30 October 2017

Visualized: Liverpool 3-0 Huddersfield

Previous Match Infographics: Tottenham (a), Maribor (a), United (h), 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.

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

If any other top side went into halftime at 0-0 against a side they expected to beat and ended up winning 3-0, we'd call it a professional performance. Patience in breaking down what might have been the deepest opponents Liverpool have faced this season, then turning the screws, then the necessary opening, then winning with ease. Take what you're given, don't give anything away, and take all three points.

That's literally the template. But we're too damaged for that.

Yes, the first half was awkward. It took Liverpool 15 minutes to register a shot, then 12 more to register a second. It was either patient or just slow depending on your point of view. But that should have been expected given how we knew Huddersfield would line up, how Liverpool have often struggled against opposition like this, and the state that Liverpool are currently in. Not only were Liverpool coming off an embarrassing, debilitating loss, but they were again without three of their most influential attacking players in Coutinho, Mané, and Lallana.

While it may have been painful to watch, Liverpool did the right things. Liverpool kept working, kept trying. The front three and midfield three constantly switched positions in an attempt to confuse and shift defenders. Milner, no matter which side he was on, often pulled out to the flank. We saw a lot of those cross-field, back-post long passes from both Milner and Henderson. Both Firmino and Sturridge dropped deep to pick up possession, with something like seven or eight Huddersfield players between them and goal. The fullbacks – especially Gomez – sat much deeper than usual, ostensibly in an attempt to prevent counter-attacks.

Yes, there were 40 minutes of futility with few chances: Sturridge mishit over the bar, Salah and Milner straight at the keeper, and that's it. Then, Liverpool got an unlikely penalty, which Salah subsequently failed to convert, with Henderson's rebound off the post. Sturridge's opener came from an opposition error: Tommy Smith's attempted clearance falling directly to him in an offside position. Firmino's header eight minutes later – from a corner – went between Lossi's legs; literally two inches in either direction and it's saved. And Wijnaldum's capstone rocket is one he puts in the top corner one time out of ten, if I'm generous.

It admittedly wasn't overwhelming attacking brilliance. Liverpool's opener was definitely fortunate, and there was a bit of luck in both subsequent goals. But it was enough. It was the first time that both Firmino and Sturridge scored when starting together since 2-1 at Bournemouth in April 2016. Firmino's header was Liverpool's first goal from a corner this season. 12 of Liverpool's 16 shots from inside the box, 11 of those in the Danger Zone, and four clear-cut chances.

Liverpool scored goals that their opponents usually score against them. An opener from a defensive error. A second from a set play. The final goal from a quick attack through the middle of the pitch.

And Liverpool's opponents didn't score. While Huddersfield offered little in attack – they haven't scored away from home since opening day – Liverpool still didn't give anything away. During that awkward opening 15-20 minutes, Huddersfield had more threatening possession than they did throughout the rest of the match. A free kick in a dangerous position, a couple of corners, a couple of counters. No Huddersfield chances.

I have never seen a Liverpool opponent register just one shot. One shot, which was off-target, from outside the box, and from a direct free kick. In the 73rd minute, after Liverpool were already 2-0 up. I don't care how bad the opposition are. That's strangulation. The previous low since I started doing these infographics in 2012-13 was two, by Hull at Anfield last season. And, because Liverpool, Hull scored from one of those two.

Liverpool have conceded just one league goal at Anfield this season through five league matches. There was that regrettable 1-1 against Burnley, but we've now seen clean sheets against Palace, Arsenal, United, and Huddersfield. I remain surprised by that statistic. Liverpool registered its fourth Premier League clean sheet on December 14th last season.

I can't put it any better than Neil Atkinson did in the Anfield Wrap match review. Under Houllier and Benitez, this was par for the course. It was par for the course for last season's Chelsea and it's par for the course for this season's United. This is what good teams do when they're not at their best.

A 3-0 scoreline may not suggest an ugly, grinding win, but it was an ugly, grinding win. And ugly, grinding wins are good, especially when you score three and concede none. Especially when ugly, grinding wins are hard to come by for this side.

The better team won, comfortably in the end even if ugly at times. Sometimes, it's just that simple. With Liverpool, it's rarely that simple.

But, like the massacre at Maribor, it's just one match. One welcomed result, but just one result all the same. Liverpool need to be able to do this on a much more regular basis.

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