14 August 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 4-0 West Ham

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

As you may have noticed, that was a really good attacking performance.

Liverpool surpassed Sunday's 3.7 Expected Goals in just three league matches last season: 4-0 Arsenal (h), 4-0 West Ham (h), and 3-0 Brighton (h). The same three matches were the only with a higher xG differential.

Only six league matches saw more than the five clear-cut chances that Liverpool had on Sunday. Only two of those six saw Liverpool score three clear-cut chances.

As Andrew Beasley noted in his new column for the Liverpool Echo, Liverpool had six shots in the six-yard box. Which is a new high under Jürgen Klopp. Which is twice as many as last season's high, and twice as many as the previous high since Klopp became manager. And it led to three goals and five clear-cut chances.

Firmino's missed chance a minute before Salah's goal, Salah's goal, and Mané's first goal all came from either low crosses or byline pull-backs. Get players wide, get attackers bum-rushing. Get what might be a deep, static defense moving, get those wonderful, wonderful attackers in behind.

Thrice caught offside in the first 12 minutes coming up against West Ham's reasonably organized back four, Liverpool adapted. And Liverpool proceeded to Hulk Smash.

Space arose, and it's down to more what Liverpool did that how West Ham played. Space arose because of Liverpool's movement and passing into the areas between West Ham's midfield and defense, and then Liverpool's attackers were able to get in behind said defense due to their movement and Liverpool's passing from the wide channels, whether from Milner or the fullbacks.

So, sure, West Ham subsequently made it easier for Liverpool than others probably will – that high-ish line eventually figured out, and also coupled with that midfield – but this is a needed arrow in Liverpool's quiver when trying to break down defenses which'll be both deeper and more secure.

For the first game of the season, all of Liverpool's attacking play impressed, whether in midfield, out wide, or from the front three. Liverpool, patient in possession as per usual against opposition with no possession, but also looking for the more potent forward pass more often than we've seen in matches like these, whether it's Alexander-Arnold getting the ball to Keïta in space in the middle, despite easier passes available, for the opening goal, or Keïta storming through midfield, or Milner and Wijnaldum trying to release Mané and Salah with chips over the top, or etc. etc.

You aren't supposed to look this cohesive in the first match of the season, no matter what the opposition does or doesn't do.

Unsurprisingly, I focused on Naby Ke ïta. We've had to wait so long after all. And it was absolutely worth it.

Not only was there the run and pass for Liverpool's opener, but there was also the chance created for Wijnaldum by a tornado run into the box. There was an early attempted throughball that just found Mané barely offside. There was the ability to play as a left-sided attacker for the final 20 minutes, even if the game was long gone by the point.

Passes up and down the length of the field, claiming the entire left half of the pitch for himself. Two successful dribbles in the attacking third, with the "unsuccessful" setting up the aforementioned Wijnaldum chance. The second-most ball recoveries by a Liverpool player.

Woof. This is gonna be fun to watch. It's all gonna be fun to watch.

But, of course, it's not as if Keïta was the only one to impress even more than expected. Literally every Liverpool player did. Alisson, rarely under pressure but with two saves and a strong punch. Alexander-Arnold, wasteful on crosses but still constantly up and down on the right, never defensively threatened by West Ham's record signing. Robertson, even more effective on the left. Van Dijk, as imperious as ever, and Gomez, comfortable alongside him. Milner, for whom age does not matter, by far the most touches in the Liverpool squad, the most chances created in the Liverpool squad, yet another assist. Wijnaldum, again perfectly comfortable in a holding midfield role. And, of course, that front three, whether it's Salah's goal or Mané's two or Firmino necessarily coming deep to link play with Keïta and Milner, also setting up Mané's second goal and nearly on the scoresheet himself in the 18th minute. And let's not forget Henderson, Shaqiri, and Sturridge making moves from off the bench, hopefully demonstrating Liverpool's increased strength in depth.

While watching, and even more in retrospect, it was damned good and damned encouraging.

There will be more thorough examinations. Much more so. But this is exactly how you want to start a new season.

1 comment :

Mike Taylor said...

Yep. I'll go further and say I'm not sure i can remember a more complete Liverpool performance -- certainly not at or near the start of a season. We looked absolutely in control from front to back, for 90 minutes. Delightful. (Though less so for my West Ham-supporting brother-in-law!)