22 August 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 2-0 Crystal Palace

Previous Match Infographics: West Ham (h)

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

Did you get worried late on?

Liverpool are up by one. Just one. And that one came from a penalty, Salah barely fouled – but fouled nonetheless – as Sakho unnecessarily sticks a leg in just before halftime.

And it's stayed at one, for the next 45 minutes. Salah's missed the target with five of his six shots – four blocked, one well off-target. Firmino's registered just one effort, wild and nowhere close in the 87th minute, playing far deeper than usual. Liverpool have put a succession of late chances on-target, Liverpool have a man-advantage with Wan-Bissaka sent off, but it's getting to the deep breaths panic stage where just one bad thing needs to happen. And has before.

And now Crystal Palace have a corner, after Liverpool just about clear an unnecessary free kick, van Dijk's header up and behind. And it's the 93rd minute. And we've all been here before.

You shouldn't have been worried. 

Virgil van Dijk rises highest to head away Milivojevic's corner. Straight to Salah. Salah and Mané are running, Salah's pass splits McArthur and van Aanholt, and Mané's away, Mané's through on goal, Mané evades van Aanholt and rounds Hennessey and it's a tap-in, it's 2-0, it's a Liverpool win.

Liverpool finally take advantage of one of the counter-attacks they'd be threatening, a similar move as to the one which saw Wan-Bissaka's red card. 

Incidentally, it was nice to see Liverpool score at the end of both halves. I suspect you remember last season, when Liverpool conceded more than they scored in the last minute of each half. Which is part of the reason why were were worried.

And the story of the match is, surprisingly enough, Liverpool's defense. Don't get me wrong; Liverpool weren't bad in attack. Liverpool are rarely bad in attack. Four clear-cut chances on Palace's ground, with two scored. Six shots and four key passes in a "bad" Salah performance, as well as an assist, a penalty won, and the run for Wan-Bissaka's dismissal. Mané again scoring, for the fourth match in a row against Crystal Palace, Mané again one of Liverpool's most creative players.

Virgil van Dijk's clearing header to start Liverpool's second was symptomatic of the center-back's performance.

Passing, clearances, aerial duels, etc. etc. etc.

Van Dijk absolutely dominated Benteke, who's given Liverpool all sorts of problems in the past, removed in the 70th minute and seemingly happy to have been.

But it wasn't just van Dijk. It was his center-back partner as well, with Gomez again belying both age and experience, often the defender most responsible for tracking Zaha. It was Alexander-Arnold on the right, where Liverpool's interceptions are clustered, where Crystal Palace routinely looked to play in Zaha, aided by both Gomez and Milner. It was Keïta, Milner, and Robertson leading the side in tackles. It was Alisson as well, even if not frequently called upon, there when needed to save, claim, and organize. And distribute from the back.

Liverpool haven't yet conceded in this season's two matches – the only Premier League club that can say so – and Liverpool haven't yet allowed a single opposition clear-cut chance. Palace did have a couple of quasi-frightening moments, but two came from well outside the box – Andros Townsend off the crossbar from his "spot" and Milivojevic's free kick saved by Alisson – as well as one offside set play header that Alisson saved anyway.

Both West Ham and Crystal Palace totaled around 0.5 xG in each match. Liverpool had 3.7 xG against West Ham and 2.4 xG plus a penalty at Palace.

This is the first time that Liverpool have held Crystal Palace scoreless on their own ground in this match-up in the league since 1997. 

I was not kidding when I said this might be Liverpool's hardest match outside the top six and Everton. I fully expect Palace to finish in the top 10, if not eighth at worst. They are the type of side who's hurt Liverpool in the past, with that deep, organized defense – look how many of Palace's tackles and interceptions came in or just outside of the penalty box – and with players like Zaha and Benteke on the counter-attack.

And Liverpool won, if not comfortably than at least thoroughly and deservedly. Liverpool won without the attack anywhere near its best, even if there were still the consistent signs of potency and threat, especially in Liverpool's transitions as the match went on. Liverpool won this match more because of its organization and defense, which is something we've rarely said in recent seasons.

It's still very early, but there's more than a bit of "uh oh, Happy learned how to putt" starting to arise here.


Mike Taylor said...

Excellent summary.

Just one thing "Milivojevic's free kick saved by Alisson". I feel that this has been overlooked. When you see the replay of that FK from Milivojevic's perspective, he literally could not have hit it better: curving viciously round the wall, bending just inside the post, hit hard. Had it gone in, it would be one of those free kicks people talk about in hushed tones.

But a strange thing happened: not only did Alisson save it, he made it look routine. (Which paradoxically, is why he's not getting much credit for it). He made a wonder save, and he did it easily That makes me very, very happy.

David Whitmore said...

Milner is my favorite too! :)
His attitude to the game is amazing

Vicky said...

The defensive performance, and Van Dijk's organisation & leadership & influence, is much more impressive considering the age of the back four.
Leaving out VVD, almost every team in the League would fancy their changes against such a young back four.
That the likes of Benteke, Zaha couldn't even make a scratch on that defence, is a testament to quality and application of the youngsters and the affect that VVD has on them.