30 May 2018

Liverpool Goals Scored and Conceded 2017-18

(Here are similar versions from 2011-12, 2012-13, 2013-14, 2014-15, and 2015-16, 2016-17.)

There is a lot of good in here. Unsurprisingly.

Liverpool scored at a goals-per-game clip that we haven't seen since 2013-14, when – yes, Virginia – Liverpool nearly won the league.

But, for a second, I don't even care about goals per game. I care about goals. And 135 goals is a shit-load of goals. Liverpool have never scored 135 goals in a campaign before. Yes, I know that the amount of games played makes this moot in comparison to other high-scoring seasons. I don't care. I absolutely love goals. We saw 135 of them this season. Every single one was a damned treasure.

Both Salah and Firmino broke the template I had for individual scorers in that section, the first not-Luis-Suarez Liverpool players to score more than 25 in a season since Fernando Torres a decade ago. This is the first time that Liverpool have had three 20-goal scorers since 1981-82. That was 36 years ago. I wasn't even alive yet, barely. I don't know if that makes me feel better about this season or worse about my age. That it's only now happened twice in Liverpool's 125-year history, however, makes me feel better about this season.

Danger Zone goals? Great, tons of them, a higher proportion than usual. In position to score, actually scoring. More clear-cut chances than last season, a higher xG per shot than last season. Outside the box goals? A reasonable amount, although fewer than last season when Coutinho did a lot of Coutinho-ing. Penalties? Joint-fewest since 2011-12, and please don't look up that season, it hurts, it actually still hurts.

However, Liverpool's goals conceded average hasn't really gotten better. It's gotten worse, at least in all competitions. Let's dig slightly deeper.

First, the last time Liverpool conceded fewer than 40 goals in a league campaign was 2008-09. Nine seasons ago. Rafa Benitez's penultimate season. When Liverpool finished second.

That seems a good thing.

As with last season, Liverpool got better – or, at least stingier in defense – in the final third of the season, and with less of the eminently frustrating winter of our discontent. Not only did Liverpool concede fewer during the fixture-packed December and January, Liverpool were actually really good at scoring over said time frame as well. Unlike last season. A slightly deeper and more well-round side (although clearly not enough by the end of the campaign), better luck with injuries, and better use of said squad by the manager.

Plus, defending set plays has gotten a lot better!

There, obviously, remain concerns. Again, goals conceded, even if it was better than it seemed and improved over the course of the season. The heavy reliance on the front three, who scored more than 67% of Liverpool's goals.

And that timeline of goals scored and conceded.

Liverpool are really good in the middle third of halves, as the press pushes the opposition back and into mistakes, as the front three increasingly builds terror in the back-line. Liverpool are reasonably good at the beginning of halves, especially the second half, for similar reasons – although there's still too much of a propensity to concede in the opening 15 minutes. Liverpool are a lot less good at the end of halves, especially the second half, as the press slows and the side tires.

Good lord, stoppage time.

There's some garbage time in there. There's some "it doesn't matter, Liverpool were going to win/lose anyway" in there. But there's also 3-3 Watford, 3-3 Sevilla, and 2-2 Tottenham. There's also the unnecessary heartburn in the home league match against City and the away leg at Roma.

Liverpool's goals in the 90th minute or stoppage time? 7-0 Maribor, 3-0 Maribor, 2-1 Burnley, 2-1 Tottenham, 3-0 Bournemouth. Three dead rubbers, one winner, and one should-have-been-winner-but-wasn't. Not quite the same effect.

However, not counting Roma, all those matches came in the first week of February or earlier. Also known as, "hey we've signed van Dijk Robertson and Alexander-Arnold are hitting grooves and Karius has established himself as the number one goalkeeper" time. Six of the nine goals came before the end of the November.

Like with set plays conceded, like with clear-cut chances allowed, this is getting better and this has gotten better.

Like with Liverpool as a whole, it's getting better and has gotten better.

28 May 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 1-3 Real Madrid

Previous Match Infographics: Brighton (h), Chelsea (a), Roma (a), Stoke (h), 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. 

I mean, we know where this went wrong.

Mo Salah's first real injury of the season came at the worst possible time. I'm still more than willing to blame Sergio Ramos for doing it purposefully.

This was the first time that Liverpool had two Opta-defined errors leading to goals in the same game since 1-4 Tottenham, the only time it's happened this season. It's only the third time it's happened since Klopp became manager. We haven't seen two errors-leading-to-goals from the same Liverpool player in a single game since I started tracking errors back in 2012-13. Both came from the goalkeeper, the worst player to commit a defensive error, the most frequently punished for committing any error.

And Gareth Bale scored the winner, a goal he'll literally never score again in his life, in training or a match, no matter how many times he tries.

Yep, that all sucked.

So let's spend more time talking about the good things. There were actually a few.

The biggest regret is that Liverpool's game plan worked for the first half-hour. Mostly. In all but the always necessary goal at least.

Madrid still had more possession than Liverpool, but this was as close as we got. And Liverpool's possession was by far more threatening, with 56 attacking-third touches to Madrid's 21. Nine Liverpool shots to Madrid's two. And there would have been a couple more if not for Navas twice sweeping well and a punched cross, as well as a last-man tackle from Varane. Real Madrid were all hands-on-deck, increasingly desperate in defense. Six of Liverpool's nine shots during this spell were blocked, two from Casemiro and one each from Carvajal, Ramos, Varane, and Modric. Seven players defending, so only three could attack.

No side had blocked that high a proportion of Liverpool shots this season. Extrapolating 30 minutes into 90 is a fool's errand, but had Liverpool kept that pace, that's 27 shots, more than all but one match this season. Even without that quantity, it'd have been more than likely that Liverpool would have eventually made the breakthrough, probably before Real Madrid. We all know why Liverpool fell off that pace.

Liverpool did get a goal, if only after Read Madrid. Sadio Mané got Liverpool back in the game. He joins both Salah and Firmino with double-digit goals in the Champions League, the first time any side has ever had three players do so in one campaign. It's fitting that the three now share the record for most Liverpool goals in a Champions League campaign. Against Real Madrid, Mané took more shots, attempted and completed more dribbles, and made more successful tackles than any other Liverpool player. He nearly got Liverpool back into the game a second time, hitting the post with his weaker foot from outside the box in the 70th minute, Liverpool's only shot between Mané's goal and injury time.

And while Real Madrid won, did Cristiano Ronaldo play? Three shots, only one threatening, a clear-cut chance which Karius saved excellently – and he should have been called offside before Benzema actually was. One key pass – a 30th minute layoff for Modric's blocked shot, just after Liverpool had substituted Salah. Unsuccessful with all five attempted dribbles. Ronaldo spent the majority of the match against 19-year-old Trent Alexander-Arnold and our old favorite scapegoat Dejan Lovren, who both did immaculately against arguably the best player in the world on the biggest stage. That bodes well.

Of course, Real Madrid are more than just Cristiano Ronaldo. And that's the biggest difference between the sides. Despite all the nonsense incurred by and created by Liverpool. Real Madrid have more than enough quality and depth to win when their best player isn't at his best. Liverpool, less so. Especially against opponents of this stature.

It has been an insanely enjoyable season, far more better than worse. And while it was especially wild in the Champions League, we hit the wall at the end. The Champions League final aptly demonstrated just how far Liverpool still have to go. As the Europa League final did two seasons ago.

But for a few moments, it could easily have been different. It could easily have been better. But – as unfair as it still feels – it's probably fitting that it wasn't. This is where Liverpool are at the moment. This is where Liverpool have been for the majority of the season. Quite fun and quite good more often than not, but prone to calamity – both self-inflicted and inflicted by others – with a shallow squad.

Next season's gonna be a different story.

26 May 2018

Liverpool 1-3 Real Madrid

Benzema 51'
Mané 58'
Bale 64' 83'

Welp, the three-peat really was cosmically ordained. Liverpool's magic in this competition just could not overcome Real Madrid's even more powerful voodoo.

Everything's humming along nicely. Liverpool are doing exactly what Liverpool need to: pressing Madrid out of any fluency, creating chances, denied by some last ditch blocks and one good Navas save. It's a really good start! Everyone's really loud! We have hope!

And then Mohamed Salah has to go off injured, with what could well be a dislocated shoulder. After the season he's had, with the World Cup imminent. Or, put another way, Sergio Ramos injures Mohamed Salah, as he's purposefully and unnecessarily holding Salah's arm and angles his shoulder directly into the ground.

Life is not fair. This is a cruel, uncaring universe. Evil often defeats good, because good is dumb.

You can't say it's a different result, because cosmically-ordained-three-peat, but it's sure as hell a different game.

It ain't over after the injury. But Liverpool are already the underdog, and it just got a hell of a lot harder. It's not Adam Lallana's fault, but Adam Lallana is not Mohamed Salah, especially when he's missed 95% of the season. Liverpool's strategy necessarily changes, Liverpool's attack unfortunately changes. It's far less threatening. Pressing comes more from the midfield rather than the front three. It's harder to get Firmino and Mané involved. Lallana wasn't very good in the front three even when at peak form last season.

Liverpool trod a fine line with squad depth all season long. You can't plan for Ramos' evil or the angle of a fall, but the bill still came due today.

So, unsurprisingly, Liverpool are pushed deeper. Real Madrid push forward. Read Madrid find angles and paths through the lessened pressure and lessened threat. But, by hook and crook, Liverpool held out as Real built momentum. A wonderful save from Karius on Ronaldo's point-blank header, Benzema with the ball in the net on the rebound but offside. Ronaldo probably was too. Isco hits the crossbar after Lallana's attempted interception fell straight to him with the goal open. We are hanging on by fingernails but we are hanging on.

Then, calamity. Unbelievable calamity. I-don't-even-want-to-think-about-it calamity. I'm-going-to-think-about-it-forever calamity. Karius, ball in hand from Real's chip over the top to Benzema, with Benzema offside anyway. Karius, looking to start the attack quickly. Karius, throwing the ball at Benzema, who sticks a leg out and directs it into the net.

It is the dumbest thing I have ever seen a goalkeeper do. I have seen a lot of goalkeepers do dumb things, especially thanks to following Liverpool. I did a lot of dumb things as a goalkeeper, at an admittedly low level.

That. That right there was the winner. In the Champions League final. To open the scoring. When you're already missing your best player but holding on.

I cannot even.

But I couldn't even seven minutes later, as Liverpool equalized. Corner, Lovren dominates Ramos, Mané's on the doorstep. Game on.

Six minutes later, game off again. Gareth Bale, the player I actually feared most, off the bench less than two minutes before. With an unstoppable overhead kick from Marcelo's cross. Literally unstoppable. Perfect technique. Lucky technique. Probably the best goal in a Champions League final, and I very much remember what his manager's done.

And try as they might, Liverpool just could not get back into this. Mané hit the post in the 70th minute, doing his best to single-handedly fire anything into Liverpool's attack, but we just got more pain. We got the perfect combination of Real Madrid's first two goals in Real Madrid's third. Bale, from nowhere, with a wickedly swerving shot, fiercely hit about as well as he could from 30-something yards out. But it's still a shot that literally goes straight through Karius. I want to feel bad for Karius. No one feels worse than Karius right now, wishing the world would swallow him up. It is very hard to feel empathy right now.

Sigh. This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but with banter.

It is infinitely depressing to lose a final in this manner. Salah's injury to completely wreck all the momentum and all the good, right around the point of the match where Liverpool usually find another gear. Liverpool hold on adequately, with Karius saves and an offside flag and the crossbar, but then concede an opener in the absolute worst way possible. Get back into the game, but then concede that damned Bale insanity. Keep fighting, not out of it, but again give away another eminently preventable goal from an eminently unthreatening position.

Real Madrid probably are and were the better team, but we're not relishing or respecting their victory. We're regretful. Left wondering what could have been. What could have been had Salah not gotten injured. What could have been had Karius not thrown the ball into his own net twice, despite the half-season he's had, despite making three excellent saves in the match.

I hate regret. I hate regret after how well Liverpool played otherwise – honestly! – especially Mané, Lovren, Robertson, and Henderson, especially considering circumstances. I hate that I regret after all the fun we've had this season.

I can't wait until I reminiscence rather than regret. It will happen, because this season gave us so much more than we deserved or expected, but it's gonna take a while.

25 May 2018

Liverpool v Real Madrid 05.26.18

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

CL results:
Liverpool: 2-4 Roma (a); 5-2 Roma (h); 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)
Real: 2-2 Bayern (h); 2-1 Bayern (a); 1-3 Juventus (h); 3-0 Juventus (a); 2-1 PSG (a); 3-1 PSG (h); 3-2 Dortmund (h); 6-0 APOEL (a); 1-3 Tottenham (a); 1-1 Tottenham (h); 3-1 Dortmund (a); 3-0 APOEL (h)

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 4-0 Brighton (h); 0-1 Chelsea (a); 2-4 Roma (a)
Real: 2-2 Villarreal (a); 6-0 Celta Vigo (h); 2-3 Sevilla (a)

Goalscorers (Europe):
Liverpool: Firmino, Salah 11; Mané 9; Coutinho 5; Can 3; Alexander-Arnold, Oxlade-Chamberlain 2; Sturridge, Wijnaldum 1
Real: Ronaldo 15; Benzema 4; Marcelo 3; Asensio, Bale, Casemiro, Mayoral, Modric, Nacho, Ramos, Vazquez 1

Referee: Milorad Mažić (SRB)

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

It's finally here. Gulp.

We know Liverpool's XI. It's been the same for a while now, both on form and fitness. Lallana and even Can could be available off the bench, which hey that helps, but they won't be in the XI. Liverpool's gonna dance with what brung them.

We mostly know Real Madrid's. My guess is Navas; Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo; Modric, Casemiro, Kroos; Isco; Ronaldo, Bale. The one question is Bale or Benzema. Maybe there's a chance Real Madrid revert to 4-3-3, dropping one of the midfielders to restore the BBC, but it's been 4-Diamond-2 more often than not. And while Benzema's more established, and has played more, I guess I'm more afraid of what Bale's pace can do.

But either way, and more importantly, we know what Real Madrid are capable of. Cristiano Ronaldo remains the best pure goal-scorer in the world. Benzema, Bale, or both ain't bad either. That midfield is *gulps, tugs collar* a blend of creativity, dynamism, and steel. Marcelo is one of the world's best playmakers from left-damn-fullback. Sergio Ramos just does things in the biggest matches on the biggest stage, at both ends of the pitch.

All that pace and that scoring and that creativity and that individual brilliance and that history against Liverpool has kept me up at night for at least a week now.

Real Madrid have won the last two Champions Leagues. Three of the last four. They won the league last season, but finished third – 17 points behind Barcelona – in this one. It's been an unstoppable parade to the European Cup, no matter their form in other competitions. Cosmically ordained. This is their competition.

But we also know what Liverpool are capable of. Especially that front three. As Porto, City, and Roma have found out in this competition, let alone what Salah, Mané, and Firmino have done in the league. But it's been a team effort in Europe. Liverpool's best performances have seen the midfielders midfield, the defenders defend, and the full-backs do a bit of everything. When Liverpool don't get that from everywhere, you get Roma and City's almost-comebacks, both legs against Sevilla, etc, no matter what brilliance that front three conjures.

In theory, Liverpool match up as well with Real Madrid as Real Madrid match up with Liverpool. The players to press Madrid into turnovers and create good chances, as both Bayern Munich and Juventus did in previous rounds, but with the players to potentially convert the chances that Bayern and Juventus didn't. A midfield that can swarm diminutive players into relative silence when at their best and on full rest. And a defense that actually can increasingly defend, even if still prone to errors then collapses.

And this is also Liverpool's competition. Yes, this will be against the team that's won it more than any other, but we've won it five times. Liverpool winning this big, lovely trophy has been cosmically ordained before as well. We all remember Istanbul. We all have felt like this felt in 2004-05.

It's the Champions League final, in Jürgen Klopp's third season. Before this side's even been fully built. Having won their group despite *issues*, having decisively beaten the Portuguese league winners and the Premier League winners, having narrowly got past Serie A's third-best side despite taking 5-0 and 6-1 leads.

It's been a hell of a ride. Up and down and down and up and up and down and up. And it's not over yet.

Allez allez allez.

14 May 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 4-0 Brighton

Previous Match Infographics: Chelsea (a), Roma (a), Stoke (h), 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. 

When Liverpool do games like this, it's hard to think of a Liverpool side I've enjoyed more. After a month with too much worry, at least in the league, we got good Liverpool back.

The attack finally returned to its former face-stomping form.

Liverpool rolls in a must-win game, the final league match of the season, the last match at Anfield in 2017-18. Even with ever-present James Milner out, the first time he's not been in the squad since January 2017. Even with a different formation, the first time we've seen 4-2-3-1/4-2-4 since December.

Mohamed Salah scored in a league game for the 24th time this season and in any game for the 34th time; 24 out of 36 league games played, 34 out of 51 games in all competitions. Mohamed Salah scored against a 17th different Premier League side; no player's scored against more teams in a single Premier League season. Mohamed Salah is the first player to outscore three English top-flight teams, with more goals than West Brom, Huddersfield, and Swansea.

Mohamed Salah finally broke the record for goals in a 38-game Premier League season. Mohamed Salah opened the scoring, the 17th goal he's scored with Liverpool level.

Dominic Solanke and Andrew Robertson both scored their first goals for Liverpool, the 17th and 18th different players to score for Liverpool this season.

Liverpool's 22 shots were their most in a league match since beating Swansea 5-0 back in December. Liverpool's +20 shot difference is tied for second-most in a league match this season, behind +30 in a draw with Burnley and equal to +20 in the draw with Everton, both matches featuring must more desperate shots as Liverpool chased a result. Liverpool's 17 Danger Zone shots were a high for a Liverpool league match this season. Liverpool had more clear-cut chances than shots from outside the box.

21 of those 22 Liverpool shots came with less than an hour gone; Liverpool's only shot after the 58th minute was Robertson's goal. 19 of those 22 shots came between the 19th and 58th minutes; 19 shots over a span of 39 minutes, nearly a shot every two minutes.

Unsurprisingly, goals followed. This was the 25th time this season that Liverpool have scored three or more goals in a match. They did so 14 times last season, 13 times in 2015-16, and only six in 2014-15. Only the 2013-14 Liverpool side scored more Premier League goals than this season's.

And, to complete the package, Liverpool were again stingy at the back.

When Liverpool have been at their best, it's been at both ends of the pitch. Only Huddersfield took fewer shots against Liverpool in a league match this season, with just one in Liverpool's 3-0 win at Anfield back in October.

Yesterday saw Liverpool's 17th clean sheet in the league, the highest total since Benitez left. Liverpool had 12 last season, 11 the season before (with three of them under Rodgers).

In the 29 matches since the embarrassment against Tottenham at Wembley, Liverpool have conceded the fewest goals in the league, one less than City (while only scoring four fewer) and two less than United.

It's truly been a group effort. Yes, Virgil van Dijk's made a massive difference, as has Robertson cementing his place at left-back, Karius claiming the keeper job, and Alexander-Arnold's improved form with increased minutes. And this defensive run began before any of those features truly took hold.

It's weird how Liverpool finally brought it all back together when finally having a week between matches after the fast and furious last month.

Players need recovery time to play Jürgen Klopp's style at its best. Especially the front three, so reliant on pressing and pace. And, yes, this highlights Liverpool need for better squad depth, reliant on key players to be fit. Especially the front three.

These were the types of games that Liverpool needed to win more of last season. It's not as if 2016-17 Liverpool were bad in these fixtures, but there was still 3-4 Bournemouth and 2-2 West Ham and 1-2 Palace and 2-3 Swansea and more regrets against sides that Liverpool should be beating than there have been this season. Beat the dross, win the league, etc.

Liverpool were not good against their top-six rivals and mediocre against relegated sides, but very, very good against the middle-to-bottom tier.

Or, put another way, very good against the bottom half, less so against the top half.

But season-long eulogies can wait a little longer. More important for the immediate future was what Liverpool did on Sunday.

Liverpool's players were good, from front to back, in a slightly unfamiliar formation. Liverpool won, convincingly, in a must-win match, the last of the league campaign, after failing to win the previous three. Liverpool's win sealed a Champions League place for the second season in a row.

And Liverpool's win sets themselves up nicely for a Champions League final in two weeks' time.

13 May 2018

Liverpool 4-0 Brighton

Salah 26'
Lovren 40'
Solanke 53'
Robertson 85'

That's how you end a league campaign.

Liverpool win 4-0. Salah breaks the record for Premier League goals in a single season. Solanke and Robertson both score their first goals for Liverpool. And Liverpool finish fourth to secure Champions League for next season, the first time Liverpool have qualified for that competition in consecutive seasons since in almost a decade.

When Liverpool needed to do Liverpool, Liverpool did Liverpool. Weird how a week's respite makes that much of a difference after the season it's been.

That this match was little more than a formality doesn't fit with the last few weeks, but does with how Liverpool's played in the majority of matches this season. This was 3-0 Huddersfield, 3-0 Bournemouth, 5-0 Swansea rather than 0-0 Stoke or 0-0 West Brom. Aside from a frustrating 1-1 draw with Newcastle many months ago, Liverpool did what Liverpool have done against promoted sides: 2-0 Newcastle, 3-0 Huddersfield, 3-0 Huddersfield, 5-1 Brighton, and now 4-0 Brighton.

It could and probably should have been a lot worse for the visitors. But Liverpool screwed up two clear-cut chances – Mané shooting when he should have passed, then Mané passing when he should have shot – and were denied three seemingly obvious penalties. And this was all in the first half-hour. There was a little bit of weirdness with Solanke leading the line ahead of Firmino, Salah, and Mané, with some congestion and narrow play, but there was still an unstoppable Liverpool rolling at Brighton's defense again and again and again.

Even with all the spurned opportunities, the result never felt in doubt. Sure, Brighton were safe and Liverpool needed some sort of result, ideally a win, but Liverpool still had to go and do it. Which they processed to from the opening whistle. I guess that's what happens when Liverpool have literally all the possession. When Brighton have two shots all match, both from Solly March, both from outside the box, both after Liverpool had already opened the scoring. When Liverpool's defense has been this much better over the last few months, especially in matches like these, despite a couple of recent late collapses. When Liverpool's attack have the legs to do what Liverpool's attack does best.

So, finally – he writes "finally" about an incident in the 26th minute – Salah gets his 32nd in the league and 44th of the season when one of the many, many Liverpool attacks finally clicks: Alexander-Arnold, to Solanke, to Mo, with seemingly no space for the assist or shot. And then Lovren heads in after a corner's initially cleared, with no one tracking his run into the box. And then Solanke finally opens his account, a length-of-the-pitch counter from Henderson to Firmino to Salah to Solanke, a run around and through two defenders from Salah then absolutely thundered off the roof of the net by Solanke. And then Robertson caps it all off, in place when the ball's deflected to him after lovely work from substitutes Ings and Lallana.

And then we're laughing. Lovren and van Dijk, untroubled again. Karius in the way the few times called upon, one save and one good punch that cleared out the ball and attacker. Henderson and Wijnaldum able to do all that running in the 55th match of the season. Robertson and Alexander-Arnold up and down the flanks. Solanke finally scores, Robertson finally scores, with the latter also chipping in an assist and Solanke responsible for Salah's goal even if he doesn't get an assist thanks to a slight touch. And another goal and another assist and another hockey assist from Salah. A true team performance when the team needed to perform.

It's now the 25th time this season that Liverpool's scored three or more goals in a match, the 14th with four or more. The 23rd clean sheet of the season, with 11 of those in the last 20 games. Liverpool finish unbeaten in the league at Anfield, the only club in England to do so. 75 points in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2009. Top four in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2009. Qualification for the Champions League in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2009.

It is exactly the way you want to finish the league campaign, after all the good and bad that's come before. With a lot more good than bad, and a lot more fun than not.

Now, to finish the season with similar jubilation in two weeks' time.

12 May 2018

Liverpool v Brighton 05.13.18

10am ET, live in the US on NBC

Last four head-to-head:
5-1 Liverpool (a) 12.02.17
6-1 Liverpool (h; FA Cup) 02.19.12
1-2 Liverpool (a; League Cup) 10.21.11
3-2 Liverpool (a; FA Cup) 01.03.91

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-1 Chelsea (a); 2-4 Roma (a); 0-0 Stoke (h); 5-2 Roma (h)
Brighton: 1-3 City (a); 1-0 United (h); 0-0 Burnley (a)

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
Brighton: Murray 12; Groß 7; Izquierdo 5; Knockaert 3; Hemed 2; Dunk, Locadia, March, Ulloa 1

Referee: Kevin Friend (LFCHistory) (WhoScored)

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

Still stumbling face-first toward the finish. We're on big NBC in the USA tomorrow because this is the match that decides the top four. If Liverpool lose, Liverpool probably won't finish in the Champions League places, then needing Chelsea to also drop points at Newcastle.

But Liverpool also just need a draw. Because Chelsea dropped points in their last match, at home to Huddersfield just three days after beating Liverpool. At least we're both stumbling face-first toward the finish.

Just be good enough, Liverpool.

You'd think a week's respite would be a good thing. And it probably has been! Absolutely everyone needed the recovery time. But rather than "okay, folks are getting better," we're getting less enjoyable injury news, with Sadio Mané now struggling with a problem picked up in the last match.

So. Yikes. I don't need to remind anyone how Liverpool have looked when you remove one of the fantastic front three.

Otherwise, the line-up writes itself. As per usual. Lallana should at least make the bench, which means we can almost pretend at some attacking depth. But with a week since the last match and almost two before the Champions League final, I doubt we'll see any defensive rotation. There are no other midfielders to rotate. You want to keep the front three as front three as possible.

Maybe we get Woodburn instead of Ings. Or Solanke. Or maybe it'll be 4-4-2 or 3-5-2. It's not as if Liverpool aren't used to duct-taping a line-up together to face Brighton. The reverse fixture saw Liverpool go 3-4-3 without most of the fit central defenders, with both Emre Can and Wijnaldum used at center-back. And Liverpool, somehow, still won 5-1, even if lucky to do so by that margin.

I wouldn't say no to 5-1 tomorrow. It ain't gonna be that easy though. Not with the form Liverpool have been in, at least in the league.

With a win, Brighton could finish as high as tenth, currently a point behind Watford, Bournemouth, Palace, and Newcastle. With a loss, they'd finish no lower than 15th. They're safe, six points clear of what will probably be the relegation zone mark, which every single Brighton player, coach, employee, and supporter would've taken before the season started.

It's not 'nothing to play for,' but Brighton's destiny is done. All but safe for a few weeks now, confirmed safe with a win at Manchester United last week. And Brighton have been diligent over the last month in securing safety. There looked a potentially destabilizing loss, 3-2 at their peers in Crystal Palace, but three draws in April were just about enough. 1-1 v Huddersfield, fine. 0-0 at Burnley, good enough. 1-1 v Tottenham, fairly impressive, and a little helpful for Liverpool.

And then that United match. Brighton, the better side before taking the lead, with De Gea required to stop the usual few efforts. United, blunt and unthreatening without both Lukaku and Alexis, not even requiring any heroics from Mat Ryan.

That marked United's third away loss in three matches against the promoted sides. Liverpool's home record against the same sides is fine, 2-0 over Newcastle and 3-0 over Huddersfield, nothing fancy but comfortable and comprehensive. Liverpool's home record is fine in general – too many draws, which is the story of the campaign – but also the only side in the division unbeaten, with only United conceding fewer goals.

The last month has shown Brighton's stinginess, with just two goals conceded in the four matches which will keep them division. But there's also the three conceded at Palace, in a match where Brighton needed to go for it. There's also the three conceded at Manchester City three days ago. There's also the fact that Brighton have the second-worst away record in the division, with two wins (last week's at United and 1-0 at Swansea way back in November), five draws, and 11 losses.

Tomorrow's side will probably be very similar to that against City. The only likely change is Glenn Murray for Leonardo Ulloa up front. Ryan; Bruno, Duffy, Dunk, Bong; Knockaert, Stephans, Propper, Izquierdo; Groß, Murray. Ryan has been one of the best keepers in the league this season. Murray was quite good when these sides last spoke. Groß scored those crucial goals against both United and Tottenham.

So here we are. After all the drama of the last month. All the drama of the season in full. Liverpool just need a draw to secure a place in next season's Champions League.

Chris Hughton's never beaten Liverpool. Never drawn with Liverpool. Never prevented Liverpool from scoring five goals: 5-2, 5-1, and 5-0 losses while in charge of Norwich, and a 5-1 loss at Brighton a few months ago.

Liverpool know what they need to do. What they need to focus on before attention turns to Kiev. Stumble all you want, as long as you finish as you need to finish.

07 May 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 0-1 Chelsea

Previous Match Infographics: Roma (a), Stoke (h), 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. 

It happens.

It happens after European matches, especially as the season's gone on. And it doesn't help that three of Liverpool's five away matches against top-four rivals came after one of those European matches, all three ending in losses.

It happens in away matches against Top 4 rivals. All season long.

This is all sorts of yikes. There are caveats – red card at City, mistakes at Tottenham, five crazy minutes at Arsenal, no referee luck at United, that Liverpool were all but perfect and incredibly lucky in these matches last season. The matches at City and Tottenham make these stats, especially the opposition's, look a lot worse than maybe they should. Sample size, etc. But still. Yikes.

It happens in matches where Liverpool have a ton of possession. At least it's less than previous seasons, but it's still too often. There are matches where Liverpool push and push and push and make the breakthrough, but there are still 0-1 Chelsea and 0-0 Stoke and 0-1 Swansea and 0-0 West Brom, etc etc etc. And it's odd to see away matches against both Chelsea and United on this list.

It happens when eight of Liverpool's 11 starters yesterday have played more minutes than they did last season, some very much so, and especially in the front three. Henderson, Gomez, Can, and Matip are all past their totals from last season as well – the first two by a lot, the latter two despite missing the last month – while Oxlade-Chamberlain was on pace to pass his before his knee injury.

And it happens when Liverpool struggle to involve the three players who've pretty much single-handedly won loads of matches this season.

It's because of work load. It's because of the lack of depth in both the front three and midfield. It's because certain sides are happy to sit deep and completely nullify space and pace – even good sides, and especially when good sides do it. It especially doesn't help if Liverpool concede first in matches like this – see 1-1 Burnley, 0-1 Swansea, 1-2 United.

Liverpool couldn't get the front three going, and when Liverpool can't get that front three going, Liverpool often suffer.

Firmino and Salah each took just one shot, despite Liverpool playing 60 minutes when behind. Mané took four, but none after Chelsea took the lead. Firmino's came in the third minute, the first of the match. Salah's came just after halftime, from nowhere and not close. Chelsea are now just the second league side to keep Liverpool from having at least one clear-cut chance in a match this season. Manchester City were the other, in Liverpool's 4-3 home win. Which makes no sense, but all sorts of sense when you remember it's this season's Liverpool.

Mohamed Salah's 34 touches and 22 attempted passes aren't exceptionally low compared to past performances, but it was his participation in dangerous areas – or, obviously, lack thereof – which made the most difference. Five touches in Chelsea's penalty area, through 90 minutes. Layoff, unsuccessful touch, unsuccessful touch, caught offside, tackled.

All that difference in possession, and Chelsea had more touches in Liverpool's penalty area than Liverpool had in Chelsea's.

Liverpool just could not get into Chelsea's penalty area. And Salah's usually the player to do so. Because that's what Chelsea do, especially when they get an early-ish goal.

And that's pretty much the alpha and omega of yesterday's match. 0-0 probably would have been more representative of how the match played out, but it doesn't work like that. There are fine margins, especially with Liverpool's squad size, Liverpool's fatigue, and Liverpool record in matches like these.

And Liverpool, in conceding once and failing to score, or create one good opportunity, were on the wrong side of said margins.

It's not helpful to be on the wrong side of said margins this late in the season, with this much still to play for. But there are two matches left – two Champions League Finals, as Klopp put it – to save the world.

06 May 2018

Liverpool 0-1 Chelsea

Giroud 32'

I often wonder what it'd be like to follow a football team who did things the easy way.

A month ago, top four seemed all but certain. But then Liverpool went and drew with the 19th and 20th-place sides in the division while Chelsea won three in a row.

And then today happened. The exact way you don't want a match with Chelsea to go. And now we're going into the last day probably needing all three points at Anfield against Brighton.

As if Liverpool would have it any other way. As if Liverpool would happen any other way.

Chelsea are really good at doing things that Liverpool are sometimes bad at stopping. They're one of the best sides at defending deep, in position and in numbers. They counter incredibly well, especially through Moses and Alonso, exploiting Liverpool's full-backs proclivity for getting forward; both cross well, both shoot well. Hazard is a ball-controlling dribble machine. And Chelsea are very good in the air, whether it's Giroud or Morata attacking crosses, or them and midfielders and center-backs on set plays.

And that's exactly how it played out. Liverpool on top for the opening half hour. Patient, prodding possession – which, you know, not my favorite Liverpool, but not a bad idea against a side that plays like Chelsea play and when Liverpool are as fatigued as Liverpool are. Firmino's shot saved from no angle very early on, then two decent chances from Mané, first a blast from distance well saved, then a tame toe-poke straight at Courtois.

So far, fine.

Then all the evil. A warning from Bakayoko: Chelsea straight down the pitch after Mané's shot was saved, Alonso in acres of space, Hazard, Fabregas, Moses, awkward header wide. Warning not heeded. A minute later: possession lost on Robertson's attempted ball over the top, Alonso in acres of space, Bakayoko cross-field, Moses gets an inch around Robertson, cross, Giroud between the center-backs, goal.

We've got Chelsea with a lead. We've got a tired Liverpool. We've got a hot day. We get 60 minutes of slow, silent death.

Playing against a Chelsea side, at home, when they've got a 1-0 lead is like trying to get out of quicksand. The harder you struggle, the worse it gets. The dumber you struggle, the worse it gets. The more tired you are, the worse it gets.

The worse it got.

Needing just a point, Liverpool took all of two shots between Chelsea's goal and the 88th minute. With 70% possession. Both from outside the box. Both nowhere near the target. With none between the 49th and 88th minutes.

Liverpool's substitutions? Henderson for Clyne, Solanke for Robertson, and – very late – Moreno for Milner. The Alexander-Arnold in midfield experiment fails again. Solanke, who had two of Liverpool's three late shots, off-target with both headers and irrelevant otherwise. Liverpool resorting to throwing van Dijk up front, his header just before the final whistle tame and straight at Courtois.

Liverpool literally had no answer for Chelsea's defense. Liverpool's front three is often reliant – not always, but often enough and increasingly so – on space and pace. Chelsea gave them no space. The fixture list, Liverpool's lack of depth, and Liverpool's participation in the Champions League robbed them of that pace, especially Salah, who seemingly might as well not have played.

And, honestly, Liverpool were lucky not to concede a second. No one on the end of Fabregas' or Moses' dangerous low crosses across the six-yard box. Hazard saved at the near post after dribbling past half of Liverpool's side. Rütiger's "goal" from a corner ruled out for offside. Alonso's insane volley from another Moses cross whistling just wide.

This was bad. This was Chelsea completely doing Chelsea, and Liverpool utterly failing to do Liverpool.

This is the first time that Liverpool have failed to score in consecutive Premiership matches since Klopp became manager. Liverpool are stumbling, face-first, to finish the campaign. Liverpool are paying the price for mounting injuries and the lack of squad depth.

But the sky isn't falling. Yet. Even if Tottenham and Chelsea win out, Liverpool can still qualify for next season's Champions League if they beat Brighton at home. A Brighton who are safe from relegation, with seemingly nothing to play for. But a Brighton which just beaten Manchester United two days ago.

Or, you know, Liverpool could just win this season's Champions League in a couple of weeks.

But that we've gotten to this point in the league is beyond annoying. And that we've gotten to this point in Europe remains remarkable.

05 May 2018

Liverpool at Chelsea 05.06.18

11:30am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
1-1 (h) 11.25.17
1-1 (h) 01.31.17
2-1 Liverpool (a) 09.16.16
1-1 (h) 05.11.16

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-4 Roma (a); 0-0 Stoke (h); 5-2 Roma (h)
Chelsea: 1-0 Swansea (a); 2-0 Southampton (h); 2-1 Burnley (a)

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
Chelsea: Hazard 12; Morata 11; Alonso, Willian 6; Pedro 4; Moses 3; Azpilicueta, Bakayoko, Batshuayi, Fabregas, Giroud, Rudiger 2; Drinkwater, Kanté, Luiz, Zappacosta 1

Referee: Anthony Taylor (LFCHistory) (WhoScored)

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

So it's been a fairly uneventful week. Just another wild-ass Champions League semi-final where Liverpool conceded four and won the tie and secured a spot in the final in three weeks' time. Its first Champions League final in 11 years. A match that took years off our lives, and probably the players' lives.

And after a match like that in Rome, you'd think Liverpool would rotate its side. You'd almost certainly be wrong.

Liverpool could really use a result here. A win makes top four certain. A point makes it all but certain. Chelsea have been good lately, Chelsea always give Liverpool a difficult match. But more importantly, Liverpool don't really have rotation options.

Maybe Lallana and Can make it back before the end of the season. But they ain't back yet. Matip and Oxlade-Chamberlain are assuredly out for the final three games. Gomez is out too, at least for one more week. Liverpool have no other fit central midfielders, and Liverpool have seen a massive drop-off when they've rotated the back four or, more importantly, the front three.

So, really, the only changes I can see is Clyne or Moreno coming in at full-back. And I wouldn't be surprised if neither happen. Had Liverpool already secured top four, maybe we get something crazy, maybe we get 4-4-2 or three-at-the-back or Solanke or Ings or Woodburn, etc. But since they haven't we probably won't. We probably shouldn't.

Gotta get this.

Meanwhile, Chelsea are unbeaten in their last five matches, not only making the top four race a lot closer than is comfortable, but they're also into the FA Cup final for the second season in a row. They're peaking at the right-ish time, after a fairly disappointing campaign. But that's been Chelsea of in recent years. Win the league. Then get weird. Have players disappoint, have problems with the manager. Lather, rinse, repeat.

But they're still Chelsea. They're still a pain in the rear. It's not going to be a high-line 3-4-3, which Liverpool often feast upon, but a disciplined, well-positioned, fairly deep defense reliant on the wing-backs, Willian, Hazard, and either Giroud or Morata to counter. Something like Courtois; Azpilicueta, Cahill, Rutiger; Moses, Kanté, Fabregas, Alonso; Willian, Hazard; Giroud. And they're fairly healthy, especially considering both the time of the season; David Luiz the only player missing through injury.

This fixture's almost always seen goals, but not a ton of them; both teams have scored in eight of the last nine meetings. But either side has scored more than once in just three of those nine, with five ending in 1-1 draws, including three of Klopp's five meetings.

I'd be more than happy with a 1-1 draw tomorrow, a result that all but ensures Liverpool will be in next season's Champions League. But we've also seen what happens when Liverpool play for a draw, play for damage control. You saw it on Wednesday, kind of. This team only knows how to play one way. Or, better put, this team only knows how to succeed one way. Score goals. Attack. Do Liverpool.

Go get this.

03 May 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 2-4 Roma

Previous Match Infographics: Stoke (h), 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. 

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

What even is this team.

5-0 up after 80 minutes of the first leg.

5-2 up after 90 minutes.

7-3 up at halftime of the second leg.

And the tie finishes 7-6 on aggregate. A Champions League semi-final. The highest-scoring semi-final in Champions League history. Liverpool lose its first Champions League match of the campaign and make it to their first Champions League final in more than a decade. And I've lost probably five years of my life watching Liverpool this season.

This also, probably not coincidentally, is my favorite Liverpool side that I can remember.

They are agony and ecstasy. Joy and despair. Brilliance and nonsense. Alpha and omega.

They are what sport is supposed to be.

I would say that "Liverpool never do anything the easy way" but Liverpool have no idea what the easy way is. Liverpool and The Easy Way don't live in the same galaxy.

... he writes about a side that's won 7-0, 7-0, 5-0, 5-0, 5-0, 5-1, 5-2, 4-0, 4-0, etc already this season.

... he writes about a side that's conceded 18 of their 57 goals in all competitions – almost a third – in the last 15 minutes of matches this season.

Tactical analysis be damned.

This was chaos. Beginning of the universe, end of the universe chaos. Creation and entropy. Pressing and second balls and counter-attacks and deflections and defensive shelling and all-hands-on-deck clearances and staring plaintively at a referee who's not sure what he's gotten into. There was no rhyme or reason. There was two sides going for broke because Roma had no choice and Liverpool have no other way.

Liverpool did Liverpool, at least in the first half, at least the good Liverpool. An early onslaught weathered, pressing, opposition mistake, counter, goal. Pressing, Henderson cross-field, Robertson cross, clear-cut chance saved, corner, goal. Mistakes made by opponents but really opponents forced into mistakes. Two goals within 25 minutes, from this competition's top scorers. On a ground where Roma were yet to concede in this competition.

Roma did Roma. Roma finally went 4-3-3. Barcelona's three-goal lead matters none. Liverpool's five-goal lead, or whatever lead they've got at the moment, matters none. Liverpool weathering the early onslaught matters none, continuing to push after Mané's opener, getting some luck with Lovren's clearance off of Milner's face. Which, to be fair, came after sustained build-up around Liverpool pressing and two cross-field passes to open up the defense.

It's not over at 5-0, it's not over at 7-3. Second half. All Roma. 45 minutes that felt like 450. Liverpool increasingly pushed deeper, Liverpool's counter-attack failing to fire, both increasingly tired and far too narrow in a few situations, well marshaled by Fazio and Manolas.

14 Roma shots between the 46th and 85th minute, but just one goal, from Dzeko as Karius palms El Shaarawy's shot straight to him. Three shots saved by Karius, nine off-target, just one blocked. Meanwhile, Roma, even while throwing bodies forward, block five of Liverpool's last six shots. But this 39-minute stretch also saw Liverpool make 23 of their 40 clearances, with 15 of those from Lovren and van Dijk, just trying to bat away the ball perpetually coming back at them.

This is the period Roma regrets, partly for reasons not their own. Dzeko ruled offside before being taken out by Karius. Alexander-Arnold's handball not called. It's the referee's fault, not their own. I, of course, want to point to Mané not getting a penalty in the first half, Mané taken out by Florenzi in what could have been a dismissal, or penalties given against Liverpool that had no right to be given, one in either leg.

It fit with the tone of the match. All of it. Insanity, from all involved. Chaos, both organized and disorganized.

Finally, too late, Roma do more Roma. Nainggolan from nowhere in the 86th minute, with Karius unable to even dive. Nainggolan from the spot, in the last minute of added time, after a hoofed ball bounces up onto Klavan's arms pinned firmly to his sides.

7-6 looks a lot closer than 7-4. Same result, though.

It was madness. I love this madness. I hate this madness.

Even considering where we are and where we've been, I kind of want to complain. Even if we're used to it, it shouldn't have come to this. Mainly I want to complain about Liverpool's substitutions. I usually do. They seemingly made the final 10 minutes closer than they should have been. They're responsible for one of the aforementioned five years I've lost this season. Once again, Liverpool bring on a defender for an attacker in the final minutes, switching to three at the back. Once again, Liverpool concede after doing so. It's not the first time.

But it's not as often as you'd think. Tottenham, West Brom, Roma. Sure, Liverpool concede too many late goals – which often happen after some sort of substitution has been made: attacker for lesser attacker, attacker for midfielder, defender for defender, etc. Sure, Liverpool's substitutions often leave *something* to be desired. But the switch to three-at-the-back isn't as responsible as you or I think that it is.

But, see that those are the only three matches this season when late defensive substitutions led to late goals conceded.

But, when I calm down, I also remember the situation that this squad is in.

You saw how hard Liverpool ran over the first three-quarters of that match. And last weekend. And last week. And every time Liverpool play. You see the situation that running got Liverpool in: 5-0 after 80 minutes last week, 7-3 at half-time yesterday. And you also know that players that Liverpool are currently without thanks to injury.

Liverpool have played 53 games this season, with only 23 players making more than ten appearances (two of whom are no longer with the club). Firmino, Salah, Wijnaldum, Milner, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mané, and Lovren have all already made more than 40 appearances. Six of those seven started yesterday. The others were Henderson, who's only two appearances off that 40-game mark; van Dijk, who only signed in January; a 19-year-old right back; a 24-year-old left back signed from relegated Hull; and a goalkeeper who only claimed his starting spot at the beginning of 2018.

Firmino's never played this many games in a season in his career. Salah's never played this many games in a season in his career. Wijnaldum's never played this many games in a season in his career. Lovren's never played this many games in a season in his career. Oxlade-Chamberlain's never played this many games in a season in his career, and sadly won't get to add to that total.

Milner has, because he's James Milner, but he hasn't surpassed this season's total since 2009-10. When he was 24. He's 32 now. Sadio Mané has, with both Southampton and RB Salzburg, but we're not far off his high either, and we've long blown past the total he played for Liverpool last season. And it's no coincidence that Mané's also been the most-frequently-used front-three player over the last month when he missed stretches of September, October, and December.

Liverpool, with three games left, have already played six more games than they did last season.

That it's May, and Liverpool have switched off or Liverpool have failed in the last 10-15 minutes in the last four matches, is understandable. 5-0 v Roma, 2-0 at West Brom, and 2-2 at Roma would look a hell of a lot better than the actual final scores of those three matches. But it's also not an excuse.

Liverpool have three very trying games left. First, Sunday, at Chelsea. Where a point will all but seal top-four for next season. Back to work, after this, then the celebrations that followed this. 75 hours or so from now. Then, a week later, the last league match against Brighton, where Liverpool will need all three points if they fail to take any at Chelsea. Finally, the Champions League Final – which, thankfully, comes 13 days after the last league match.

And, yes, I really wrote that. Liverpool. Champions League Final.

What a season. But it ain't over. And Liverpool better be damned sure they know it.

01 May 2018

Liverpool at AS Roma 05.02.18

Liverpool lead 5-2 on aggregate

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

CL results:
Liverpool: 5-2 Roma (h); 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: 2-5 Liverpool (a); 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: 0-0 Stoke (h); 5-2 Roma (a); 2-2 West Brom (a)
Roma: 4-1 Chievo (h); 2-5 Liverpool (a); 3-0 SPAL (a)

Goalscorers (Europe):
Liverpool: Firmino, Salah 11; Mané 8; Coutinho 5; Can 3; Alexander-Arnold, Oxlade-Chamberlain 2; Sturridge 1
Roma: Dzeko 7; Perotti 3; El Shaarawy, Manolas 2; de Rossi, Kolarov, Ünder 1

Referee: Damir Skomina (SVN)

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

Do the Champions League, just one more time. Okay, two more times.

This has been Liverpool's competition so far this season. Unbeaten. Top scorers. Liverpool weren't good in league matches prior to the first leg in Porto, both legs against City, and the last match against Roma. And they they went out and did the damned thing in Europe. As they did in the group stage against every side save Sevilla.

Liverpool may be down to three fit central midfielders, at best. Liverpool are still missing Can, Matip, and Oxlade-Chamberlain; Gomez hasn't traveled; and both Henderson and Alexander-Arnold are carrying knocks. Lallana's with the squad, but won't be available, and so are a bunch of kids who may well be needed: Woodburn, Jones, Masterson, Camacho.

But Liverpool can still do the damned thing. This is their competition. And they've got that front three.

So, yeah, Roma are good at home. They're not great in the league, with 11 wins, one draw, and six losses, but are great in the Champions League, where they're yet to concede. Four wins and a 0-0 draw with Atletico. They've scored three goals at home in six league matches and two European matches, most notably in the last round of the Champions League, that 3-0 win over Barcelona after losing the first leg 1-4. Where a late away goal gave them hope. Gulps, tugs collar, etc. The match that gives them confidence that they can do the same tomorrow. But also the match that gave them confidence that they could play three at the back against Liverpool as well.

I find it hard to believe that di Francesco will play anything other than 4-3-3 this time out.

Alisson; Florenzi, Fazio, Manolas, Kolarov; Gonalons, de Rossi, Nainggolan; Schick, Dzeko, Perotti. Maybe Ünder or El Shaarawy instead of Schick or Perotti. Gonalons or Pellegrini could replace the injured Strootman, or Perotti could play deeper with one of the other aforementioned attackers coming in. Perotti's questionable with injury as well, but should be available.

Roma simply has to go for it, early and often. Throw caution to the wind, etc. etc. And while Roma scored their opener against Barcelona in the 6th minute, they didn't get the second and third until the 58th (a penalty) and 82nd minutes. Cliche though this may be, it will be a 90-minute match. It won't be won by an early goal, for either side.

But if any side is going to score in Rome, it's this Liverpool side. Unbeaten in Europe this season, either home or away. Having scored in every match except a dead rubber v Porto, because Liverpool actually maintained their five-goal lead throughout that tie. They've scored at least three goals in eight of 13 Champions League matches, both home and away.

And while Roma seemingly have to play 4-3-3 this time, it'll still be a high line. There will still be waves of players going forward. Roma will need Kolarov and Florenzi to create from full-back. And there will be space for Liverpool to attack.

The last round against Manchester City, while terrifying at the time, seems helpful in retrospect. Liverpool had a three-goal lead. Liverpool conceded early. Liverpool looked likely to concede again. But Liverpool kept doing Liverpool, even if lucky to do so. And then Liverpool scored. And then Liverpool scored again.

This Liverpool side succeeds by scoring. Weather any early storm by any means necessary, but also immediately look to do you. Counter at pace, as often as possible. Press the opposition whenever possible, as high up the pitch as possible. Then get the ball to that front three. Get a goal, then get another. And don't stop until you're in the final.