30 April 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 0-0 Stoke

Previous Match Infographics: Roma (h), West Brom (a), Bournemouth (h), Manchester City [CL] (a), Everton (a), Manchester City [CL] (h), Crystal Palace (a), Watford (h), 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. 

Let's say Stoke win their final two matches. Which isn't entirely out of the question. Against Crystal Palace, almost certainly safe, and at Swansea, almost certainly not. That would give them 36 points. Which might well be enough to stave off relegation. Southampton's currently on 32, Swansea 33, and both Huddersfield and West Ham 35.

It's possible. It's not likely, but it's still possible.

35 points, which is what they'd get had they lost on Saturday but won the next two, would probably not be enough, especially considering Stoke's current goal difference.

So it's hard to complain about Stoke's lack of ambition, even though they desperately need points. And even though I desperately want to complain.

You get what you reasonably think you can get. And it's up to Liverpool to do Liverpool. Unfortunately, that lack of ambition worked against this Liverpool side. As it had for West Brom (twice) and Everton this season, but hadn't for Huddersfield, Newcastle, Bournemouth, or Stoke in the previous meeting. Among others.

That lack of ambition, and that deep, happy-to-foul defense led to Liverpool's lowest shot accuracy this season, putting just two of 20 shots on-target. 10%. Alexander-Arnold's bobbled clear-cut chance and Clyne's soft header. That's it. The only other matches that come close to that accuracy percentage were 1-1 at Newcastle in October and 1-1 v Everton in December. Where Liverpool at least still scored once. Which probably would have been enough to win on Saturday.

Even Mohamed Salah wasn't immune. This was the first time this season that Salah's taken more than two shots without putting any on-target. And he took seven shots, which ties his high for the season, along with 2-1 Leicester, 1-1 Everton, 1-1 Chelsea, and 3-0 Maribor. Where he scored twice, once, once, and once respectively.

It's probably a different match, with a different outcome, if Salah scores in the 6th minute. But there are a lot of Liverpool matches with a lot of different outcomes if Mohamed Salah doesn't score some of the much harder chances he's scored already this season.

Stoke's deep defense also had a lot to do with it, at least after Liverpool's two early clear-cut chances. Stoke blocked ten of Liverpool's shots on Saturday, a high for the season. Stoke are just one of four sides to block 50% or more of Liverpool's shots in a match, along with 1-1 Chelsea, 2-0 Newcastle, and 1-2 United. Matches where, again, Liverpool still scored at least once.

It's a style that hasn't worked against this season's Liverpool as often as in past Liverpool seasons, but it's a style that still works more often than we'd like. Don't concede, by any means necessary, and at least you won't get beat.

Once again, I can't help but complain about early kickoffs.

That's a bad record. And there have been some bad matches in there.

Liverpool have been held scoreless in eight matches this season – six in the league. Four of them – all league matches – have been 7:30 US ET Saturday kickoffs. Three draws, one loss.

I don't like early kickoffs. And neither do Liverpool.

Once again, I can't help but complain about the referee. Pieters' handball ignored in the 87th minute. As was Dawson's shoulder tackle on Ings last week. As were three shouts at United last month. And that's all in the last six weeks. That's potentially five points.

Everyone always complain about how their side is refereed, so it's easy to hand-wave away grievances, but these two articles from Paul Tomkins last month make it harder to do so.

Are Refs Biased Against Foreign Players?
Placing Refereeing Bias Against Liverpool and Foreign Players on the Spot

Once again, I can't help but complain about squad depth. Can, Lallana, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Matip injured. Mané left out with a knock. Robertson rested. And this is the XI we got. Alexander-Arnold as a midfielder. The same back four that conceded twice in 12 minutes against West Broom last week. An unbalanced formation that seemed to shift between 3-4-3 and 4-3-3 before the substitutions. Milner and Clyne as impact subs, with the latter playing as an advanced right winger.

This is the Liverpool we got. And this is the result we got.

And now we've got a hell of a week. A Champions League semi-final in Rome, still kinda sorta in the balance, then an all-important league match at Chelsea. And it's not starting out well: with this match and this result, with the Buvac "news," with a shallow, tired, injured squad.

But for a few moments going a different way on Saturday – from Salah and Andre Marriner most notably – it could be starting very differently.

I really hope Liverpool don't regret it.

28 April 2018

Liverpool 0-0 Stoke

Liverpool needed a win to move closer to cementing next season's Champions League. Stoke needed a win in a desperate attempt to avoid relegation.

We got a supremely frustrating 0-0 draw. Because of course.

Yes, this is going to be patronizing. As it was last week. Congratulations to Stoke for defending a 0-0 that doesn't help them a bit. And they truly defended well, at least after Liverpool missed two clear-cut chances in the first 21 minutes, first with Salah through but somehow chipping wide with his right foot when everyone expected him to score, then Alexander-Arnold getting the ball stuck in his feet from Salah's layoff, only able to poke at Butland. Both chances came from long cross-field passes that found Salah in space.

But after that, about as frustrating a match as I can remember this season. A changed XI struggling to fire, struggling to involve the front three. Stoke figured out that they probably shouldn't allow those cross-field passes to Salah in space, with Pieters much, much tighter to Salah and the Egyptian given no time nor space. The midfield unbalanced with Alexander-Arnold constantly moving out right; kind of 4-3-3, but kind of 3-4-3. Gomez and Moreno – much more the former – rusty as all hell.

All the bad against a deep defense. All the bad in another early kickoff. Passes back and to the right. Passes back and to the left. When it's time to finally go forward, giveaway, hoof, reclaim, repeat. Slow and purposeless. Frustrated and frustrating. Stoke made it hard for Liverpool. Liverpool made it hard for Liverpool.

Liverpool's game-changing substitutions end up being Milner for Ings and Clyne for Moreno, because that's what we've been reduced to. Two full-backs as wingers, Milner kind of, sort of left back, but it's kind of sort of 3-5-2. It's not the best sign when you can't work out Liverpool's structure. It's not the best sign when these are your substitutions.

And I would be remiss if I didn't mention the referee. Again. Because Premier League referees. Because Andre Marriner. Because Erik Pieters' hand ball in the 87th minute was as blatant as you'll see. His arm's in the way of Wijnaldum's cross which seems certain to find either Firmino or Moreno directly in front of goal. His arm's away from his body and he's three yards away from the cross. And it's made all the worse when you remember Roma's penalty on Tuesday.

This campaign started with Watford's late, offside-and-a-foul equalizer. We got West Brom's that-wasn't-a-free-kick equalizer last week. There's a lot more in-between that I don't have the mental health to recap. And now this. It's almost amazing.

So Paul Lambert remains unbeaten at Anfield, with seven draws and five wins. I do not like this voodoo. I do not understand this voodoo. This, as with Liverpool draws against Norwich and Villa, and a 0-1 Villa win – all more than four years ago – makes no sense.

And thus it ends with Liverpool's 12th draw of the season. Only Southampton – in 19th – and West Brom – in 20th – have had more.

Liverpool remain stumbling face-first toward the end of the league campaign. Two draws in matches against the bottom two sides, two matches that they should and could have won. If Chelsea win today against Swansea, the gap's six with a game-in-hand for Chelsea. Liverpool and Chelsea meet next week. A meaningful late season match against Chelsea which Liverpool seemingly need to win. That situation hasn't traumatized us before. What could possibly go wrong.

This, in contrast to the Champions League campaign, is not how we wanted to see Liverpool end the season. The Champions League campaign makes it understandable, but no less easy to stomach. The race for the top four should be over. It might well still be.

That it isn't yet annoys me to no end. The cure to this annoyance comes on Wednesday.

27 April 2018

Liverpool v Stoke 04.28.18

7:30am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
3-0 Liverpool (a) 11.29.17
2-1 Liverpool (a) 04.08.17
4-1 Liverpool (h) 12.27.16
4-1 Liverpool (h) 04.10.16

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 5-2 Roma (h); 2-2 West Brom (a); 3-0 Bournemouth (h)
Stoke: 1-1 Burnley (h); 1-1 West Ham (a); 1-2 Tottenham (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Salah 31; Firmino 15; Mané 10; Coutinho 7; Can, Oxlade-Chamberlain 3; Sturridge 2; Alexander-Arnold, Henderson, Ings, Klavan, Lovren, Matip, Wijnaldum 1
Stoke: Shaqiri 7; Diouf 6; Choupo-Moting 5; Crouch 4; Allen, Sobhi 2; Fletcher, Jese, Ndiaye, Shawcross, Zouma 1

Referee: Andre Marriner (LFCHistory) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Lovren van Dijk Robertson
Wijnaldum Henderson Milner
Salah Ings Firmino

I don't think there will be as many changes as you think there will be.

Let's assume Mané is rested after vague-but-worrying "he's injured!" nonsense taking over the internet yesterday. Probably Clyne for Alexander-Arnold as well. Maybe Moreno for Robertson and/or Klavan for Lovren, although I'd be a bit concerned about deploying the same back four as at West Brom. But otherwise, this should be a full-strength team. Yes, even with Roma on Wednesday.

Liverpool still need probably four more points from the final three games. Here are three of them. And it's not as if we're overflowing with options. Those are the three midfielders. You'd prefer none of the front three miss out given how reliant Liverpool are on them.

Maybe we get 4-4-2. That'd help with resting a central midfielder, that'd be a more comfortable formation for both Firmino and Ings (or Salah and Ings). But then there's the question of who plays on the flanks. Salah on the right, but either in a deeper role or with the full-back needing to sit deeper? And on the left – Moreno, Woodburn, Milner?

We haven't seen Klopp switch formations – at least the starting formation – for a few months now. Since the winter. Since around the time these sides last spoke. When, incidentally, Liverpool played 4-4-2. When, incidentally, Liverpool also had Oxlade-Chamberlain, Can, and Mané all available. And the game still wasn't truly won until Salah came off the bench in the 67th minute.

Meanwhile, Stoke. Stoke aren't all but mathematically out of the league, as West Brom were last week, but the gap's four points and goal difference, and they've played a game more than the four teams directly above.

The last three matches are symptomatic of Stoke's season. There's still a chance. Just get a win, or two, by any means necessary. Nope. Keep it close against Tottenham at home, concede but get one back, but concede again within minutes. Seemingly get a last-20-minutes winner at West Ham, then let Andy Carroll score in the 90th minute. Take an early lead against Burnley, don't get a second, eventually concede midway through the second half. One, a loss when a draw would have been okay considering opposition, but more important were the two draws in matches that you could have won.

Good enough for one goal. Rarely good enough for two. Rarely good enough to get the win you so desperately need. Close, touching-distance close, but no better than close.

Stoke haven't won a match since January 20, a 2-0 home win against Huddersfield. Since then, six draws, five losses. In case you were curious why Stoke are going to be relegated. They've conceded three goals just once over that stretch, 0-3 at Arsenal with all three goals after the 75th minute, but they've conceded at least once in nine, the only two exceptions 0-0 draws against Watford and Southampton.

So, seems like a 2-0 or 3-0 home win, something similar to Huddersfield, Southampton, Newcastle, Bournemouth over the last couple of months. Something that should have happened last week at West Brom as well.

But there is the small problem of Paul Lambert.

Liverpool have never beaten a Paul Lambert side at Anfield. 1-1 Norwich, 1-3 Villa, 2-2 Villa, 0-1 Villa, 1-2 Wolves. I remember every single one of those matches and I hated every single one of those matches. Now would be a good time to break that streak.

I understandably haven't been watching much Stoke this season, so my best guess at an XI is similar to last week's against Burnley. Something like Butland; Zouma, Shawcross, Martins Indi, Pieters; Shaqiri, Allen, Ndiaye, Bauer; Crouch, Diouf. Maybe Sobhi or Ireland come in for Bauer, a full-back who's been used as a winger lately. Maybe it's 4-4-1-1 rather than 4-4-2, with Shaqiri in the hole and both Bauer and Sobhi on the flanks, with one of Crouch or Diouf left out. I believe Darren Fletcher is a player who still exists if you really want to pack the midfield. Choupo-Moting, Stafylidis, and Grant are out injured; Wimmer and Glen Johnson are doubtful.

It's almost become rote, but Liverpool cannot look past this to Wednesday. Liverpool cannot do what Liverpool did last week, at least in the last 15 minutes. Or the last 15 minutes on Tuesday.

This is the terrifying part of the season. Things to play for, both domestically and in Europe. A rapidly thinning squad. But optimism. And optimism is always terrifying.

But this is still the Liverpool side that's gotten us to this point. So show us. And show Stoke.

26 April 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 5-2 AS Roma

Previous Match Infographics: West Brom (a), Bournemouth (h), Manchester City [CL] (a), Everton (a), Manchester City [CL] (h), Crystal Palace (a), Watford (h), 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. 

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

I am admittedly a pessimist, down to my soul and bones. So I want to focus on Roma's two late goals. Yes, yes, as against West Brom just a few days ago. Two goals that give them hope of overturning the tie, as they did in the last round. There should be no hope, ever. Whine, complain, etc.

But I can't. Not after that. Not after what Liverpool did to Roma between the 20th to 70th minutes.

That was 50 minutes of some of the best football that I have ever seen. In a Champions League semi-final. In what was one of the most important Liverpool games in the last decade.

Fearless, frightening, vicious. Raucous, rampant. And immensely enjoyable. Fun. Fun! In a Champions League semifinal!

And yes, a fair amount had to do with an absolutely suicidal game plan from Roma. Do. Not. Play. A. High. Line. Back. Three. Against. Liverpool. Just don't. It's a horrific idea. Hoffenheim, Arsenal, West Ham, City, etc. etc. etc. And now Roma.

Salah in the 3rd minute. Mané in the 28th minute. Mané in the 29th minute. Salah in the 30th minute. Salah's goal in the 45th minute. Mané's goal in the 56th minute. Firmino's goal in the 61st minute.

Every single one from Liverpool's front three getting behind of Roma's insanely high back line.

But that front three still had to do it.

Mohamed Salah scored his 42 and 43rd goals of the season and we're almost taking it for granted. And he added two assists for good measure.

Roberto Firmino scored his 27th of the season, which is the most in a Liverpool campaign by a player not named Salah or Suarez in a decade, and we're almost taking it for granted. And he added two assists for good measure.

Sadio Mané scored his 18th of the season, but he's not hit the heights of Salah or Firmino even if he is blowing away last season's totals and we're almost taking it for granted.

Liverpool's front three all scored in the same match for the eighth time this season – the third in the Champions League – and we're almost taking it for granted.

Mohamed Salah is the first player to score twice and assist twice in a Champions League semifinal, and Roberto Firmino became the second twenty minutes after him, and we're almost taking it for granted.

Liverpool scored five goals in the Champions League for the fourth time this season – in 13 games – and we're almost taking it for granted. Liverpool are only the second side ever to score five goals in a Champions League semifinal and we're almost taking it for granted.

You cannot take this side for granted. You cannot take this result for granted.

And it's not just the front three. Milner's ninth assist in the competition, now the most by one player in one campaign. Henderson absolutely everywhere. Wijnaldum coming on cold for Oxlade-Chamberlain early in the match and barely putting a foot wrong. Those two hockey assists from Alexander-Arnold, for Liverpool's third and fourth goals, knowing how to exploit the space and how to exploit Salah. Robertson nearly as creative on the other flank: the low cross for Mané's goal ruled out for offside, the clear-cut chance Wijnaldum failed to take in the 82nd minute. Both full-backs doing this while challenged by incredibly attacking wing-backs. One Roma shot between Liverpool's first and fifth goals: Schick in the 58th minute, after Liverpool had already scored three, off-target from the top of the box. Nearly shot-less for 50 minutes, as Liverpool took 17 and scored five.

Enjoy it. Football like this does not happen often. Moments like these, matches like these, have not happened often for Liverpool in the last decade or so.

Of course you worry. You worry about Roma's two late goals, both regrettable. An error from Lovren, misjudging his header on a ball over the top, then a penalty for Milner's handball that's called maybe 60% of the time. You worry about that Roma stadium and those Roma fans and Roma overturning a three-goal deficit on away goals in the last round. You worry about Oxlade-Chamberlain's injury, with Liverpool now down to three fit central midfielders.

You worry, because Liverpool has taught us to worry. I'm not saying don't worry, because I'm constitutionally incapable of not worrying, but you can't just worry. You can't think about, or expect, "old Liverpool." This is not old Liverpool. You have to also enjoy this wonder this side's capable of creating. Revel in it. Treasure it. Otherwise, what's the point?

23 April 2018

Liverpool v AS Roma 04.24.18

2:45pm ET, live in the US on Fox Sports 1

CL results:
Liverpool: 2-1 City (a); 3-0 City (h); 0-0 Porto (h); 5-0 Porto (a); 7-0 Spartak (h); 3-3 Sevilla (a); 3-0 Maribor (h); 7-0 Maribor (a); 1-1 Spartak (a); 2-2 Sevilla (h); 4-2 Hoffenheim (h); 2-1 Hoffenheim (a)
Roma: 3-0 Barcelona (h); 1-4 Barcelona (a); 1-0 Shakhtar (h); 1-2 Shakhtar (a); 1-0 Qarabag (h); 0-2 Atletico (a); 3-0 Chelsea (h); 3-3 Chelsea (a); 2-1 Qarabag (a); 0-0 Atletico (h)

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-2 West Brom (a); 3-0 Bournemouth (h); 2-1 City (a)
Roma: 3-0 SPAL (a); 2-1 Genoa (h); 0-0 Lazio (a)

Goalscorers (Europe):
Liverpool: Firmino, Salah 9; Mané 7; Coutinho 5; Can 3; Alexander-Arnold, Oxlade-Chamberlain 2; Sturridge 1
Roma: Dzeko 6; El Shaarawy, Manolas, Perotti 2; de Rossi, Kolarov, Ünder 1

Referee: Felix Brych (GER)

His third Liverpool game in this Champions League campaign. 3-0 v City, but also 3-3 at Sevilla.

Guess at a line-up:
Trent A-A Lovren van Dijk Robertson
Alex O-C Henderson Milner
Salah Firmino Mané

Holy crap, Liverpool really are in a Champions League semi-final. And it's here.

Liverpool's XI is easy. You know it, I know it. There are literally no chances for changes unless someone gets hurt in training (shit, now I'm scared someone gets hurt in training) or Klopp somehow decides to use Wijnaldum rather than Milner or Oxlade-Chamberlain.

The preferred back four back together. Hopefully good Lovren – as he's usually been with van Dijk – rather than bad Lovren. Henderson deep, Milner creative, Oxlade-Chamberlain breaking lines. And that front three, ideally doing all the front three things. A lot of pressing, a lot of fast-paced attacks, hopefully early and often.

As we've gratefully seen an awful lot in this season's Champions League, especially in the first legs of the knockout rounds.

Meanwhile, Roma have had some impressive performances this season. Yes, of course, the last round at Barcelona, a 3-0 win to overcome a 1-4 first leg deficit. But also a 3-0 home win over Chelsea – and 3-3 away draw against the same opponents – in this competition. A 4-2 win at title-chasing Napoli last month. Their best games have a lot of Roma goals. Their worst games do not, for either side.

But Roma are also third in Serie A by some distance, 16 points behind second, just a point ahead of Inter in fifth. Next season's European places are far less settled than England's. The match between the Barcelona legs was an 0-2 loss against ninth-place Fiorentina, but the two matches since Barcelona have been competent, comfortable wins over Genoa and SPAL.

Roma have played four at the back in their last two matches – their usual 4-3-3 formation – but the most frequent guess I've seen seems to be a return to the 3-5-2 used in the win over Barcelona and subsequent 0-0 draw with Lazio.

Allison; Fazio, Manolas, Jesus; Florenzi, Strootman, de Rossi, Nainggolan, Kolarov; Schick, Dzeko.

If it's 4-3-3, then Ünder, El Shaarawy, and Perotti all become options in attack – the first, Mo Salah's replacement in the side on the right; one of the latter two on the left. Gonalons could come into midfield, but the aforementioned three have been preferred when available.

I'd be more worried about a 4-3-3, to be honest. Ünder's fast and can pin Robertson back; Perotti and El Shaarawy are clever on the ball and can deliver defense-splitting passes, drawing Alexander-Arnold inside or forward, or requiring one of the central midfielders to help cover. Two attacking midfielders floating in and around Dzeko, as well as Nainggolan. Plus, 4-3-3 gives Roma a better opportunity to press Liverpool if Liverpool attempt to build from the back.

Meanwhile, 3-5-2 can work against Liverpool, but it's much more likely to work when it's more a 5-3-2, simply denying space again and again before countering. That's still a danger game to play. And a high-line, play-out-from-the-back, fullbacks-attacking 3-5-2 is even more dangerous against this Liverpool side. I wouldn't give Liverpool space in behind. I wouldn't give Liverpool more players to press.

Either formation, Liverpool will have to defend crosses and set plays better than they did on Saturday, but Liverpool should be able to defend crosses and set plays better than they did on Saturday with the first-choice back four returning to the field. Either formation, Dzeko is the type of forward – like Kane, Lukaku, Rondon – that has gotten at Liverpool at times this season: big enough to win headers to set up others, but good on the ball as well. Either formation, Allisson is one of the best keepers in the world. Either formation, Roma have a full complement of players to pick from.

So, yes, Liverpool are top scorers in this competition. Liverpool are unbeaten in this competition. Roma have lost their last three away matches in this competition.

But this competition can make lies of form and favorites. This competition hinges on single moments. See: the last round. Liverpool avoids conceding a second to City after a three-goal first-leg advantage thanks to an offside flag and goes on to win the tie. By a seemingly comprehensive 5-1 margin. Roma gets a second against Barcelona early in the second half when behind by three after the first leg and goes on to win the tie on away goals.

Moments make matches, especially in knockout competition, and mistakes can and often will be severely punished, especially at this level. These are the last four teams in Europe, after all.

Once again, we need it to be Liverpool doing the punishing. Liverpool have come too far to falter here.

Visualized: Liverpool 2-2 West Brom

Previous Match Infographics: Bournemouth (h), Manchester City [CL] (a), Everton (a), Manchester City [CL] (h), Crystal Palace (a), Watford (h), 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. 

But, but Liverpool lost a lead again!

It had been 12 matches since Liverpool dropped points despite having a lead, last happening in that I'm-still-mad-at-Jon-Moss 2-2 draw against Tottenham. That's almost the longest stretch since Klopp became manager. The high is 13, between 1-1 at Tottenham and 3-4 at Bournemouth last season. Liverpool were top of the league table before that loss at Bournemouth, far and away the most impressive team in England during the first few months before the winter of our discontent set in.

After that, it happened a lot. Twice in December, twice in January, once in March, and twice in April last season. Once in August, once in September, once in October, twice in November, twice in December this season.

It's happened a lot less lately.

But, but Liverpool conceded from set plays again!

This was the fourth time this season that Liverpool conceded from two set plays in the same game; the others were 3-3 at Watford, 1-4 at Tottenham, and 3-3 at Sevilla. That seems like a lot. And, incidentally, all four were away from home. Every single set play goal conceded aside from Matip's second-phase own goal in the FA Cup has been away from home.

That Sevilla match is a handy dividing line. After that game – the 20th of the season – Liverpool had conceded from nine set plays: five corners and four free kicks. In the 30 matches since, Liverpool have conceded four set play goals: Swansea's winner in the 0-1 loss back in January, Matip's own goal against West Brom, and the two on Saturday, Three of four against the same opposition.

Both Swansea's winner and Matip's own goal were back in January. Liverpool went 14 matches without conceding from a set play prior to this nonsense. Liverpool went from that Swansea winner in January to the 79th minute yesterday without conceding from a corner: nearly 16 full matches, 1478 minutes played, 63 corners faced without conceding.

It's happened a lot less lately.

And, of course, Liverpool conceded just nine goals in total over that 14-match stretch.

And, of course, Liverpool played with an almost entirely different back four on Saturday: two reserve fullbacks, the fourth-choice center-back, and van Dijk playing on the opposite side as usual.

So, sure, there are some concerns. A set-back prior to one of Liverpool's most important matches in the last decade. A potential loss of that indefinable "morale." A reminder of, if not return to, the bad old ways.

More tangibly, there's Liverpool's dearth of shots against West Broom. 62% possession, but only nine shots; only City (a) and Tottenham (h) have held Liverpool to fewer. As at Everton, take one of the front three – or two, in the Merseyside Derby – out of the equation, and the group struggles for chances. Four from Salah and three from Ings, but none from anyone else until Firmino and Milner's late, speculative efforts. Mané, at the heart of a few good moves early on, was notably needed deeper in the build-up and failed to either take a shot or make a key pass in his 65 minutes.

Liverpool's top chance creator came on in the 66th minute, and subsequently set up all three of Liverpool's shots over those 25 minutes.

More tangibly, there's Liverpool's lack of depth. With Can, Lallana, Matip, and Clyne out, this is the XI we got. Only three center-backs available. Only four central midfielders available. Ings as a reasonable replacement up front, but obviously rusty and obviously not Roberto Firmino. Firmino and Oxlade-Chamberlain in reserve, but Dominic Solanke the only other front-six substitute on the bench.

This summer's going to be as much about squad depth as it is adding to the first-choice XI. If not more.

Still, Liverpool did enough to win. Ings scored, his first since Brendan Rodgers' last match. Salah scored, yet again. Liverpool could have won with a different referee. Liverpool could have won if not for one regrettable moment with one substitute deciding to break the offside trap on a free kick. Liverpool still drew despite all those changes to the side, Liverpool are still in pole position for a top-four place.

Thanks to goal difference, Liverpool probably need four points from the final three matches. At most. If Liverpool beat Chelsea in two weeks, then we're moot. But this match, despite the rotation, despite the disjointedness, despite the lack of shots or of control, could have made life a lot less worrisome, at least in league. Should have made.

And Liverpool's "easiest" league match in the last three comes next weekend, against 19th-place Stoke. In a similar situation to the Everton draw, and this West Brom draw. A match where Klopp may feel the need to rotate his side as he did here, as he did at Goodison, with the Champions League looming.

As fun as it's been, as great as it could end up being, I do not want this season to be about lost opportunities and regrets. And I can already think of a few. This doesn't come close to some of the previous, but it's still now on the list.

21 April 2018

Liverpool 2-2 West Brom

Ings 4'
Salah 72'
Livermore 79'
Rondon 88'

I thought we had solved this problem.

Liverpool hadn't conceded from a set play since the end of January? Welp.

Liverpool hadn't dropped points after taking a lead since the beginning of February? Welp.

Liverpool hadn't thrown away a two-goal lead since the end of December? Welp.

I preferred the new Liverpool to the old Liverpool.

Annoying. Annoying pitch, annoying opposition, annoying referee, annoying result.

We got the new Liverpool early on. It wasn't pretty, but it was enough, made more so by another early goal. Danny Ings, his first under Jürgen Klopp. His first in 930 days. From a well-worked set play, Short, Mané center with the defense moving, Wijnaldum's touch setting up the striker.

West Brom did well to prevent a second goal: Dawson deflecting Salah's chance in the 15th minute, Foster denying Ings in 42nd. Liverpool did well – or were lucky – to survive a five-minute stretch with five corners and an almost tap-in from Rodriguez, usually presented to them by mistakes from the makeshift back four.

And then West Brom uglies up the second half, with a lot of help from Stuart Attwell, who made clear why he's one of the least-used select group referees. A clear penalty on Ings ignored when Dawson steps across him and knees him over. Hegazi's punch – a literal punch – into Ings' midsection either ignored or unseen. Multiple card-worthy challenges left unpunished; 12 West Brom fouls, and there should have been more, without a single West Brom booking. All played on a desert dry pitch that got worse as the match went on.

But Liverpool were still okay. Liverpool were pushing through it. Not enough shots, not enough good play, but it still looked a lot like matches that Liverpool have won in recent weeks: Newcastle, Palace, and Bournemouth. Sure, it was a grind, but it seemed to be enough, especially once Salah got Liverpool's second. His 31st in the league, tying the record. His 41st of the season. The beautiful man.

It should have been enough. But Liverpool make changes to alter the shape. Liverpool concede on a scrambled corner – West Brom's seventh of the match – with Livermore slamming in after Karius' initial save and with Karius screaming for a foul. Liverpool retreat. Liverpool change the shape even more, with Lovren on for Salah. And Liverpool concede again, from an unnecessary free kick after Gomez gives the ball away and fouls – an unbelievably soft foul, I might add – and Rondon smashes in a near post header because Lovren's screwed the offside trap.

Fun times.

I, of course, worry first and foremost about what this means for Tuesday's semifinal. It went fairly badly. It ended really badly.

I am going to try to remain hopeful that this is what can happen when you replace three of the back four – two just back from injury, one for his just his fourth appearance in 2018 (and his first league start since November), and your center-back leader has to play on his "wrong" side. That this is what can happen when a Champions League semifinal is lingering in the backs of your minds no matter how much you're trying to focus on what's in front of you. That this is what can happen when you're facing a home side who's playing for pride in front of a new manager. That this is what can happen when you're facing a side that's already annoyed the hell out of you this season with a 0-0 draw at Anfield in the league and a 2-3 monstrosity in the FA Cup.

I am very excited for Liverpool to not have to face West Brom next season. And I want to be churlish and say "you're still going down, West Brom, and Liverpool are still probably finishing fourth."

You're still going down West Brom. But Liverpool have not sewn up fourth just yet.

20 April 2018

Liverpool at West Brom 04.21.18

7:30am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
2-3 West Brom (h; FA Cup) 01.27.18
0-0 (h) 12.13.17
1-0 Liverpool (a) 04.16.17
2-1 Liverpool (h) 10.22.16

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 3-0 Bournemouth (h); 2-1 City (a); 0-0 Everton (a)
West Brom: 1-0 United (a); 1-1 Swansea (h); 1-2 Burnley (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Salah 30; Firmino 15; Mané 10; Coutinho 7; Can, Oxlade-Chamberlain 3; Sturridge 2; Alexander-Arnold, Henderson, Klavan, Lovren, Matip, Wijnaldum 1
West Brom: Rodriguez 7; Rondon 6; Dawson, Evans, Hegazi, Robson-Kanu 2; Barry, Chadli, Field, McClean, Morrison, Phillips 1

Referee: Stuart Attwell (LFCHistory) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Trent A-A Lovren van Dijk Robertson
Alex O-C Henderson Milner
Salah Firmino Mané

You may have heard that Liverpool have a Champions League semi-final against Roma on Tuesday.

You may also have some idea what that's going to do to tomorrow's XI. I do not.

My suspicion is that it changes nothing.

Maybe Klavan comes in for Lovren, just back from injury. Maybe Gomez, now back from injury, comes in for Alexander-Arnold. It's still three from four in midfield, and Wijnaldum could easily replace any of the above. But I don't see wholesale rest or rotation.

I understand the desire to leave out key players. Liverpool are heavily reliant on that front three for goals, Liverpool only have four available central midfielders. That defense has finally gotten pretty good with those four players involved, and one's injury prone and two are still pretty young. And while tomorrow's match is still necessary in the top-four race, Tuesday's match is one of the most important this club's seen in a decade. But Klopp et al have been planning this season's training and fitness schedule to peak right now. But Klopp et al will not want to take the foot off the gas prior to that semifinal, and with the fight for next season's Champions League places still somewhat in the balance.

Klopp et al will want Liverpool to keep doing Liverpool. They've done a fairly good job of that over the last couple of months.

Meanwhile, West Brom. They might not be bad anymore? Sure, they're still bottom the table, by a good bit. They're almost certain to be relegated. But they also just beat Manchester United at Manchester United to hand City the title when City couldn't do it themselves a week before, winning 1-0 thanks to a scrambled corner in the 73rd minute.

And that win at United looked a lot like West Brom's draw at Anfield in December,aside from Rodriguez's winner. West Brom were deep. United were slow. And West Brom sucked all the energy and all the life out of the opposition, holding them at bay far too easily for United's liking.

Not to mention that there's also Liverpool's loss to West Brom in the FA Cup two months ago. Self-inflicted nonsense despite going a goal up within five minutes, with an added helping of VAR fun. That was arguably the last time that Liverpool have been bad defensively.

But West Brom were very much helped by Liverpool in that last meeting. West Brom were very much helped in that United match by United's style of play. By United's pace of play. Liverpool – when Liverpool actually do Liverpool – do not play at that tempo.

I suspect we'll still see the same XI as against United. Foster; Nyom, Dawson, Hegazi, Gibbs; Phillips, Livermore, Brunt, McClean; Rondon, Rodriguez. Maybe Krychowiak or Yacob come into midfield in pace of Brunt. Or maybe Field at left-back. Morrison is out; Evans, Robson-Kanu, and Barry are doubtful; Sturridge – who's healthy again! – is ineligible.

West Brom will play two up top, and those will be the only two players in Liverpool's half for the majority of the game. There will be a lot of long balls, mainly from Foster and the center-backs, to those two strikers. West Brom will have two speedy wingers on the flanks in the hopes of counter-attacking when Liverpool throw bodies forward. West Brom will have those long balls, those counters, and maybe some set plays, and they'll hope for the best on at least one of them, but their main goal will be keeping Liverpool out.

While West Brom aren't mathematically relegated, West Brom are already relegated. Making up at least nine points in four games almost certainly isn't happening. But if last week's any indication, they're not going out without a fight. "A fight" is all they have left, and Darren Moore's only job for the rest of the season is to make sure they continue to fight. For places in next season's Championship side or for transfers to other clubs.

West Brom have already given Liverpool a fight twice this season, ensuring that at least one relegated side will take points off of Liverpool for the fourth consecutive season, and for the 15th time in the last 16 seasons.

I demand vengeance for those previous two meetings. I demand vengeance for 15 of those last 16 seasons. I demand a head on a spike, in full view of a Roma side paying attention to what Liverpool's up to this weekend. A Roma side who will rest a lot more players than Liverpool rest, regardless of Liverpool's XI. I demand that Liverpool do Liverpool, for the first time this season against this opposition.

16 April 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 3-0 Bournemouth

Previous Match Infographics: Manchester City [CL] (a), Everton (a), Manchester City [CL] (h), Crystal Palace (a), Watford (h), 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. 

Unlike last season, I'm starting to enjoy Liverpool's games against Bournemouth.

Whether Bournemouth try to attack Liverpool – as in the game at Bournemouth – or try to sit deep – as on Saturday – Liverpool still absolutely Liverpool them.

Liverpool get chances. 20 Liverpool shots, the first time they've reached that total since the 4-1 win over West Ham back on February 24, ten matches ago. Two clear-cut chances within seven minutes, the first missed but the second scored. Liverpool took 21 shots the last time these sides met, in a much more open match.

Liverpool get goals. An opening goal in the first 15 minutes for the 12th time this season.
Mané, Salah, and Firmino all score in the same match for the seventh time this season. Mo Salah does moreMo Salah things, and "finally" gets to that 40-goal mark. Sadio Mané's now on 17 goals for the season, his highest total since moving to England. Firmino's scored 25, the highest total in his career.

Liverpool can press. Even though Bournemouth played deeper than usual, Bournemouth also still tried to play out from the back. And it went not so well. 12 of Liverpool's 26 successful tackles came in Bournemouth's half. That's the highest amount of tackles in the opposition half in a Liverpool match this season, and not far off the highest proportion of successful tackles. Only Tottenham (h), Hoffenheim (h), Maribor (h), Sevilla (h), and Bournemouth (a) saw a higher percentage of successful tackles in the opposition half. Incidentally, the other match against Bournemouth was the second-highest proportion of the season.

Liverpool's top tacklers on Saturday? Henderson with six, Oxlade-Chamberlain with five, and Firmino and Wijnaldum with four. All of each's attempted tackles were successful. The midfield, breaking up the opposition before the opposition could get going. But also breaking down the opposition. All three starting central midfielders created at least two chances, something that hadn't happened since the 1-1 draw with Burnley back in September. And Wijnaldum led the team with four, which is his high for the season.

And, yes, once again, Liverpool can defend.

That's now nine clean sheets in the last 14 games. There have been only three opposition clear-cut chances scored over that stretch, with Karius saving seven and five put off-target. Liverpool haven't conceded from a corner since Swansea's winner at the end of January – 57 corners ago. Bournemouth had five corners on Saturday. Bournemouth took zero shots between the ninth and 81st minutes, with the game kinda sorta still in the balance. Or, more accurately, Bournemouth were allowed zero shots between the ninth and 81st minutes.

Liverpool did this even with four potential starters missing – Can, Gomez, Matip, and Lallana – and with Lovren picking up a knock in the last 15 minutes. Liverpool did this despite a potential let-down, drained after the mid-week euphoria. Liverpool have not been especially good after European matches this season.

Four wins prior to Saturday's, but two of those early in the season after the qualifiers against Hoffenheim and the other two against West Ham. More importantly, five draws and two losses. Losses at United and Tottenham – annoying but almost understandable – but those draws, 0-0 and 1-1 with both tired and rotated sides. Hangover games. This was not Liverpool at its best, but it was not a hangover game.

This was Liverpool finishing the season as they should. Finishing what they started. This was Liverpool doing Liverpool, despite opportunities to do otherwise.

14 April 2018

Liverpool 3-0 Bournemouth

Mané 7'
Salah 69'
Firmino 90'


I mean, not really. This Liverpool side remains insanely fun to watch. They're good at the football. They force a side who likes to play football to constantly sit with 10 players behind the ball because otherwise they know Liverpool will probably run riot over them.

But Liverpool took the lead within seven minutes – Bournemouth can't get out after a Liverpool corner, Henderson cross, Mané saved but Mané unstoppable – and Liverpool never ever ever looked remotely like relinquishing it. It wasn't full throttle – and at this stage of the season, after the week Liverpool have had, you wouldn't expect it to be – but it was absolutely comprehensive.

The only way this could have been more comfortable was if Liverpool could have gotten the game-killing second goal earlier. No matter how good the football has been, there's always a lingering concern at 1-0 that if one crazy or bad thing happens, all the good's thrown away. That concerned voice in the back of your head has been a lot quieter lately, though.

And Liverpool probably should have gotten the second goal sooner. And all I can really blame is Mo Salah trying too hard to get his 40th of the season, his 30th of the Premier League campaign. Pushing a shot wide before Mané's opener, a few tame or wild shots from distance with teammates in better positions, unable to control when open in the box after Mané's lovely scooped pass. It feels like the first time Salah had forced things this season.

But otherwise, the first half was Henderson flying around, Firmino pressing like a madman, Oxlade-Chamberlain trying to break lines, fullbacks bombing forward, Wijnaldum and the central defenders recycling. The ball permanent in Bournemouth's half, the ball permanently with Liverpool. Lather, rinse, repeat, but no more goals.

The tempo unsurprisingly dropped in the second half, with Liverpool still in control but more patient, less potent. A few more shots from distance, a few more direct long balls over the top. But then Mo Salah. The irrepressible. Alexander-Arnold's early cross to the only spot that's leading to a chance, and Mo Salah's acrobatic, back-to-goal header looping over Begovic. It'd be unbelievable if it wasn't Mo Salah, and it's now one of my favorite degree-of-difficulty headers that I can remember, after Suarez from outside the box against West Brom and Luis Garcia doing similar against Anderlecht.

It's Mo Salah. Surprisingly frustrating for 68 minutes, then utterly unconscious in one brilliant moment to remind us that, yes, it's Mo Salah and you should be very afraid. Always.

And we're all but done here.

This is the problem with holding on at 0-1 down, hoping Liverpool are going to make a mistake and you can sneak a draw. "Just keep it close, lads, who knows what can happen." Because it rarely remains one goal with this Liverpool.

Bournemouth took just one shot for the first 81 minutes of the match. Jordon Ibe, right after Mané's opener, from about 30 yards out and about that far from troubling Karius. 74 minutes without, the majority of it when you're only losing by one goal. It's probably not the best way to approach a match with Liverpool. Unfortunately for the opposition, there's seemingly no good way to approach a match with Liverpool these days.

Liverpool scrambled at the end to keep the clean sheet; Lovren picked up a knock, soon to be replaced by Klavan, and Liverpool got too deep, saved by Mousset unable to put a cross on goal then saved by Karius on Gosling's clear-cut chance rebound. But then Firmino gets the third when fed by Oxlade-Chamberlain on the break, and it's 3-0 again. The 23rd time this season that Liverpool have scored three or more goals and the 14th time Liverpool have scored three or more with the opposition scoring none. The seventh time that Mané, Firmino, and Salah have all scored in the same match.


This front three is too good, and when you can combine that with the midfield doing what they did and the defense defending like they did, it's a problem.

Welcome to trying to play against Liverpool, especially at Anfield, for the vast majority of the Premier League. You can play your football at home and get beaten 4-0 or try to shut up shop and congest the final third and get beaten 3-0. Your choice.

13 April 2018

Liverpool v Bournemouth 04.14.18

12:30pm ET, live in the US on NBC

Last four head-to-head:
4-0 Liverpool (a) 12.17.17
2-2 (h) 04.05.17
3-4 Bournemouth (a) 12.04.16
2-1 Liverpool (a) 04.17.16

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-1 City (a); 0-0 Everton (a); 3-0 City (h)
Bournemouth: 2-2 Palace (h); 2-2 Watford (a); 2-1 West Brom (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Salah 29; Firmino 14; Mané 9; Coutinho 7; Can, Oxlade-Chamberlain 3; Sturridge 2; Alexander-Arnold, Henderson, Klavan, Lovren, Matip, Wijnaldum 1
Bournemouth: Wilson 7; King 6; Stanislas 5; Defoe 4; Ake, S Cook, Gosling, Ibe, Mousset, Surman 2; Arter, Daniels, A Smith 1

Referee: Chris Kavanagh (WhoScored)

This will be the first time that Kavanagh has refereed a Liverpool match.

Guess at a line-up:
Trent A-A Lovren van Dijk Robertson
Alex O-C Henderson Wijnaldum
Salah Firmino Mané

Normally, I'd start off by asking whether Liverpool would rest players after Tuesday's exertions. That City tie was draining, and the majority involved played three games in six days: two incredibly difficult, one a derby that almost wasn't even a derby. And after this, there's a week before the next match, at bottom-of-the-table manager-less West Brom before we get the Champions League semi-finals.

Ha. As if Liverpool have enough healthy bodies to rest players.

The injury list remains extensive and not really getting better. Can, Lallana, Gomez, and Matip are long-term, although the first three *might* be back before the end of the season. And now both Clyne and Klavan are probably out with minor issues picked up in training.

So, once again, it's a case of who's available and go with that.

Henderson will come back into the side, meaning one from Milner, Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Wijnaldum get a match off. Maybe one of the front three is left on the bench for either Solanke or Ings; Salah's the most likely after a groin injury in the first leg against City but he's still Mo Salah and I love him and I want him on the pitch at all times. Maaaaaaaaaybe Moreno comes in for Robertson. But that's it. This is the Liverpool we've got but at least the Liverpool we've got is pretty dang good.

Meanwhile, Bournemouth. Look, I've got a lot of time for Eddie Howe. Sure, Bournemouth have had a very mid-table season. Bad for a while, better since the turn of the new year, concrete near the top of the "everyone else after the top six." 38 points, 11th place, ten points and goal difference outside the relegation zone.

But Bournemouth, unlike your Evertons, want to play football. Bournemouth don't want to box clever, Bournemouth want to box. They've scored more goals than all but nine other teams in the division, but they've conceded more goals than all but four. Bournemouth can be fun, and there isn't enough fun in "everyone else after the top six" part of the league.

Bournemouth have scored in 15 consecutive league games. That's more than Liverpool. And that could well be a problem, despite the defensive improvement we've been lauding lately. But Bournemouth have also kept a clean sheet in just one of those games. And it wasn't the game you'd expect: a 3-0 win at Chelsea at the end of January. It doesn't happen often, but maybe just maybe they both can box and box clever in these types of matches.

And Bournemouth boxing has gone well in previous games against Liverpool. Last season's two meetings were two of the most painful, especially the 4-3 at Bournemouth, coming back from two goals down in the final 30 minutes with an injury time winner, but don't sleep on the 2-2 at Anfield. A late-season Liverpool line-up. Liverpool conceding early from an error. A struggle. Two goals bracketing halftime to take the lead, but then pressure, but then a stomach punch, but then a late equalizer.

But then there was this season's meeting. It's a lot harder to box with this season's Liverpool. Bournemouth tried to go toe-to-toe with Liverpool. High-line defense, play out from the back, attack open spaces. Get at those Liverpool defenders who made so many mistakes when these sides met last season. And it went very, very, very badly for them.

Bournemouth will probably play the same 4-4-1-1 we saw in the last meeting, that we usually see from Bournemouth. My best guess is Begovic; Francis, S Cook, Ake, Daniels; Fraser, L Cook, Gosling, Pugh; King, Wilson. But Defoe could start up front, Mousset on the flanks, Surman in midfield. Stanislas and Adam Smith are out injured, while Ibe's questionable after illness and Mings has just returned to training after missing almost the entire season.

The mantra for tomorrow is simple. Don't be a let-down. Liverpool have two league games before AS Roma and a Champions League semi-final becomes a thing. Liverpool are coming off a huge win at Manchester City, a huge step in the progression of this club in progression to the last four left in Europe.

But there's still the league. There's still a surmountable gap between Liverpool in the CL spots for next season and Liverpool not. There are still five games to play and potentially nine points needed.

These are three of them. And they're on offer at Anfield, where Liverpool have yet to lose this season. And Bournemouth owe us points. So go get them.

11 April 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 2-1 Manchester City

Previous Match Infographics: Everton (a), Manchester City [CL], Crystal Palace (a), Watford (h), 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. 

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

There are more than a few stories in this tie, but the story I'm sticking with is same as the story of the 4-3 between these sides at Anfield. Liverpool took more of their chances than Manchester City did. Liverpool took chances that City didn't, that City couldn't.

Liverpool had just five shots yesterday. That's the joint-lowest I can remember since 2011-12, when I started paying attention to these things, level with a 1-0 win over Aston Villa during the Suarez-less start of 2013-14.

Liverpool scored twice from those five shots. Yesterday's opener in the 56th minute, a lot like Liverpool's opener a week ago. Liverpool with some sustained possession, something they found impossible in the first half, but then a defense-splitting pass. Wijnaldum to Oxlade-Chamberlain to Salah to Mané, bursting into the box, denied by Ederson after arguably fouled by Laporte. But guess who's first to the loose ball in the box? Mo Salah, for the 39th time this season, another he-makes-it-look-so-easy finish with a chip over Otamendi. Tie over. 20 minutes later, Firmino pressing Otamendi, Firmino interception, Firmino on goal, Firmino goal. Poor Nicolas Otamendi. We're reaching Torres v Vidic levels here.

Quickly slicing through the opposition and Mo Salah doing Mo Salah things for the first. A pressing turnover leading directly to a goal for the second. Liverpool doing Liverpool. Both goals were clear-cut chances, as were two of Liverpool's three a week ago.

But, boy, did Liverpool have to hold onto their butts before Liverpool could do Liverpool.

Pep Guardiola certainly went for it. It wasn't City's more-familiar 4-3-3, but a 3-1-4-2 that piled as many dangerous attackers on the pitch as possible. None of this square pegs, round holes, out-thinking yourself, but three defenders, with Fernandinho helping if need be – and six or seven attackers coming forward endlessly.

And it was terrifying, at least in the first half, especially as it took City less than two minutes to pull one back, self-inflicted by Liverpool as Karius passed to an unwilling van Dijk and van Dijk pleaded for a foul and gave the ball away rather than get rid, Bernardo's interception, Fernandinho into Sterling, centered for Jesus, with Lovren trying to mark both as van Dijk's wholly out of frame.

But that was Manchester City's only goal, from 31 shots over two legs. Manchester City put just three of those 31 shots on-target, all yesterday, with only Gabriel Jesus' goal from inside the box. Jesus' goal was City's only clear-cut chance in 180 minutes, despite 66% possession last week and 68% possession yesterday. Even though this Manchester City side has been the most potent that the Premier League has seen in years.

City took 20 shots yesterday! That's a lot, especially against Liverpool. Who hadn't allowed that many shots in a match since Klopp became manager. And 12 of those 20 shots were blocked by a Liverpool player, by far Liverpool's high for the season. Everybody got involved: four blocks from Milner; three from Lovren; two from Oxlade-Chamberlain, and one each from van Dijk, Robertson, Firmino, and Ings. Eight of Liverpool's 12 blocked shots came in the first half.

Sure, it's probably a different match if Sané's "offside" goal counts just before halftime. By the letter of the law, it's still confusing. The last touch before the strike came off Milner, but was it on purpose? Does "on purpose" even matter? Jon Moss, in that match against Tottenham didn't think so. The rulebook, as is the rulebook's wont far too often, leaves it open to interpretation. I'd be furious if it happened to Liverpool, I can of course rationalize it when it happens against.

Either way, Liverpool were lucky. As Liverpool were when Robertson didn't concede a penalty against Sterling. As Liverpool were when Mané wasn't sent off for slipping into Otamendi – in retrospect, yellow was almost harsh, but in real time it looked bad. As Liverpool were when Bernando Silva's first half strike deflected off Lovren's head onto the post.

I have written it approximately a thousand times and I will probably write it again. It is better to be lucky than good in sport. It is best to be lucky and good.

Liverpool rode the lightning, and finished off the first half with a surprisingly good chance from some surprisingly Liverpool football, and that was the turning point. Then the second half at City looked a lot like the second half at Anfield but with bonus Liverpool goals. Possession without reward, and far better from Liverpool than the first half in all areas. Sure, Salah's strike absolutely deflated City, meaning they'd need four goals in little more than half an hour, but once Liverpool scored, Liverpool were in control. And, to be fair, Salah's goal was the first shot of the half for either side.

Liverpool made adjustments to free players up, whether rotating the front three so Salah's central and Firmino's tracking back on the left, or switching the midfielders to offer the fullbacks more protection, or just getting the side more compact: the defense further forward, the midfielders closer to the attackers. Liverpool stopped holding onto their butts and actually played football, out-possessing City for the first ten minutes of the second half then ruthlessly taking advantage when given the opportunity. That was the Liverpool we needed to see.

And once again, it wasn't the Manchester City that City wanted to see. City unable to put all that pressure and possession to use, City unable to put that early mistake and goal to use. All those errant and blocked shots. Sané offside seven different times yesterday, and often pocketed by Trent Alexander-Arnold (six interceptions, three successful tackles) when he wasn't. Again. 17 corners from City over two legs, with every single one competently dealt with by Liverpool. Liverpool haven't conceded from a corner since the 0-1 loss at Swansea two-and-a-half months ago. 15 games ago. 52 corners ago. Maybe we can put this narrative to rest.

So, even though City are aggrieved and will stay aggrieved, Liverpool go through. Deservedly so, in my obviously unbiased opinion. Even if City were the "better" side for approximately half of the tie – the second half last week, the first half yesterday – Liverpool were better at the sharper end, both in scoring when it mattered in both legs and defending when needed in both legs.

And now Liverpool are in the last four of Europe's premier club competition. Yes, yes, knockout competitions can do crazy things, but it's also not unfair to say that these are the four "best" teams. Even if they're not the four best, they're the four last.

And Liverpool are one of them, for the first time in a decade. For the first time in a decade after making the semi-finals in three of the four previous seasons: 2004-05, 2006-07, and 2007-08.

We're back, baby. Up Jürgen Klopp's European Terror Reds.

09 April 2018

Liverpool at Manchester City 04.10.18

Liverpool lead 3-0 on aggregate

2:45pm ET, live in the US on Fox Sports 1

Last four head-to-head:
3-0 Liverpool (h) 04.04.18
4-3 Liverpool (h) 01.14.18
0-5 City (a) 09.09.17
1-1 (a) 03.19.17

CL results:
Liverpool: 3-0 City (h); 0-0 Porto (h); 5-0 Porto (a); 7-0 Spartak (h); 3-3 Sevilla (a); 3-0 Maribor (h); 7-0 Maribor (a); 1-1 Spartak (a); 2-2 Sevilla (h); 4-2 Hoffenheim (h); 2-1 Hoffenheim (a)
City: 0-3 Liverpool (a); 1-2 Basel (h); 4-0 Basel (a); 1-2 Shakhtar (a); 1-0 Feyenoord (h); 4-2 Napoli (a); 2-1 Napoli (h); 2-0 Shakhtar (h); 4-0 Feyenoord (a)

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-0 Everton (a); 3-0 City (a); 2-1 Palace (a)
City: 2-3 United (h); 0-3 Liverpool (a); 3-1 Everton (a)

Goalscorers (Europe):
Liverpool: Firmino, Salah 8; Mané 7; Coutinho 5; Can 3; Alexander-Arnold, Oxlade-Chamberlain 2; Sturridge 1
City: Agüero, Sterling 4; Jesus, Stones 3; Gündogan 2; de Bruyne, Otamendi, B Silva 1

Referee: Antonio Mateu Lahoz (ESP)

Guess at a line-up:
Trent A-A Lovren van Dijk Robertson
Alex O-C Wijnaldum Milner
Salah Firmino Mané

23 times.

That's how many times this season that Manchester City have scored three or more goals in a match. 23 matches out of 50 in all competitions. Almost half.

Including, as you may remember, a 5-0 win against Liverpool back in September. Which, yeah, explanatory, possibly unrepeatable excuses, but it still happened.

This quarterfinal is not over.

Liverpool's XI is straight-forward, as long as both Salah and Robertson recover from their respective minor injuries. Matip, Can, Gomez, and Lallana remain out long-term, Henderson's suspended. The defense basically has to be the defense, the midfield has to be the midfield, and the front three will be the front three if at all possible.

Of course, the midfield remains the most frightening. Liverpool's three most attacking players of the five who vie for starting spots. Wijnaldum as the deepest, for just the second time in his Liverpool career following an encouraging performance against a far less attacking Everton. Playing against de Bruyne, Silva, and Fernandinho is gonna be a lot different than against Rooney, Davies, and Schneiderlin.

Unless Salah won't be fit to start. That's the most frightening. And I have no idea what Liverpool will do if Salah can't go. Oxlade-Chamberlain, who's started in the front three or wide in a 4-4-2, has to play in midfield due to absences if Liverpool stick with 4-3-3. Woodburn's back in training but hasn't featured for the first team yet this season. Hell, even Moreno would be an option on the left wing rather than at full-back, with Mané switching to the right, but he's as doubtful as Salah due to injury. I guess it'd be either Firmino on the right with Ings or Solanke – probably Ings up front – or a 4-4-2 with a front six of Oxlade-Chamberlain, Wijnaldum, Milner, Mané; Firmino, Ings/Solanke, but neither option fills me with optimism.

Meanwhile, Pep's gonna Pep, but I have to believe we're done with the nonsense seen in the last leg. This must be his "strongest" XI. The most familiar XI. Ederson; Walker, Kompany, Otamendi, Delph; de Bruyne, Fernandinho, Silva; Sterling, Agüero, Sané. The only possible change should be Stones for Otamendi – who has not had the best of games in his last two against Liverpool – or Kompany – who might not be able to start three games in six days. But no "center-back at left-back." No "de Bruyne playing deeper." No "Gündogan on the right." City's best players in City's most familiar formation.

Of course, that familiar formation – albeit with Bernardo Silva as a false nine and Gündogan rather than de Bruyne for the first 70 minutes – roared out to a 2-0 lead on Saturday before capitulating against United, conceding three goals in 16 minutes to their nearest rivals. They had the chance to cement the league against the Evil Empire and they failed spectacularly, first shutting off, seeming thinking the game and the league were won, then unable to turn it back on. I have never seen City give up three goals in a short span. That just does not happen, especially not in City's last two matches against Liverpool. Wink, nudge, etc.

Liverpool have to learn from the last leg. For better or for worse, Liverpool have to do Liverpool. They can't sit back and go "sure, score three." Yes, Liverpool defended egregiously well in the last leg, shutting City down in the second half, protecting that three-goal lead, but that can't and won't happen every game, despite Liverpool's recent defensive improvement. Manchester City absolutely love playing against packed, deep defenses who don't want the ball. It's what they do best.

Liverpool have to full-throated press, guns blazing, front three vicious. Liverpool have to blitzkrieg counter as soon as Liverpool gain possession, wherever Liverpool gain possession. Liverpool have to rattle them. Liverpool have to score – not to cement the gap and require City to need five goals, but because Liverpool thrive when Liverpool score and Liverpool don't when Liverpool don't. Liverpool have to come out and announce, "This is what we do. Fear us."

Liverpool have conceded three goals in five matches this season. 3-3 at Watford, 0-5 at City, 3-3 v Sevilla, 3-3 at Arsenal, 4-3 v City. Yes, twice against City, but only the 0-5 saw Liverpool fail to score. Not only can we blame Mané's red card for that, it also happened seven months ago. Liverpool have gotten a bit better since then.

Liverpool's game is Liverpool scoring.

As in the last leg.

Do Liverpool. And the rest should follow.