12 February 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 2-0 Southampton

Previous Match Infographics: Tottenham (h), Huddersfield (a), 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. 

I don't get to write, "yep, a routine away win" often enough. Score early, don't let them score, get another, kill the game. Not the heights hit in a couple of the more furious top-six battles or more thorough bottom half victories, but it's still a lovely template, and one I'd be fine seeing every time out.

So, I'm happy to focus on two things.

First, I see you, Roberto Firmino.

That Firmino is one of the hardest-working players in world football is no surprise. The above StatsZone chalkboard is more illustrative, but I still can't get over his basic touches map.

He was everywhere, attempting as many tackles as Alexander-Arnold, Matip, van Dijk, Robertson, and Can combined. Joint-second in shots taken, joint-top in chances created. And, even more than previous seasons, he's added the necessary finishing. The opening goal, taken with his weaker foot – his 20th of the season. And that assist. Oh lord, that assist.

Nine assists in his first season. Seven in his second. Now, 11 in his third. 11 goals in his first season. 12 in his second. 20 in his third – only three behind his first two seasons combined. And it's February 12.

Mohamed Salah's unsurprisingly received the majority of the attacking praise so far this season. And rightfully so! He's been amazing!

But not enough's been said about Firmino's improvement this season. How crucial he is to Salah's stardom, how crucial he is to both Liverpool's attack and Liverpool's pressing defense. And this display – this all-around display – was archetypal of it.

Second, even with Liverpool's relative comfort in the end, we had a bit of a fright there in the first half, yeah?

All four of Southampton's shots on-target came between Liverpool's first and second goals, from the 18th to the 40th minutes. All four came from open play, rather than the set plays which often scare us. All four came from crosses, although Højbjerg from Romeu's pass isn't technically a cross by Opta's definition because Romeu was infield.

The first two chances saw Liverpool's full-backs lose aerial duels; Alexander-Arnold is 5'9" and Robertson is 5'10" and it doesn't get better in reserve, with Moreno 5'7" and Clyne 5'9" and that's why 6'2" Joe Gomez is often used at fullback. The latter two chances saw Ward-Prowse wide open for headers after Southampton sprung an overlap for an open cross down Liverpool's right, with additional Southampton attackers in the box upsetting Liverpool's marking structure.

Southampton's first shot on-target was the most difficult, and was a clear-cut chance. Liverpool, notably, have conceded from the first shot on-target against Watford (a), Sevilla (h), Burnley (h), Spartak (a), Tottenham (a), West Ham (a), Arsenal (a), Leicester (h), and Swansea (a).

But Loris Karius saved all four shots on-target, the first his best save, the third a fairly difficult stop, and the other two routine. Which should be the baseline performance for a starting Top-6 goalkeeper, but any port in a storm, etc.

And Southampton didn't get those opportunities after Liverpool's second goal, after halftime.

Southampton completed two crosses in the second half: Ward-Prowse for Hoedt's near post set play chance – and I'm still not sure how that's gone down as a clear-cut chance – and Cedric quick from a throw-in, with Liverpool players back and van Dijk first to the second ball to clear, the cross not resulting in a shot.

Southampton tiring after their first-half exertions certainly had something to do with this. As did Liverpool's second goal, extending the lead so that Liverpool could play even more compactly in their own half. But Liverpool also adjusted to the problems that Southampton caused in the first half, and ensured they didn't give the home side those opportunities in the second half. It was exactly the type of in-game adjustment we sometimes worry that the side will make. And it was exactly the type of second half control that we didn't see against Tottenham – who, admittedly, are vastly better opponents – a week ago.

So, yeah, a couple of moments of extreme brilliance in attack from Firmino and Salah, and an indefatigable all-around performance from Firmino. And a strong defensive performance, first from Karius, then from the unit as a whole.

More meaningfully, no nerves, from the most nerve-wracking side in the league, at both ends of the pitch.

Football is often best when football's fun and death-defying and cardiac arrests, and Liverpool will undoubtedly return to those ways in the future, but I'll happily take comfortable, calm, and routine once in a while.

1 comment :

Gabe said...

Can't remember the last time I enjoyed a slow, boring half as much as the 2nd half yesterday.