04 December 2017

Visualized: Liverpool 5-1 Brighton

Previous Match Infographics: Stoke (a), 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. 

We've seen more starting formations in the last four away matches than we saw throughout all of last season.

At West Ham, a very counter-attacking 4-4-2, which looked like 4-2-4 more often than not. Liverpool won 4-1.

At Sevilla, a reversion to the typical 4-3-3, a formation and style less familiar to European opponents than Premier League opponents. Liverpool went up 3-0 within 30 minutes, then I blacked out and I assume the game ended comfortably.

At Stoke, similar to West Ham but as much a 4-2-3-1 as a 4-4-2. Liverpool won 3-0.

And, now, at Brighton, the most confusing and surprising of the bunch, 3-4-3 with two midfielders as center-backs. Liverpool won 5-1.

Last season, Liverpool used three different starting formations by my count. In the entire season. A 4-4-2 diamond in the last two matches of the campaign as well as in the 1-1 at Manchester United in January; a wacky 3-5-1-1 with loads of changes and players absent in the 2-1 win at Stoke (switching to 3-4-3 when down at halftime); and the usual 4-3-3 in the other 43 matches.

Sometimes, writing out numerical formations doesn't help much. A 4-3-3 with Lallana and Wijnaldum in midfield will play far differently than one with Can and Coutinho; one with Sturridge, Firmino, and Mané in the front three will play far differently than one with Coutinho, Firmino, and Salah.

But tactics matter. Line-ups matter. And, yes, formations matter.

To put it bluntly, Liverpool were predictable last season, especially in fixtures like Saturday's. There were matches where it didn't matter – against Liverpool's peers in the top six; early in the season when Liverpool's style was less familiar to most opponents; or in a handful of matches where Liverpool simply blitzed the opposition regardless of personnel, style, or opposition. But there were matches where it did matter, and Liverpool's attack ran headlong into a brick wall, regrouped, and ran headlong into it again. And again. See: 0-2 Burnley, 0-0 Southampton (twice), 0-2 Hull, etc.

Liverpool have been far less predictable this season, especially over the last month. Especially in the types of matches where Liverpool struggled last season, and struggled earlier in the season: 1-1 Burnley, 1-1 Spartak, 1-1 Newcastle, etc.

Because this was exactly the type of match that Klopp's Liverpool have struggled in before.


Incidentally, Liverpool's home record against promoted sides is five wins, no draws, and no losses, with 15 goals scored, just two conceded.

Saturday's was a formation that got the best out of Liverpool's front three, and Liverpool were wholly reliant on that front three for shots and chance creation. And that front three came through, with the side set up in a way to play to their strengths despite what the opposition would look to accomplish. As at West Ham, as at Stoke, etc.

*long, low wolf whistle*

Saturday's match and Saturday's result wasn't easy, at least not as easy as the score line suggests. And a lot of it didn't make sense. But it's another needed win, with three or more goals scored and one or fewer conceded, as we've seen in six of the last eight matches. This formation and these tactics are another arrow in Liverpool's quiver, demonstrating the deeper squad and Klopp's greater tactical versatility than we saw in previous seasons, in previous disappointing results in fixtures like these.

We've seen fairly heavy rotation to go along with these tactical and formation tweaks, at least more than Liverpool were capable of last season. Salah, Coutinho, Firmino, Mané, Henderson, Can, and Moreno have all been used as substitutes, at most, in one of the three matches in the last nine days. Because we've seen two matches a week for the last couple of weeks now. And this is just the start. Liverpool still have eight more matches over the next 28 days.

After a disappointing September and beginning of October, Liverpool have set themselves up well for those next 28 days.

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