07 December 2017

Visualized: Liverpool 7-0 Spartak Moscow

Previous Match Infographics: Brighton (a), 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. 

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

That formation was not what we expected. Everyone, including UEFA, had it as a 4-3-3. Mané left, as usual. Salah right, as usual. Firmino central, as usual. Coutinho in midfield. But that was not how Liverpool played. Liverpool played 4-4-1-1 or 4-4-2, depending on your preferred nomenclature, a similar formation to the side we saw at Stoke and West Ham, but with all four of Liverpool's superlative front four involved for the first time.

And if it confused us – people who watch Liverpool too devotedly, every single week – what do you think it did to Spartak?

It did this. 7-0, against a side that hadn't conceded more than twice in a match since August 19, whose only matches where they'd conceded more than two both came when Spartak had a player sent off.

A hat-trick for Philippe Coutinho, the first Liverpool hat-trick in more than two years. Two goals for Mané, a goal and assist for Firmino, a goal and two hockey assists for Salah.

7-0 for the second time this season, for the second time in eight weeks. 7-0 against two different group stage sides, one home and one away.

7-0 against Spartak Moscow, who conceded once, once, once, twice, and once in their other group stages games. 7-0 at Maribor who...

Liverpool's second goal's an excellent example of how these players can absolutely demolish any opponent, especially when in playing from positions the opposition didn't necessarily expect.

Mané picks up possession on the halfway line (as he also did in Liverpool's third and sixth goals), from Lovren's clearing header. Salah's dropped deeper this time, bringing Bocchetti with him, while Tasci's well behind the other three defenders out of the picture, trying to keep Firmino in front of him. And Eschenko's basically where he should be to keep an eye on Coutinho.

Firmino makes the run from inside to out, and Bochetti goes with him, trying to maintain the back four spacing, which creates the lane for Mané's pass to Salah. Eschenko has to come over to help, because Tasci's still way too deep to do anything about it. Which leaves space for a certain someone after Salah slips it in to Firmino.

Uh oh. And it's not as if this was Liverpool's only play. Firmino's in a fine place to shoot. There's a centering ball on for Salah, faster than Tasci and ball-side of Eschenko. But Firmino has the vision to find Coutinho. The most open player. The player who has the chance to take a shot most likely to go in.

"Uh oh" is damned right.

In this 7-0 win and Saturday's 5-1 win at Brighton, Liverpool have taken 29 combined shots. Coutinho, Salah, Mané, and Firmino took 26 of those. Those four players scored 10 of Liverpool's 12 goals – 11 if you want to give the front four (read: Coutinho) credit for Dunk's own goal on Saturday.

Liverpool did this with 17 shots yesterday and 12 last Saturday. Seven goals from 17, five goals from 12. 12 goals from 16 shots on-target combined. The finishing pixie is sprawled out, euphorically drunk, on the floor somewhere. Liverpool's shot accuracy has been bananas, Liverpool's shot conversion has been beyond bananas. It's probably somewhat unsustainable, but it's also been somewhat deserved. They're good shots, Brent. They're high-value shots, something Liverpool struggled with in its setbacks against bottom-half sides last season. Just as a brief example, Liverpool had three more clear-cut chances yesterday (seven) than Liverpool had shots from outside the box (four). I suspect you remember how often we screamed about outside-the-box shots last season.

So, the attack is attacking, which means that the defense can focus on defending. When the attack is this good, when the front four can create and score and do it themselves, the fullbacks and midfielders can play slightly deeper (although let's not downplay Milner's three assists in the second half here), a center-back's not striding forward to add another passer over the halfway line, and Liverpool's exposure to counter-attacks drops significantly.

And that's a big reason why while Liverpool have scored three or more goals in eight of their last nine matches, they've also kept a clean sheet in five of the last those nine. And it should be seven, if not for Willian's fluke and Brighton's non-penalty.

Liverpool have attacked well in the league of late; only City and United have scored more goals, and the 1-1 draw against Chelsea is the only match where Liverpool haven't scored at least three since late October. But we've really seen it in Europe. These poor sides – Hoffenheim, Maribor, Sevilla, and Spartak – often haven't known what's hit them. Two goals, four goals, two goals, one goal, seven goals, three goals, three goals, seven goals. Liverpool scored 23 goals in the group stage, the most any English side's gotten in the Champions League.

Those group stage sides only earned a few draws because Liverpool either wasted chances (see: Spartak away or, to a lesser extent, Sevilla at home) or did incredibly dumb things in defense (you know which match).

It's harder for Liverpool in the league, where most opponents have seen you before. Have played you before. In Europe, Liverpool have the advantage. There's only so much film you can watch, but then Coutinho's running at you, Salah's running behind you, Firmino's there but wait now he's there, they're coming from all angles, they're not stopping, and the ball's in the net. Again and again.

And, recently, Liverpool have been increasingly able to do it in the league as well.

Four all-world attackers, who are creating and converting at an insane pace.

Tactical flexibility, and a willingness to change the shape in order to both confuse the opponent and get the best out of those all-world attackers.

There's still pressing, but it's more around the halfway line than in the opposition half, which both draws out the opposition and gives Liverpool space to counter into, where they're creating and converting high-value chances.

A defense that's – more often than not, and more often than previously – actually protected, and can focus on defending.

And now, Liverpool are in the knock-out rounds of the Champions League for the first time since 2008-09. Where they'll play either Juventus, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Shaktar Donetsk, Porto, or Basel.

It's been fun lately. It's been very, very good football. But there's still loads more work to do, both in the league and Europe.


Julian said...

Reading this was almost as much fun as watching the match. Thanks, man!

TralfZog said...

today was THE DAY (Oh You Beauty)