Previous Match Infographics: Southampton (h), Watford (a), Crystal Palace (h), West Brom (a), Stoke (a), Bournemouth (h), Everton (h), Manchester City (h), Burnley (a), Arsenal (h), Leicester (a), Tottenham (h), Hull (a), Chelsea (h), Swansea (h), 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.
Of course, we're going to start with Coutinho. Two goals and an assist. Six shots taken and six chances created – his contribution to 12 (of Liverpool's 26) shots was a Liverpool's player high for the season; he had 11 in the 0-2 loss at Burnley and 10 in the 6-1 win against Watford and 5-1 win against Hull.
The goals and assist are supremely important, and rightfully the centerpiece of his stat-line. But not far off was how he dictated play in midfield.
That's an impressively high percentage of forward passes for a central midfield and, more importantly, a good amount went into dangerous positions.
Compare that to last week's performances from Emre Can and Gini Wijnaldum.
Can tried to push the play forward, more than any other Liverpool player. But it was still into less dangerous positions, primarily to Milner and Coutinho out wide, where Southampton easily snuffed out play. And Wijnaldum... well. As yesterday also demonstrated, when there's no space – as in the first half – Wijnaldum frustrates, Wijnaldum's irrelevant. When there's space – as in the second half, and as there's been in most games against the rest of the Top 7 this season – Wijnaldum can be very, very good.
Coutinho has the vision and ability to unlock sides from deeper positions – when he's got more of the pitch in front of him and more options to receive the ball – traits that Liverpool's other midfielders often lack. There will assuredly be matches where Coutinho in midfield simply does not work, and this was just one game, but I'm surprisingly optimistic that this can and will be a way that Liverpool fixes the "breaking down lesser sides" problem that's lingered all season.
Of course, it helps that he had a superlative outlet in Daniel Sturridge, as Match of the Day highlighted (we'll see how long this stays up):
Those are the types of runs we excoriated Origi for not making in the last few matches. And especially amusing – about two-thirds the way through the video – was a pass that Sturridge played when dropping deeper to force Origi to make one of those runs; he's static when Sturridge releases the ball but still gets onto it first. Those are passes that weren't getting played against Southampton, Watford, etc. Not to mention his ability to create shots for himself or ability with the ball at his feet.
Get more and better attacking players onto the pitch, and get them in positions where they can better influence the game. What a revelation.
And while West Ham didn't offer much, and Liverpool were incredibly lucky to see Ayew mess up the most clear-cut of chances, a quick mention for Liverpool's defense.
Liverpool remain very good at limiting opportunities; West Ham's 10 shots – three fewer than their season-long average – were the most an opponent's had since City's 13 in the 1-1 draw at the Etihad nearly two months ago. Of course, Liverpool remain less good at limiting clear-cut chances. When the opposition scores them – *glares at Bournemouth, Palace* – bad things can happen. When Ayew misses twice from point-blank range, or Mignolet denies Berahino or Matty Phillips, Liverpool finds a way to pull out the win. The last time Liverpool gave up a goal that wasn't a clear-cut chance was Leicester's second back at the end of February, Drinkwater's unrepeatable blast from well outside the box.
Liverpool have now registered three consecutive away clean sheets for first time under Klopp, for the first time since January-February 2015, when Liverpool won 1-0 at Sunderland, 2-0 at Villa, and drew 0-0 at Everton. And that run in 2014-15 was Premier League only, bracketing a 0-1 League Cup defeat at Chelsea and 2-1 FA Cup win at Bolton.
For all our (valid) complaints, Liverpool have done well since the beginning of March, trying to seal a fourth-place spot after the repeated failings during those awful winter months.
There have been disappointments – specifically Bournemouth and Palace – but only Chelsea and Tottenham have taken more points per game in these last 11 matches. And Bournemouth and Palace, along with Leicester – who beat Liverpool prior to that match against Arsenal to start this stretch – have been two of the best performing sides since, all three potential relegation candidates before March began. Only Tottenham, Chelsea, and City have scored more than Liverpool – putting four past West Ham obviously helped that – and only Tottenham and United have conceded fewer.
24 points from 11 matches – 2.18 points per game – averages out to 83 points over the course of a season. I'd take that any season.
Just one more match to improve that run. Just one more match to achieve Liverpool's primary goal for this campaign.