26 February 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 4-1 West Ham

Previous Match Infographics: Porto (a), Southampton (a), 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. 

It seems I'm writing about Liverpool's front three every week.

I could write about how James Milner led the side in passes, touches, and tackles. Nine tackles – all successful – which is an insane amount from a midfielder in a side with 68% possession. How he remains a necessary, steadying presence in what's otherwise a very young side. How his performance was epitomized by his role in Liverpool's fourth goal. First, he drops into defense as Matip, Karius, and Van Dijk nearly play their way into trouble with Liverpool almost kinda reeling, adding another needed body to break the press and getting the ball back to an open Karius, who then releases Robertson. Seconds later, it's Milner who's then the pivot in midfield, receiving Robertson's pass, looking up, playing Firmino forward. He's always available. He's always there. He's always James Milner, far more often for better rather than worse.

I could write about Liverpool's young fullbacks: Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold. Both in attack and in defense. Alexander-Arnold's crossing ability and eye for a pass – yo, that throughball for Oxlade-Chamberlain in the second half – but also rarely tested in defense as Gomez seems to be tested at least once a match. Robertson's non-stop running up and down the entire left flank, but also Robertson's assist and two clear-cut chances created. Only three defenders have created more clear-cut chances than Robertson this season. Robertson and Alexander-Arnold are 23 and 19 years old respectively. A combined age of 42 – the answer to life, the universe, everything.

I could write about Emre Can, who had an archetypal Emre Can game. There he is, with the crucial opening goal, his sixth of the season, the most in his Liverpool career. Four of those goals have been opening goals: against Hoffenheim, at Brighton, against Huddersfield, and now against West Ham – all between the 10th and 30th minute and all matches that Liverpool went on to win. There is he, is robbing Joao Mario in the middle of the pitch and immediately blasting an inch-perfect 30-yard pass to release Firmino for Liverpool's third goal. And less then two minutes later, there he is, turning into traffic and running headlong into Kouyate, springing the move for West Ham's consolation. There he is with Liverpool under a modicum of pressure after West Ham's consolation, in position to start the break after recovering possession, only to play it directly to the referee rather than a teammate. But there he still is, the Liverpool player with the most touches in that testy period between West Ham's goal and Liverpool's fourth, crucial in putting his foot on the ball to reestablish control. He's immensely talented, immensely frustrating, sometimes awe-inspiring, and sometimes hilarious. He also just turned 24.

I could write about Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The link between midfield and attack. More than a bit anonymous in the first half, but incredibly influential in the second. The strength shown on his run that set up Salah's goal, and the ability to pick out Salah despite being off-balance and surrounded. That clear-cut chance throughball in traffic for Mané, pinged off the post. Top in chances created. Joint-top in successful dribbles – along with Robertson – but also with all four of his take-ons successful.

I could write about Loris Karius, whose sneakily good save on Arnautovic in the 15th minute meant Liverpool didn't need to chase an early deficit. As they did in this fixture last season, from 1-0 in the 5th minute to 1-2 by the 39th, ending 2-2. Karius had another good save on another Arnautovic effort that was trickier than it first appeared just before halftime.

But it's just so much fun to bask in the glory of these attackers.

Firmino, Salah, and Mané have started together in 22 of Liverpool's 40 matches so far this season. All three players have scored in six of those matches. Otherwise known as "more than a quarter of the matches that all three have started together." Bananas. At least two have scored in 13 of those matches. At least one has scored in 17 of them. There have only been four matches where none of those players have scored or assisted: 2-1 Hoffenheim, 0-5 City, 0-0 West Brom, and 0-1 Swansea.

Combined, they've scored 43 Premier League goals, more than 14 other teams, every side outside the top six. Combined, they've scored 66 goals in all competitions.

So Mohamed Salah's already scored 31 goals this season and only Suarez in 2013-14 and Fowler in 1995-96 had more Premier League goals at this point of the campaign and no one has more left-footed Premier League goals in one season in Premier League history and *checks calendar* *squints* it's still only February.

Sadio Mané – having a bad season! – has already equalled his goals total from last season, with two more assists, in the same number of appearances.

And your dad still thinks that Roberto Firmino doesn't get into the positions to score that a typical #9 would. Your dad's also mad that he's scored three times while no-looking the goal this season.

For all the good that the aforementioned other players did in this game – and, for the majority of the season – this team still lives and dies by its front three.

I can't help myself. I truly like this team, more than any other since probably 2008-09, and that's a close run. But – no matter all the superlatives for the attack, and the competency usually shown in other phases – we're not at that level yet. There's still even more – much more – room for this side to grow. They weren't even close to their most formidable here. Each of the front three failed to convert at least one clear-cut chance. 12 shots on-target, but "only" four goals. The aforementioned mistake leading to West Ham's consolation. A "fine, but not all that good" first half performance before raising the levels in the second half.

There's still much more room to grow. And the rest of the league should be afraid of that.

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