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.


Julian said...

YRRRRRRRRRSSSSSSSSSSSS! Glad to be on this ride "with" you, Nate.

Gabe said...

I thought it was a bit of a dive from Sterling on that one in the 33'

So happy to see Sterling's 'whiny face' after the match.

Anonymous said...

Sane is so good. Every time I see him I think he's a genius. Insanely proud of TAA for defending like that against him over two legs.

Anonymous said...

Just found out Uefa give 40 medals for Champions League winners
(yes I know I’m getting ahead of myself).

This means Coutinho could get one if Liverpool see to it.

It would be an excellent problem to have!

drew said...

On present evidence, Liverpool's front line would shred Real's defense.

Karqa said...

Thank you very much for your good blog
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