15 February 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 5-0 Porto

Previous Match Infographics: 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. 

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

Sometimes this season, Europe hasn't known what's hit it.

When Liverpool met Hoffenheim in the first leg of the Champions League playoff qualifiers, the German side hadn't lost at home in more than a year, unbeaten in 17 matches. Liverpool won 2-1, to set themselves up for a 4-2 second leg win and the competition proper.

Porto hadn't lost at home in their previous 15 matches, with 13 wins and two 0-0 draws. And Liverpool just did that. Porto had never been so thoroughly beaten in European competition; they'd never conceded more than three in a European match at home. I can find full results going back to 1994-95; Porto hadn't conceded five at home in any match in any competition until yesterday.

There are also the two 7-0 victories in the group stage, both home and away, against the best team in Slovenia and last season's Russian champions.

Teams are becoming – have become – scared of what Liverpool can do to them. And rightfully so. It's not something the majority of them are used to in their domestic leagues.

It, unsurprisingly, starts with Liverpool's attack.

Liverpool's non-penalty Expected Goals tally in the Champions League so far is just shy of 25. Liverpool have scored 32 non-penalty goals. Sure, that over-performance is almost solely down to three matches – 7-0 Maribor, 7-0 Spartak, and 5-0 Porto – but it's also symptomatic of Liverpool in Europe so far this season. When Liverpool are on, Liverpool are really, really on.

Maybe it's easier for Liverpool in Europe – although that's not necessarily the right word – because teams aren't as familiar with Liverpool's ferocity. Even Sevilla were all but hammered in both meetings, only for Liverpool to allow very very bad comebacks in both matches, while the 1-1 at Spartak is even more baffling every time you think about it. Maybe it's further proof that on their day, in one-off matches – as they've done in the league against Arsenal (h), West Ham (a), Bournemouth (a), City (h), and others – Liverpool can be really, really potent and thus really, really good.

Either way, Liverpool's attack sure is something. Liverpool's attack is the foundation upon which this house is built.

Today is February 15th. Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, and Sadio Mané have scored a combined 63 goals. In 39 games. 63 of 99 goals in total, almost two-thirds of Liverpool's season-long output.

Mané, Firmino, and Salah have all scored in five different matches this season: Watford (a), Arsenal (h), Spartak (h), City (h), and now Porto (a). And two of those three players have scored in ten more matches.

Sadio Mané is the first Liverpool player to score a hat-trick in the Champions League knockout round, with five other Liverpool hat-tricks coming in either the qualifying rounds or group stage. Two of Liverpool's six Champions League hat-tricks have come this season – the other in the previous Champions League match, from the player-who-shall-not-be-named. It has been more than 33 years since Liverpool players scored hat-tricks in consecutive European matches: John Wark and Ian Rush, in October 1984.

Not to take absolutely anything away, but, yes, Liverpool needed more than a little luck. As always seems to be the case, whether for Liverpool or their opponents.

Liverpool's opener came from a goalkeeping error that'd see us hang Mignolet or Karius from their toes outside the Shankly Gates had either done similar.

Liverpool's first three goals came from shot rebounds: Wijnaldum following up his blocked effort before finding Mané, Salah first to Milner's strike off the post, and Mané quickest after Jose Sa stopped Firmino's blast.

Liverpool's second, third, and fourth goals came from stealing possession back from Porto: Milner in the final third, robbing Marega for the second; Milner in his defensive third, stopping Brahimi for the third; and Mané on the halfway line, outmuscling Corona for the fourth. You could even count the first if so inclined, with Lovren stepping into the opposition half to intercept Jose Sa's throw before setting up Wijnaldum.

Each of Liverpool's goals took around ten seconds from winning possession to ball in the net. Nine for the first, nine for the second, 11 for the third (starting just outside Liverpool's own box), nine for the fourth, and nine for the fifth.

But when you score five, and hold the opposition to none, there's more than luck involved.

That both Wijnaldum and Milner feature in the above couple of paragraphs is a massive positive. The first two goals, featuring the more-advanced midfielders breaking into the box before getting a shot off. Constant switching between the two, changing the angles of attack as well as supplementing the full-backs when defense was needed.

Special mention to Milner, who's somehow responsible for six assists in the Champions League this season – seven if you want to give him rightful credit for the own goal at Hoffenheim.

And some credit needs to go to Liverpool's defense. Virgil van Dijk, again the necessary organizing presence at the back, leading the side in both interceptions and clearances, plus a handful of pinpoint long passes to release Liverpool's attack early. Dejan Lovren, surprisingly steady, with two crucial blocks, especially the early one to deflect Otavio's shot over the bar. And Andy Robertson, bombing up and down and up and down Liverpool's left flank.

I was most impressed with how Liverpool kept the incredibly dangerous Brahimi and Telles quiet. In the league and Europe, Alex Telles has a goal and ten assists. Yacine Brahimi has six goals and seven assists. They are, by far, Porto's more creative players, from both open play and set plays.

They created just one chance yesterday. Sure, it was Porto's best chance, Brahimi's throughball pushed narrowly wide by Tiquinho just before halftime, but still. One chance, from a left flank which has averaged five per 90 in the league this season.

Granted, after Porto's early attempt to take the game to Liverpool, Salah's absolutely terrifying pace forced Telles to play deeper than he's used to, with Brahimi also needed in tracking back. It's another example of how Liverpool's superlative attack can and often does relief pressure on Liverpool's defense. Nonetheless, Trent Alexander-Arnold is 19, and this is the first time he's started three consecutive matches for Liverpool. Both Wijnaldum and Milner – especially the latter - tracked back on both sides of the pitch to help. And Dejan Lovren, more comfortable on the right and more comfortable with van Dijk, certainly helped as well.

This was the joint-largest margin of victory away from home in a Champions League knockout match, along with Bayern at Sporting Lisbon in 2009 and Real Madrid at Schalke in 2014 by the same scoreline.

Since 2001-02, the first Champions League with a group stage then knockout round format that Liverpool participated in, Liverpool have never scored five goals in a knockout round match. They've played 28 Champions League knockout matches. Liverpool have scored four three times, twice against English opposition – Arsenal in 2007-08 and Chelsea in 2008-09 – and once against Real Madrid. They've scored three on four other occasions times: Leverkusen (twice), AC Milan, and PSV Eindhoven.

Liverpool have scored five or more goals in the European Cup/Champions League – at any stage – 15 times in 190 matches. Three of them have come this season.

That performance and result was historic. There's no other way to put it. Not to take anything for granted – never take anything for granted with this club – but Liverpool are now all but in the last eight of the Champions League.

But, of course, they still have to show up for the return leg in three weeks. And this performance, this result, won't mean anywhere near as much as it should if Liverpool don't continue on against West Ham in nine days.

1 comment :

SamErika said...

A Portuguese friend is telling me that Portuguese media are reporting this to be Porto's worst ever defeat at home, by goal difference, ever. They apparently lost 2-6 twice in the 1940s.