29 October 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 4-1 Cardiff City

Previous Match Infographics: Red Star Belgrade (h), 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. 

Baby steps.

For 65 minutes, it was 1-0 Huddersfield, 1-0 Brighton. More the latter than the former, with Liverpool dominant in both possession and shots. But possession domination doesn’t always correlate to a good Liverpool performance and the majority of Liverpool’s shots were low-value shots. An early goal but no more. Possession without reward, possession running up against a thick brick wall then restarting again. A match narrower than it should be. Liverpool not as coherent or as thorough as we know they can be.

We’d been here before, both this season and in previous.

Liverpool’s nine shots between the first and second goal were all off-target or blocked, although there was Lallana’s on-target effort cleared off the line, technically “blocked” because it was cleared by a defender rather than a goalkeeper. Six of those nine shots came from outside the box, which is the highest proportion of shots from outside the box so far this season.

Liverpool may have been in control, but Cardiff were perfectly happy in their own right. 1-0 was little different than 0-0, as we’ve seen from multiple opponents of a similar level so far this season. Continue to defend as if lives depended upon it, hope for a mistake or a set play or something. Taking a point off of Liverpool at Anfield remains the apex of ambitions for two-thirds of the league, and you’re about as likely to do so at 1-0 as 0-0. Just don’t let them get to 2-0.

We’ve almost never seen Liverpool matches with more Liverpool possession. There has been only one league match with more Liverpool possession and a greater disparity in passing since Klopp became manager: 0-2 at Burnley at the beginning of 2016-17, where Burnley completely bunkered after Liverpool stupidly conceded early on. There have been only two other league matches in the last three-plus seasons where Liverpool had more than 75% possession: 1-1 v Everton last season and 2-0 at Sunderland in 2016-17. An embarrassing loss, a frustrating draw, and a win that only came very, very late, with two goals after the 75th minute against a side that’d be relegated at the end of the season.

That much possession, against a side happy to sit that deep, hasn’t good especially well for Klopp’s Liverpool in the past.

Saturday was different. Because, in the 66th minute, Liverpool got a second.

For the final 15 minutes – the final 25 if we somehow ignore Cardiff’s consolation – it was Red Star Belgrade rather than Brighton or Huddersfield. Counter-pressing by Firmino and Mané leading to Liverpool’s second, a refusal to let the ball leave Cardiff’s penalty area after Fabinho got it in there before a blistering finish. Continued boulder rolling downhill possession before Salah danced through two defenders and Shaqiri danced around two more for the game-killing third. An actual honest-to-goodness blitz counter: Fabinho winning the ball, to Mane to Salah running at retreating defenders, through ball back to Mané, exclamation point.

That’s the Liverpool we’ve missed. That’s the Liverpool we’re going to see more often in the coming weeks and months.

It should have been over after the second goal, but we got a timely reminder that it takes just one moment. Mané doesn’t track back. Moreno does a Moreno, rashly charging at Reid to win the ball and missing allowing Hoilett to receive a pass in space behind the defense. His cross ricochets off van Dijk directly to Paterson; it would have been behind the striker had it not hit van Dijk.

There goes Liverpool’s clean sheet streak, more than nine matches and 918 minutes without conceding at home in the league. And I ain’t mad at it. It was a little poor and a little unlucky but sometimes that’s all to need to concede. Even when you’ve had almost 80% possession and the opposition’s yet to register a shot.

It’s a helpful reminder that’s all it takes sometimes. Never switch off, no matter the opponents or game state. Must not sleep. Must warn others.

And once Cardiff got a goal, Liverpool got the chances. No nerves. No tilt. Just back to business. Once you get to 2-0, the opposition’s got to open up. And once they get to 2-1, they believe there’s a chance for 2-2. It’s happened to previous incarnations of Liverpool, as we all very much remember.

This might be a different Liverpool.

2-1 is when Liverpool started to register shots again. 2-1 is when Liverpool got chances to counter. 2-1 is when the front three found space to create chances for themselves, with Salah getting both of his assists with those last two goals.

Liverpool’s 4-2-3-1 formation again looked decent, at least at the controlling midfield base, Wijnaldum literally always on the ball and Fabinho capable of moving it forward from deep, both capable of winning possession back if Cardiff ever truly tried to transition. Wijnaldum only completed 14 fewer passes than Cardiff in total. Lovren and van Dijk controlled the majority of long balls from defense, winning a combined 15 aerial duels when that was Cardiff’s main tactic for progression, with goalkeeper Neil Etheridge playing the joint-most passes for the away side.

How dominant were Liverpool in possession? No Cardiff player attempted more passes than any Liverpool outfield player, with even Liverpool’s two substitutes playing more than any opponent. I can’t remember that every happening.

Liverpool’s substitutions helped matters, with Shaqiri more influential than Lallana, creating for Salah before finally scoring his first Liverpool goal. Milner came on for more solidity, the three in midfield a platform for both the turning-the-screws possession before Liverpool’s goal, then winning-the-ball-back transition for Liverpool’s fourth.

And Liverpool’s attack goes and gets goals. Salah and Mané each on the score sheet, for the second match in a row. It’s the second time this season’s Mané's scored twice in a match, it’s the first time Salah’s registered two assists in a match since the 5-2 win over Roma back in April. Even if Firmino has an off day – just one shot and one key pass, routinely man-marked by Gunnarsson – the other two compensated more than adequately.

There were struggles. There was frustration. There were some of the issues that have plagued Liverpool – unbeaten in the league Liverpool – over the last month. But then there was the return of potency we’d been hoping to see continue following the romp over Red Star. There’s another win, a resounding win by the end of it, in the type of match that’s foiled and frustrated Liverpool in seasons past. There’s now ten games unbeaten to start the campaign.

There’s Liverpool, top of the table, at least for a few more hours today.

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