barnet (a); 2-0 Crawley Town (h); 3-3 Wycombe (h)

Previous rounds:
Liverpool: n/a
Plymouth: 1-0 Newport County aet (a); 0-0 Newport County (h); 2-1 Mansfield (a)

Goalscorers (all):
Liverpool: Mané 9; Firmino, Lallana, Origi 7; Coutinho, Sturridge 6; Milner 5; Can 3; Lovren, Wijnaldum 2; Henderson, Klavan, Matip, Woodburn 1
Plymouth: Carey 10; Jervis 7; Slew, Tanner 5; Bradley, Bulvitis 3; Donaldson, Smith, Songo'o, Spencer, Threlkeld 2; Fox, Garita 1

Referee: Paul Tierney

Guess at a line-up:
Alexander-Arnold Lucas Gomez Moreno
Eiaria Stewart Wijnaldum
Ojo Origi Woodburn

This won't be last season's XIs against Exeter, mainly because yikes look at that defense, but we won't be far off either. After a packed, tiring festive schedule with few changes to Liverpool's lineups, we'll certainly see loads tomorrow.

And, for the most part, the line-up seems to write itself.

Milner, Henderson, and Sturridge are dealing with injuries and won't be risked, as are Grujic and Brannagan. Coutinho and Matip are close to returning, but aren't there yet. Mané's now with Senegal at the African Cup of Nations, for at least the next couple of weeks.

So it pretty much has to be Karius in goal, Lucas and Gomez as center-backs, Alexander-Arnold and Moreno at full-back. Stewart and Ejaria in midfield. Origi up front, with Woodburn and Ojo – who's probably the most doubtful given his season-long struggles with injury – on the flanks.

Even after filling the line-up with the expected youngsters and back-ups, Liverpool still have at least one midfield spot for a senior player. Lallana's probably the least likely given his mind-boggling efforts over the last couple of weeks, so it's seemingly whether Klopp wants Wijnaldum's link-play or Can's physicality, provided each is at the appropriate fitness level. The only reason I've guessed Wijnaldum is because I remain concerned about Henderson's heel and his availability over the next couple of weeks, which means Can will be absolutely necessary in filling that position. I also may still be a little cranky about Can's performance against Sunderland.

Maybe Lovren or Klavan keep their place in defense, also allowing Lucas to play in midfield if so desired. Maybe Firmino is used on the flanks in place of either Woodburn or Ojo. But those are pretty much the only other options. On a unrelated note, it doesn't look like Liverpool are planning to buy anyone in the January transfer window.

Meanwhile, Plymouth Argyle are second in League Two, four points behind Doncaster. They were in a similar position a year ago before losing in the promotion playoff final. I approve of this match-up almost solely because these sides haven't met in more than 50 years, since Liverpool were last in the second division.

And I won't insult either your or my knowledge by pretending to know much more than that. Both This is Anfield and The Anfield Wrap have helpful interviews with Plymouth supporters, who both point out the dangers of Plymouth's top scorer, Graham Carey, who'll play as the #10.

The ever-excellent Ben Mayhew has Plymouth has one of the better attacks in League Two and a competent but relatively busy defense: see his attacking and defensive scatter plots and E Ratings. Plymouth have also over-performed their Expected Goals nearly all season.

Finally, I'll point to Who Scored's preview, which is where I'm getting a guess at Plymouth's XI. McCormick; Miller, Songo'o, Bradley, Threlkeld; Smith, Fox; Jervis, Carey, Donaldson; Slew – which seems to be pretty much the first-choice XI. I will readily admit I've never heard of any of these players, let alone seen them play. My bad. There is one former Liverpool academy player on Plymouth's books – Jakub Sokolik – but he signed for Argyle literally three days ago, and he's not eligible to play having already featured for Southend in the competition.

With Liverpool second in the league and in the League Cup semi-finals, this competition's clearly third on the totem pole. But it remains a chance for the back-ups to prove their worth more playing time, and a chance for needed players such as Ojo and Gomez to make the necessary first steps after a difficult, injury-ridden campaign.

"Magic of the FA Cup," whatever, be damned. It's another competition. But it's a competition that Liverpool are in, so it's a match that Liverpool will want to win.

03 January 2017

Visualized: Liverpool 2-2 Sunderland

Previous Match Infographics: Manchester City (a), Stoke (h), 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.

The moral of the story remains the same as yesterday. If Liverpool hadn't committed two avoidable, asinine penalties, Liverpool win a difficult game, despite the lack of rotation, fatigue, relative mediocrity, etc. Sometimes, it really is that simple.

Still, there's more than a bit of aberration in this match and result.

The last time Liverpool committed two penalties in a match was the first match of Brendan Rodgers' tenure, at West Brom in August 2012. Pepe Reina saved one, but Liverpool still lost 0-3. The last time Liverpool conceded from two penalties was (again) at West Brom, this time under Dalglish, in April 2011.

It's not something that happens often.

Before yesterday's match, Liverpool put 15 or more shots on-target just once since the beginning of 2013-14: against Watford two months ago, where Liverpool put 17 on-target and scored from six.

The previous high for shots on-target away from home in a Premier League match this season was 10. No keeper has made as many saves in a league match as Mannone did yesterday.

Liverpool surpassed yesterday's 71.4% shooting accuracy just twice since the beginning of 2013-14: last season's 6-0 win at Aston Villa and a 0-1 loss at Hull in April 2015.

Incidentally, Liverpool didn't put 15 shots on-target or have a shooting accuracy above 70% in any match during the 2013-14 Suarez-led attacking tornado. For what's it's worth.

In the three above matches, you've got two six-goals-scored wins and a 0-1 loss.

That Hull game is probably a decent comparison. Away against a soon-to-be-relegated side. Nine of 12 shots on-target, but a lot of low-value chances, with almost half of those shots on-target came from outside the box. That day, Liverpool lost because Liverpool did something dumb – the then-frequent and still-possible inability to deal with the second phase of a corner. At least Liverpool didn't lose yesterday? Not that striving to match results from 2014-15 is any sort of goal.

But putting that many shots on-target – even if too many are soft or speculative – and having such a high shooting accuracy but still failing to win is not something that happens often.

Liverpool were the only side who played both Saturday and Monday and made just one change. Southampton (L) made six; United (W), Boro (D), and Leicester (D) made five; City (W) and Everton (W) made four; Sunderland (D) and West Ham (L) made three; West Brom (W), Burnley (L), and Hull (L) made two.

I can't help but wonder what would have happened had Liverpool made just two more, say Stewart for Can or Wijnaldum and Moreno for Milner (which happened at halftime anyway). But that's obviously moot now.

Sturridge's potent return was a welcome sight. Mignolet made three excellent open play saves and also prevented Defoe from getting a shot off when through on goal. Firmino was again more influential on the left than he had been. Emre Can did at least improve as the deepest midfielder in the second half. Liverpool were reasonably creative on a ground and against opposition where it's often tough to do so under normal circumstances. Liverpool scored two goals from corners in one match for the third time this season. All things considered, it really wasn't that bad, except for those penalties.

Liverpool still sit second, even if the gap to third has lessened. Liverpool still have one of the highest point totals they've taken from the first 20 games in the club's history. Both the fixture schedule and Liverpool's injury concerns will ease over the next few weeks, starting with rests for the majority of first-team players in this weekend's FA Cup match. Hell, Liverpool might even add a player or two in January (I recommend doing this if possible).

As annoying as yesterday was, there's still some aberration about it and it still isn't the end of the world. The title race has gotten harder, the top four race has gotten narrower, but we'd still have grabbed this position with both hands at the start of the season.

Liverpool can be better, Liverpool should be better, and Liverpool will be better. You know, as long as they just stop doing dumb, avoidable things.

02 January 2017

Liverpool 2-2 Sunderland

Sturridge 19'
Defoe 25' [pen] 84' [pen]
Mané 72'

In retrospect, obvious trap game is obvious. Playing less than 48 hours after your last match is not fun.

To be fair, Sunderland were under the same constraints, albeit at home after an away match last time. And with even fewer possible changes given their unbelievably long injury list. Of course, Sunderland also saved their energy at Burnley after getting absolutely annihilated from the opening whistle.

Maybe some rotation would have helped. We all were sure surprised when Liverpool's XI was announced, the only change an enforced one, Sturridge replacing the injured Jordan Henderson. Yeah, Klopp's not a big fan of rotating his side. Yeah, Liverpool's bench – Karius, Origi, Moreno, Lucas, Stewart, Alexander-Arnold, and Ejaria – didn't offer many options. Still.

Physical fatigue and mental fatigue are two different things. And both exist. Physically, Liverpool were okay, or at least as okay as is possible with matches in quick succession. Mentally, Liverpool were not. "Mentally" is absolutely the reason why Liverpool conceded both goals, both incredibly unnecessary penalties to have given away.

That said, this is going to be an apex "stats lie" game. Total shots, shots on-target, expected goals, possession, etc etc. Mannone made 15 saves. Sunderland created only four chances from open play, three leading to shots from outside the box, the other immediately blocked. Sunderland needed two penalties to get the draw.

It's misleading. Liverpool only scored twice because of Sunderland's defending on corners. Mannone made some good saves but a lot of those shots were tame or from long range or both. Mignolet twice saved excellent Sunderland opportunities, especially when stealing the ball off a through-on-goal Jermain Defoe two minutes after Sunderland equalized. Sunderland could have had a third penalty for a fairly obvious Emre Can handball.

Liverpool weren't good. Liverpool still probably should have won, but it was a lot closer than it seemed, despite Sunderland's luck and Liverpool's errors. And I can't help but blame fatigue, more mental than physical.

Credit where due. Sunderland actually are a much better side, if only relatively speaking, at home. Sunderland didn't look a side missing nine potential starters through injury, most of them certain. Sunderland didn't look a side that played just 48 hours ago. It's no secret that Liverpool struggle when their pressed in their own half in games such as these; see: Burnley, Bournemouth. It's one thing when Manchester City does it, because Liverpool are a lot more defensive and a lot more compact. It's another when Liverpool want and expect to attack attack attack and are wide open more often than a pervert's trench coat.

So Liverpool struggled to get into an early rhythm. There were one or two nice passing moves, Sturridge looked threatening, but Sunderland came at Liverpool. Like Burnley did, like Bournemouth did. And I can't help by beginning my litany of complaints with the one change to Liverpool's holding midfielder and center-back trio.

Emre Can did not look comfortable. That shouldn't have been that much of a surprise given how he's played this season: as a tank rolling downhill, charging around, charging forward, capable of rolling in the wrong direction but usually just get out of his way. You can not do that in the holding role. So Liverpool are exposed more than you'd rightfully expect, Liverpool are misplacing and misplaying passes when transitioning to attack, and Liverpool aren't really getting the ball forward enough.

But then Liverpool strike from a set play, through Sturridge, the type of goal that Liverpool conceded far too often last season and earlier in this. Lovren misplays an attempted volley but Sturridge is far quickest to the second ball as Sunderland fail to react, a lovely cushioned header looping over Mannone. Okay. You've got your goal. Just do smart things and be patient and be good and we'll all be fine.


Six minutes later, the score's level, thanks to Can mis-controlling a pass from Klavan, Ndong getting around Wijnaldum from the throw-in, and Klavan's wholly unnecessary and frankly stupid penalty, late to hang a leg out with Lallana right there to cover. Sigh. Mignolet goes the right way, but Defoe's spot kick is too good, because that's what Defoe does.

And then it's the tilt thing that Liverpool are too prone to. "Oh hell, we screwed up, we can't screw up, crap we screwed up again." Almost immediately, Can's misplaced pass, Can not tracking Ndong, Klavan caught flat-footed when not sure whether to follow (an offside) Ndong or Defoe, and Defoe's through on goal. Thankfully, Mignolet reacts surprisingly fast and pokes it away, with defenders back quickly to block Borini's attempt.

And little by little, Liverpool got its act together, but only enough to stop the rot rather than truly threaten for the rest of the half. Some good defensive blocks, because Sunderland and Moyes and denying space, Sturridge again denied from distance, but it wasn't enough.

And then, more of the same in the second half, even as Moreno replaced Milner (I'm not sure whether through injury/fatigue or his yellow card or Klopp wanting a more threatening wide option, but I suspect the latter). Mané should have done better with a header from Clyne's cross and Mannone did well to save Sturridge's effort when the striker was right on top of him, but otherwise tame efforts from Can and Firmino (twice). Meanwhile, Sunderland howled as they were denied a second penalty when Can blocked a cross with his arm.

Thankfully, in the 72nd minute, second verse same as the first. Liverpool get a corner and Sunderland don't defend the second ball. This time, Moreno's delivery was really good and Djilobodji was unfortunate to flick on into a dangerous area, but Mané was first to react. Back in front. Time to shut up shop, etc.


It was odd that Origi finally came on right after the goal, replacing Wijnaldum in what had to be a pre-planned substitution. Now with a lead, Liverpool were potentially more exposed when playing 4-4-2 with a midfield of Can and Lallana. But Sunderland didn't threaten, couldn't really threaten. It was gonna work, guys!

Then Lucas came on.

Okay, that's not really fair. But there's a reason why "late Lucas foul in a dangerous position" is a running joke. Sure enough, less than two minutes after coming on, there's Lucas and there's Defoe on the ground, and there's a dead ball situation dead center less than 25 yards from goal. It shouldn't have mattered, nor should it have mattered that Defoe actually dived, because Larsson sent his effort straight at the wall, most likely traveling wide if it avoid contact. But for some reason, Mané stuck his arm straight out to block, and Anthony Taylor literally had no choice to point to the spot. And then second verse same as the first.

Both of Sunderland's penalties are the textbook definition of avoidable. With pictures and everything. Rested players are far less likely to make those mistakes. And, with Sturridge having gone off for Lucas and less firepower up front when Liverpool actually need it, we finish with ten minutes of Liverpool trying but Liverpool tired, and Sunderland wasting time and denying space, and tame Klavan and Firmino headers straight at Mannone.

This should not have happened.

Sure, there's more than a good bit of one-off fluke in that result, due to scheduling, due to the errors, due to Liverpool being otherwise comprehensively better in attack. But it's not as if we've never been here before.

The lesson of this story is a lesson we'd hoped Liverpool would have learned by now. Just don't do dumb things. Just don't. You can and you probably will be punished for it. I suspect the potential for dumb would have been lessened with more changes to the XI, but these are professionals. It is not an excuse.

Sort yourselves out.