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.


pc said...

Great post as always Nate. We're in a great place in the league and in Europe compared to how shaky this season has felt so far. Thrilling to think about what we can accomplish if we can continue performing to expectations. Salah is in an unbelievable purple patch now - the same will come for Mane, Coutinho, Firmino, Lallana and hopefully Sturridge. Reminds me of 13/14 - Suarez was great but Sturridge and Sterling and Gerrard and Coutinho really caught ON FIREEEEEEEE for stretches throughout. Great managers bring this out of players at the right time to string together a full season - this aspect of Rodgers' time is underappreciated. Looking forward to seeing Klopp manage the current firepower.

pc said...

And Henderson! He was world class at times in 13/14. Haven't really seen that level as much since the injury.