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.

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