27 August 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 1-0 Brighton

Previous Match Infographics: Crystal Palace (a), West Ham (h)

Match data from WhoScored, except average position from the SofaScore app. 

As with last week's win over Crystal Palace, this wasn't great. More importantly, this was nowhere near as good as Liverpool are capable of playing.

It started off just fine.

In the first 25 minutes of the match, Mané misses the goal with a shot he'd at least hit the target on about 85% of the time, Firmino has a clear-cut header fantastically saved, Alexander-Arnold pings a free kick off the crossbar, and Liverpool are denied what appeared a fairly clear handball penalty.

And then Liverpool score, and it's great. Absolutely wonderful reading of the play and pressing from Milner, then Mané to Firmino to Salah to goal.

But from there, *shrugs*.

Liverpool's pressing slowed. Liverpool's attack ebbed away, with far too many shots both low-value and blocked or off-target. The front three's passing accuracy – to put it bluntly – sucked. Liverpool failed to create a clear-cut chance after the ninth minute, the first time they've been held to just one clear-cut chance by a non-top six or Everton side since the 2-1 win at Burnley back in January, when Mané was the only of the regular front three to start the match.

Maybe this is why Liverpool rarely start the same XI in three consecutive matches.

So, yes, I was as frustrated as most with Liverpool's attacking performance on Saturday, but I've also seen far too much criticism of Mohamed Salah after this. Similar can be said about both Firmino and Mané – who had worse games – but Salah seemingly gets it in the neck more because of the heights hit last season and subsequent expectations.

Salah scored Liverpool's winner, the lone goal in the match. Salah has scored the match winner in 12 matches so far in his short Liverpool career, and there were seven more last season where he'd have had the winner had Liverpool not stupidly conceded as Salah scored. Six of those seven ended in a draw. Both of Salah's goals this season – the same total he had after three league matches last season – were match winners. He's scored the opening goal in 14 matches – including two so far this season – and Liverpool's first goal in 18 matches.

He's played all of 55 matches for Liverpool.

Mohamed Salah is also one of just three Liverpool players to take six shots and create six chances in a single game since the beginning of the 2012-13 season. He's now done it twice. No prizes for guessing the other two.

Admittedly, there are lies, damned lies, and statistics. Mohamed Salah will have better matches. There was the shot saved in the 19th; the blocked, hurried shots in the 58th and 72nd minutes; the missed chances in the 87th and 90th minutes. But to believe he's started the season slowly is just wrong and it's a bad take.

Meanwhile, it's also hard to look past Brighton's defensive performance.

33 clearances, a handful more than Palace's 25 or West Ham's 20 so far this season.

Eight blocked shots, again more than Palace or West Ham, with seven of those blocks in the second half.

And 29 interceptions – the most against Liverpool since the 1-0 win against Palace a year and a week ago, the last time a Liverpool match finished 1-0. 23 of those 29 came in the defensive third, especially the central area in and around the penalty box.

Compare where Brighton's interceptions took place to Palace's last season.

Palace's were more on the flanks and slightly further forward. Brighton's were camped on the edge of the penalty box, ensuring few through-balls or dangerous passes to the likes of Salah, Mané, and Firmino.

That had something to do with Liverpool's frustratingly low passing accuracy from the front three.

But Brighton's defensive performance still wasn't as good as Liverpool's defensive performance.

Liverpool hadn't kept three consecutive league clean sheets since the final three games of 2016-17, where Liverpool had to pull fourth place from a hole where the sun rarely shines.

Pascal Groß's 89th-minute clear-cut chance was the first Liverpool had allowed all season – in 269 minutes of football – Liverpool never had as long a stretch without allowing a clear-cut chance last season. And when an opponent finally conjured one, Alisson saved it, to ensure all three points for a third consecutive match.

Liverpool have been increasingly good at the defense over the last few months.

Despite the notation on the chart, it ain't just down to Virgil van Dijk. Karius came into the side around the same time. Both Robertson and Alexander-Arnold were increasingly acclimatized to the side. Van Dijk was arguably most at fault for Brighton's clear-cut chance on Saturday, under the cross as Groß sneaks in behind him.

But Alisson saved said clear-cut chance to maintain the win, after van Dijk and Gomez had spent 88 minutes pocketing Glenn Murray et al.

As said last week, defending is a team game. And the team's getting pretty good at it.

This is almost starting to feel like the beginning of 2013-14, the last time Liverpool started the season with three straight wins. West Ham not withstanding, Liverpool aren't firing on all cylinders in attack, but Liverpool find ways to win, not quite unexpectedly, but also not necessarily what we'd seen the season before.

The turning point in 2013-14 was when Luis Suarez came into the side after suspension, although Liverpool also rarely looked as defensively secure as they did in the first three fixtures as well.

This season, it'll be when that front three goes as bananas as it did last season. And it'll happen. Ideally, Liverpool's defense will be better placed to continue in this current form.

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