25 October 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 4-0 Red Star Belgrade

Previous Match Infographics: Huddersfield (a), Manchester City (h), Napoli (a), Chelsea (a), Southampton (h), Leicester (a), Brighton (h), Crystal Palace (a), West Ham (h)

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

(Here’s the formation diagram that’s usually included in match reviews)

One match is one match is one match but hoooooooo boy that’s normal service resumed, that’s the Liverpool attack we’ve come to know and love and love.

Four goals, for the first time since opening day.

21 shots, the most since a 1-0 win over Brighton at the end of August.

11 shots on-target, the most since hammering Brighton on the last day of last season’s league campaign.

Nine clear-cut chances, for the first time that I can remember in a single match.

And goals for Firmino, Sarah, and Mané, the first time all three have scored in a single match this season after doing it eight times last season, with the final in the Champions League against Roma at Anfield.

That’s a paddlin’.

I won’t pretend to be any expert on them, but Red Star are not a bad side.

The Euro Club Index isn’t infallible, obviously, but it’s not a bad starting point. Red Star are top of the Serbian league by seven points already, after only 12 matches, having won 11 and drawn one. They’re in the Champions League proper because of an away goal win over Red Bull Salzburg – last season’s Europa League semi-finalists. They held Napoli to a 0-0 draw in the first Champions League match week. They tried to take the game to Liverpool, pressing early, with their two best chances coming before Liverpool’s opener – including a clear-cut chance when Babic got free on a corner.

But then Liverpool Liverpooled.

Counter-pressing leading to the first, with Shaqiri chasing down Ebecilio as Red Star tried to get out, a few quick passes then an incisive run from the thiccness, splitting the defense to find Robertson on the byline, cut back for Firmino to control and finish.

Then a bit of a lull – Liverpool’s longest stretch without a shot. Similar happened after scoring at Huddersfield around the same time. But rather than let Red Star back into the game, Liverpool controlled and pulled and poked and prodded and eventually got the necessary second just before halftime, a long, long, long pass-filled stretch – albeit with one failed clearance falling to Wijnaldum just before the goal – with Shaqiri again the creative hub, a wonderful touch to lay Wijnaldum’s pass into Salah at pace, controlled, right-footed.

That second goal was everything, especially coming so close to halftime. That’s the back-breaker. That gave Liverpool the necessary breathing space. That gave Liverpool more space to attack, more chances to counter, as Red Star had to at least come out a little bit, even if more of the second half was damage control, especially after a soft penalty for an elbow clothesline on Mané, converted by Sarah for his second of the match and 50th for Liverpool, the quickest Liverpool player to hit that mark.

And unlike in recent matches, Liverpool made use of those counter-attacking opportunities. More goals would not have flattered the home side. Just look at all those clear-cut chances in the last 40 minutes. Fabinho over the top for Alexander-Arnold, nearly first-touch lofted over the keeper. A second penalty, taken by Many after a set play handball, wonderfully saved with the follow-up poorly missed. A defensive error and counter-pressing leading to Liverpool’s fourth, with Wijnaldum stepping in front of El Fardou Ben to intercept Babic’s pass, feeding Sturridge who smartly and selflessly found Mané. Lallana put through on goal from Sturridge’s through ball, caught by the trailing defender and shooting too close to Borjan. Mane in second half injury time, over the top to Firmino, through-ball in behind, into the side-netting.

There were more than a few factors responsible for it. Fabinho grew into the game as a double pivot, with both he and Wijnaldum excellent. Fabinho destroyed – and boy did he ever with nine successful tackles, a high for a Liverpool player this season, six aerial duel wins, and only two fouls committed – while Wijnaldum started and linked. Firmino as the #10 and Shaqiri cutting inside gave Liverpool more creativity from that area, with Mané coming inside as well. Shaqiri’s passes for the first and second goals were remarkable, and exactly the type of passes that Liverpool had failed to make in recent matches; Firmino played a similar through-ball from deep for Mané's injury time pass. And Salah stretched play centrally, keeping both center-backs busy while Shaqiri, Mané, and Firmino looked to do damage around him. Oh, and he scored twice and he’s got six goals in all competitions this season and he’s so out of form what happened to Salah.

And that attack came without any defensive lapses – at least after that set play clear-cut chance in the 17th minute. Only four shots allowed all match, with none on target. That’s the fewest shots allowed in a match this season and the first time that Liverpool’s opponent had no shots on-target since the 3-0 win over Southampton in November 2017.

This was Liverpool’s seventh clean sheet of the season. On October 24th. Liverpool’s seventh clean sheet came more than a month later last season, on November 18th against Southampton, in the 19th match of the season. Since the beginning of March, Liverpool have conceded six goals at Anfield in 15 matches, with all coming in cup competition – two against Roma, PSG, and Chelsea.

This was Liverpool putting everything together, with still evident room for improvement. Now, Liverpool have to do it more consistently.

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