19 March 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 5-0 Watford

Previous Match Infographics: United (a), Porto (h), Newcastle (h), West Ham (h), 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. 

I mean, there's not a lot to say when Mohamed Salah has a game like that.

Sure, if it finishes 3-0 – which looked a little more than likely by the 75th minute – we're talking about another routine win. You know, one of Liverpool's "routine" wins. Liverpool gets the early goal. Liverpool struggles for a little bit: Can gets injured, Watford press higher up the pitch, Henderson gives the ball away in a dangerous position a couple of times, Karius saves a clear-cut chance when Richarlison's header over Gomez is too close to the keeper. But then Liverpool's attack gets another. And then another.

As against Southampton, Stoke, Huddersfield, etc. An untested because they-wouldn't-allow-themselves-to-be-tested defense, a competent midfield, and that attack, which remains very good and has made these matches against the bottom half of the division much less worrisome than they were in the previous two seasons. Liverpool's rarely at its best, but Liverpool's also never troubled, and Liverpool's more than thorough enough at the sharp end to score multiple times. Fewer Liverpool shots than we've become accustomed to at Anfield, but the ones they've taken have been good shots, they've been in the Danger Zone, and they've gone in, and that's good enough.

Lather, rinse, repeat. All that would have been fine with me.

But then Mohamed Salah went and scored two more goals in the final 15 minutes and all hell breaks loose and the world's finally realizing what we've known for a few months. Mohamed Salah has been the best player in the Premier League this season. He's probably one of the five best in the world at the moment.

It's funny what a couple of dead rubber extra goals does.

Here are the Liverpool players who have scored 4 or more goals in a league match since Liverpool's return to the First Division in 1962-63.

• Roger Hunt (4), 6-1 v Stoke in 1963-64
• Ian Rush (4), 5-0 at Everton in 1982-83
• Ian Rush (5), 6-0 v Luton Town in 1983-84
• Ian Rush (4), 5-0 v Coventry in 1983-84
• Robbie Fowler (4), 5-2 v Bolton in 1995-96
• Robbie Fowler (4), 5-1 v Boro in 1996-97
• Michael Owen (4), 5-1 v Forest in 1998-99
• Michael Owen (4), 6-0 at West Brom in 2002-03
• Luis Suarez (4), 5-1 v Norwich in 2013-14
• Mohamed Salah (4), 5-0 v Watford in 2017-18

That's it. It's happened 10 times, from six different players, in 55 years.

Since being held scoreless against West Brom on December 13, Liverpool have scored at least twice in nine of the ten home games, the only exception the waste-of-90-minutes second leg against Porto, a match where Liverpool already had a five-goal lead. This is Anfield, indeed.

But, of course, it's not just Salah, even if this match highlighted to everyone just how damn good he's been this season. Firmino adds another goal, a stupidly fun acrobatic flick with the back of his trailing leg. And Sadio Mané tallies two assists and a hockey assist, leading the side in chances created (at least jointly) for the fourth time in the last nine matches.

His contributions for the first two goals were especially telling.

It's not just Firmino who drops deep to link midfield and attack.

Mané drifts central and drops into the hole in the build-up for both. For the first, he turns away from the midfielder who's chased to cover him, then immediately looks for and finds Salah in space. The movement for the second's even more impressive: he's wide open, because he's cheated into the area just vacated by Firmino, and every Watford defender's either gone with Firmino or is watching the ball. Mané's completely open as he plays in Robertson on the move, perfectly between the wing-back and wide center-back, before two Watford midfielders can recover as they realize what's about to happen.

I'm not saying he's replacing Coutinho. But both of those plays, especially for the second goal, are things that Coutinho used to do for Liverpool.

Mané's creation numbers aren't vastly different than last season. He's averaging around 0.25 more key passes per 90 league minutes than last season. But he's already tallied two more assists than last season, in 500 fewer minutes. Last season, Mané was often the primary recipient of passes like these. But now Liverpool have Firmino, in vastly better scoring form. And Liverpool have Mohamed Salah. And Mané, rather than trailing along in their wake, has added more to his own game, not only almost matching last season's scoring totals, but with more purpose and output in the build-up to all those wonderful, wonderful Liverpool goals.

So we've got Mané, increasingly influential in more areas of the attack. We've got Firmino, doing all the Firmino: tracking back and pressing and dropping deep and terrorizing defenders and doing Brazilian things in front of goal.

We've got Liverpool's midfield, steady on. Rarely inspirational, sometimes not creative enough, but hassling and harrying when out of possession and quietly doing the often-unnoticed necessary little things in possession, calm and collected except for a couple of mid-match moments from Henderson.

We've got Liverpool's defense, again competent enough; sure, they weren't playing the most threatening of attacks, but they limited chances as per usual, and kept yet another clean sheet.

Via Andrew Beasley, in the previous link:
With their No. 11 in such devastating form, Liverpool’s defensive record is passing under the radar. Their clean sheet here means they’ve had 18 shutouts in their last 38 league games. They’ve also only conceded 37 goals in that period.

Both of these are records for Klopp in his time at Liverpool. Many will point to the arrival of Virgil van Dijk, and Karius establishing himself in goal. They have helped, but the improved defensive trends have been there for a while now.

And, as you may have noticed, we've got Mohamed Salah.

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