31 January 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 3-0 Huddersfield

Previous Match Infographics: Swansea (a), Manchester City (h), Everton (h), Burnley (a), Leicester (a), Swansea (h), Arsenal (a), Bournemouth (a), West Brom (h), Everton (h), Spartak Moscow (h), 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's how games like this are supposed to go.

Liverpool did this to Huddersfield three months ago, so we probably shouldn't be too surprised, even after the two matches which preceded this. But I am pleased. Especially after the two matches which preceded this.

Liverpool's 911 attempted passes are, by far, the most I've seen since starting these infographics in 2012-13. As are the 811 completed passes. As are Matip's 161 attempted passes. Lovren's 140 attempted passes would have been the most if not for Matip's output yesterday.

That's a lot of passes. But we've seen Liverpool draw and lose matches when playing a lot of passes and having a lot of deep possession.

This, more importantly, was patient control, to the letter.

That patient control was possible because Liverpool saved Huddersfield's only shot on-target, Depoitre's effort in the 17th-minute. It wasn't the clearest chance, it wasn't the best-taken chance, but it was a chance. It was the first real chance of the game. It was a chance that Liverpool have given up in previous matches. It's the bare minimum you'd expect from a starting goalkeeper but I will absolutely take the bare minimum right now.

That patient control was possible because Liverpool scored early, didn't do anything stupid in the subsequent 20 minutes, then scored again. Which is exactly what didn't happen after the opener against West Brom.

The first goal's fortunate. A Liverpool cross headed out – which we saw too much of against both Swansea and West Brom – but headed out directly to Emre Can, whose shot is arrowed in via Billing's deflection. Somehow the clearance goes straight to Can, somehow Can not only hits its well but hits it exactly where it needs to go off the defender. Better to be lucky and good, etc etc.

The second goal's wonderful, for multiple reasons. Karius, sweeping out to get to a long ball first, rather than assuming Matip or Lovren would take care of it. A bit of the aforementioned patient control, poking and prodding and looking but not overambitious from Lovren, Henderson, Matip, Gomez, and Can. Then the opening: Matip to Milner to Robertson to Mané, Firmino taking it off the winger and charging behind a now disjointed back line, running into the box, to the byline before beating Lossl from literally no angle when the cutback wasn't on.

It's everything a game-killing second goal should be. From Karius' involvement to the initial passes to set up the move to Firmino and Mané's combination to Firmino's run then Firmino's awareness then Firmino's finish.

And the third goal's salt in the wounds, nail in the coffin. Belatedly. Liverpool continued to control the match in the second half, as Huddersfield had neither answers nor changes. Mané (twice) and Salah failed to convert clear-cut chances which came about as Liverpool increasingly opened Huddersfield up more than they had in the first half. Then, Can wins a penalty after about 90 seconds of sustained possession, getting the rebound from Salah's blocked shot then crashed into by Billing, and Salah converts it for his 26th goal of the season and yep we're done here.

Slowly turning the screws tighter and deeper. A small fright but then a Liverpool goal, continuing to play your game with little difficulty, second goal, even more control, a few better chances, no opposition chances at all, then third goal, then final whistle. It's everything a 3-0 away win against a bottom half side should be.

A special mention goes out to Liverpool's midfield. Liverpool's much criticized midfield.

First, Jordan Henderson's return to the side. Liverpool moved the ball quicker around the midfield, the poking and prodding which can be so frustrating, and Liverpool held its shape better when losing possession, not allowing Huddersfield literally any chances at counter-attacks. Henderson had a lot to do with both.

Liverpool were better against a deep team when Henderson came on against West Brom last weekend – more creative in the final 25 minutes than the 65 which came before – and Liverpool were assuredly better against a deep team with Henderson starting against Huddersfield. Henderson didn't start in the 0-0 against West Brom in December either, nor in the two losses last week. This is not entirely coincidence.

And then, Emre Can – playing further forward – who not only scored the opener and won the penalty for Liverpool's third, he led the team in key passes, level with Sadio Mané in creating four chances. Three crosses for Mané: a blocked header in the 45th minute then two for clear-cut chances, in the 54th and 69th minutes, followed by a layoff for Salah's blocked out-box shot in the 77th, seconds before winning the penalty, a move he made by again charging down the right flank.

The goal and penalty are obviously more important to the result, but I'm probably more impressed by the chance creation. Emre Can had averaged 0.87 key passes per 90 in all competitions going into the match. He'd created three chances in a match just once this season: the 2-1 win at Burnley. I suspect he's rarely led Liverpool in chances created, even jointly. It at least has not happened this season.

Now, I admit, Emre Can's primary role is not to create goals, especially since he's often been used as the deepest midfielder in place of Henderson, whether because the latter's rested or injured. But this midfield needs creativity. Desperately. And if Emre Can can provide at least a bit more than we've seen from that unit, I'm all for it.

Liverpool will obviously face much harder challenges. Even after conceding a first, then a second, Huddersfield still didn't come out, more afraid to be picked off on the break than wanting an immediate response against a side who often stumbles when the opposition responds. Huddersfield only had the one shot on-target, Huddersfield only had two shots in total until Liverpool scored its third. Huddersfield only had one corner, which didn't take place until the 89th minute.

But Huddersfield also played nearly the same style as Swansea did a week ago. A style which flummoxed and beat last week's Liverpool, but also a style which saw Liverpool fail to take multiple chances better than Liverpool's first two goals yesterday.

Statistically, the two matches looked fairly similar. The vast disparity in passes, possession, and shots, and what Expected Goals expected each side to get from the match.

So, yeah, score some goals, smother the opposition. Play your game, not theirs. And don't do anything dumb. It's an easy sport, this.

This is what we needed to see after that failure against Swansea, and after the subsequent failure against West Brom. This is what was needed to get Liverpool back on track. But, of course, it's still just one match.

29 January 2018

Liverpool at Huddersfield 01.30.18

3pm ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
3-0 Liverpool (h) 10.28.17
2-0 Liverpool (a; FA Cup) 12.12.99
1-0 Liverpool (a) 02.12.72
2-0 Liverpool (h) 10.23.71

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-3 West Brom (h); 0-1 Swansea (a); 4-3 City (h)
Huddersfield: 1-1 Birmingham (h); 0-2 Stoke (a); 1-4 West Ham (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Salah 18; Firmino 10; Coutinho 7; Mané 6; Oxlade-Chamberlain 3; Sturridge 2; Alexander-Arnold, Can, Henderson, Klavan, Lovren, Matip, Wijnaldum 1
Huddersfield: Depoitre 5; Mooy, Mounie 4; Ince, Kachunga, Lolley, van la Parra 1

Referee: Kevin Friend (LFC History) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Gomez Lovren van Dijk Robertson
Alex O-C Henderson Milner
Salah Firmino Mané

An 18-match unbeaten run has been followed by two consecutive losses against the two worst sides in the Premier League. What appeared to be Liverpool's strongest available XI just got knocked out of the FA Cup on Saturday, conceding three first half goals to a team that hadn't scored three against Premier League opposition since March 2017. Liverpool have now allowed eight goals from the last ten opposition shots on-target.

So, yeah, everything's going great, how are you doing?

Karius will come back in, Henderson will almost certainly make his first start since injury, there will be a few changes in defense, but otherwise, Liverpool are what Liverpool are right now. A new signing's not likely, and to compound matters, Sturridge is almost certainly leaving – not that we've seen much of him over the last few months.

Liverpool's current players have to do better within the set-up. That's how Liverpool have approached the market this month, and that is Jürgen Klopp's philosophy. And they especially have to do it against sides like West Brom and Swansea. The defense needs to be smarter and more cohesive. The midfield needs to be more creative and offer more protection against fast breaks. And the attack simply needs to take its chances.

And while Huddersfield isn't quite in the predicament of West Brom and Swansea, they'll play in a similar manner. The last meeting between this sides was the template for what Liverpool needed to do in their last two losses. Huddersfield sat deep, more a 4-3-3 than their usual 4-2-3-1. And Liverpool were frustrated in a first half that they at least patiently controlled. Liverpool weren't at their best, Liverpool struggled, but Liverpool kept going, and Liverpool sped away in the second half with three goals. That 3-0 win was the start of Liverpool's 18-match unbeaten run. They'd go on to do similar to Maribor, Southampton, Stoke, and Brighton over the next few weeks.

That's what's been lost in the last couple of matches, in the last couple of weeks. We saw signs of losing it a month ago, against both Everton and West Brom.

At least it's not been the best of months for Huddersfield either. They're still in the FA Cup – albeit needing a replay after a 1-1 home draw with Birmingham – but Huddersfield's last three league matches have been 0-3 at Leicester, 1-4 against West Ham, and 0-2 at Stoke. That's, um, not good.

Huddersfield were 10th going into the last meeting. They're currently 14th, but only two points outside the relegation places. But also two points away from 10th. The bottom half of the table is not fun for those involved this season.

Tomorrow's XI will probably look similar to that which started at Anfield, although in more of a 4-2-3-1 formation than 4-3-3. Lössi; Smith, Zanka, Schindler, Malone; Hogg, Mooy; Ince, Pritchard, van la Parra; Depoitre. There are a few alternatives: Lolley could start in place of Pritchard, Löwe in place of Malone, Hadergjonaj in place of Smith, and Mounie in place of Depoitre. Pritchard is the only real difference since these sides met in November, signed from Tottenham two weeks ago. Kachunga and Stankovic are out injured, while Danny Williams and Cranie are doubtful.

There's no sugar-coating the last week. It has been bad. Swansea was mediocre and unfortunate – more failing to take your chances and then a single set play breakdown rather than all-encompassing evil – but West Brom was all-encompassing evil. West Brom was bad, in all three phases of play. West Brom was a deterioration from the Swansea set-back rather than a response, West Brom was a painful reminder of what Liverpool did last January.

Y'all dug yourself into this hole. All y'all. Dig your way out.

27 January 2018

Liverpool 2-3 West Brom

Firmino 5'
Rodriguez 7' 11'
Matip OG 45+2'
Salah 78'

That was incredibly stupid.

And honestly, there was no need for it to be. After failing to score against West Brom for 90 minutes in the league last month, Liverpool opened the scoring within five today. A bad back pass, miscommunication between Evans and Foster, Salah faster than everyone else on Earth, a shot saved but a chipped rebound from Firmino. Sweet. When Liverpool score early, Liverpool are usually good!

Not today, Satan. Because today was incredibly stupid.

First, directly from the restart kickoff, with replays still on the television coverage. Wijnaldum and Alexander-Arnold can't clear Matip's weak header from a long ball, Brunt picks up from the scramble, finds Rodriguez, master-blasted in.

It obviously gets worse. And quickly.

Four minutes later, Emre Can literally does not bother to tackle Krychowiak, futility trying to keep up with him like a puppy behind its human, passed out wide to Gibbs, centered to Rodriguez for his brace – and Gibbs was aiming for Robson-Kanu, who two defenders were trying to mark.

Eight minutes later, what appears to be a West Brom third, from a corner, with Mignolet hapless and helpless. But VAR! But Barry's ruled offside and the goal's chalked off after video review!

Then more video review! Salah's fouled, no call, delay delay delay hey the referee wants to go look too, and hey it's a penalty. We're back, baby! Oh, wait, Firmino crashes it off the crossbar. Sigh. Ball, not lying, etc.

And the game remains open and stupid and West Brom suffer two injuries, and Liverpool still looks the more likely without truly threatening and now it is a West Brom third. Emre Can again, playing Dawson onside, his shot's actually a cross, and Matip somehow bundles it in.

We're still in the first half here, by the way. Matip's own goal came in the second minute of first-half injury time, of four scheduled, even though we'd seen three goals, two VAR decisions, a missed penalty, and two West Brom substitutions.

Did I mention that this game was stupid?

The second half is barely worth writing about, at least compared to the insanity and inanity of the first. A comeback rarely looked likely, a comeback never felt likely. Liverpool remained bad in midfield and therefore disjointed in attack. The defense remained unsurprisingly disorganized, but at least Liverpool didn't concede again. And, yes, the attacking options on the bench were Ings, Solanke, and I guess Milner and Henderson. Ings, Milner, and Henderson came on for Oxlade-Chamberlain, Can, and Mané in the 65th minute. Two goals down and that's what Liverpool can bring on. Fun times.

Well, that's not entirely fair. Henderson made Liverpool look a lot more coherent – although I suspect that West Brom tiring also helped – while Milner and Ings worked incredibly hard, as per usual. And hey Mo Salah scored his 25th of the season so that was at least a little bit of fun. But then West Brom battened down the hatches and did just enough as Liverpool huffed and puffed and the house remained standing because of course it did.

So, yeah, that was bad. That laid all of Liverpool's faults bare. The worst of Liverpool, all at once. Losing a lead. Shambles at the back. Error-prone and nowhere near creative enough in midfield. Three opposition shots on-target, three goals conceded. Mignolet doing Mignolet things, Emre Can having one of his Very Bad Emre Can games. Frighteningly thin in reserve, especially when you need to claw back from a deficit.

I still remain more worried about morale and THE SKY IS FALLING than I am going out of the FA Cup. Maybe it makes me a bad fan – I am American after all, which is a negative starting point – but the domestic cups are the bottom of my season's priorities. Every season.

The fact remains that Liverpool are out of another competition and Liverpool have lost two home matches in a row against the worst two teams in the Premier League. And they lost today while playing what's basically the first-choice XI. They lost insipidly, and aside from those final almost-furious 20 minutes, they lost pathetically.

They lost. And they looked pretty damned bad in doing so.

26 January 2018

Liverpool v West Brom 01.27.18

2:45pm ET, live in the US on Fox Sports 2

Last four head-to-head:
0-0 (h) 12.13.17
1-0 Liverpool (a) 04.16.17
2-1 Liverpool (h) 10.22.16
1-1 (a) 05.15.16

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-1 Swansea (a); 4-3 City (h); 2-1 Everton (h)
West Brom: 1-1 Everton (a); 2-0 Brighton (h); 2-0 Exeter (a)

Goalscorers (all):
Liverpool: Salah 24; Firmino 17; Coutinho 12; Mané 9; Can, Oxlade-Chamberlain 4; Alexander-Arnold, Sturridge 3; Henderson, Klavan, Lovren, Matip, Milner, van Dijk, Wijnaldum 1
West Brom: Rodriguez 6; Rondon 5; Evans, Phillips, Robson-Kanu 2; Barry, Chadli, Dawson, Field, Hegazi, McClean, Morrison, Yacob 1

Referee: Craig Pawson (LFC History) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Trent A-A Lovren van Dijk Moreno
Wijnaldum Henderson Milner
Salah Ings Mané

We're back to the rotation guessing game.

It's the FA Cup, and while Liverpool have had five days since the last match – and eight before the previous, and nine before that – there's a league match at Huddersfield on Tuesday, and the Champions League restarting in mid-February. We're not a full fixture congestion, like at this time last season, like a month ago, but we're getting closer.

It will, of course, be a stronger XI than in previous 4th-round FA Cup ties. There has been a bit of rest, and despite injuries and sales, it's still a deeper squad than seasons' past. But there will be rotation, and your guess is as good as mine as to most of the XI. Or what formation they'll play in.

Mignolet will start in goal. Alexander-Arnold will come in at right-back. Klavan remains ill, and Matip seems to need rest more than others, so it's probably Lovren and van Dijk at center-back. Moreno's back in training, so it's 50-50 whether it's him or Robertson at left-back; one will start tomorrow, the other on Tuesday.

Can's played a ton of games lately, so I assume he's out. Henderson's back, so I assume he starts. Lallana's injured again (sigh), so there's one less option for rotation. Milner missed a day of training with a dead leg, but he's still Milner. Pick two from Wijnaldum, Milner, and Oxlade-Chamberlain to go along with Henderson, I guess. But that's assuming we'll see 4-3-3.

And then there's up front. Let's rest Firmino, because why not. That means Ings or Solanke as the central striker, and Ings was preferred off the bench on Monday. Salah and Mané should be fit enough to play both tomorrow and Tuesday – and Liverpool often need them – but Oxlade-Chamberlain's an option here as well, and, hell, maybe Ben Woodburn is too.

But maybe it'll be Ings and Sturridge or Solanke or Firmino or Salah up front, with Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mané wide and two of the aforementioned midfielders and a 4-4-2 formation instead of 4-3-3.

So, yeah, *shrugs*. Guessing the XI in domestic cup competition remains both annoying and futile.

Meanwhile, West Brom have finally won under Alan Pardew. Hurrah? His first two wins came in the two games before their last, followed by a 1-1 draw at Everton which saw the home side booed off the pitch. They're getting better, and they were already frustrating a month ago. That bodes somewhat poorly.

I've little idea whether West Brom will rotate as well. The FA Cup is a bonus; they need league points and they need them now. And they've got a league match on Wednesday rather than Tuesday, but it's also at Manchester City. A match where they're not likely to take points no matter who's rested and available.

Morrison and Chadli are out injured, and a few West Brom players have had the flu this week – McClean, Rodriguez, Foster, Field, Hegazi, and McAuley were mentioned in today's press conference – but Pardew was unsurprisingly coy as to whether any will miss time.

So maybe it's full-strength tomorrow. Which would probably mean Foster; Dawson, Hegazi, Evans, Gibbs; Phillips, Livermore, Krychowiak, McClean; Rodriguez, Rondon. Barry and Yacob are options in midfield. Brunt can play on either flank. Robson-Kanu could start for either striker up front, McAuley could start for either center-back in defense. Field could play at left-back, Nyom could play at right-back.

Hopefully, this won't entirely be like last month's league meeting. West Brom will assuredly defend, and deep, but they'll want a replay almost as little as Liverpool. It shouldn't vie for the most-defensive performance Liverpool have seen this season, as in the last last meeting, which was as frustrating as Everton in the league or *gulp* Swansea last Monday.

And as with Everton, the FA Cup at least provides a chance to avenge a disappointing home league draw. The FA Cup remains gravy for Liverpool; it's the league and top four which matters most, closely followed by the Champions League. But it's still a trophy. One which Liverpool are better placed to compete for than in Klopp's first two seasons. And Liverpool should have vengeance on their minds. Vengeance for the result against the same opponents in December, and vengeance for the performance we saw on Monday.

Make someone pay.

23 January 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 0-1 Swansea

Previous Match Infographics: Manchester City (h), Everton (h), Burnley (a), Leicester (a), Swansea (h), Arsenal (a), Bournemouth (a), West Brom (h), Everton (h), Spartak Moscow (h), 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.)

Well, that wasn't fun.

It's a return to the bad old days. Same old Liverpool. Beat the best team, then lose to the worst. And, once again, the sky is falling.

Was there a general lack of creativity, despite taking 21 shots? Sure. Especially in the first half – a lot like when these sides last met – and especially as 11 of those 21 came from outside the box, with more and more late and a surprising amount from Liverpool's defenders.

Did Liverpool need a lot more from its midfield, misplaying passes and running headlong into the packed Swansea defense time and time again before finding the front three, with not enough chances created, without the nous to unlock a triple-bolted steel door? Absolutely. Had Coutinho often been the best player in the squad in situations like this? Sigh. Yes.

Does Liverpool still sometimes stutter against teams who sit as deep as humanly possible and look for little more than to congest the middle of their defensive third. Seems like. As usual, Dan Kennett has some good observations on the subject. Open the tweets to expand the full threads, and also always read Dan's stuff.

Was this way too reminiscent of both Everton and West Brom, matches that Liverpool drew 1-1 and 0-0? Ugh. Except, of course, that Liverpool unnecessarily conceded against the run of play from the first shot on-target faced.

Did Liverpool again concede from a corner? Was it the second ball from a corner, with the cross in not fully cleared? You betcha.

Do I think that Alexander-Arnold should've started instead of Gomez, or that Lallana should have come on earlier – and probably for Wijnaldum rather than Oxlade-Chamberlain? I do. Am I frustrated with the lack of attacking depth on the bench to change matches like these? Very much so. But I'm also sat here in front of a computer without coaching badges or having lifted any trophies so, you know, I'm inclined to shut up and watch the professionals who've made this side a much better side until it's demonstrably not the case anymore.

Has Liverpool lost to a relegated side in each of the last three seasons? Oh, you know it. Hull in 2016-17, Newcastle in 2015-16, and Hull in 2014-15. Maybe Swansea escapes the bottom three – they're only three points behind 17th-place Stoke and six behind 10th-place Watford, after all – but it's not like we don't have precedent for similar failings.

Still, Liverpool had chances to score. Liverpool even had enough chances to win. Four clear-cut chances: Salah, over the bar from van Dijk's arrowed ball over the top in the 30th minute; Mané, slipping and shooting wide in first-half injury time; and Firmino's header off the post followed by Lallana's point-blank effort blocked in second-half injury time. Liverpool had zero clear-cut chances against Manchester City and scored four goals. Each of those four goals was a "harder" chance than any of the above four that Liverpool failed to convert yesterday.

Still, this was the same midfield that started in the 5-0 win against the same opposition a little less than a month ago.

Still, Liverpool had Coutinho for 90 minutes of the aforementioned 0-0 v West Brom which this was so reminiscent of, and he created just one chance despite 96 pass attempts. And he also played the last 12 minutes in the 1-1 draw against Everton. And in a bunch of other frustrating matches that Liverpool either lost or drew. And he's not a Liverpool player anymore so why are we even still talking about him?

Still, Liverpool hadn't conceded from a corner since Sevilla's injury-time equalizer two months ago, with 13 matches in-between. They'd faced 51 corners over that stretch. Yes, it was reminiscent of a couple of goals let in early this season and even more last season, but if you don't think Liverpool's gotten better at defending corners, you're just wrong.

One player vacated his zone, charging for a header that three Liverpool defenders seemingly had covered. And Swansea's player scored through the zone that Liverpool player left, when the header out under pressure – more from other Liverpool defenders than Swansea attackers – didn't get far enough out. And it's not one of your usual scapegoats. It's a mistake – not an out-and-out error, but still certainly not great – but it happens. And it's a mistake that Liverpool hadn't made in a while.

Still, for all the similarities with Everton and West Brom, those were just three matches during this 19-game stretch. There were the massive over-performances in attack against Huddersfield, Brighton, Spartak, Swansea (h), and City, among others. Liverpool very much out-performed its Expected Goals total during this run. Via Michael Caley's numbers, Liverpool had 43.1 Expected Goals in the last 19 games, as well as four penalties and an own goal. Liverpool actually scored 55 goals. The finishing pixie is a cruel etc etc etc.

Yes, I continue to worry. I worry about breaking down the deepest of busses. I worry that Liverpool will fall apart if Liverpool don't score early and often. I worry about Liverpool's options off the bench, I worry that Liverpool needs to replace Coutinho NOW NOW NOW rather than waiting for the preferred option, as Klopp did with van Dijk. I still very much remember Everton and West Brom. I'm still in bits every time Liverpool face a corner, even if it has gotten a lot better in the last few months.

This was Liverpool's first loss in the last 19 games. There was bound to be some sort of regression to frustration. This was just Liverpool's third league loss of the season, after City (a) and Tottenham (a), four and three months ago respectively.

Make no mistake – this sucked, this sucks, and I'm still annoyed. Make no mistake – Liverpool were bad, and Liverpool barely deserved to draw, let alone win. But this happens.

21 January 2018

Liverpool at Swansea 01.22.18

3pm ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
5-0 Liverpool (h) 12.26.17
2-3 Swansea (h) 01.21.17
2-1 Liverpool (a) 10.01.16
1-3 Swansea (a) 05.01.16

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 4-3 City (h); 2-1 Everton (h); 2-1 Burnley (a)
Swansea: 2-1 Wolves (h); 1-1 Newcastle (a); 0-0 Wolves (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Salah 18; Firmino 10; Coutinho 7; Mané 6; Oxlade-Chamberlain 3; Sturridge 2; Alexander-Arnold, Can, Henderson, Klavan, Lovren, Matip, Wijnaldum 1
Swansea: Abraham, Ayew 4; Bony 2; Clucas, Fer, Mawson, Narsingh 1

Referee: Neil Swarbrick (LFC History) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Trent A-A Matip van Dijk Robertson
Alex O-C Can Wijnaldum
Salah Firmino Mané

Despite the howlings of Liverpool Twitter, Karius will keep his place. Virgil van Dijk's back. Salah has recovered from illness, but neither Klavan nor Lovren trained on Saturday. Henderson and Moreno are also back in training but tomorrow's match probably comes too soon for either.

So the questions are the same as usual. Will it be Gomez or Alexander-Arnold at right-back? Which two from Oxlade-Chamberlain, Lallana, and Wijnaldum will play ahead of Can in midfield? We haven't seen the 4-4-2 in a while, but that'd be basically the same front six, with Mané on one flank, Oxlade-Chamberlain or Lallana on the other, and both Firmino and Salah up top. We've seen elements of that formation even when Liverpool are a more orthodox 4-3-3.

Incidentally, the above guess is damned close to the XI from the last meeting, with only Mané for Coutinho (*boo hiss*), van Dijk for Klavan, and Karius for Mignolet as changes.

Bottom of the table but Swansea have won twice, drawn twice, and lost once since Carlos Carvalhal took over after the last meeting between these sides. A win and draw came against Wolves in the FA Cup, but a late win over Watford in Carvalhal's first match, a draw at Newcastle, and a loss to Tottenham where Spurs only secured victory in the 89th minute is assuredly progress compared to what came before.

This probably won't be the same match as that on Boxing Day. 5-0 is always a big ask, even for a side with the firepower of Liverpool. And that 5-0 was somewhat misleading. Liverpool were exceptionally mediocre in the first half before pulling away in the second, as against Huddersfield, Maribor, and others earlier this season. Three of Liverpool's five goals had help from Swansea players. It was a comfortable win, but it wasn't as thorough a win as the score line would suggest.

And now they've a new manager. And now, they're in a better vein of form.

I've also very little idea how Swansea will line up tomorrow. 5-3-2 against Tottenham, 4-2-2-2 at Watford, 4-4-2 at Newcastle. Rangel's still out injured, Abraham and Sanches are doubtful, and while van der Hoorn looked a concern after going off against Newcastle, but returned to training on Friday.

With van der Hoorn available, we could well see the five-at-the-back that Swansea used to limit Tottenham, but let's guess something closer to the 4-4-2 from the last couple of matches. A 4-4-2 should ask more questions of Liverpool's defense than the 4-3-3 from last time, with Ayew decent on the counter and Bony excellent at hold-up play. A narrow 4-4-2, or even 4-2-2-2, would congest the center in their half of the pitch, where Liverpool will want to play when lacking in fast break opportunities against a deep-lying defense.

So something like Fabianski; Naughton, Fernandez, Mawson, Olsson; Dyer, Ki, Clucas, Carroll; Ayew, Bony. Fer and Mesa are other options in central midfield, Routledge and Narsingh are other options on the flanks, and, heck, maybe we get McBurnie up front against, as in the last meeting. This is a guessing game at the most-informed of times, and this is not one of those times.

And while Klopp et al are assuredly more informed than I, there's still something of an unknown about this side. This Swansea won't play the same as last month's Swansea, even with similar XIs. Liverpool have crapped the bad at least once a season in five of the six seasons since Swansea's promotion – including, as I suspect you remember, at Anfield a year ago. And, unsurprisingly given the home/away divide, Liverpool have had more problems at Swansea than at home, with two one-goal wins, two draws, and two losses at the Liberty Stadium since 2011-12.

But that also shouldn't matter if Liverpool do what Liverpool remain capable of doing. This should be a match that Liverpool wins – which, of course, always seems a dangerous feeling. As against City, Liverpool have had an extended break between matches – eight days since City, which came nine days after Everton – which allows for a harder pressing, higher velocity performance, even if that style will probably fare less well against how Swansea will set up. And after this week, midweek matches start again, both in the league and then Europe next month, not to mention any possible FA Cup replays that might pop up.

Still, it goes back to Liverpool doing what Liverpool can do. Both in attack and, yes, in defense. Creating lots of opportunities, from all angles, even if the best of them come from pressing and counters. Limiting opposition chances, which seems even more likely with van Dijk at the back.

Go get your goals, go get three more points.

15 January 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 4-3 Manchester City

Previous Match Infographics: Everton (h), Burnley (a), Leicester (a), Swansea (h), Arsenal (a), Bournemouth (a), West Brom (h), Everton (h), Spartak Moscow (h), 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. 

Manchester City hadn't lost a league match since April 5, 1-2 at Chelsea, 31 matches before this one.

Manchester City hadn't conceded four goals in a match in almost exactly a year, losing 0-4 at Everton on January 15 2017. They'd conceded twice just three times this season: in a 7-2 win over Stoke, a 3-2 win at West Brom, and a 4-2 win at Napoli.

Manchester City has been out-shot in just two of Guardiola's 61 Premier League games: Tottenham's 2-0 home win in October 2016 and Liverpool yesterday. Tottenham outshot City by one. Liverpool outshot City by five. City's average shot differential in the league this season is +11, with 17.7 taken and 6.7 allowed, the best in the league. And five of City's 11 shots came in the last 10 minutes of the match, with Liverpool already 4-1 up.

The short(-ish) version is that Liverpool won because of Liverpool's pressing and Liverpool's finishing.

Yesterday saw some absolutely bananas finishing. Especially from Liverpool, but also from City as well. Oxlade-Chamberlain's Gerrard-esque run and shot. Firmino's Fowler-esque shoulder and chip. Mané, unconscionably arrowed with his "weaker" foot. Salah, from 40 yards without even looking up.

You're lucky to get one goal of that quality in a game, even with the talent that Liverpool have. Liverpool got four. And they picked a hell of an opponent to do it against.

In a match with seven goals, there was only one clear-cut chance: Bernando Silva's 84th minute goal, set up by an unfortunately perfect deflection as Gomez blocked Gundogan's shot.

I only have clear-cut chance data for the last couple of seasons, but I suspect it's been a long time since Liverpool scored four in a match without a single clear-cut chance. It's the first time this season that Liverpool failed to have at least one clear-cut chance in a match; they're averaging nearly three per league game.

Only three of Liverpool's 16 shots came from the Danger Zone: Salah, just inside the box, blocked in the third minute; Salah, just inside the six-yard box, poked wide in the 15th minute; and Mané, just inside the box, with his goal in the 62nd minute.

This is the first time this season that Liverpool's scored two goals from outside the box in a match as well.

The finishing was good. Great. Superlative. Probably unrepeatable. But Liverpool's pressing was the foundation from which the winning performance was built.

Not counting Andrew Robertson losing his damned mind, I was most impressed by two moments.

First, in the immediate aftermath of Firmino's goal:

Liverpool do not let up. Liverpool send the attackers forward, immediately, upon retaking the lead. There's no sitting back, not with this side. Liverpool are a boot, stamping on a human face – forever. Because this is how Liverpool need to play. This is not a side that can sit back. And it nearly led to a third.

We'd get that third two minutes later.

This was team-wide. This was Liverpool's press at its best. From Firmino and Salah pressing near the byline, to Wijnaldum tracking down Danilo, to Gomez staying tight to Agüero, to six Liverpool players surrounding City's four, closing in, mistake, Salah, Mané.

Two screenshots:

This was the crucial moment. The ball inside triggers both Firmino and Oxlade-Chamberlain onto Fernandinho. From the above to this:

This is a bad place to be in against Liverpool, especially when you're a side built upon playing out from the back. Gundogan goes back to Otamendi, who's finally "okay, need to get rid," but Salah's already atop him and away we go, four versus three.

Incidentally, these two videos featured two of City's five – five! – defensive errors. Since paying attention to defensive errors, I've never seen Liverpool or an opponent commit five in a match.

And all five of City's defensive errors came between the 56th and 68th minutes: Ederson palming a corner to Salah, redeemed by saving Salah's effort; Walker heading a cross-field pass up, for Mané, his shot blocked; the above Fernandinho giveaway under Liverpool pressure following Firmino's goal, with Mané's strike off the woodwork; the above Otamendi giveaway leading to Mané's goal; and Ederson's sweeping straight to Salah for Liverpool's fourth.

Two of those were directly caused by Liverpool pressing. Walker's can be blamed on the same wind that probably hurt Gomez in trying to defend City's first goal. Both of Ederson's were avoidable, and we'd kill either Mignolet or Karius for doing either, but that's what a frenetic Liverpool and frenetic Anfield can do to opposition players. "Unsettled" doesn't even come close to sufficing.

So, yes, that was as textbook as you'll get from Klopp's Liverpool. Unstoppable pressing, non-stop running, unbelievable finishing, and multiple goals – even without Liverpool's usual high-value chances. Limiting the opposition's chances, even an opponent as dangerous as City. But also unnecessary goals conceded, and unnecessary nervousness late in the match.

But that's what Liverpool are capable of when facing a side like Manchester City. A side that wants to play football. A side that'll attempt to overwhelm any opponent, no matter that opponent's style. And Liverpool met and surpassed that test, the first side to do so this season.

We won't get to see Liverpool do this that often. Most sides won't let Liverpool play this way. Most matches won't see finishing of that quality. So enjoy it when it happens.

14 January 2018

Liverpool 4-3 Manchester City

Oxlade-Chamberlain 9'
Sané 41'
Firmino 59'
Mané 62'
Salah 68'
B Silva 84'
Gundogan 90+1'

There may never have been a more Liverpool game.

It was Liverpool early in Klopp's tenure, smoking top sides with pressing and counter-attacks, saving their best for the best opposition.

It was Liverpool with Firmino, Mané, and Salah, scoring all sorts of wonderful, wonderful goals, each of them on the scoresheet.

It was Liverpool falling apart, as we've seen too often this season, coming far too close from throwing away a seeming insurmountable lead.

It was a Liverpool game where you could not take a breath. It was Liverpool, trying to kill us all.

It was emotion, every emotion. It was exactly what sport is supposed to be.

Last season, Liverpool opened the scoring in the eighth minute when hosting Manchester City at Anfield. One counter-attacking move, and then a complete negation of the game, finishing 1-0.

That never seemed likely after Oxlade-Chamberlain scored in the ninth minute today, he and Firmino combining to win possession in City's half, tearing at City's goal, and firing past Ederson from outside the box. This season's Liverpool is not last season's Liverpool.

Liverpool, unsurprisingly, kept going. As did Manchester City, because that's what this steamroller side does. But Liverpool did well to limit chances. Liverpool, buoyed by nine days' rest, kept pressing, but City kept coming through de Bruyne and Sané.

Liverpool did well to limit chances until the 41st minute. Gomez misjudges Walker's crossfield pass to Sané, under the flight of ball then wrong-side scrambling to get back, and Sané fiercely beats Karius at the near post. And we're level at halftime in a match where Liverpool had played its game and been the better side.

Ugh. Great. Now steamroller City's gonna come out and steamroller in the second half.

Well, someone steamrollered.

The half started very City. De Bruyne, Sterling, and Agüero at pace on the counter, Matip with a crucial block. Otamendi hitting the crossbar with a header from the subsequent corner.

But then Liverpool went and did Liverpool things. The good Liverpool things. Some very, very insanely good Liverpool things.

Nine minutes. Oxlade-Chamberlain throughball to Firmino, shouldering off Stones before chipping Emerson. Mané railing a shot off the post as Liverpool press from the subsequent kickoff. Salah pressing Otamendi into a giveaway then setting up Mané, a left-footed blast somehow skewed past Ederson. Ederson racing out to clear a hopeful long throughball from Salah, only to play it back to Salah, who passed it into the net from 45 yards. From the 59th to 68th minute, from 1-1 to 4-1.

That was vicious. That was Liverpool at its most potent, and we've sure seen some potency this season.

We've seen in the previous three games that conceding at 1-0 isn't the end of the world. This was the culmination of that.

We've also seen Liverpool completely lose the plot with a two- or three-goal lead against good opposition. This was nearly the culmination of that.

There was 15 minutes of almost complete comfort. From the 68th to 83rd minutes, City had all of one shot: Gundogan from distance swiftly blocked. City had all the possession, but Liverpool would still take their chances to press, somehow still with energy despite the previous exertions. The main highlight was Sterling getting hooked after picking up a yellow card, a match where Robertson kept him pocketed for the duration.

But then, Gundogan beats Milner, one-two with Agüero, into the box. Gomez makes the block, but it somehow falls absolutely perfectly for Bernardo Silva. 4-2. Six minutes plus stoppage time still to go. An absolute eternity against a side like City.

And now you have permission to tilt. Substitutions don't seem to waste enough time. Seconds take eons. City keep coming. City pass and build and shift and pass, exactly as Guardiola's molded them, exactly as they've done all season, exactly as they've done at 0-0 and 1-1 and 4-1 and now 4-2. And now it's 4-3, as Agüero gets into the box out wide and chips towards Gundogan. There are seven Liverpool players between Agüero and Gundogan in the box, with Robertson on his back side and Wijnaldum just outside the area. And Lovren mistimes his header and Gundogan chests down and stabs home and holy hell this is not happening.

Thankfully, no, it is not. But it almost did. It almost did when Milner stupidly fouled and de Bruyne sends in a wicked free kick and Agüero heads just wide but he's offside anyway and blow the whistle blow the whistle blow the whistle phew.

It was all so very Liverpool. For better and for worse. As uncomfortably usual, as wonderfully usual.

Make no mistake. As 0-5 flattered City in the reverse fixture, 4-3 flatters them here. Giving up two late goals to make us nervous – and we're always nervous – was very bad, but that was a masterclass in both gegenpressing and finishing.

Liverpool were helped by the rest between matches, especially as half that City side played in the League Cup on Wednesday. Liverpool needed the previous three comebacks for self-belief today. Liverpool finished chances that they will absolutely not take in most matches, with none of the four goals coming from a clear-cut chance.

Liverpool were really, really good, against the side that's going to win the league by a mile. Liverpool are the first side to beat City in domestic competition this season, their only loss coming in a meaningless last-group-game Champions League match. Liverpool have not lost a match in any competition since October, unbeaten in 18, and they've scored three or more in 12 of those 18.

Liverpool are insane and trying to kill us all and fun. Liverpool are really, really fun.

13 January 2018

Liverpool v Manchester City 01.14.17

11am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
0-5 City (a) 09.09.17
1-1 (a) 03.19.17
1-0 Liverpool (h) 12.31.16
3-0 Liverpool (h) 03.02.16

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-1 Everton (h); 2-1 Burnley (a); 2-1 Leicester (h)
City: 2-1 Bristol City (h); 4-1 Burnley (h); 3-1 Watford (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Salah 17; Firmino 9; Coutinho 7; Mané 5; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sturridge 2; Alexander-Arnold, Can, Henderson, Klavan, Lovren, Matip, Wijnaldum 1
City: Sterling 14; Agüero 13; Jesus 8; de Bruyne, Sané 6; D Silva 5; Otamendi 4; Fernandinho 2; Danilo, Delph, Gundogan, B Silva 1

Referee: Andre Marriner (LFC History) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Gomez Matip van Dijk Robertson
Alex O-C Can Wijnaldum
Salah Firmino Mané

It's Liverpool's first game since Philippe Coutinho's transfer to Barcelona. And it's against the runaway league-leaders, who've yet to lose a league match this season.

Good times.

For better or for worse, this marks a new beginning. The second phase of the season, clearly delineated by the rest the side's had after so many matches in so few days and the exit of Liverpool's ex-little magician. And this is as good a place to start as any other.


Maybe we'll see Lallana or Milner in place of Oxlade-Chamberlain or Wijnaldum in midfield. Maybe Alexander-Arnold instead of Gomez. Maaaaaaaybe Karius remains in goal. Otherwise, we know what we're getting, at least personnel-wise.

Meanwhile, there's so much you can say about this City side. All those goals. All those games unbeaten. Absolutely running away with the league. Having demolished Liverpool the last time these sides met. Here are two things that sum up their season for me. Raheem Sterling's their top scorer in the league. Fabian Delph's become a competent left-back. Both of those statements still do not compute. This team is bananas.

They pass and pass and pass and press. They smother and stifle and squeeze the life out of you. They stab stab stab and score score score. If not at their best, they still somehow conspire to come up with late winners time and time again. Kevin de Bruyne is so on fire that he's odds-on for Premier League player of the season, and we know all too well what Mo Salah's done so far.

Guardiola obviously has options, but we're probably getting 4-3-3 tomorrow. Ederson; Walker, Stones, Otamendi, Delph; de Bruyne, Fernandinho, D Silva; Sterling, Agüero, Sané. Mendy, Gabriel Jesus, and Kompany remain out injured.

Liverpool have had nine days since their last match. City played midweek in the League Cup. Sure, they were able to rest some players, but Sterling, Sané, de Bruyne, and Stones all played 90 minutes, with Agüero and Walker coming off the bench. You just have to look to Chelsea's 0-0 at home against Leicester earlier today, outplayed for long stretches until the visitors went down to 10 men, to see how fatigue can catch up with a side at this time of year.

So, yes, Manchester City have rolled almost everyone so far this season. Including Liverpool, a 0-5 rout that was one of Liverpool's biggest losses in a decade. They've drawn just four times, with two of those won on penalties in the League Cup. They've lost just once: a dead rubber, rest everyone Champions League match at Shakhtar. They've won 28. With 22 games played, they're leading the league by 15 points, with a goal difference of +51. Which is beyond mind-boggling.

But it's not as if Liverpool are without hope. Liverpool are unbeaten in 17 matches. Liverpool have conceded just four goals at Anfield in the league this season. Liverpool have scored the second-most goals in the league this season, behind only City. Liverpool still have Salah, Mané, and Firmino; Liverpool now have Virgil van Dijk.

Phase two starts now, with a chance to avenge September's embarrassment at the Etihad. With a chance to go level on points with Chelsea and United in second and third, at least before the latter plays on Monday. With more than a point to prove.

Go do it.

07 January 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 2-1 Everton

Previous Match Infographics: Burnley (a), Leicester (a), Swansea (h), Arsenal (a), Bournemouth (a), West Brom (h), Everton (h), Spartak Moscow (h), 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. 

I'm actually amazed that Everton had a go. Everton actually tried to make a game of it.

That's not what happened a month ago, with Everton sitting as deep as possible, with Everton having the fewest possession and attempting the fewest passes of any side to face Klopp's Liverpool. That's not what happened in the previous two Anfield derbies, both routs, finishing 3-1 and 4-0.

This was a contentious, closely-fought, often ugly Merseyside derby. One where Everton nearly succeeds in dragging Liverpool down to its level. It's been a while since we've had one of those. It's almost refreshing, although it certainly didn't feel like that while watching.

Average position maps can lie, but compare Friday's to last month's league match at Anfield.

Liverpool's forwards, midfielders, and fullbacks were far deeper; Everton's midfielders and fullbacks much further forward. Aside from Allardyce actually loosening the reins a little, there were two reasons for this. One, the absence of Salah allowed Martina far more license to get forward. Two, and more importantly for Everton's point of view, Yannick Bolasie was available.

Bolasie posed Liverpool a lot of problems, especially early on. He's fast, he's good with the ball at his feet, and he's a more-than-capable crosser.

And Liverpool dealt with him surprisingly well.

Five successful tackles for Andrew Robertson, a tackle and two interceptions for Van Dijk on that flank. Four of Robertson's five tackles dispossessed Bolasie. Six of these eight defensive actions came in the first quarter of the match, with Everton at their most attack and the game very much in the balance.

Robertson's becoming a hell of a left-back with increasing game time, just as we'd hoped he would. And boy does Virgil van Dijk look the part. Of course, we'll never fought a debut derby winner, but happy to shout at everyone to direct his defense, even though he's been with the club less than a week, and comfortable in both battling aerially, defending in his box, and playing out from the back.

To be fair, a more "attacking" Everton took all of one more shot than they did in December's Anfield draw. Four shots versus three. Just one came from inside the box: Calvert-Lewin's off-balance and errant header.

And, of course, Everton still defended, and fairly well. As you'd expect from a Sam Allardyce side. Liverpool struggled to break into the final third. Which is obviously worrying given the absence of both Coutinho and Salah, Liverpool's star attackers. I'm really hoping that's because Merseyside Derby and not a sign of problems to come.

Regardless, five of Liverpool's seven first-half shots came from outside the box – all of them bad shots – with only Milner's penalty and wide box volley inside the area. Liverpool only took 14 shots in total, with only four on-target. Only one Liverpool player created more than one chance: Oxlade-Chamberlain with four, but with three of those coming from set plays.

Which is helpful, because Liverpool very much needed set plays.

During this 17-match unbeaten streak, Liverpool have learned how to score from set plays. Although, to be fair, Liverpool have scored any and every type of goal.

In the first 15 matches of the season, Liverpool scored three set play goals: direct free kicks from Alexander-Arnold and Coutinho against Hoffenheim and Leicester, and a free kick goal from Firmino in the rout at Maribor.

Since then, Liverpool have scored eight goals from corners, two from free kicks, and another Coutinho direct free kick. And a lot of them have been important goals: openers against Sevilla and Brighton, the often-crucial second goal against Huddersfield, West Ham, Bournemouth, and Swansea, and now game-winners in the last two matches, both in the last 10 minutes of the match.

Eight goals from corners is only two fewer than Liverpool scored through all of last season. Six free kick goals already equals last season's total.

Coutinho had been responsible for the delivery on almost all of them during this stretch, so it's been heartening to see the last two coming from Oxlade-Chamberlain: both the free kick at Burnley and the corner against Everton. And given that Coutinho is not a Liverpool player anymore, Oxlade-Chamberlain is going to have a large role in replacing him. Not just from set plays, but set plays sure help.

As usual, I'm fairly content to take a Merseyside Derby in isolation. My main takeaway is that Liverpool won, and that's all that matters. The good things are good, the bad things are *shrugs*, and hopefully won't turn into trends. There were signs for concerns, but there were far more positives than negatives. Robertson and van Dijk. Set plays. Another comeback despite conceding an equalizer, a match that Liverpool would almost certainly have drawn a month ago – as they did a month ago. A 2-1 win, the third in a row, and another late winner.

17 matches unbeaten. Liverpool keeps rolling on and over.

06 January 2018

On Philippe Coutinho

Well, this sucks.

Well, this was expected, even if not for a few more months.

Yes, there's very little that makes sense about doing this deal in January.

It could completely mess up Liverpool's season. On the precipice of top-four going into January, into the knockout rounds of the Champions League for the first time since 2008-09. This is a more well-rounded team, a deeper team, than we've seen since 2008-09, but Coutinho has still been one of the stars. Salah's given him a run for his money this campaign, but Coutinho was Liverpool's player of the season in the previous two by some distance.

It doesn't even really help Barcelona this season, running away with La Liga and with Coutinho cup-tied for the Champions League. You're paying something like €15-20m more just so Iniesta can be rested for Europe? And Barcelona definitely need to sell or release players to balance the books, something I had assumed would happen before buying Coutinho.

But it is what it is. Coutinho really, really wanted to go to Barcelona. Barcelona really, really want him. As with Suarez, as with Mascherano, as with Alonso and Arbeloa, when South American or Iberian players hear from Barcelona or Real Madrid, they're gone. It's not just Liverpool players. See: Cristiano Ronaldo. It's not just Latin players. See: McManaman and Owen, Beckham, Bale. This is the football ecosystem that we live in, despite PSG and City's best efforts at the moment.

And this sucks.

It's hard to be sanguine about it now. It's hard to reminisce when the wound's still fresh. Nonetheless, what's your favorite Coutinho moment?

There are a lot to choose from. Only Henderson, Sturridge, and Flanagan (unfortunately, we're still counting him for now) have been with the club longer; only Henderson's made more Liverpool appearances. We've seen all-around performances, spectacular strikes, brilliant assists. Game-winning goals, game-winning assists, game-winning performances. You could make a hell of a montage just from this season so far.

But I'm going to pick one that most won't. I'm going to pick his first goal for Liverpool. A month shy of five years ago.

Look at that child. He's a hobbit. He's a baby. And he's scoring on his full debut. There's an immediate sign of his potential, cutting inside from the left, with the ball at his feet, with the ball in the back of the net. He was billed as a diminutive playmaker – which he very much was for his first few seasons, and still mainly is – but there was a sign of the goals to come. There was a sign of the player he'd become.

No more signs, signals, premonitions now. For better and for worse, he's all grown up.

Now, Coutinho is potential fulfilled. He is a player capable of the sublime and ridiculous. He is a player at the peak of his powers. He is capable of playing on the left flank, as a #10, and as a more orthodox central midfielder. He's truly dominated games since the end of last season, most notably 4-0 at West Ham in May and 7-0 v Spartak in December, two goals and an assist as a central midfielder in the former, a hat-trick as an outside left in the latter.

He is also a player who has mysteriously picked up injuries as soon as the last two transfer windows opened. He is a player who clearly does not want to be here.

You never want to see your club's best players sold, especially not in January, especially with Liverpool pushing for top four and still in the Champions League. But this is the world we live in. Players get the moves they want, eventually, whether it's Van Dijk to Liverpool, Coutinho to Barcelona, or Neymar to Paris St-Germain. Clubs can only do so much.

Yes, Liverpool could have done more, had they truly wanted. Liverpool could have held firm, as they did over the summer. Deal with his "injuries" this month, get the best out of him until May. What's he gonna do, sit out for five months in a World Cup year? My guess, the only that makes sense, is that Jürgen Klopp's seemingly sick to the teeth of this nonsense. Understandably so.

Between Lallana and Oxlade-Chamberlain, there's at least a modicum of depth in the position Coutinho usually plays. Woodburn, even though he's only 18 and has made just one substitute appearance in the League Cup this season, at least did it in preseason – although he had been rumored to go out on loan this month. Neither are as creative. Neither are as good, period.

As Southampton did with van Dijk, Liverpool have extorted an eye-watering fee. By all reports, €120m now, €40m more with add-ons far achievable than those proposed last summer. Barcelona's highest bid last summer was £82m up front with £36m more in insane add-ons. Liverpool stood firm in the summer, they got more money in January.

This is the second-highest transfer fee ever. It's the highest non-release clause fee. It is €20m more than any other Premier League player has been sold for, and that's before any add-ons come into effect. Coutinho is a very, very good player who is very, very important for Liverpool, but that's still absolutely insane money.

Liverpool have a lot of new money in the accounts as of right this damn second; van Dijk was supposedly budgeted for before this deal. The squad is a lot stronger now than had Coutinho left last season, or even late in the summer having had five months to coalesce both with and without him. But he will need to be replaced, ideally sooner rather than later. I trust that Liverpool have been planning for this day since August. I hope that, as has happened with past huge sales, that trust is not misplaced.

But those fears are for another day.

It's hard at the moment, but enjoy the fact that we got Coutinho's magic for nearly five years. There were growing pains. There was frustration. There were, notably, no trophies. But there was brilliance. There was fun. Football is much better when there's fun, and Coutinho provided an awful lot.

Remember that, rather than the drama over his exit.

05 January 2018

Liverpool 2-1 Everton

Milner 35' [pen]
Sigurðsson 67'
van Dijk 84'

Imagine scoring the winner on your debut. You're the new club-record signing, the largest transfer fee for a defender in history. It's a debut none of us thought you'd make, having joined the club four days ago and having not played since early December. And you score in the 84th minute. In front of the Kop. Against the most hated of rivals, who'd somehow managed to equalize barely 15 minutes earlier.

Good lord. I'm getting endorphin-overload just thinking about it.

This is, was, and will forever be the Virgil van Dijk Derby. The narrative is overwhelming and incredible and I love it to death.

So, yeah, it wasn't a great match. It was actually very, very Merseyside Derby, and not the derby we saw last month. Or the romps we saw in Klopp's first two derbies.

It was scrappy. It was ugly. Passes and touches didn't come off, neither side consistently threatened, although Liverpool unsurprisingly had more shots and more possession. Mané and Oxlade-Chamberlain weren't as effective as when on opposite flanks last match; Lallana looked like a player who had missed the last few months; Milner perpetually looks a man running through molasses. But this also wasn't "defend as deep as you can and deny space as much as physically possible." Everton actually attacked, mainly because Yannick Bolasie was available this time, and also a draw's not helpful to Everton this time either. And two Everton players probably should have been sent off, because of course they should have been.

Two highlights to the first half. Liverpool won a penalty almost but not quite as soft as Calvert-Lewin's last month, with Lallana going down in the general vicinity of Holgate, with Milner converting from the spot. And then Mason Holgate's insane push on a full-speed Firmino trying to slow down before crashing into the advertising boards, which sent him over said advertising boards. You rarely see anything more dangerous in football. Firmino jumped out of the stands, rightfully furious, screamed something that the Internet's Lip Reading Community has decided was "are you crazy, you son of a whore?!" in Portuguese, and we got one of those famous everyone shoves around and are we fighting no no we are not fighting. Oh, and Holgate also grabs the referee; you know, what Cristiano got a seven-match ban for earlier this season.

Mason Holgate was not even booked. Um, okay.

So, second half. Which becomes uncomfortably familiar. Liverpool are on top. Liverpool, now 1-0, are getting more chances. Better chances. Gomez misses a back-post header. Lallana shoots wide from the top of the box when put through by Oxlade-Chamberlain. Robertson has a blast saved at the near post. Van Dijk heads a corner straight at Pickford.

Shit, they're gonna score now, aren't they?


Liverpool corner, Everton counter. Lookman runs at a retreating Robertson with only Milner as cover, with Lallana and van Dijk trying in vain to get back. He finds Jagielka which – that derby a few years ago notwithstanding – fine shoot please shoot no don't lay it off to Sigurðsson. He's open. Lallana and van Dijk have retreated too far. And he's really accurate in those positions.

And dammit, not again.

But no, not again. Did you not learn anything from the last week?

For some reason, it's different now. Liverpool get late goals now. Liverpool get late winners now.

2-1 v Leicester, despite going behind in the third minute, with Liverpool's winner in the 76th minute. 2-1 at Burnley, despite conceding an equalizer in the 88th minute, with Liverpool's winner in the 94th minute. And now, 2-1 v Everton, despite what happened late month, with Liverpool's winner in 84th minute. A set play winner, for the second match in a row. A winner from Liverpool's new record signing, on his debut.

Sure, maybe it's variance. Swings and roundabouts. Three consecutive 2-1 wins, three consecutive late winners, after going so long without.

But maybe the team needed to prove to themselves that they're capable of it. Maybe they're finding, they've found, that resilience we've been begging for. Maybe this isn't the same side, same squad which stuttered and stumbled in September. Maybe this winter won't be last winter.

And, also, Virgil van Dijk. Wow. What a start.

04 January 2018

Liverpool v Everton 01.05.17

2:55pm ET, live in the US on Fox Sports 1

Last four head-to-head:
1-1 (h) 12.10.17
3-1 Liverpool (h) 04.01.17
1-0 Liverpool (a) 12.19.26
4-0 Liverpool (h) 04.20.16

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-1 Burnley (a); 2-1 Leicester (h); 5-0 Swansea (h)
Everton: 0-2 United (h); 1-2 Bournemouth (a); 0-0 West Brom (a)

Goalscorers (all):
Liverpool: Salah 23; Firmino 16; Coutinho 12; Mané 8; Can 4; Alexander-Arnold, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sturridge 3; Henderson, Klavan, Lovren, Matip, Wijnaldum 1
Everton: Rooney 11; Calvert-Lewin 7; Niasse 6; Sigurðsson 4; Baines 3; Gueye, Lookman, Vlasic, Williams 2; Keane, Sandro 1

Referee: Bobby Madley (LFC History) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Trent A-A Matip Klavan Robertson
Wijnaldum Can Milner
Alex O-C Firmino Mané

I am still not sure how much to care about the FA Cup. Yes, yes, Liverpool exist to win trophies. Klopp's yet to win anything. But Liverpool are also in a way-too-tight battle for top four and in the knockout rounds of the Champions League. Once again, domestic cups are seemingly the lowest priority.

I am always sure how much to care about Merseyside Derbies.

So, yeah, this is gonna be a strong team. This is not going to be last season's, or the season before, FA Cup third round XI. It's Everton; it ain't Exeter or Plymouth.

Salah's doubtful with a minor injury. Coutinho's got another case of transferitis. Mané's gonna be a doubt because he's traveling to the African Cup of Nations awards today – and the same would be true for Salah were he fit – but I don't expect that to keep him out of the squad. Henderson, Clyne, Sturridge, and Moreno remain absent with longer-term injuries.

And, yes, Virgil van Dijk is available, but I suspect it'll be for the bench at best, given he's had all of two days of training and hasn't played since December 13.

But that's about it. And with five days since the last match, Liverpool are more rested than they've been in almost two months. There will be nine days between this and Liverpool's next match, albeit with that next against Manchester City.

So it seems easier than usual to pick Liverpool's XI. I've only got two questions. What happens if Mané doesn't make it back in time? Probably Lallana, who could start regardless, but you'd think he'd be protected if possible considering the last match was his first start of the season. Who starts at center-back? It'll almost certainly be two from Matip, Lovren, and Klavan, but which two?

I mean, maybe we get the 4-4-2 with both Firmino and Salah up front; two from Mané, Lallana, and Oxlade-Chamberlain out wide; and two from Can, Wijnaldum, and Milner in midfield, but I doubt it.

I am contractually obligated to say that "form doesn't matter in derbies" – see: last month – but Liverpool are 16 games unbeaten. Everton were winless over the festive season, with two draws and two losses in their last four games. 0-0 v Chelsea? Not bad! 0-0 at West Brom? Less good. 1-2 at Bournemouth, losing to a late winner? Not great, Bob. 0-2 v Manchester United? This is my surprised face.

Yes, that's one goal scored in the last 360 minutes of football. In case you were curious why Everton are frantically trying to finish a deal for Besiktas' Cenk Tosun before this match. Everton got its Allardyce bounce – unbeaten in his first five matches, including that still-infuriating 1-1 draw at Anfield – but these last four have been an unsurprising descent back to earth. The festive calendar can be cruel, as Liverpool have certainly experienced in previous seasons.

But that won't stop Allardyce from doing Allardyce things. Defend deep, keep Liverpool out, frustrate, frustrate, frustrate and maybe sometimes once or twice try to do a goal. Which have been incredibly annoying for Liverpool in the past, both with Everton last month and every other side in the league that he's managed.

So I suspect that tomorrow's XI will look a lot like the one at Anfield in December. Pickford; Kenny, Jagielka, Williams, Martina; Gueye, McCarthy; Bolasie, Rooney, Sigurðsson; Calvert-Lewin. Jagielka, Bolasie, and McCarthy are back after missing last month's meeting. Maybe Lennon starts in place of Bolasie or Sigurðsson; maybe Schneiderlin in place of McCarthy; maybe Niasse up front, or Tosun if the transfer's done in time. I doubt we'll get 4-4-2 again, as at Anfield, as Allardyce felt the need to switch to 4-2-3-1 at halftime. Baines, Coleman, Stekelenburg, Funes Mori, Keane, and Barkley are all out.

Always be wary of Sam Allardyce's sides. Always be wary of Merseyside Derbies. This almost certainly won't be fun, and wouldn't be fun even if Liverpool were at full-strength. But also remember last month. Remember the form and function we've seen over the last two months. And just beat this lot.

02 January 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 2-1 Burnley

Previous Match Infographics: Leicester (a), Swansea (h), Arsenal (a), Bournemouth (a), West Brom (h), Everton (h), Spartak Moscow (h), 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.)

These last two games might have been my favorites from the current 16-match unbeaten streak.

48 hours after a comeback win against Leicester, Liverpool's first of the season after conceding first, with Salah's winner the latest game-deciding Liverpool goal to that point, Liverpool have now beaten Burnley thanks to the latest game-winner goal since Sadio Mané beat Everton with a 94th minute strike in December 2016.

Liverpool beat Burnley despite a fairly dismal attacking performance, against a side that's unbelievably good at closing passing lanes in their own half and preventing big chances. Liverpool beat Burnley despite conceding an equalizer in the 86th minute, after finally breaking the deadlock in the 61st, what looked to be yet another 1-1 draw after scoring first and yet another late goal conceded. Liverpool beat Burnley despite Burnley being Burnley, a side that's flummoxed Liverpool multiple times under Jürgen Klopp. Liverpool beat Burnley despite making seven changes to the starting XI. Liverpool beat Burnley without Salah, Coutinho, and Firmino starting – players responsible for 51 of the 77 goals scored before yesterday's game.

We had a perfectly fine narrative after 86 minutes. It's not great, Burnley are mostly doing what Burnley want to do, but Liverpool's limited their chances as well and then the most talented attacker in a match where most of the talented attacking players have been left out goes and does something brilliant. And it's a talented attacker who's not been at his best of late. That certainly would have sufficed.

But then we go and get the narrative we'd tried to push past throughout this season. Liverpool don't take chances to extend a narrow lead and then concede at 1-0. Liverpool concede from a cross (at least it wasn't a set play?), with Joe Gomez ball-watching as an individual scapegoat. And Liverpool concede said equalizer late in the match, as against Watford, Sevilla, Chelsea, and Everton.

Son of a.

But wait! A Liverpool set play! And there's Lovren and there's *checks again* Klavan? And it's a winner? In the 94th minute?

That's an even better narrative. And, considering Watford, Sevilla, Chelsea, Everton, as well as Burnley at home and Spartak away and Newcastle and all the other regrettable draws, that's absolutely progress and absolutely welcomed.

Welcome to 2018.

Neither this nor Leicester was especially fun to watch. Almost the opposite. They certainly haven't been Southampton, Stoke, Brighton, Spartak, Bournemouth levels of comfortable, nor have Liverpool hit the heights seen in draws at Sevilla and Arsenal.

Games like that rarely happen during the Boxing Day to New Year's Day stretch, especially by the end of it.

Only one Premier League side has strolled to victory in the last two matchdays: Chelsea's 5-0 win over Stoke on Saturday. Stoke are incredibly bad and I have no idea how Mark Hughes hasn't been fired yet. Only two sides have scored three or more goals: Chelsea in the aforementioned romp and Leicester against Huddersfield yesterday, with all three goals in the second half as Huddersfield fell apart.

You win these games by grinding. And Liverpool have rarely been good at grinding. Almost all of the grinding matches this season have ended in disappointment: 1-1 v Burnley, 1-1 at Newcastle, 0-0 v United, 1-1 v Chelsea, 1-1 v Everton, 0-0 v West Brom. Only the early-season 1-0 win at Crystal Palace was a huff, puff, toil, and trouble late-earned victory.

Until this week.

And these two wins have come at the end of a simply brutal stretch, with 13 matches over 44 days since the last international break.

If you go back three more weeks – everything after the Tottenham debacle – you can add three more wins and make the underlying stats look even gaudier. But the international break seems a better dividing line, given how it's been at least two matches a week, sometimes more, since that respite for at least a few of the players.

Liverpool have used 23 different players over these 13 games. 18 of them played at least 360 minutes, only 11 played more than 600, only eight more than 800 – Mignolet, Lovren, Klavan, Wijnaldum, Coutinho, Salah, Firmino, and Gomez. We've never seen the same starting XI over these 13 games. Salah made the most consecutive starts, with eight, but was taken off as a substitute in five of those matches. He's the only front-six player to make more than five consecutive starts during this stretch – which Firmino and Coutinho both did – while Lovren started seven consecutive and both Klavan and Robertson six.

And I reiterate. Liverpool were unbeaten during this 13-match stretch over 44 days, are unbeaten in their last 16 matches all together, and we regret every single one of those five draws.

Liverpool have done it with Henderson, Matip, Moreno, Sturridge, and Clyne – Remember him? He played the most minutes last season. – absent for stretches. Coutinho and Salah have also missed at least one game through injury. Lallana's just now returning from months absent.

21-year-old Joe Gomez and 19-year-old Trent Alexander-Arnold have had to become crucial players in defense. Emre Can, for all he's been criticized and even though he's probably leaving on a free next summer, was monstrous over the last two games, even if not at his best. It is incredibly difficult to play that role twice in two days, and somehow he seemed to get better as the match went on in both. Not only were they involved in yesterday's winner, but Lovren and Klavan have been near faultless in the last three matches, with each – along with Matip, who was less so against Leicester – starting two of the last three.

It has been a masterful use of the squad and of rotation by a manager we criticized for not doing similar over the previous two winters. Because Liverpool have built a far better, and far deeper, squad this season.

Incidentally, this is only the second Premier League win in January that we've seen since Klopp became manager. The other was the 5-4 bananas victory at Norwich at the end of January 2016. Liverpool lost its first New Year's game under Klopp – 0-2 at West Ham – and drew last season's, an infinitely regrettable 2-2 draw with eventually relegated Sunderland. Liverpool's January record in the previous two seasons is 1W-4D-3L in the league and 4W-7D-7L in all competitions, with the other wins over Stoke (League Cup semi-final), Exeter (FA Cup replay) and Plymouth (FA Cup replay). That's 0.88 points-per-game in the league and 1.06 per game in all competitions (yes, yes, if all those games actually counted for points).

Admittedly, January is nowhere near over. Liverpool have had nine matches in January in the previous two seasons. At most, they'll have seven this month, including yesterday's, and that's only if Liverpool go to a replay against Everton but then proceed to the next round.

There is still a long way to go. It is, after, only January, and the very beginning of it. Fixture congestion will pick back up in mid-February when the Champions League resumes, especially if Liverpool progress in the FA Cup. There are still games to play against four of the five other teams in the top six.

But these last 13 games were the raw, red meat of the schedule. This was where Liverpool could slip up, this was were Liverpool had slipped up in the last two seasons. And they've navigated it unbeaten. They've navigated it with eight wins and five draws, and all five of those draws could easily have been wins. They've opened a slightly larger gap over fifth and sixth, and they've slightly closed the gap to second and third.

They've done it with a few riotous wins. And now, in the last two matches, they've done it with little more than an unwillingness to give up when not at their best.

We needed to see Liverpool capable of that. We especially needed to see Liverpool capable of that with key players absent. And we did, during the busiest time of the season.