24 September 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 3-0 Southampton

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

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

You want to know how scrappy a Liverpool performance this was? One statistic stood out to me.

Liverpool took 12 shots – which is hilariously low for a Liverpool side at Anfield; only one league match at Anfield saw fewer last season, the 2-2 with Tottenham. That's not entirely out of the ordinary; nine shots led to three goals in the first half, so there was little need to keep pushing.

Even more noticeable was that Liverpool only “created” four chances. 12 shots, but only four key passes. Through 90 minutes. At Anfield. Against a side that was nearly relegated last season.

• Shaqiri's 4th minute cross for Firmino's errant header
• Mane's throughball for Shaqiri, leading to the blocked shot own goal
• Alexander-Arnold's corner for Matip's goal in the 21st minute
• Firmino's perfect long ball for Salah in the 43rd, which almost resulted in one of the most fun goals ever

That's it. Every other shot came from a shot rebound, direct free kick, or picking up a loose clearance/tackle/block from a Southampton player.

Just look at all those Southampton tackles – and, to a lesser extent, interceptions – inside or just outside the penalty area. Southampton sat deep – both in the first half when using Romeu as a defensive midfielder rather than their usual 4-4-2 formation, then when switching to damage control three-at-the-back in the second half. And they did it reasonably well, at least in open play.

So it's no real surprise that all the goals in this match came from set play situations.

What is a surprise is that Liverpool got three goals from set play situations. Which hadn't been firing for Liverpool yet this season, with only Sturridge and Wijnaldum scoring from corners against West Ham and Tottenham respectively. Liverpool only scored twice from set plays in the same match twice last season: 3-3 Sevilla and 5-1 Brighton. Never three.

Special shout-out for Shaqiri, whose part in two of those set plays directly led to Liverpool goals: the shot cannoning off two Southampton players for a fortunate own goal, then a banger of a free kick off the crossbar, with Salah first to the rebound. He was absolutely the highlight of the first half. Which makes sense given that Liverpool's new formation seemed almost designed to get him going.

It was odd to see Klopp change formations, but Shaqiri did well in the role. I enjoy this touch map.

The vast majority were in the half-spaces, inside channels on both left and right. Otherwise known as Adam Lallana Spaces, the part of the pitch where Liverpool can better connect midfield and attack when pushing against a deep defense, the sort of positions where a player can receive possession, turn, and try to find one of Salah, Firmino, or Mané, or run at retreating defenders.

But, still, Liverpool were somewhat unbalanced. Liverpool weren't quite clicking in attack, with Firmino and Mané playing in less familiar wide positions and Salah both central and by far the furthest forward. Southampton were getting shots, even if not great and usually closed down. So Liverpool went back to basics, Shaqiri – still in his adjustment phase – went back to the bench, and the more comfortable 4-3-3 completely killed the game now that Liverpool were comfortably ahead.

And, once again, even if it wasn't the greatest performance, Liverpool won. Liverpool won without the front three still nowhere near as potent as we're used to, with an unfamiliar first-half formation, with Keïta and Milner and Gomez left out of the starting XI.

Liverpool won with continued good defending, even if the first half performance underwhelmed at times, leading to Shaqiri's halftime substitution. Southampton were allowed far too many shots in the first half, but Liverpool dealt with them excellently, blocking five of the six and putting Vestergaard under enough pressure to head a 12th-minute corner well off-target.

And Liverpool won despite having played a tough midweek match.

Liverpool only won once after Champions League group games last season. A 1-1 draw with Burnley after a 2-2 draw at Sevilla. 1-1 at Newcastle after 1-1 at Spartak. 1-4 Tottenham after Maribor away, 1-1 with Chelsea after Sevilla at home, 1-1 Everton after Spartak at home. The only win came at West Ham after beating Maribor 3-0 at Anfield. And the trend continued in the knockout rounds, with wins over West Ham and Bournemouth following CL games, but draws with Everton and Stoke and losses to United and Chelsea.

One swallow, not a summer, etc. but this seems a potential harbinger of Liverpool's increasing strength in depth. As was the new formation and Shaqiri's full debut. As was Matip coming into defense, then Gomez replacing van Dijk with Liverpool still almost wholly untroubled and with yet another Anfield clean sheet. Sturridge had to settle for a place on the bench, without appearing, after an outstanding match against PSG. Both Keïta and Milner were only used as substitutes, while Fabinho's played all of one minute so far this season.

Once again, we're happy. Liverpool can still play better, but all signs still point to better being just around the corner. The best part of last season's side has the most room for improvement, with both depth and defending already notably better.

And Liverpool keep winning. That always helps.

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