30 November 2017

Visualized: Liverpool 3-0 Stoke

Previous Match Infographics: Chelsea (h), Sevilla (a), Southampton (h), West Ham (a), Maribor (h), Huddersfield (h), 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.)

Liverpool changed five of the front six players who started against Chelsea last Saturday; only Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, in just his third league start for Liverpool, kept his place. And Liverpool still won 3-0.

It's hard to complain about that.

The starters did *okay*. Liverpool used a 4-4-2 formation for just the second time this season, almost exactly the same lineup which won at West Ham but with Solanke making his full league debut. Liverpool scored early thanks to good work from all involved, especially the final three: Gomez, Solanke, and Mané. Liverpool created three clear-cut chances in the first half; only weak shots from Solanke and Mané prevented Liverpool from having a 3-0 lead at halftime rather than by the 83rd minute. Klopp recognized what was and wasn't working fairly early in the second half – a midfield frequently bypassed and Moreno frequently overloaded – and made changes.

And it was one of those substitutes who stole the show.

There have been 14 games in the league. 21 in all competitions. And Mohamed Salah already has 17 goals, with 12 of them in the league.

As the Liverpool Echo helpfully pointed out this morning, no Liverpool player has scored 17 goals before the end of November since Robbie Fowler in 1994-95. That Fowler season was the only time that a Liverpool player has scored 12 goals in the Premier League at a quicker pace. He had 12 in the 13th league game that season. Luis Suarez scored his 12 (and 13th) in the 14th league match in 2013-14 (after being suspended for the first five games, the absolute freak of nature). That's it as far as Liverpool goal-scorers go since the start of the Premier League.

This is where the announcer from NBA Jam should be shouting "HE'S ON FIREEEEEEEE" in your head.

Put another way. Mohamed Salah scored his 17th goal for Liverpool yesterday. Sadio Mané scored his 18th.

That's not to downplay the contributions of Sadio Mané, yesterday or in the season so far. He's only played in nine of Liverpool's league games and five of Liverpool's seven Champions League games this season due to suspension or injury, but still has five goals, just one less than at this point last season. Including the often-incredibly-important opener yesterday.

And Mané's contributing in more than just goals. It's only been 14 league games, but Mané is assisting at a much higher rate than in 2016-17. With five league assists last season, he averaged 0.20 per 90 minutes. Two for Firmino, one each for Coutinho, Can, and Lallana. His assist rate is up to 0.45 in the league and 0.42 in all competitions. Incidentally, all three of his league assists have gone to Mohamed Salah. Including the cross for Salah's first yesterday.

Liverpool were incredibly reliant on Sadio Mané last season. Now, with Salah in the form he's in, Liverpool are less so. Without one, we've still got the other. With both, look the hell out. Especially when you add Coutinho, Firmino, Lallana, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Solanke, and Sturridge into the mix.

And, probably more importantly, we finally saw Liverpool keep a clean sheet in the league away from home. Sure, there were some unsurprisingly sketchy moments: most notably Mignolet's probably-should-have-been-a-red-card, but also Joe Allen's clear-cut chance eight minutes before Salah sealed the game.

It's a different match if Mignolet goes off. It's a different match if Allen scores. It feeds into the pervasive "Liverpool can't stop Liverpooling" narrative. And we weren't far away from that happening, with the middle third of the match fairly helter skelter.

But that didn't happen. And Liverpool kept the clean sheet. And also held their opponents to one shot on-target or fewer for the seventh time in 14 league matches. For all of Stoke's failings this season, this was just the second time they've been held scoreless at home this season, after an similar 0-4 drubbing against Chelsea two months ago. Sevilla aside, the defense hasn't been bad since the Tottenham debacle, and it's getting better. There will be failings. It's gonna happen. Prepare yourself now if, somehow, you haven't already. But it truly is getting better. Do it once, as at West Ham. Then do it twice, as at Stoke. It will get easier. It will get more consistent.

And Liverpool's performance at the sharp end is getting better and staying better. Liverpool's results since Tottenham: 3-0, 3-0, 4-1, 3-0, 3-3, 1-1, 3-0. Unbeaten with five wins and two draws, with the two draws coming due to a Moreno- and Henderson-inspired collapse and a fluke goal from Willian. Liverpool have scored three or more goals in six of these seven games. Liverpool have kept four clean sheets and conceded just once in two others.

Yes, those two draws were the only two matches against actually good opposition. Yes, Liverpool are still outside the top four, if only by two points. Yes, Liverpool had more points and better results at this stage last season, although the side was obviously helped by not being in Europe.

But, right now, Liverpool are also in a far better place to handle what's coming over the frantic next few months than they were last season. And right now, Liverpool are coming off a win.

28 November 2017

Liverpool at Stoke 11.29.17

3pm ET, live in the US on NBC Sports Gold

Last four head-to-head:
2-1 Liverpool (a) 04.08.17
4-1 Liverpool (h) 12.27.16
4-1 Liverpool (h) 04.10.16
0-1 Stoke (h; League Cup) 01.26.16

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-1 Chelsea (h); 3-3 Sevilla (a); 3-0 Southampton (h)
Stoke: 1-2 Palace (a); 2-2 Brighton (a); 2-2 Leicester (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Salah 10; Coutinho, Firmino, Mané 3; Sturridge 2; Alex O-C, Henderson, Matip, Wijnaldum 1
Stoke: Choupo-Moting, Crouch, Diouf, Shaqiri 3; Fletcher, Jese, Zouma 1

Referee: Martin Atkinson (LFC History) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Alexander-Arnold Matip Klavan Robertson
Wijnaldum Can Coutinho
Salah Firmino Mané

"Fresh legs" against Chelsea means more options for Liverpool tomorrow. Firmino and Mané will definitely come back into the squad, most likely for Sturridge and Oxlade-Chamberlain. But there's a chance Salah gets a break; only Matip and Mignolet have played more league minutes so far. If that's the case, either Oxlade-Chamberlain keeps his place or Coutinho moves into the front three.

We'll see a few other changes as well. Alexander-Arnold will probably replace Gomez. Wijnaldum should take over for Milner, but maybe Lallana's an option as well. If we're going by minutes played so far this season, you'd have to think Moreno's in contention for a rest. We haven't seen Andrew Robertson in more than two months. And if Can's fit enough to start, Henderson could be left out as well; he looked completely shattered by the end of Saturday's match.

So far, Stoke this season feels like the Stoke of Tony Pulis' last season.

After three consecutive ninth-place seasons, Stoke are only three points outside the relegation zone. It's that "we've stopped getting better, now what?" feeling. They're bang average in goals scored, with Shaqiri, Choupo-Moting, Crouch, and Diouf contributing, but only Everton have conceded more league goals than Stoke's 26 through 13 league games. Stoke have kept just two clean sheets all season: a 1-0 win at Watford a month ago and, somehow, a 1-0 home win over Arsenal in August. Those are two of Stoke three league wins this season, along with a 2-1 win over Southampton at the end of September. They've won one, drawn two, and lost three of their last six games.

I've no idea if Hughes will rotate much with only four days since their last match, but their XI has been fairly consistent lately. Grant; Zouma, Shawcross, Wimmer; Diouf, Fletcher, Allen, Pieters; Shaqiri, Choupo-Moting, Jese. Maybe Sobhi starts in place of Jese; maybe Crouch plays up front, given height, set plays, and his history with Liverpool, but he's often more likely off the bench. Jack Butland's still out; Glen Johnson and Geoff Cameron remain doubtful.

1-0 against Arsenal and 2-2 against United were reasonably impressive home results, and should give Liverpool pause in thinking this could be a romp. But 0-4 against Chelsea and 7-2 at Manchester City also show that if Liverpool can get at them early - Chelsea had two goals by the 30th minute, City had three - this could be a hiding. Even considering what we've seen from Liverpool with a one-, two-, and three-goal lead.

Stoke had felt like a curse word in previous season. Especially on a Wednesday night, which will probably be wet. But they haven't been that Stoke this season. And Liverpool can't let them go back to being that Stoke tomorrow. Get over the past two disappointments. Get back to the 3-0 Huddersfield, 4-1 West Ham that we know Liverpool are capable of.

27 November 2017

Visualized: Liverpool 1-1 Chelsea

Previous Match Infographics: Sevilla (a), Southampton (h), West Ham (a), Maribor (h), Huddersfield (h), 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. 

48 hours later, and it's slightly easier to stomach. 48 hours later, and it's easier to give Chelsea their due.

That was an excellent defensive performance.

Chelsea blocked a higher proportion of Liverpool's shots than any other Liverpool opponent since Klopp became manager. Nine of Liverpool's 16 shots were blocked – 56.25%. Only two other matches saw more than 50% of Liverpool's shots blocked: 12 of 23 (52.2%) in the 0-2 loss at West Ham in 2015-16 and seven of 13 (53.8%) in the 1-1 at United last season.

Liverpool didn't have a non-blocked shot from inside the box until Salah's goal in the 65th minute.

Only the losses at Manchester City (red card) and Tottenham (two-down before taking a shot) saw Liverpool attempt a higher proportion of shots from outside the box.

Chelsea made six successful tackles inside their own penalty box, more than any other Liverpool opponent this season: four on Salah and two on Sturridge, all six prior to Liverpool finally scoring.

That's what Liverpool's attack forced Chelsea to do. Which, unfortunately, they did quite well. Aside from one excellently-worked move between Salah and Coutinho, featuring Oxlade-Chamberlain's throughball and a slight deflection from Bakayoko.

It was Mo Salah's 15th goal in all competitions this season. It's not even December. Liverpool's top scorer in any full season since 2014-15 was Coutinho last season with 14.

And it's not as if Liverpool defended badly either.

Only Tottenham – a 2-1 Chelsea win – and Manchester City – a 1-0 City win – restricted Chelsea to fewer shots on-target. Those two games, as well as Chelsea's 3-3 home draw with Roma, were the only ones where Chelsea have had less possession than they did on Saturday. Only Arsenal, City, and Roma have held Chelsea scoreless this season.

And given Liverpool's frequent set-play failures, it's worth noting that Chelsea had eight corners and a handful of free kicks in dangerous positions with none truly threatening, a couple of blocked shots and off-target headers to show for it. Both Matip and Wijnaldum had better set-play chances at the other end of the pitch, despite Chelsea being a much taller side.

But Chelsea lucked into a goal five minutes from full-time. I don't care what Willian says. That was a fluke. That was an attempted cross to the back post. Maybe Mignolet could have moved quicker to adjust his feet, and Henderson should have done better when trying to clear Gomez's header earlier in the move, but it was unlucky for Liverpool and very lucky for Chelsea all the same. And it was just the second league goal that Liverpool have conceded at Anfield this season.

Again, it wasn't a bad performance, and it's not the worst result. Especially with three changes to the front six that's started the last two matches. Especially without both Firmino and Mané.

Liverpool needed to rest players – in order to press early, which Klopp understandably thought was the best way of unsettling Chelsea; because of the packed fixture list; and given how tired more than a few looked by the end of the match. Liverpool were playing the defending league champions, who'd scored four in each of their last two games, and who could and did rest a lot of players in their midweek Champions League match. Liverpool scored a good goal, Liverpool responded to the absolute failures in the second half at Sevilla last Tuesday.

And for long spells, Liverpool were the better side, even if not by much. And so this ends with the same result we've seen the previous two times these sides met in this fixture.

I'd feel a lot better about this had we not suffered similar disappointments too often already this season. Had we not seen yet another draw from a winning position, had we not seen yet another late goal conceded.

25 November 2017

Liverpool 1-1 Chelsea

Salah 65'
Willian 85'

Once again, we're stuck between context and isolation.

Let's do isolation first.

On balance, a draw's probably fair. Chelsea defended brilliantly throughout. Chelsea had the best spell of attacking pressure until the opening goal, with Mignolet required to make smart saves on Hazard and Zappacosta, as well as charge off his line to ensure Drinkwater didn't get to Hazard's through ball first, all in a five-minute span halfway through the first half.

Liverpool made five changes to the starting XI, including two in the front three, wanting fresh legs in order to press press press early on. Which Chelsea dealt with well for the opening 20 minutes until ratcheting up their attack for the rest of the first half.

Liverpool didn't have a single shot on-target in the first half for the first time since the trip to Stoke back in April, when Liverpool deployed a radically changed 3-5-1-1 line-up. Liverpool didn't have a shot from inside the box that wasn't blocked until the 65th minute, with six in-box shots blocked and six from outside the box either off-target or blocked.

But Jürgen Klopp made some good in-game changes. In the second half, Salah and Oxlade-Chamberlain switched flanks, ostensibly so Salah could make Zappacosta think twice before driving forward at Liverpool's defense. Coutinho played further forward with Milner deeper, looking much more a 4-2-3-1 with Liverpool in possession. For the first 20 minutes of the second half, Liverpool had six shots to Chelsea's one.

And in the 65th minute, Liverpool got the breakthrough. And they needed an absolutely brilliant piece of attacking play to do so: Henderson intercepts a lofted clearance on the halfway line, to Coutinho, to Salah, to Coutinho, around Kante and driving at the defense. Bakayoko can't block Coutinho's layoff to Oxlade-Chamberlain, who plays a perfect throughball to Salah, controlled outstandingly and then finished past Courtois with his weaker foot.

Coutinho, higher up, with the run and layoff to make the goal. Oxlade-Chamberlain from the right with the assist. And Salah, cutting inside from the left, controlling and finishing despite having to play it with his right foot.

That was fun.

No matter how good your attack is, you don't get many moves like that against Chelsea. You don't create many moves like that against Chelsea.

Of course, there would be a reply. There would be Fabregas and Pedro and Willian on for Drinkwater, Bakayoko, and Zappacosta. There wouldn't be many Liverpool substitutes – not with that attacking bench, not with Can and Lovren injured, not with Alexander-Arnold and Robertson as the only defenders and Wijnaldum and Lallana the only midfielders.

But Liverpool were holding out reasonably well, pushed too deep and unable to keep possession, but mostly denying chances. And then, Willian somehow Koncheskys a cross over Mignolet in the 85th minute. Two minutes after coming on. And a minute after Liverpool weren't allowed to make a substitute of their own because reasons.

It's a fluke, it's a gut punch, and it happens, and it's honors even between two good teams. It's the third consecutive match where we've seen this scoreline in this fixture. Salah and Oxlade-Chamberlain were outstanding, Gomez again belied his age with a very good defensive performance against difficult opposition, and Henderson and Moreno's performances – especially Moreno's – were polar opposites of the drama and disorder in Sevilla.

But then there's the context. I've written about the context way too often of late.

It's the 22nd time that Liverpool have drawn or lost despite having the lead. It's the third time in the league this season – and you don't want to look where Liverpool would be in the table with six more points from the matches against Watford, Newcastle, and Chelsea. It's the 10th time it's happened because of an opposition goal scored after the 80th minute. It's very much two vital points dropped rather than a point earned.

Liverpool have now played all five of their top six rivals. One win, smashing an abysmal Arsenal. Two frustrating draws, against United and Chelsea, both at Anfield. And two comprehensive losses, away at City and Tottenham.

And now, we're where we started. Liverpool could have gone above Tottenham into fourth after they drew against West Brom. Liverpool could have gone level on points with Chelsea in third. But the table remains the same for now, with Liverpool possibly falling a place in the standings if Arsenal or Burnley win when they play tomorrow.

The season is a third of the way over. And Liverpool cannot keep giving away points that they should be more than capable of holding onto. The rest of the league is far too good for that.

24 November 2017

Liverpool v Chelsea 11.25.17

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

Last four head-to-head:
1-1 (h) 01.31.17
2-1 Liverpool (a) 09.16.16
1-1 (h) 05.11.16
3-1 Liverpool (a) 10.31.15

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 3-3 Sevilla (a); 3-0 Southampton (h); 4-1 West Ham (a)
Chelsea: 4-0 Qarabag (a); 4-0 West Brom (a); 1-0 United (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Salah 9; Coutinho, Firmino, Mané 3; Sturridge 2; Alex O-C, Henderson, Matip, Wijnaldum 1
Chelsea: Morata 8; Alonso, Hazard 3; Batshuayi, Pedro 2; Azpilicueta, Bakayoko, Fabregas, Kante, Luiz 1

Referee: Michael Oliver (LFC History) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Gomez Lovren Klavan Moreno
Wijnaldum Henderson Coutinho
Salah Firmino Mané

Mignolet for Karius aside, I wouldn't be surprised to see the same side which did things at Sevilla. Good things and bad things. You remember the things.

Both Matip and Lallana are training, but I don't expect either to start. Matip, just given how short his absence has been, is more likely, but Stoke on Wednesday is a better bet. And, limiting Liverpool's options for changing what was a very bad midfield on Tuesday, Emre Can's questionable with a minor muscle injury.

And yes, "same again" includes keeping Alberto Moreno in the starting XI. A bad 15 minutes against your former club doesn't and shouldn't rule out everything that came before. Maybe Milner's a "safer" option but Milner's not a long-term option. Moreno's gotta play through this, because Chelsea at home is not the time for Andrew Robertson to make his first start in two months. But I will perpetually remain afraid of Liverpool defenders with a point to prove, even more than I'm already perpetually afraid of Liverpool defenders.

I guess there's a chance Liverpool will play the 4-4-2 we saw at West Ham, considering who's available and Chelsea's likely shape, but I'm not all that expectant. Regardless, it'd be the same XI, but with Firmino and Salah central and Mané and Coutinho wide. And I remain concerned about Coutinho's tracking back when deployed wide, especially in a formation that encourages the opposition to attack.

And Chelsea, even though they're managed by Antonio Conte, even though they play three at the back, even though they're still Chelsea, will attack. Maybe more heavily on the counter, but they'll present problems. They've won six of their last seven, including the last two away from home by a 4-0 scoreline. Only Roma, the lone loss since October 14, held Chelsea scoreless over the last five weeks. It's probably not coincidence that Chelsea were without N'Golo Kante in that match.

Chances are that Chelsea's XI will be familiar, although they had much more license to rotate in the midweek Champions League match. But both of the last two league matches – 1-0 v United, 4-0 at West Brom – saw the same 3-5-1-1 line-up. Courtois; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Cahill; Zappacosta, Fabregas, Kante, Bakayoko, Alonso; Hazard; Morata.

Maybe Rüdiger or David Luiz comes in for Zappacosta, with Azpilicueta as the wing-back in a slightly more defensive set-up. 3-4-3 is also an option with Willian or Pedro coming in for one of the three central midfielders; Willian scored twice midweek at Qarabag, with one set up by Pedro. Batshuayi is out injured, while Moses has only recently returned and is likely to be on the bench at best.

There are two ways to look at Liverpool's recent record against Chelsea. It's good! Liverpool are unbeaten in their last five against last season's league winners. It's kind of frightening! Liverpool haven't won against Chelsea at Anfield since May 2012, a 4-1 win with Chelsea all but asleep after beating Liverpool in the FA Cup final a few days earlier.

Sevilla has to be forgotten. That collapse cannot affect Liverpool as past collapses have; 0-5 at City followed by a seven-match run where Liverpool won just once. The ideal would be the response to losing 1-4 at Tottenham, rattling off four complete wins before last Tuesday happened, even if none of those wins came against a side with the talent that Chelsea has.

Sevilla can't be forgotten. This was not Liverpool's first multiple-goal collapse, even if it was Liverpool's first in a while. It probably won't be the last. But it needs to be the last, at least for a while. This side has still scored at least three goals in its last five games. This side had kept clean sheets in three of the previous four matches (and five of the previous seven), with no team attempting more than six shots, in the games before Sevilla.

Last season, Liverpool went unbeaten against their top-six rivals. This season, Liverpool have one win, one draw, and two humiliating losses. They are, however, still unbeaten at Anfield. They have, however, still conceded just one league goal at Anfield.

Chelsea currently sit third, three points ahead of Liverpool in fifth. Three points are available tomorrow. Chelsea have Liverpool's points and Liverpool's place. Liverpool need to go get them.

23 November 2017

Visualized: Liverpool 3-3 Sevilla 

Previous Match Infographics: Southampton (h), West Ham (a), Maribor (h), Huddersfield (h), 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.)

I can't help but start with a table I posted after Liverpool's 2-2 draw with Sevilla.

Liverpool have now lost or drawn 21 matches where they've had the lead under Jürgen Klopp. It's happened five times when Liverpool have had a two-goal lead or – following this collapse from 3-0 – better. Jürgen Klopp has been manager for 119 games. In 17.6% of Klopp's Liverpool games, Liverpool have had a lead but failed to win.

To break it down even further. Liverpool have taken a lead in 81 of those 119 games. Liverpool have won 60 of those 81 – 46 times by holding onto an established lead, 11 times by coming back from a deficit, and three times where Liverpool had a lead, lost the lead, then retook the lead.

81 times where Liverpool had a lead. 21 times where Liverpool failed to win with said lead. 25.9% of matches where Liverpool have had a lead. Yikes.

That seems like a lot of lost opportunities. On the plus side, at least Liverpool have yet to lose after taking a lead this season, something they did twice in each of the previous seasons.

On the negative side, Liverpool have yet to come back to win from a losing position this season.

Also on the negative side, nine of those above 21 matches saw the opposition's crucial goal come after the 80th minute. Late goals conceded, nowhere near as many late goals scored, especially not meaningful goals. And another two crucial points dropped, no matter the first half that came before the second.

Sevilla's comeback wasn't entirely unexpected, even considering Liverpool's proclivity for Liverpooling. Lost in the second-half collapse is the fact that Sevilla had two clear-cut chances after Liverpool's early opener, before Liverpool's second – one saved by Karius, one narrowly wide from two-goal-scorer Ben Yedder. Even when Liverpool were 1-0 and 2-0 up, Liverpool weren't in control. The only true spell of dominance came after Liverpool's third, with Sevilla on tilt. But with Liverpool unable to push it further, most notably with Salah's clear-cut chance cleared off the goal line.

I expect you remember the previous meeting, where Liverpool came back from conceding early and were cruising, up 2-1, which should have been 3-1 when Firmino missed a penalty. And then Sevilla's equalizer happened in the second half, as Liverpool lost control.

Liverpool have been especially prone to losing control away from home this season. 

23 of the 28 goals conceded this season have come away from Anfield. Liverpool are averaging 0.56 goals conceded per game at home and 2.09 on the road. Otherwise known as nearly four times as many. Three goals conceded at Watford and Sevilla, four at Tottenham, five at Manchester City. The only away match where Liverpool haven't conceded was the 7-0 massacre at Maribor. And all nine of Liverpool's goals conceded from set plays – five free kicks (one direct), four corners, and a penalty – have come away from home. Both penalties saved by Simon Mignolet this season came away from home as well – at Hoffenheim and at Leicester.

I remain unsure whether the away curse is tactical or mental – probably a little from column A and a little from column B – but it's a massive problem all the same.

Alberto Moreno's taken a lot of the blame for Tuesday. And unsurprisingly so. His foul that led to Sevilla's free kick first. Him beaten to the header by Ben Yedder for Sevilla's free kick first. His completely unnecessary foul for Sevilla's penalty. It was a mad 20 minutes which got him hooked, and all too reminiscent of his second-half performance against the same side in the 2016 Europa League final. The same side that Moreno used to play for.

It's a bad look, especially after this week's "I'M BACK, BABY!" interviews. But I can't help but focusing on Jordan Henderson.

Remember when we used to complain about midfielders passing sideways? What I wouldn't have given for that.

Liverpool's captain, who played the full 90 minutes, touched the ball all of 37 times at Sevilla. Only Moreno and the three substitutes had fewer Liverpool touches. 30 were passes – 17 successful, 13 errant. He made three interceptions (all before Sevilla's first goal), blocked one cross, was caught offsides twice, and mis-controlled into a giveaway once. No tackles attempted. No aerial duels attempted.

From the holding midfielder. From the player with more Liverpool appearances than anyone else in the squad. From the Liverpool captain. That's not good.

Look, "the captain" is often an ephemeral label. Klopp often doesn't seem to put much stock in it. Each player needs to be responsible for themselves and the team, etc. But put in this situation – especially the last few minutes of the match, where you'd kept Sevilla out for almost 30 minutes after completely losing the plot – you'd expect senior players to be able to calm the play. To put a foot on the ball and reassert at least a modicum of control. That's what Gerrard, Hyypia, etc does.


But let's be clear. Outside of the front three, no one really played well. The right-side of the defense was okay. The substitutes were okay. The left side of the defense – including both Mané and Coutinho, at least in their defensive responsibilities – was bad. The midfield was very bad.

Even when playing a counter-attacking game, you need to be able to assert some semblance of control. 
I started doing these match infographics in 2012-13, so I feel pretty safe in stating the following. No team has attempted or completed more passes against Liverpool under Rodgers or Klopp. No team has had a greater disparity in passes attempted or completed against Liverpool under Rodgers or Klopp. Liverpool have never had a lower passing accuracy under Rodgers or Klopp. Liverpool have never attempted or completed fewer passes under Rodgers or Klopp. No team has had more possession against Liverpool under Rodgers or Klopp.

This Liverpool side often dominates possession, for better or worse. This Liverpool side can be better with less possession, allowed more space for the counter-attack, more space for that front three to do front three things. But this was especially lopsided and especially horrific. The pass accuracy is the most galling, unable to keep the ball when Liverpool needed to take the sting out of the opposition, crowd, and game.

But this is not the end of the world. Liverpool remain a point ahead of Sevilla and three points ahead of Spartak. Liverpool have yet to lose in the Champions League this season. A win against Spartak – who could only draw at home with Maribor on Tuesday – still sees Liverpool win the group. A draw sees Liverpool qualify for the knockout rounds, the place in the group dependent on Sevilla's result at Maribor. Not that you want to rely on Liverpool in an end-all, be-all match, seeing how this side's responded to pressure in big games, but it's still better than a lot of scenarios.

Of course we'd have all taken a draw before kickoff. But that doesn't excuse what happened on Tuesday. And after all the group that'd come before...

One step forward, two steps back. Again. Four impressive wins, against less impressive sides, but then another collapse. Starting with an individual, but eventually team-wide. Not great, Liverpool.

Now, Chelsea on Saturday. Yet again, another response needed. And quickly.

20 November 2017

Liverpool at Sevilla 11.21.17

2:45pm ET, live in the US on Fox Soccer Plus, ESPN3, and Facebook Live

Previous Group results:
Liverpool: 3-0 Maribor (h); 7-0 Maribor (a); 1-1 Spartak (a); 2-2 Sevilla (h)
Sevilla: 2-1 Spartak (h); 1-5 Spartak (a); 3-0 Maribor (h); 2-2 Liverpool (a)

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 3-0 Southampton (h); 4-1 West Ham (a); 3-0 Maribor (h)
Sevilla: 2-1 Celta Vigo (h); 1-2 Barcelona (a); 2-1 Spartak (h)

Goalscorers (Europe):
Liverpool: Salah 5; Firmino 4; Can 3; Alexander-Arnold, Coutinho 2; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sturridge 1
Sevilla: Ben Yedder 6; Escudero 2; Banega, Correa, Kjaer, Lenglet 1

Referee: Felix Brych (GER)

Guess at a line-up:
Gomez Lovren Klavan Moreno
Can Henderson Coutinho
Salah Firmino Mané

Now we get into the meat of the season. Two matches a week for the next six weeks. And this week's two are a crucial Champions League decider and against the defending Premier League champions.

So, even though it's tempting to think "ROTATION," I wouldn't be surprised if there isn't that much, especially since Liverpool are in a very welcomed decent vein of form.

It's safe to assume Karius will return as Champions League goalkeeper. Gomez will probably come in for Alexander-Arnold. Emre Can's probably coming back into midfield as well, with Wijnaldum the most likely to make way. But that should be the extent of Liverpool's changes, no matter what's to come on the weekend. It is probably too soon for Lallana to start, although I wouldn't be surprised to see him off the bench, while Matip remains injured and didn't travel.

The most important match is the one in front of you. And this one's pretty important regardless.

There's a chance we'll see the 4-2-4/4-4-2 that Liverpool played at West Ham – something like a front six of Mané, Henderson, Can, Coutinho; Firmino, Salah – with Liverpool likely to have a lot less possession, but I'm still guessing 4-3-3 more often than not given how Liverpool have lined up over the last season. That and Liverpool shouldn't need to coax Sevilla into coming out, as they did at West Ham. Sevilla are coming out regardless.

Like Liverpool, Sevilla are finding their way back after a shaky October, with four wins from five – an expected, narrow loss to Barcelona the only outlier – after losing three consecutive matches last month, with two of those losses by four goals.

Like Liverpool, Sevilla's become almost unplayable on their own ground, winning seven and drawing two in all competitions this season, scoring 18 and conceding just six.

Like Jürgen Klopp, Eduardo Berizzo will have decisions to make. Eight players who started against Liverpool at Anfield didn't feature on Saturday: Ben Yedder, Banega, Navas, Correa, Mercado, Kjaer, Pareja, and Sergio Rico. Only two were due to injury: Correa and Pareja, and the former will be back in the squad tomorrow.

Will it be Ben Yedder or Luis Muriel up front? The former scored against Liverpool and has six goals in this competition but the latter made a massive difference as a substitute the last time these sides met and has been preferred lately. The returning Correa, who also scored in the last meeting, or Nolito? Or both, with Navas making way? Does Sergio Rico continue as Champions League goalkeeper, with Soria used only in league matches? Is there a place for Pablo Sarabia, who has played well in Correa's absence, and has been picked over Navas half the time when Nolito's started on the left?

My guess – which, as usual, is very much a guess – is Sergio Rico; Mercado, Geis, Kjaer, Escudero; N'Zonzi, Pizarro; Correa, Banega, Nolito; Muriel.

Games at Sevilla are usually strangulations. No other La Liga side averages fewer shots at home. Only two allow fewer shots. But Sevilla have scored at least two goals seven of nine home matches in all competitions. Only Istanbul Basaksehir has scored more than one, a 2-2 draw in the second leg of a Champions League qualifier.

If it were last season, I'd say these are exactly the type of games where Liverpool thrive. See: 2-1 Chelsea, 1-0 City, 2-0 Tottenham, 3-1 Arsenal. But we've seen a lot less of it in the few big matches this season.

So, yeah, this is a big week.

Liverpool qualify for the knockout rounds with a win. As do Sevilla. A draw will be good enough for Liverpool if Spartak Moscow somehow lose to Maribor. And a loss doesn't doom either, although a Sevilla loss would require Liverpool helping them against Spartak next match, assuming Spartak beat Maribor.

Liverpool will do Liverpool, and look for the win. This Liverpool knows no other way. And so will Sevilla.

Visualized: Liverpool 3-0 Southampton

Previous Match Infographics: West Ham (a), Maribor (h), Huddersfield (h), 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.)

The international break certainly didn't upset the momentum built over the last month.

In isolation, it's a perfectly cromulent performance. One of those "professional performances" that pundits like to go on about. The better team plays better and the better team wins, fairly easily by the end of it. Once Liverpool scored, the result never looked in doubt. Liverpool's stars starred, but everyone truly played well.

Liverpool scored at least three goals for the sixth time in 12 league matches. Liverpool put at least 35% of its shots on-target for eighth time in 12 league matches.

All three of Liverpool's goals saw Liverpool reclaim possession in Southampton's half, most notably Firmino's perfectly timed and touched tackle to start move for the first, while the other two began with Henderson picking up poor Southampton clearances.

We got Mo Salah doing Mo Salah things, scoring his 13th and 14th goals of the season. Incidentally, Liverpool's top scorer in any season since 2014-15 was Coutinho last season. With 14 goals.

We got a goal and assist from Coutinho on his return after missing the last three matches, both dictating play from deep (that throughball for Salah's second goal, good lord) and an average position that's basically amongst the front three, making that map look almost like the 4-2-4 we saw at West Ham, which it certainly didn't feel like when watching the game.

We got actual, honest-to-goodness competent defending from the entire back four, including Trent Alexander-Arnold's most well-rounded game for the club and a monster block by Lovren on Boufal's shot in the 50th minute with Southampton pushing to get back in the game after halftime.

Liverpool had underwhelmed and under delivered in their last five matches against Southampton, failing to score in any of the four last season. Liverpool had been bad and gotten bad results in both matches following international breaks so far this season, the 0-5 loss at City and 0-0 draw against United.

So, yeah, this was quite pleasing. And in context of what we've seen in the previous few games, it's even better. Because it's the fourth consecutive match where Liverpool performed like this and won like this.

3-0 Huddersfield. 3-0 Maribor. 4-1 West Ham. And now 3-0 Southampton.

This is the first time that Liverpool have won three successive league matches since New Year's Eve 2016. Otherwise known as "the first time this calendar year." It's the middle of November.

All three of those wins saw Liverpool score at least three and win by three, as they also did against Maribor on the first of the month.

Liverpool's offense is humming along nicely, against the types of sides who've frustrated them in the past. That almost always leads to good things.

We've got Coutinho throughballs to Salah, Salah goals and Coutinho goals. We've got Firmino winning possession, dragging defenders, dropping into channels, tormenting the opposition and making space for teammates. We've got Sadio Mané, last season's goal talisman, as the Liverpool player with the joint-most key passes on Saturday.

And this was just the first time that Salah, Coutinho, Firmino, and Mané have started together in a league match this season. Not to mention that Adam Lallana will soon join that quartet.

But, almost as importantly, the defense has done its job as well.

Liverpool have conceded just one goal through this four-game stretch. Liverpool have conceded just two shots on-target through this four-game stretch. Liverpool's opponents have averaged just 4.25 shots per game through this four-game stretch, with none allowed more than six. Liverpool's opponents have had just three clear-cut chances through this four-game stretch, all in the 4-1 win at West Ham, one early from Ayew then two from Lanzini after Liverpool had taken a two-goal lead. No Liverpool player has committed a defensive error through this four-game stretch.

This was Liverpool's sixth clean sheet in the last eight games, the Tottenham bloodbath and West Ham's consolation the only aberrations. This was Liverpool's sixth clean sheet at Anfield this season; Burnley is the only Premier League side to score on Liverpool's ground this season, with Sevilla and Hoffenheim's two goals apiece the only others allowed at home.

This was the fifth time in the last eight games without an opposition clear-cut chance: Newcastle, United, Huddersfield, Maribor (h), Southampton. Unsurprisingly, four of those five matches were at Anfield. The last opposition clear-cut chance at Anfield was Ben Mee's header from a corner saved by Mignolet in the 1-1 draw against Burnley on September 18, five home matches ago.

Southampton failed to put a single shot on-target on Saturday. Both Arsenal and Huddersfield failed to do so earlier this season; a quarter of Liverpool's league matches this season have seen the opposition unable to test Liverpool's goalkeeper.

But Southampton also failed to put a single shot on-target in both of last season's league meetings as well. And both of those matches ended in a frustrating 0-0 draw.

When the attack is good, Liverpool are good. When the attack is good, the defense has a much better chance of being good.

Against Southampton, as in the last four matches – three and a half if we're being difficult – the attack was good. And so were Liverpool.

The next week will see Liverpool face an entirely different proposition. The change in formation and tactics at West Ham aside, there has been a lot of same again and achieved again, in needing to have both the nous and firepower to break through resolute mid-table sides.

The next week will see Liverpool travel to Sevilla and host Chelsea, two vastly more dangerous sides who'll look to beat Liverpool rather than contain them. I suspect both of those sides will attempt more than five shots, will put more than one shot on-target. The next six weeks will see Liverpool play at least two matches every week, and even more over Christmas and New Year's.

But with four comprehensive, professional wins in a month, Liverpool have set themselves up to succeed.

17 November 2017

Liverpool v Southampton 11.18.17

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

Last four head-to-head:
0-0 (h) 05.07.17
0-1 Southampton (h; League Cup) 01.25.17
0-1 Southampton (a; League Cup) 01.11.17
0-0 (a) 11.19.16

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 4-1 West Ham (a); 3-0 Maribor (h); 3-0 Huddersfield (h)
Southampton: 0-1 Burnley (h); 1-1 Brighton (a); 1-0 West Brom (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Salah 7; Firmino, Mané 3; Coutinho, Sturridge 2; Alex O-C, Henderson, Matip, Wijnaldum 1
Southampton: Gabbiadini 3; Davis 2; Austin, Boufal, Tadic, Yoshida 1

Referee: Mike Jones (LFC History) (WhoScored)

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

Does... does Liverpool have an almost fully fit squad? And right after an international break?

Coutinho should be fit enough to start, having featured in Brazil's internationals. Mané will be checked on today, leaving early from the Senegal squad after the first match but with Liverpool seemingly not very worried. And Adam Lallana is available, for the first time this season.

It is a strange feeling. And I'm unsure how Liverpool will line up with almost everyone available. It's not something we've had to contemplate that often.

We can rule out Lallana starting, at least for another week or so – this ain't gonna be a "Mané will only play 20 minutes" thing. We can also probably rule out the 4-4-2 we saw before the break against West Ham; I wouldn't entirely dismiss the idea but it's probably hard to shoehorn everyone into that formation with Coutinho and Henderson back in the fold; Coutinho especially doesn't seem to have a place in that system. Whether Mané's fit decides the front three – either Coutinho plays there if he's not, or Coutinho plays in midfield with one of Henderson, Can, or Wijnaldum making way. And once Lallana returns, your guess is as good as mine. I can absolutely see Lallana in the role Oxlade-Chamberlain played at West Ham.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the pitch, don't get too shouty if Lovren returns in place of Klavan. He's usually preferred, no matter his greater propensity for massive hilarious errors, although that this match is against his old club may give Klopp a few more reservations. And given Southampton's complete lack of attacking desire in both league fixtures last season, I wouldn't be surprised to see Alexander-Arnold at right-back rather than Gomez, even if I'm wary of how the "ONE FULLBACK SITS. ALWAYS SITS." works with Trent rather than Joe.

As for the opposition. Southampton have been definitively mid-table so far this season. 13th in the league, only two points behind eighth but only four ahead of 17th. And while they've underperformed relative to last season, they're still very Southampton: 15th in goals scored but 7th in goals conceded, having let in six fewer goals than Liverpool.

Only Crystal Palace, Bournemouth, Swansea, and Huddersfield have scored less than Southampton. Southampton have scored more than once in just one of the last nine league matches, in a 2-2 draw against Newcastle a month ago. But Southampton are getting shots; only Liverpool, City, Tottenham, and Arsenal average more per game. And they're not bad shots – Southampton are almost exactly league average in xG and take almost 60% of their shots from inside the box.

Four clean sheets in Liverpool's last six matches not withstanding, facing a side that probably should be scoring more than it has seems troublesome. Especially when Liverpool are winless against said side in their last five meetings, failing to score in each of last season's four. Liverpool had a combined 32 shots in the two league matches last season. Southampton had seven. Both matches ended 0-0.

And Southampton's XI will be a lot like that faced last season. Forster; Cedric, Hoedt, van Dijk, Bertrand; Romeu, Davis; Tadic, Boufal, Redmond; Gabbiadini. Maybe Yoshida rather than Hoedt at center-back; maybe James Ward-Prowse or Højbjerg in midfield rather than Boufal or Tadic, with Davis pushed further forward. Shane Long and Charlie Austin are likely substitutes off the bench, especially if Southampton are chasing the game. Their most notable summer signing, midfielder Mario Lemina, is out injured.

Liverpool are three games unbeaten, scoring at least three in all three. If we ignore the Tottenham match – let's all agree to ignore the Tottenham match – they've conceded just once in those last five games. And Liverpool, after an absolutely awful September trickling into October, are up to fifth, just four points off second.

The squad's almost fully fit. There are no more international breaks until March. Liverpool are slowly climbing the table in the league and are in first place in their Champions League group. It's time to go. And it starts against Liverpool's feeder squad, who Liverpool have they struggled against for more than a season.


06 November 2017

Visualized: Liverpool 4-1 West Ham

Previous Match Infographics: Maribor (h), Huddersfield (h), 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.

This was only the fifth time we've seen a starting Liverpool formation that wasn't 4-3-3 since the beginning of 2016-17. 4-Diamond-2 in the 1-1 at Manchester United, 4-0 at West Ham, and 3-0 v Boro last season; 3-5-1-1 in the 2-1 at Stoke with an unbelievably rotated side. And 60 matches with a Liverpool XI in a 4-3-3.

We changed the system and yesterday was the first time we did it, 4-4-2, which looked maybe from the beginning like a very offensive line-up, we had a different idea - we wanted to defend deeper, more compact and using the space which we had for the counter-attacks. We will never know how it would have been if we don’t score the first one, I think it was kind of an open game up until then. We had to get used to it a little bit, it was difficult for the boys to wait a little bit more for the challenge than jump always. – Jürgen Klopp

There have been only five matches this season where Liverpool had less possession than they did on Saturday: 2-2 at Sevilla, much more a cagey European tie; 0-5 at Manchester City, thanks to the red card; 4-0 v Arsenal, where Liverpool were three-up by the 57th minute and sat deep and soaked up for the final 30 minutes; and both legs against Hoffenheim, which played out similarly to the match against Arsenal.

The last time Liverpool had 52% possession or less against a non-Top 6, non-European, or non-Everton opponent was 2-1 at Bournemouth in April 2016, a soak-up and counter 4-2-3-1 that had been heavily rotated after Liverpool's unfathomable midweek victory over Dortmund.

We're all well aware that Liverpool have struggled to break down the league's lesser lights far too often, both this season and last. And with West Ham set up in a 3-4-3 with restricted wing-backs and players like Chicharito and Lanzini who thrive on the counter, that seemed more than possible on Saturday had Liverpool started with its usual formation. Outside of the Manchester City loss, the vast majority of Liverpool's goals conceded have come on set plays, counter-attacks, and defensive errors. Saturday's system did well to limit the potential for the first two, Liverpool's players mostly did well to limit the third.

It was a welcomed change to see Klopp willing to adjust tactics and formation based on what was likely to work against certain opposition. Too often it's felt like, "This is what we've done when we've been at our best, even if sometimes it doesn't succeed. Roll the ball out and we'll find a way," even I know that's not necessarily the case.

So, yes, it took time for Liverpool to get going. Unfamiliar XI, unusual formation, one which didn't have a lot of time to come together on the training pitch this week. But given the one opportunity that Liverpool had been waiting for, playing for with a quarter of the match gone, Liverpool slit throats. Mo Salah and Sadio Mané slit throats, because that's what Mo Salah and Sadio Mané do.

While Klopp's obviously correct in saying that it was a more defensive formation, it was also a formation that got the best out of the attackers that Liverpool were able to put on the pitch. Salah, further forward rather than needing to track back on the right since Liverpool kept the fullbacks relatively deep; Oxlade-Chamberlain's work-rate was far more helpful in that position. Given more central support, Firmino could press with more intensity – he made six successful tackles, by far the most from a Liverpool player and only four fewer than the entire West Ham team – and take up deeper positions to better effect – look at what he did for Liverpool's third goal, getting the ball just past the halfway line not long after Liverpool kicked off, then driving past two West Ham defenders through their entire half of the pitch. Mané created two assists for Salah on counter-attacks, running through West Ham's half before finding Salah with the perfectly timed and weighted pass.

There were only 15 Liverpool shots, with the majority coming after Liverpool scored their third. There were only three first-half shots, joint-fewest in a Liverpool first half this season along with the opening day match at Watford.

But Liverpool's shots were almost all high-value shots. Liverpool's xG per shot was around 0.17, the second-highest for the season behind the romp over Arsenal. Liverpool had more clear-cut chances than they had shots from outside the box.

It wasn't just Liverpool, though. Six of the ten shots in the first hour of the match were clear-cut chances: three of Liverpool's six shots, three of West Ham's four shots. And two of the Liverpool shots that weren't could have been as such: Firmino's second-minute close-range effort and Oxlade-Chamberlain's first before his scoring rebound.

For all the delight that Liverpool's change in formation helped Liverpool do better in match which have caused so many issues, this was the main difference in the match. Liverpool scored its three clear-cut chances in that first hour. West Ham scored one of their three, and only after Liverpool already had two goals.

To be fairer to Liverpool, one of those West Ham chances came very early and West Ham were lucky it did. Lanzini's two came during the why-is-this-match-so-open spell in the 15 minutes after halftime, as West Ham changed to a 4-4-2 and Liverpool already had a two-goal lead. During the period in-between, where Liverpool played their way into the game and established that necessary lead, West Ham had nothing. Literally nothing, limited to one off-target Lanzini shot from long range in first half injury time between the 10th and 45th minutes.

Incidentally, if you ignore the Tottenham game – let's all ignore the Tottenham game! – Liverpool have held their opponents to just four shots on-target through five games. One by Manchester United, one by Maribor in each of their matches, none by Huddersfield, and one by West Ham. Five games. Four shots on-target. Four clean sheets. And just one goal conceded, that one from Lanzini. That's pretty okay.

Still, there's an excellent chance it's a very different match if Ayew converts in the ninth minute. Released by a Lanzini pass somehow deflected directly to him, rammed off the post rather than into the back of the net. That goal forces Liverpool to come out. That goal allows West Ham to sit deeper. That makes this game potentially a re-run of Spartak or Burnley, no matter the starting Liverpool formation.

But there's an excellent chance it's still the same result if Firmino converts in the second minute, barely denied by the heel of Joe Hart's trailing leg.

That's football. Put the ball in the net more than the other team. Liverpool are often good at doing that. The foundation, formation, tactics, and XI on Saturday set up Liverpool to do that more than West Ham could.

Open matches are almost always better for Liverpool than tight, compact, attack-versus-defense matches, even if they're more terrifying for us. Because chances are you're going to lose to Liverpool in an arms race. There are few teams in the world that can match Liverpool's firepower up front, and only one or two in the Premier League.

Make no mistake. West Ham aren't good. There are reasons they currently sit in the relegation zone and there are reasons why they've now fired their manager. This formation probably won't work against a lot of sides in the league. But it's another arrow in the quiver. And it worked on Saturday.

Nonetheless, Liverpool did what Liverpool needed to do, for the third consecutive match and the third consecutive match where Liverpool have won by three goals. Credit to Jürgen Klopp for making the changes that made this performance and result possible. And credit to Liverpool's players for making it happen.

04 November 2017

Liverpool 4-1 West Ham

Salah 21' 76'
Matip 24'
Lanzini 55'
Oxlade-Chamberlain 56'

Liverpool away from home remains a roller coaster. Thankfully, this roller coaster stayed on the tracks rather than careening through a guardrail and killing everyone aboard. West Ham helped.

It begin with a tense, scrappy opening 20 minutes. A confusing Liverpool in a surprising XI, closest to a 4-2-4 with both Firmino and Salah up top, Oxlade-Chamberlain and the somehow-returning Mané on the flanks, and a two-man midfield of Wijnaldum and Can. We got an early set play chance, Hart saving Firmino from close-range with his back heel, but not much more. An unfamiliar XI and formation taking time to coalesce is no real surprise.

That disjointed Liverpool mostly held West Ham at bay, with less Liverpool possession than usual but only one real West Ham chance. Still, one good chance: Lanzini's throughball deflected directly to an onside Ayew, his shot off the post with Mignolet making himself big. So far, West Ham aren't bad, Liverpool aren't great. This one could go either way.

And then, a West Ham corner. And then, a goal. A Liverpool goal. Matip heads clear, Salah and Mané fly up the pitch, Mané feeds Salah, Salah scores. Meep meep. I think they left scorch-marks down the center of the London Stadium pitch.

And West Ham fall apart. Liverpool score a second almost immediately, Salah's corner ricocheted on goal by Noble, saved, but Matip with the rebound. West Ham do literally nothing for the rest of the half, although Liverpool remain a bit out of sorts and nowhere near as threatening as you'd hope. But Liverpool are still Liverpool, and 2-0 remains the most dangerous lead in sports™.

West Ham were always going to be at least a bit better after halftime, especially when throwing on Andy Carroll to give Liverpool something different to worry about. A switch to 4-4-2 more closely matches Liverpool's formation and gives Liverpool's fullbacks a lot more to deal with. And it takes ten minutes for West Ham to pull one back: a cross-field pass to Lanzini at the back post, shrugging off Gomez too easily but also beautiful control and finish.

Uh oh.

But then West Ham went and West Hammed again. Within a minute, Liverpool restored its two-goal lead: Firmino controlling Moreno's pass, jamming through the defense, finding Oxlade-Chamberlain, his first shot saved, his second under Hart.

It's literally less than a minute. We missed almost the entire move because they're still showing replays of Lanzini's goal. Well done, West Ham. And we're done here.

As at Leicester, Liverpool made us worried. Liverpool threatened to throw away a two-goal lead, but ultimately didn't. Liverpool looked okay, then good, then frightening, then good again. Liverpool never conceded a second, as against Leicester. Liverpool added even more gloss than against Leicester with a fourth on the break: Salah's second goal, Mané's second assist. Liverpool could have added still more.

It was better than against Leicester. It was less frightening and less dumb than against Leicester. That's progress? Also, West Ham are worse than Leicester.

So, yeah, it's annoying that two goals never seems enough away from home, even if it would have been today. It remains confusing that Liverpool didn't shut up shop until after scoring their fourth, leaving an exposed midfield and defense despite all we've seen before. End to end, drunk and dumb, for the first half-hour of the second half. Four of West Ham's six shots came between the 55th and 69th minutes: all four in the Danger Zone, two clear-cut chances for Lanzini, two close-range headers from Chicharito. We didn't see a Liverpool substitution until after the fourth goal, when Milner finally came on to give Liverpool a three-man midfield. Coincidentally, West Ham didn't have another shot for the rest of the match.

Still. For all of the heartburn we've had, Liverpool have now won each of its last three games by a three-goal margin. The last time that happened was March 2014. Liverpool have won its last three games, full stop.

Liverpool have been patient, diligent, and secure at home in two of those last three matches. Liverpool were wild today, in all three area of the pitch, but ultimately throughly deserved winners. Salah's now got 12 goals through 17 starts, Oxlade-Chamberlain has two goals in his last five games, and don't look now but Sadio Mané's back.

It wasn't comfortable, because that's not Liverpool, but – for the third game in a row – Liverpool did what Liverpool needed to do. Tottenham aside, it's been a perfectly cromulent month of football since returning from the last international break.

And now we've got another international break. Then we start again.

03 November 2017

Liverpool at West Ham 11.04.17

1:30pm ET, live in the US on NBC

Last four head-to-head:
4-0 Liverpool (a) 05.14.17
2-2 (h) 12.11.16
1-2 West Ham (a; FA Cup) 02.09.16
0-0 (h; FA Cup) 01.30.16

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 3-0 Maribor (h); 3-0 Huddersfield (h); 1-4 Tottenham (a)
West Ham: 2-2 Palace (a); 3-2 Tottenham (a); 0-3 Brighton (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Salah 5; Firmino, Mané 3; Coutinho, Sturridge 2; Henderson, WIjnaldum 1
West Ham: Chicharito 4; Ayew 2; Antonio, Kouyate, Obiang, Sakho 1

Referee: Neil Swarbrick (LFC History) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Gomez Matip Klavan Moreno
Milner Henderson Can
Salah Sturridge Firmino

Coutinho's still out, while Lovren and Wijnaldum are close but also probably out. Amazingly, Sadio Mané might be able to get a 20-25 minute run-out as a substitute. I think we'd all enjoy that.

Mignolet will come back in for Karius, Gomez will probably come back in for Alexander-Arnold, Sturridge will probably come back in for Oxlade-Chamberlain. But it's gonna look a lot like the XIs which beat Huddersfield and Maribor 3-0.

It hasn't been Liverpool's strongest XI. We haven't seen Liverpool's best performances. But we've seen consistency. We've seen a lot more good than bad. We've seen wins.

It's been more than welcomed. But I can't help thinking that we've seen this good at Anfield, and we've rarely seen it away from Anfield this season.

Yes, sample size. Yes, quality of opposition: 5th, 20th, 7th, 2nd, and 13th at home versus 8th, 1st, 11th, 9th, 3rd away. But also this.


So, yeah, if we're really seeing consistency and improvement, we could do with some better Liverpool performances away from Anfield. And it starts tomorrow.

Meanwhile, if you know which West Ham we'll get tomorrow, I'd love to know. Liverpool would love to know. We gonna see the West Ham that's won just one of its last six league games? Or we gonna see the West Ham that scored three goals in the second half to come back to win the League Cup tie at Tottenham last week? The West Ham which scored twice in the first half at Crystal Palace or the West Ham which conceded twice in the second half at Crystal Palace?

The West Ham that almost always raises its game against Liverpool, with a manager who loves beating Liverpool, or the West Ham that got smoked by Liverpool in the penultimate match last season?

Whichever West Ham it is, it'll be a West Ham missing at least four potential starters, if not six. Antonio, Collins, and Byram are definitely out injured, Zabaleta's suspended, and both Fonte and Reid are doubtful. Five of those six players are defenders.

It sounds as if Fonte's more likely than Reid, so let's guess Hart; Fonte, Kouyate, Ogbonna; Fernandes, Obiang, Noble, Lanzini, Cresswell; Ayew, Carroll.

There are still good players in that XI. West Ham will play three at the back, which will look like five at the back an awful lot. West Ham will try to frustrate, then West Ham will try to counter and set play. It's gonna be one of those games. We've seen a lot of those games. And we'll keep seeing them until Liverpool consistently do better in them, the last two matches notwithstanding.

And it will be one of those games with Andy Carroll likely to start up front. You remember Andy Carroll. He's good at winning headers on long balls from defense to set up counter-attacks. He's really good at heading crosses from both open play and set play. He hasn't yet scored a league goal this season, and I suspect he'd really enjoy scoring against Liverpool. Or maybe Chicarito plays instead, a player who presents an entirely different set of counter-attacking problems which Liverpool have been vulnerable against.

16th place and ostensibly struggling, but there are concerns about this West Ham side. Up front, in midfield, and at the back.

It'll be up to Liverpool to keep doing whatever they've been doing in the last two games. And, this time, to do it away from home.

02 November 2017

Visualized: Liverpool 3-0 Maribor

Previous Match Infographics: Huddersfield (h), 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 LiverpoolFC.com app.

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

That was almost – almost – more satisfying than strolling 7-0 at Maribor.

Are two matches enough for a trend? Do two swallows make a summer?

0-0 at half time, 3-0 at full time. Against a deep, deep, deep defense. At Anfield. Despite a missed penalty.

It really was Huddersfield all over again. But better, against deeper.

More shots, better shots. Four clear-cut chances, as against Huddersfield, but a higher percentage of Danger Zone shots and a higher Expected Goals total. More possession. Somehow out-tacking and out-intercepting Maribor despite having 75% possession, with ten of 19 tackles and four of ten interceptions in Maribor's half. Better goals. Liverpool didn't require an opposition error to open the scoring, but won the ball back in Maribor's half, sustained possession, and saw both an well-taken cross and finish. Liverpool's second was one of the better goals they've scored this season, and the exact type of move needed to break through 11 defenders: quick passing finished with a wonderful one-two through the heart of the defense, excellently taken by Emre Can. Even the penalty was better won and better taken, even if it ended in the same result.

There were more Maribor shots than Huddersfield shots, but it's hard to have fewer than one, and Maribor's five chances had about the same chance of going in as Huddersfield's one. Liverpool have now allowed one – one! – shot on-target in the last two matches, and that one shot on-target was about as routine as save as possible, low, central and from about 30 yards out.

The massacre in the last meeting forced Maribor to change tactics, formation, and style. Five at the back for the first time this season. An average position which saw all 11 starters in Maribor's half of the pitch.

And it took time for Liverpool to break through, as against Huddersfield. That happens when there are 11 opposition players in one half of the pitch. That happens when Liverpool make two changes to the front six, and need to make a substitution within 17 minutes. And it's frustrating. But it's not the end of the world. It's hard for us to remember there are 90 minutes in a football match, especially when Liverpool's best matches have seen Liverpool at their best from the opening whistle.

And despite that first half frustration, Liverpool score within five minutes of the restart. And Liverpool finish 3-0 winners. Mohamed Salah scores his 10th goal in his 16th start. Emre Can scores his third Champions League goal in his sixth Champions League match this season; he had five goals through all of last season. Liverpool's fullbacks both contribute assists. James Milner creates the most Liverpool chances and tallies an assist in consecutive matches, Daniel Sturridge scores in consecutive matches – something he hasn't done since April 2016. And with two games to play, Liverpool sit top of the group. Liverpool need one win from their last two games to assure qualification to the Champions League knockout rounds, a place they haven't been since 2008.

Six points from six in the last two games, against the type of sides who've frustrated Liverpool in the past two seasons. The sides who have been happy to sit deep and wait for Liverpool to fall apart, either up front or at the back. Or sometimes both. And Liverpool haven't done either.

Two swallows may not make a summer, but it's an awful lot better, and an awful lot more encouraging, than what came before.