31 December 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 5-1 Arsenal

Previous Match Infographics: Newcastle (h), Wolves (a), Manchester Utd (h), Napoli (h), Bournemouth (a), Burnley, Everton (h), Paris St-Germain (a), Watford (a), Fulham (h), Arsenal (a), Cardiff (h), 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. 

I remain stupidly impressed by this Liverpool side.

This match featured almost all of the things that Liverpool have done well this season. Almost all.

Goals, lots of them. Shots, not a ton but a bunch of good ones. Limiting the opposition's chances, at least after the 11th minute. A dominant performance at both ends of the pitch, a resounding win over a side that held Liverpool on their own ground less than two months ago.

We got Liverpool at its most potent, both in creating excellent chances and scoring them – which hasn't happened as often as it did last season. At least, not yet.

It's the ninth time since the start of last season that Liverpool had five or more clear-cut chances in a league match, but only the first where Liverpool have scored five clear-cut chances. Mainly thanks to those clear-cut chances, Liverpool's xG per shot was a ridiculously high 0.247. Liverpool put two-thirds of their shots on-target – 10 of 15 – a mark bettered in just one league match this season, the 3-0 win over Watford. Firmino, Salah, and Mané all scored in the same match for only the second time this season – it happened eight times last season – and for the first time in the league.

It was the first time this season that Liverpool have scored five or more goals in a match. They'd done so four times by this point last season.

Granted, Arsenal have the weakest defense in the Top 5, relatively speaking. Their goals conceded total is higher than the other four, even prior to this match. As is their Expected Goals allowed tally, which they're underperforming. Saturday's match was the third time this season they'd conceded at least three in a league match and the seventh time they'd conceded at least two. Arsenal were missing both starting full-backs as well as Holding and Koscielny – the latter at least until halftime, with four Liverpool goals already scored.

It's all a bit unfair on Arsenal – and not for the first time at Anfield. But Liverpool still performed more than impressively in attack, which they've been doing much more consistently over the last month.

And Liverpool were almost as emphatic at the other end of the pitch.

There was the one black mark in Saturday's match, albeit a black mark that didn't last long. Liverpool did all of the above despite Arsenal scoring first and scoring early, off the mark in the 11th minute, the quickest goal that Liverpool have conceded in a league match since Leicester's opener almost exactly a year ago. A match, incidentally, that Liverpool went on to win.

Maitland-Niles' goal was Arsenal's last shot on-target. They went on to take just six shots over the next 80 minutes, despite more than 55% possession. The xG per shot on those six shots was a ridiculously low 0.038, with three off-target, three blocked, and three of the six coming from outside the box. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the Premier League's top scorer going into the match, registered just 13 touches in 71 minutes, with six of the 13 coming from kickoffs.

Liverpool's response to going a goal behind remains the most impressive thing about Saturday's impressive match.

Liverpool have now trailed for all of 75 minutes this campaign. Three minutes against Arsenal, eight minutes at Burnley, and 64 minutes at Chelsea, with Liverpool going on to win twice and draw once.

It's a far cry from how often Liverpool were behind last season, which was reasonably good as it was.

Not only are Liverpool rarely behind in league matches this season, they've also been far better at maintaining a one-goal lead.

I doubt I need remind how often Liverpool lost a lead last season – again, relatively speaking. Liverpool had a lead but went on to draw in seven league matches in 2017-18 – Watford (a), Newcastle (a), Chelsea (h), Everton (h), Arsenal (a), Tottenham (h), and West Brom (a) – and also lost a lead in three Champions League matches.

Liverpool have had a one-goal lead for 561 minutes so far this season – 31.17% of the total league minutes played so far this season. They've conceded just twice with a one-goal lead, the now-regrettable 1-1 draw at Arsenal and the 3-1 win over Manchester United, the latter a fluke goal canceled out by Shaqiri's late heroics.

26% of all the goals that Liverpool conceded in the league last season came with a one-goal Liverpool lead. Which, admittedly, is a similar proportion to this season, but it's a bit different when conceding 38 goals compared to just eight.

And Liverpool did all of the above good, both in Saturday's match and what's come in all of December, during the absolute meat of the season. Beating a top-five rival by four goals during the difficult festive stretch. Coming back from a potentially demoralizing early concession. Creating and scoring excellent chances, multiple times. Preventing Arsenal from having anywhere near a sniff at getting back into the match once Liverpool took a lead.

And now winning the eighth game this month – a new record for most Liverpool wins in a single month. Seven of those came in the Premier League; Liverpool are now just the fifth English side to win seven top-flight matches in a single month, with the last to do so back in 1985-86.

And all of this, all of this good, is why Liverpool still have a seven-point lead at the top of the table heading into 2019. Heading into Thursday's match at second-place Manchester City.

29 December 2018

Liverpool 5-1 Arsenal

Maitland Niles 11'
Firmino 14' 16' 65' [pen]
Mané 32'
Salah 45+2' [pen]

We've lived through three full days of nothing but title talk. A seven-point gap with supposedly all-conquering Manchester City. A six-point gap with Tottenham, which could be nine because of their loss to Wolves earlier today. We're midway through the season and Liverpool top the league.

That's a lot of pressure for a Liverpool side which has capitulated in similar conditions in previous seasons. And that pressure's massively compounded by Arsenal opening the scoring in the 11th minute. Liverpool are forced into trying to play out from the back, not with heavy Arsenal pressing but with passing lanes very much blocked off. It's not quite lackadaisical but Liverpool certainly aren't at their sharpest. And they're warned a minute earlier when Fabinho's cross field pass is intercepted, with Iwobi's shot saved by Alisson. Less than a minute later, Lovren's skied clearance is picked off, Iwobi to Kolasinac to Iwobi, a low cross behind van Dijk and Robertson to Maitland-Niles at the back post.

It's the earliest goal Liverpool have conceded this season. It's just the third time they've conceded either an opening goal or a first-half goal in the league. It's absolutely a setback.

It ain't a setback for long.

Three minutes, in fact. There's Firmino, following up Salah's run into the box, in place to tap in following two deflections after Salah's tacked by Kolasinac. He played the pass into Salah and kept going, and he emphasized the finish with yet another no-look goal. Then there's Firmino again, slaloming through Arsenal's defense after Mané's pressing led to possession, putting both Mustafi and Sokratis on their butts before beating Leno. Two goals in two minutes from a player who hadn't scored at Anfield since April, scrappy then sublime.

There's Firmino, and there's Liverpool, in the lead against one of the tougher opponents they'll face this campaign – one of three sides to take points off of Liverpool in the first half of the season – less than five minutes after conceding first.

And from there, it's Arsenal against Liverpool at Anfield as usual. A fixture that's finished 4-0 and 3-1 in the previous two seasons, and memorably finished 5-1 in 2013-14.

Mané adds a third in the 32nd minute when Arsenal initially clear a corner but can't handle the second cross in, Robertson perfectly to Salah at the back post, touched directly into Mané's stride. Salah adds a fourth just before halftime, from the penalty spot after being pulled down in a similar manner to that against Newcastle.

From 0-1 to 4-1, against the fourth- or fifth-best side in the league, in less than 35 minutes.

The second half's a formality, as it was in this fixture last season. Arsenal are in damage control mode. Liverpool get a fifth just about midway through, a second penalty in the match and third at Anfield in two games after going more than a year without a single spot kick at home in the league. Firmino takes it this time and Firmino gets his hat-trick. Firmino gets his first Liverpool hat-trick, the fifth player to do so under Klopp. Salah, Firmino, and Mané all score in the same game for the second time this season, the first in the league, after doing it eight times last season. Liverpool give Mané, Wijnaldum, and Robertson a bit of rest, Liverpool don't do anything stupid, and Liverpool take it easy for about half an hour, which is absolutely fine by me, especially considering the next match in five days, and especially after that first half. Especially after going behind in that first half.

Liverpool have played eight games this month. In 28 days. Two a week for four straight weeks. And they've won every damned one of them. Two by a 1-0 margin, one by a 2-0 margin, and five where Liverpool scored at least three and won by at least two. Five clean sheets, two 3-1 wins, and this 5-1 win.

December usually sucks, because fixture congestion almost always sucks. December went a long way in dooming title challenges in both 2008-09 and 2013-14. December has definitely not sucked this season.

Compare that to the month that Liverpool's rivals' have had. Chelsea and Arsenal – the latter prior to today – each lost twice. Tottenham burst into life over the last 10 days, but then completely fell apart in the last third of today's loss. And City have lost three of their last six in all competitions, with three of the last four in the league.

Liverpool are unbeaten. In all of December and through 20 games of the league campaign. And Liverpool will go into 2019 at the top of the league, by at least seven points.

2018 has been very good, which makes it very, very possible that the 2018-19 season will be very, very good. But there's still the small matter of 2019, of the eighteen league matches still to come. The first of which will be against the team most likely in second at the time, who also happen to be the defending league champions.

27 December 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 4-0 Newcastle

Previous Match Infographics: Wolves (a), Manchester Utd (h), Napoli (h), Bournemouth (a), Burnley, Everton (h), Paris St-Germain (a), Watford (a), Fulham (h), Arsenal (a), Cardiff (h), 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. 

It is getting harder to write something different about each Liverpool match. Because Liverpool keep doing what they're supposed to do, and increasingly effectively. We've seen the blue print for more than a month, and Liverpool keep executing it.

First half goal, from a set play. Liverpool have scored 13 set play goals so far this season – with all of them coming in the league. 13 of 43 league goals – 30.2%, a vastly higher proportion than in Klopp's previous seasons; for comparison, Liverpool only scored 20 of 135 goals in all competitions from set plays last season.

Liverpool are surprisingly good at the set plays.

This time, Lascelles can't fully clear Robertson's cross from a short corner and Dejan Lovren lashes it like Dejan Lovren's only dreamed about lashing it, on the half volley into the roof of the net at approximately 800 miles an hour.

1-0 at halftime, in control of the game but not of the result. Dominance in possession, but not necessarily in shots – with only four following the early goal and three of the four from outside the box – and definitely not in goals. Newcastle pose next to no threat, but not no threat, squandering a clear-cut chance of their own just three minutes before Liverpool scored. It's only 1-0, etc etc.

There have been ten matches where Liverpool have gone into halftime at 1-0 so far this season. Those ten matches have finished 2-0, 1-0, 2-1, 1-0, 4-1, 2-0, 4-0, 1-0, 2-0, and 4-0. Seven games where Liverpool extended their lead, with Liverpool at least holding on for a 1-0 win rather than a draw or loss in the other three. Ten games with ten first half goals, followed by 13 second half Liverpool goals with only two for the opposition, both scored when Liverpool were at least two goals ahead.

As you're well aware, this last match finished 4-0. Salah won a soft penalty, Shaqiri converted a clear-cut chance after sustained pressure, and Fabinho added another from another set play. There's the 13th set play goal of the season, as well as the ninth goal from a Liverpool substitute.

And Liverpool reach the halfway point of the campaign atop the table by six points. Which literally no one expected a month ago, two months ago, four months ago.

At the halfway point, this is and isn't a different team than last year's Liverpool.

Almost exactly the same goals scored per game on less than one shot fewer per game. Almost exactly the same Expected Goals per game. The opposition keeper's saving almost the exact percentage of shots on-target.

Fearing regression from last season's totals a month or two ago when the attack wasn't fully firing now seems a bit premature.

At the other end of the pitch, a similar amount of opposition shots and shots on-target, and not a ton fewer clear-cut chances allowed per match. There are fewer, though, and the opposition's xG per shot is a lot better for Liverpool.

That goals conceded per game average though. And that goalkeeper save percentage though. I love you, Alisson Becker.

But, wait, you say. It's only been half a season. Fair. There are still 19 more league games to go before anything's accomplished. Liverpool have thrice led the league at Christmas in the last 20 or so years and gone onto etc etc etc etc.

But also.

But also.

This is, once again and still, a very impressive side, as they've been for more than a calendar year. At both ends of the pitch. And despite looking a different side for the last few months.

It's safe to say that 4-2-3-1 has become Klopp's preferred formation this season, at least in the majority of games. And there have been stuttered steps, relatively speaking, especially for Liverpool's attackers. But that hasn't been the case in the last few matches. Yes, yes, Burnley and Bournemouth and Fulham and Newcastle, but these are the types of matches where Liverpool's failed in previous campaigns.

Half the season gone, every side in the league played once, and Liverpool's beaten everyone bar City, Chelsea, and Arsenal. And haven't lost to anyone.

Salah's scored in three of the last five games, adding crucial goals against Wolves and Newcastle to a hat-trick at Bournemouth, having also tallied in opening goal against Fulham and Watford last month. Shaqiri's got a better goals and assists per minute return than both Salah and Mané did to start their Liverpool careers. Fabinho's looked increasingly excellent next to Wijnaldum, and now did well as a substitute alongside Henderson. Liverpool continue to have one of the best defenses in the world, featuring one of the best center-backs and one of the best goalkeepers in the world.

It's going great, where it was just good a month or two ago. So great that the good earlier this season felt little more than mediocre.

This one, done. First half of the season, done. But we're all too aware that there's still another half to conquer.

24 December 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 2-0 Wolves

Previous Match Infographics: Manchester Utd (h), Napoli (h), Bournemouth (a), Burnley, Everton (h), Paris St-Germain (a), Watford (a), Fulham (h), Arsenal (a), Cardiff (h), 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. 

It seems fitting that Liverpool won – for the seventh league match in a row, for the 15th time in 18 league matches – with goals from Mohamed Salah and Virgil van Dijk. The point of the spear up front and the shield at the back. In a match where Liverpool were challenged, when Liverpool needed its best players to make the difference. Away from home, against a top-half side who'd taken points off of Chelsea, Arsenal, City, and United. At the start of the packed festive run. And to extend the gap with second to four insanely valuable points.

There have been other factors, obviously, but these two players have had the largest effect on Liverpool's improving fortunes over the last two seasons.

Friday's goal was yet another opening goal for Mohamed Salah. It was the ninth time he's scored the first goal in a match this season – of the 11 goals he's scored so far this season – and his 21st opening goal for the club. It was yet another game-winning goal, given that Liverpool kept yet another clean sheet, his seventh of the season and 17th since joining Liverpool.

To put this another way. Salah scored 12 opening goals through all of last season. He's already scored nine this season. Salah scored 10 game winners through all of the last season. He's already scored seven this season.

And he's done so despite being Public Enemy Number One for every other side, the clearest threat in a team with a few of them. The defending Premier League player of the season, the season after he's set the record for goals scored in a Premier League campaign. And he's done it while mainly playing in a new position.

After struggling for a couple of months – extra explicable given World Cup exertions and the shoulder injury suffered in the Champions League final – Salah's now scored 11 goals in the last two months of matches. 11 goals in those 14 fixtures, including seven in his last nine, with all but one coming in the now-more-familiar 4-2-3-1 formation. Only Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, with a double against Burnley on Saturday, has scored more in the first half of the season.

The rest of the league should be very, very worried.

And then there's the other end of the pitch. It's baffling that it's been almost a year since van Dijk last scored for Liverpool – a debut goal in the FA Cup against that lot – but his impact in defense has been far clearer.

Click on the next image to open in a new window if need be. It's big but it's worth it.

Good lord. It's one thing if it's a blip, a spell – see: the end of the 2016-17 into the beginning of 2017-18 – but Liverpool's defense has been this secure since *checks watch* right about when van Dijk signed for the club, and especially since the start of the season and Alisson coming into the side. There's parsimonious, there's secure, and then there's "holy crap Liverpool have only conceded seven goals through 18 games." It took four games to reach that total conceded last season.

And it's made Liverpool's life far more comfortable as 90 minutes tick away. It's made our lives far more comfortable as 90 minutes tick away.

I doubt I need remind how often we complained about equalizers and dropped points despite Liverpool taking a lead last season. And the season before that. And the season before that.


For completeness' sake, here's the full list of matches where Liverpool dropped points despite taking a lead under Klopp, excluding this season's draw at Arsenal.

It's not as if Liverpool haven't had chances to drop points. They've taken a lead in 16 of 18 Premiership games so far this season, all but Chelsea away and City at home, matches where Liverpool miraculously conjured a late equalizer and finished 0-0 respectively. And it's not as if it's been limited to the league. Sure, Liverpool lost a lead against Chelsea in the League Cup, but they held onto advantages in every Champions League game where they took a lead, including with a dramatic late winner against Paris St-Germain in the first group game despite PSG nearly coming back from a two-goal deficit. Liverpool lost leads in multiple Champions League games last season: twice against Sevilla, the second leg at Roma.

This is not to say that those two players are responsible for all the good. Obviously. There's also Alisson at the back, just as responsible for all those clean sheets. Liverpool's league opponents have converted just four of 19 clear-cut chances so far this season – a hilariously low conversion rate – with Alisson responsible for saving seven. Like Salah, Firmino's become more comfortable in this new attacking role, again on the ball much more frequently than he was a month ago. Fabinho's settling into the side, this time with Henderson in a two-man midfield, providing a wonderful assist for Salah. Milner's again done a job at right-back with both Gomez and Alexander-Arnold absent, on the ball far more often than any other player against Wolves. Even Lovren – and I feel slightly bad writing "even Lovren" – has cut out errors for the time being, seemingly more secure with van Dijk and Alisson bracketing him rather than Mignolet and Matip. There's more evidence of Liverpool's strength in depth; a substitute goal wasn't needed against Wolves, but Liverpool were able to bring the likes of Wijnaldum and Lallana into proceedings, with Sturridge, Shaqiri, and Origi kept in reserve.

And all this has led to Liverpool at the top of the table come Christmas, the best present that Merseyside could ask for. It's not surprising knowing what this Liverpool is capable of, but it is surprising given the strength of the sides around them. It is nearly Christmas and Liverpool have yet to lose a league game and that is just an amazing sentence to write.

But it is only December, and we're all too aware what's happened the last three times that Liverpool has led the league come Christmas.

20 December 2018

Liverpool at Wolves 12.21.18

3pm ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
1-2 Wolves (h; FA Cup) 28.01.17
3-0 Liverpool (a) 31.01.12
2-1 Liverpool (h) 09.24.11
3-0 Liverpool (a) 01.22.11

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 3-1 United (h); 1-0 Napoli (h); 4-0 Bournemouth (h)
Wolves: 2-0 Bournemouth (h); 2-1 Newcastle (a); 2-1 Chelsea (h)

Goal-scorers (league):
Liverpool: Salah 10; Mané 7; Shaqiri 5; Firmino 4; Milner 3; Sturridge 2; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Origi, Wijnaldum 1
Wolves: Jimenez 5; Cavaleiro, Doherty 3; Jota, Neves 2; Boly, Jonny, Moutinho, Traore 1

Referee: Craig Pawson (LFC History) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Lovren van Dijk Robertson
Wijnaldum Fabinho
Shaqiri Firmino Mané

We're about enter the absolute meat of the festive season, but Liverpool have it easier than most, with five days until the next match and the most rest days of any side during the next two weeks. They aren't the softest of fixtures – Arsenal at home, City away, and this match, away at an unsurprisingly competent promoted side – but Liverpool will at least have a few days off between each.

So I'm unsure just how much rotation we'll see tomorrow. But this season's Liverpool often has me unsure as to how much rotation we'll see, in any match.

Milner may return tomorrow. Alexander-Arnold will probably be back for the next match, although this comes too soon. So chances are Clyne stays at right back. And both Matip and Gomez are out for a few more weeks, so unless we're throwing one of the babies in, Lovren and van Dijk will remain the center-backs. Otherwise, it'll basically be first-choice available in every position. The questions are whether Klopp thinks all those first-choice players can handle the work load, who Klopp actually considers first-choice, and what formation they'll be playing in.

So, as has become typical with this season's previews, I've thrown my hands up and guessed almost exactly what we saw against United, but with Shaqiri coming in for Keïta. Because why the hell not. But I wouldn't be surprised to see Henderson in midfield, or 4-3-3. I wouldn't be surprised to see a couple of near-permanent players rested, whether it's Robertson or Wijnaldum or Firmino or Mané. Sturridge remains an option up front, in either preferred formation used this season.

Having four games over 13 days will tell us quite a bit about how Klopp sees this squad. And how good this squad actually is.

Meanwhile, Wolves. Before the start of the season, they threatened to be one of the strongest promoted sides in recent memory, and so far they've proven to be so. They're currently seventh, a point behind United in the race to be best of the rest. Sure, they wobbled in October and November, losing five and drawing once, but have won three in a row since, including a 2-1 home win over Chelsea.

Nuno Espirito Santo has stuck with a three at-the-back formation of late, whether 3-4-2-1, 3-4-3, or 3-4-1-2. Tomorrow's suggested to be 3-4-1-2 given the way that 18-year-old Morgan Gibbs-White has played recently. He's likely to sit in the hole behind two strikers, but has also played as the most advanced attacker.

So it'll be something like Rui Patricio; Bennett, Coady, Boly; Doherty, Moutinho, Neves, Jonny; Gibbs-White; Jimenez, Costa. Diego Jota is out injured, picking up a hamstring problem in last weekend's match. Adama Traore has been a substitute more often than not, but could be used for his pace on the counter, while Ivan Cavaleiro is another option in attack. Special mention for Liverpool Academy graduate Conor Coady, who's established himself as both a center-back – used primarily as a defensive midfielder when at Liverpool – and Wolves' captain.

Wolves have been excellent against the top-six so far this season, losing to Tottenham at home but beating Chelsea and drawing with City, Arsenal, and United. They're very good on the counter and good at not conceding, with only Tottenham, Chelsea, City, and Liverpool allowing fewer goals. They've only kept five league clean sheets but have only conceded more than twice in one match this season: the aforementioned 2-3 loss to Tottenham.

But Liverpool have been excellent against almost everyone, dominating few but beating most. Still, this isn't your usual match against promoted opposition, with Wolves far better than the usual promoted opposition and a packed fixture list about to get even more full. This can't be the place where Liverpool slip up.

17 December 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 3-1 Manchester United

Previous Match Infographics: Napoli (h), Bournemouth (a), Burnley, Everton (h), Paris St-Germain (a), Watford (a), Fulham (h), Arsenal (a), Cardiff (h), 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. 


Yes, yes, that Europa League match in 2016. But it's been far too long since Liverpool beat Manchester United in the Premier League, a run of three draws and five losses, with Liverpool's last league win in 2013-14.

So it's fun to do it in dominating fashion but also needing a damned bit of luck with both the second and third goals, two from a substitute to win the match with less than 20 minutes remaining. Lucky and good, my absolute favorite.

Let's start with the most dominating part.

36 shots is the most allowed by any Manchester United side since Opta began keeping records in 2003. It's the most shots taken in a league match so far this season. It's the second-most shots that Liverpool have taken in a league match in the last eight league seasons.

This was just the seventh time that Liverpool have taken more than 30 shots in a league match since the start of 2011-12, with four of those coming under Jürgen Klopp. Unsurprisingly, the other three came in 2013-14.

That's some esteemed company that Manchester United are in. Sides that finished 12th, 13th, and 19th in 2013-14; a hilariously bad Everton in a late-season Merseyside Derby; a to-be-relegated Hull in 2016-17; and last season's Burnley, wizards at making sides take lots of shots from bad locations with a bunch of players in the way. It wasn't the first time Burnley frustrated Liverpool similarly.

That Burnley match is honestly the best comparison for yesterday's match. Which, again, says more than a bit about this season's Manchester United, and is a comparison I will gladly perpetuate. Pack the defensive third, double-mark opposition attackers, encourage deeper players to stride forward and shoot as a last resort. Which is also very much a favored Jose Mourinho tactic in matches where he hopes to do no more than spoil. See (sigh) Liverpool 0-2 Chelsea in 2013-14.

There's a lot of possession and a lot of shots, but a lot of not very good shots. Liverpool's xG per shot in this match was around 0.07, which is a hilariously low total.

And that's what happened to Liverpool against Burnley last season. Shot after shot after shot after shot, with little response from the opposition since they'd gotten a first-half goal they'd little right to expect. And we're shouting at the side as an infuriating 1-1 looks likelier and likelier.

But this incarnation of Liverpool didn't finish the match 1-1. This incarnation finally put together a decent move to get deep into United's penalty box, and put the damned ball in the back of a damned net for the much-needed second time.

By hook, crook, and deflection, this Liverpool found a way to break through. And now I can't stop thinking about the differences between how those two matches ended. Liverpool did have chances in the last 20, 30 minutes of last season's match against Burnley. Sure, too many of them were low-value, from distance, but there's also a clear-cut chance from Solanke which cannons off the woodwork that still sticks in the teeth.

There are two sides to this.

That's the difference in fortune. One clear-cut chance ricochets off the crossbar rather than in off the underside of it. 15 months later, Liverpool get an opportunity coming from a kick-save going straight to an attacker and that attacker's shot getting the most helpful of deflections.

But there's also the difference in being able to bring on Xherdan Shaqiri rather than Dominic Solanke. And that's not trying to be unnecessarily mean to Solanke, who's still probably got a promising future. It's just that Xherdan Shaqiri's future is now. As Liverpool's also seems to be.

I wrote about it less than two weeks ago, but it's again worth pointing out the effect that substitutes have had on Liverpool's season so far. Here's that chart again.

That's now eight substitute goals in 24 games so far this season. And four of those goals were game-winners, with another as a late, late, late equalizer. Even in 2015-16, when Liverpool scored 16 substitute goals, only three won Liverpool a match, with three more 90th-minute equalizers. So not only are Liverpool's substitutes having an effect on matches, Liverpool's substitutes are doing more to win Liverpool matches.

Incidentally, Liverpool had just five substitute goals last season, in matches that Liverpool won 4-0, 7-0, 3-0, and 3-0.

Liverpool truly are better this season, even if the side's not been at its most exhilarating. That's evident in the results earned, more than enough to prove it hasn't been a fluke and increasingly convincing since that ever-so-fun winner against Everton. And if not for an out-of-character blunder from a keeper who's far, far better than that, this probably isn't even as much of a contest, but with similar disparities in statistics.

Liverpool are increasingly comfortable in this 4-2-3-1 formation, evident in Fabinho's dominating performance, Wijnaldum's greater involvement, Firmino's much, much greater involvement, and Salah's output in the previous couple of games against Burnley and Bournemouth even if he wasn't at his most effective here. Mané did well from the right and Keïta, like Oxlade-Chamberlain the season before, is getting time and experience from an outside-but-tucking-in berth.

It is December 17th and Liverpool are 19 points ahead of Manchester United, and a 3-1 score line both affirms and emphasizes the gap. It is December 17th and Liverpool remain unbeaten in the Premier League. It is December 17th and Liverpool are still atop the table, despite the pressure put on by the oligarchs breathing down their necks, with the most recent step forward coming again the most hated of opponents.

16 December 2018

Liverpool 3-1 Manchester United

Mané 24'
Lingard 33'
Shaqiri 73' 80'

It was all set up for another Mourinho Moment.

I do not need or want to list the litany of disappointments and failures against Jose Mourinho's sides, whether at Chelsea or United. It has felt like voodoo at times, Mourinho's deal with the devil fully in focus.

This looked all set to be another example. Another example made especially worse because Liverpool were actually good.

Liverpool were doing the pressing and the possession and the rolling at an opponent like an incoming tide. After a fourth minute United set play that frightened, with Young's delivery past everyone into the net but Lukaku rightfully ruled offside, United couldn't get out, Liverpool kept coming, Liverpool kept shooting.

Sure, most of Liverpool's shots were from distance, because that's what Mourinho defenses force, but the goal felt coming because Liverpool kept coming. And then it came, wonderfully, in the 24th minute: Fabinho's delicious pass over United's five-man defense finding Mané's run, chest control, weaker foot goal past De Gea.

1-0, three-quarters of the match to go, this is gonna be fun. But then it wasn't. Out of nothing, United attack down Liverpool's right, the midfield bypassed, Lukaku with the ball on the flank, Dalot open behind Robertson for the low cross. But when the low cross came in, it's headed straight for Alisson instead of Dalot. Phew. Except not, because Alisson spills the ball when claiming, bouncing off his knee directly to Jesse Lingard. The goal keeper who's saved Liverpool multiple times already this season – including in the 92nd minute of the Champions League just five days ago – literally hands an equalizer to the most hated of rivals.

Life is not fair. It is not just that Mourinho's sides frustrate and shut down, but all sorts of evil somehow arises. Gerrard's slip. Ibrahimovic's late offside equalizer. Multiple 0-0s with missed chances and uncalled penalties. And now Alisson's flub.

And now we can go full Mourinho. Liverpool, still in control, still in possession. Liverpool, still shooting from distance, more and more with worse and worse result. To make matters worse, Fellaini replaced Dalot to start the second half, a shift away from the basically 3-4-1-2 to a basically 4-4-1-1, with Fellaini there to man-mark Firmino when out of possession and win headers when in.

Now we've actually reached Full Mourinho.

And we're frustrated. And we're pegging shots from nowhere that almost certainly aren't going in, first the forwards, then the midfielders, and then even the center-backs, with both Lovren and van Dijk even "trying" their luck. 29 shots by the 72nd minute, 15 of them from outside the box, 14 of them blocked. It's all set up for torture, it's all set up for pain.

But then Xherdan Shaqiri comes into the game. Less than two minutes later, Liverpool are in front. Less than ten minutes later, Liverpool are 3-1 up. With both goals from Liverpool's substitute.

It is better to be lucky than good. It is best to be lucky and good. Wijnaldum's long cross-field finds Robertson, who gets the ball to Mané. The run to the byline's dangerous. The cut-back can go anywhere after Matic's touch and De Gea's kick save. It falls to Shaqiri, who thankfully gets there before Clyne, smart enough to make the run into the box as United's defenders retreat to the six-yard box, his shot arrowing in off both Ashley Young and the underside of the cross bar.

Seven minutes later, that man again. Liverpool counter, Mané to Shaqiri to Firmino, laid off hopefully for Salah but again somehow magnetized for Shaqiri's boot, then magnetized to find a United defender and United's goal, a massive swerve off Bailly's knee beating De Gea.

It could not be more heartening for Liverpool, because it could not be more dispiriting for Manchester United. They've got to suffer through ten more minutes after Shaqiri seals the game – ten more minutes with more Liverpool chances, ten more minutes with Anfield alternately singing in full voice and shouting "Olé!" as Liverpool rub salt in all the wounds.

Now, Liverpool return to the top of the table. Now, Manchester United are closer to the 20th-placed side than to Liverpool, with 19 points separating the two teams as we enter the third week of December.

It is further evidence of Liverpool's strength in depth, with yet another crucial substitute goal. Two, in fact.

It is further evidence of Liverpool's versatility, with another return to the 4-2-3-1 formation, but with Keïta wide left, Mané on the right, Clyne making his first league start in forever, and Firmino pretty much everywhere. Shaqiri's entrance shifted Mané to the other flank, where he was able to set up Liverpool's winner, then Henderson's entrance saw Liverpool in a 4-3-3 to both shut down proceedings and counter more effectively.

It is further evidence that Liverpool have good players, with Fabinho superlative, Firmino and van Dijk not far off, Wijnaldum metronomic, Robertson still running up and down the touchline, and a sumptuous goal from Sadio Mané. All this without Salah having the impact we always hope he'll have.

It is further evidence that this might actually be Liverpool's time. The frustration ultimately ends if Liverpool keep doing Liverpool. The voodoo gets broken. The bad guys lose in the end. No matter the egregious error equalizer, no matter the fifty minutes of frustration. Mourinho can't do this every time, United can't do this every time.

Not to this version of Liverpool.

12 December 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 1-0 Napoli

Previous Match Infographics: Bournemouth (a), Burnley, Everton (h), Paris St-Germain (a), Watford (a), Fulham (h), Arsenal (a), Cardiff (h), 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. 

Except for Liverpool's finishing, that's pretty much where Liverpool want to be. Which is a nice thing to write when it's a match to decide whether you progress in the Champions League or get knocked down into the ugly stepsister competition.

Just like in the last match at Bournemouth, Liverpool's game plan went as hoped. Need 1-0? Score in first half, counter as the game goes on. Go back to the 4-3-3, a better set-up for pressing, a better set-up for fast breaks from that front three. And that's exactly what happened. Except, you know, scoring multiple times on said fast breaks and preventing us from biting fingernails and day drinking as ninety minutes refused to run out.

Liverpool control possession for the first half-hour, then get the necessary goal in the 34th minute through Mohamed Salah. Possession and more possession, and a refusal to let Napoli clear, keeping the ball until Milner spots Salah's run, sliding off Mario Rui and finally beating the impressive Koulibaly before nutmegging Ospina with his weaker foot from no angle.

That was fun.

And then Liverpool proceed to contain rather than control, but both limit chances and increasingly create more of their own. Liverpool take more than twice as many shots in the second half compared to the first half. Liverpool have four clear-cut chances in the final 15 minutes. Liverpool really should have sealed the game long before the final whistle.

It's still swings and roundabouts when it comes to actually putting the damned ball in the damned net. Liverpool put almost half their shots on target and score with almost all of said shots on-target at Bournemouth? Three days later, Liverpool put just four of 22 shots on goal and score with just one, missing the target with three of four clear-cut chances. Similar happened after winning 3-0 at Watford, when Liverpool put seven of ten shots on-target and scored three times in 22 minutes, then struggled to shoot or score against both PSG and Everton.

Except Mo Salah keeps scoring.

That's now 13 goals in 23 appearances this season, Liverpool's top scorer with almost twice as many as Mané in second place, scoring in ten different matches. He's got the opening goal in eight of those ten matches, with seven ending up as the game-winner when Liverpool's gone on to keep a clean sheet. Liverpool have played four 1-0 matches this season; Salah has been the lone scorer in three of those four. He is an absolute force of nature, especially at Anfield.

Also, it's nice to be able to praise the midfield that we've had so many issues with this season – rightly or wrongly. Both Wijnaldum and Milner were heavily involved in both the attack and the press, their average position on the same line as Firmino and Mané. Wijnaldum led the side in shots, albeit with none on-target and three of the four in the final ten minutes. Milner created five chances, behind only Trent Alexander-Arnold, including the penetrating assist for Salah's goal, with Wijnaldum also registering the hockey assist. Not coincidentally, those two midfielders led the side in tackles along with Mané, with Wijnaldum attempting four and successful with three, while Milner successful with five of six.

There's probably a reason that Klopp keeps using these three in big matches, the starting midfield in the 3-2 v PSG, 1-1 at Chelsea, 0-0 v City, 1-2 at PSG, and now this – as well as the 2-1 win at Leicester back at the beginning of September.

And then there's the defense. Again. Liverpool's last two defensive signings starred, again, with van Dijk again imperious, and Alisson again heroic. That late save truly did save Liverpool, denying Milik from point-blank range in the 91st minute, only the third save he had to make yesterday and the only that was truly taxing.

It's almost apt that Milik got that chance by shirking off Lovren, with the defender on as a substitute after an injury to Alexander-Arnold. Lovren got caught ball-watching. Lovren didn't contend the cross, on his back foot as Milik controlled. To be fair, Lovren was hamstrung by a slight deflection off Fabinho. To be less fair, that's seemingly often an issue with Dejan Lovren: a perfectly cromulent defender for 85 minutes – honestly, better than cromulent – but then somehow caught in the wrong place at the wrong time doing the wrong thing. Dejan Lovren is now third or fourth-choice defender in this team rather than first-choice he'd been for a few seasons. A few seasons which saw a few more goals conceded.

But there's also Andy Robertson bombing up and down the left. There's Trent Alexander-Arnold with six key passes and the only Liverpool player with more than one interception. There's Jöel Matip with maybe the best game of his Liverpool career, completely in control against both Mertens and Insigne.

There's an outstanding defense, a midfield performing to its function in a match that suits how they function, and an attack that's still getting there but clearly getting there. An attack that's closer to there than they were a month, two months, three months ago.

And so it ends as yet another massive European night. You know the list. This is now on it. Liverpool have still yet to lose a European match at Anfield since Klopp became manager, stretching back to that embarrassing 0-3 loss to Real Madrid in October 2014.

Bring on the Round of 16 and woe to the side that draws Liverpool.

10 December 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 4-0 Bournemouth

Previous Match Infographics: Burnley, Everton (h), Paris St-Germain (a), Watford (a), Fulham (h), Arsenal (a), Cardiff (h), 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. 

There's honestly not a ton to write about this. I love when a plan comes to fruition. And I love when Mohamed Salah just slaps folks who jump up to get beat down.

That was a continuation of the previous four league matches, with Liverpool incrementally better, more cohesive in each, with Liverpool deservedly winning each.

Liverpool scored multiple goals, as they did against Fulham (h), Watford (a), and Burnley (a), with ten of 12 goals in these four matches – as well as the last-second winner against Everton – coming in the second half.

We haven't seen the away struggles that have defined the Champions League campaign so far, with Liverpool's away form almost exactly comparable to that at home, conceding four more on the road but also scoring four more. Liverpool have scored three, three, and four in their last three away games, albeit against Watford, Burnley, and Bournemouth. And Liverpool have played two more away games than home, having already travelled to Tottenham, Chelsea, and Arsenal.

As against Watford, Liverpool did it with a paucity of shots, taking just ten and putting just four on-target, but scoring with three of them. It's a 40% shot accuracy – which is better than usual – and a conversion rate of 42.86%, the highest of the season. Between The Posts (via 11Tegen11) had Liverpool's Expected Goals at 2.09 xG, which gives an xG per shot on 0.209, an egregiously high total.

Liverpool kept yet another clean sheet, the fourth in the last five games and tenth in 16 league games. Bournemouth's xG was 0.5 and xG per shot was 0.0625, which is egregiously low, and put just two shots on-target: Brooks' reasonable effort just before Salah opened the scoring and Stanislas' long-range free kick straight at Alisson after Liverpool were already 3-0 up.

Alisson was once again brilliant in moments, because he's only been needed for moments. The aforementioned save on Brooks' shot. A tremendous clearing header under pressure from Josh King, unable to use his hands on Milner's wild, errant clearance. Just as he was against Burnley, just as he's been since he joined the club.

This was the fourth time this season that Liverpool have scored four goals in a match, but it's the first time away from Anfield. It's the first time Liverpool have scored four or more away from Anfield since the 5-0 win at Porto back in February, and the first time it's happened in the league in a week shy of a year, when Liverpool beat *checks notes* Bournemouth 4-0 on December 17, 2017.

There was one key difference, though. Mohamed Salah was much more influential than he's been in recent matches. Than he's been pretty much all season.

Sure, there were the three goals. One poacher's goal, heavily involved in the buildup and there to finish off Firmino's rebound, then two counter-attack goals – Firmino's press winning possession for the first, then Lallana's long pass and Salah's speed up against Cook for the second. He had space to run and used that space brilliantly. He had chances and finished off those chances.

But just as important was how much more involved Salah was.

My main criticism of the 4-2-3-1 formation used most frequently of late is how Salah just isn't getting the ball. Sure, he's not getting it in his favored positions, on the flank, with room to run, but he's just not getting it enough in general.

That wasn't the case on Saturday. Salah received passes at almost double the rate as in the previous three matches. And every Liverpool starter found Salah with at least one pass.

Only Firmino registered an assist, but Shaqiri's through-ball released Salah for his first shot in the 14th minute, while Lallana's pass set him up to destroy Steve Cook for Liverpool's fourth goal. Robertson and Firmino tied for the most passes to Salah with eight each, but Liverpool's central midfielders – so often struggling to link with the attack – also found Salah with five passes each, while Keïta routinely got the ball to Salah as well.

We've seen that Liverpool can do it without Salah if necessary. Or, maybe more accurately, with 50-75% of Salah. Now they're finding more and better ways to get him involved in this new role.

Liverpool were getting results even before this formation began coalescing. Liverpool were getting results without Salah being this involved in the overall play, let alone scoring multiple goals in the same match while still playing more key passes than any other Liverpool player.

Liverpool were already getting results, keeping pace with a much more impressive City despite wobbles and complaints in almost every match. And now, with the season reaching the frenetic festive flurry, almost to the halfway point, Liverpool are rounding into form, ahead of Manchester City as we enter the fifth month of the campaign.

08 December 2018

Liverpool 4-0 Bournemouth

Salah 25' 48' 77'
Cook OG 68'

That was about a good as it gets.

Sure, we've seen more thorough beat-downs. We've seen more comprehensive performances. But that was comfortable, despite being away from home, in the midst of a run about about a million games a month, and with five changes and a different formation from Wednesday's similarly heartening win at Burnley.

Liverpool monopolize the ball for the opening 25 minutes until scoring, a well-taken but fortunate goal with Salah just offside on the rebound to Firmino's shot from distance. Liverpool then slowly invite Bournemouth forward but remain untested, limiting shots and dealing with multiple Bournemouth corners.

Then Liverpool pull away in the second half. The all-important second comes within three minutes of the restart via Liverpool's press. Firmino robs Lerma and feeds Salah, staying on his feet despite a foul from Cook, bursting past Daniels to score an archetypal Salah goal. The game-killing third comes midway through the half, cross field from Firmino to Salah to Robertson to Fabinho to Robertson, a vicious cross towards Mané pinballed into the net by Cook. The fourth is just rude, with Salah twice dancing around Begovic after receiving Robertson's pass following an interception, waltzing towards goal as three Bournemouth players retreat to the goal line, unable to prevent the tap in.

It's a rolling tide for the first quarter of the game, then an older brother holding the younger at arm's length while intermittently counter-punching to remind each of their station for the other three-quarters. And it's not as if Bournemouth are a bad side, massively improving on last season's performances, in a dead heat with Everton and United as "best of the rest."

Mo Salah scores a hat-trick, now joint-top scorer in the league despite having a "bad" season so far. Keïta and Fabinho start together for the first time – with all four of Liverpool's summer signings in the XI – even if the former played on the left flank. Liverpool demonstrated their depth, with five changes from Wednesday's side which had seven changes from last Sunday's side. Liverpool were versatile, with Keïta on the left flank, Milner at right back, and Firmino and Salah more of a strike partnership in a 4-2-2-2 rather than the 4-2-3-1 we've seen more often. Mané returned from the cut on his foot, Lallana returned from whatever injury kept him out this time.

It was a team-wide performance, with no scapegoats in the slightest and headlined by Salah, who'll take a ton of confidence from this productivity. He's now scored 42 league goals for Liverpool in just 52 appearances, the most of any player under Klopp and faster to the mark than any other Liverpool player in the Premier League era. And at the other end of the pitch, Liverpool kept its tenth clean sheet in 16 Premier League games, conceding just once in the five games since that annoying 1-1 draw at Arsenal. Liverpool continue with its best start to a top-flight campaign in the club's history, now top of the table for at least a couple of hours.

It wasn't great, but that's what makes it good. We've still not hit the dizzying heights of last season, but it's all coming together in these last five matches. Diligent and mostly comfortable in three of the five, a tenacious comeback in the fourth, and that Merseyside Derby. Still unbeaten, still neck and neck with Manchester City.

Right when the season starts to get serious.

07 December 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 3-1 Burnley

Previous Match Infographics: Everton (h), Paris St-Germain (a), Watford (a), Fulham (h), Arsenal (a), Cardiff (h), 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. 

This did not start well.

Seven changes from the XI which started the Merseyside Derby, as well as a different formation. Sturridge and Origi both start up top – the latter making his first league start since August 2017. It's Keïta's first start in more than two months. There are rare appearances for Matip and Moreno. There's James Milner on the left flank. There's no Firmino, no Salah, and no Mané, the first time none have started a Liverpool match since the beginning of last season.

And then Joe Gomez has to go off before the match is a quarter gone, fracturing his left leg.

And there are no Liverpool shots, against the side who allows the most shots in the league, until the 29th minute. Despite more than 70% possession. Despite playing a side who'd failed to win their previous seven games, who sat just a point above the bottom of the table. An often-broken attack remains so, despite the change in personnel and formation.

It's not going well. It gets better, little by little. Liverpool at least start to register shots. And they're either putting them on target or seeing them blocked, which is better than the "miss, miss, block, miss, maybe on-target" we've become more accustomed to.

Of course, Liverpool are still living dangerously, with Barnes putting the ball in Liverpool's net from a Burnley free kick only to see it ruled out for offside. It takes just one moment, after all.

Which Burnley get, after a bit of a flurry from Liverpool. Van Dijk misses a couple of set play chances, blocked by Tarkowski and headed off-target, while Keïta thunders an effort that Hart saves onto the post. But Burnley somehow progress down the field, van Dijk has to clear a cross behind, and Burnley have a corner. Gudmundsson. Tarkowski over Alexander-Arnold, save. Barnes the rebound, save. Cork, goal. Even though Wood looked offside going for Tarkowski's shot. Even though it appeared that Barnes kicked the ball out of Alisson's hands. Even though Liverpool had dominated, had been the better side, etc etc.

Oh fuck.

But this is where Liverpool proved that Liverpool are actually good at the football. That Liverpool belong near the top of the table. That Liverpool rightly are one of the best sides in the league.

Because the best sides in the league score three times in half an hour after going behind. The best sides in the league win the difficult mid-week away games, despite missing players, despite almost wholly changing the team, despite going behind.

Eight minutes after Burnley scored, we're level. Seven minutes after that, we're ahead. And in the first minute of added time, we've got a game-sealing third.

Each goal was very "this is what Liverpool can do to you." The first, a 26-pass move, rope-a-dope before the knockout, and only Liverpool's second open play goal from outside the box this season. The second a set play. The third a lightning counter from goalkeeper to opposition goal with five touches in fewer than ten seconds.

And the last two goals saw the impact that substitutions can have.

Firmino's goal was Liverpool's 33rd by a substitute since Klopp became manager. It's the sixth already this season. Eight of those have been game-winning goals – including three this season – while five more were equalizers. And we can't downplay Salah's assist to Shaqiri, perfectly weighted into the Swiss' path with the outside of his left foot, without even thinking of trying to control Sturridge's chip.

Sure, we don't want to be bringing Salah and Firmino off the bench every match. And it's not as if substitute goals are a new feature under Klopp; Liverpool are on pace for more this season, but nothing's yet topped Klopp's first season when Liverpool substitutes scored 16 times. But it is more proof of Liverpool's strength in depth. In that 2015-16 season, the majority of Liverpool's sub goals were scored by Christian Benteke, while Origi was the only other player with more than one. This season, they've been scored by Sturridge (twice), Firmino (twice), Shaqiri, and Origi. Somewhat stronger attackers than those in Klopp's first season.

And Liverpool are – as we're well aware after the start to the season – stronger at the back as well. Good lord, Virgil van Dijk.

But a few other players deserve a mention too. James Milner started on the left, ran his ass off, scored the vital equalizer from outside the box, then spent the next 30 minutes at left back. Naby Keïta massively improved the midfield, leading Liverpool in shots and putting four of those six shots on-target. Alisson made a massive save at 2-1, then started the counter-attack for Liverpool's third, and should have gotten credit for denying Tarkowski's 54th minute shot before Wood was offside but uncalled.

Liverpool are getting performances, consistent performances, from players who don't necessarily always get the headlines. They're getting performances from players signed in the last 12 months: van Dijk, Keïta, and Alisson. They're getting performances from players who aren't Salah, Firmino, and Mané.

And even when we're worried, when we're frustrated, Liverpool find a way to get three goals to beat a side that'd given them fits, has given them fits in the past. They're getting goals, and shots on-target, when those things have been hard to come by in previous matches this season.

They're getting wins, more and more, with more points earned at this stage of the season than in any previous campaign.

04 December 2018

Liverpool at Burnley 12.05.18

2:45pm ET, live in the US on NBC Sports Gold

Last four head-to-head:
2-1 Liverpool (a) 01.01.18
1-1 (h) 09.16.17
2-1 Liverpool (h) 03.12.17
0-2 Burnley (a) 08.20.16

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-0 Everton (h); 1-2 PSG (a); 3-0 Watford (a)
Burnley: 0-2 Palace (a); 1-2 Newcastle (h); 0-0 Leicester (a)

Goal-scorers (league):
Liverpool: Salah 7; Mané 6; Firmino 3; Milner, Shaqiri, Sturridge 2; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Origi, Wijnaldum 1
Burnley: Vokes 3; Barnes, Gudmundsson, Tarkowski 2; Hendrick, Lennon, Vydra, Wood 1

Referee: Stuart Attwell (LFC History) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Trent A-A Gomez van Dijk Moreno
Milner Henderson Keïta
Salah Sturridge Shaqiri

The first midweek league match of the season. The second of eight matches in December.

You have to assume there will be changes, will be rotation. But your guess is as good as mine as to how or whom.

What formation Liverpool plays is probably dependent on who plays. So let's guess a few absentees. There are two new injury doubts: Mané's got a cut on his foot which needed stitches, Robertson has a minor knock. Firmino's struggled for form. Liverpool have five available midfielders with Keïta fit and Henderson back from suspension.

With Mané potentially absent, Sturridge or Origi in line for a start, and all the central midfielders in contention, 4-3-3 seems more likely. I'm dubious of completely changing the midfield, but Fabinho's struggled in 4-3-3 and Wijnaldum's played more minutes than any other midfielder so far. So, there's the above guess, along with the preferred back four but with Moreno for Robertson, although I wouldn't be surprised to see Lovren or Matip either. But that's almost certainly going to be wrong in some places.

I wouldn't be completely surprised to see something more a 4-4-2 than the 4-2-3-1 we've seen lately, with two from Sturridge, Firmino, Origi and possibly Salah up front, but I'm also skeptical. If Firmino plays with another striker, it'll probably be 4-2-3-1. Origi's goal on Sunday is a wonderful story, but I doubt it makes him more likely to start matches, at least at this point.

Meanwhile, Burnley. Yikes. Karma catches up with you eventually.

Burnley had been the wizards of the Premier League in the previous two seasons. Over-performing both xG and xG against. A supremely difficult side to play again, allowing a ton of shots but very few good shots, and conceding surprisingly few goals while scoring *just enough.*

That hasn't been the case this season. At all. Well, they're still over-performing xG both for and against, although not by a ton. They've just been bad at the football. Only Huddersfield, Palace, Newcastle, and Southampton have scored fewer goals. Only Fulham has conceded more goals. They're 19th place, a point ahead of Fulham. They haven't won in more than two months, with five losses and two draws since the end of September.

And the only real line-up change from last season is Joe Hart in goal, so make of that what you will.

Burnley can't even blame injuries or absentees, other than Hart starting ahead of Nick Pope. They've again had one of the more settled sides in the league. Sure, Defour, Brady, and Tarkowski are doubtful for tomorrow's match, but the latter seems likely to start anyway and Burnley have experienced replacements for the two others.

If both Brady and Defour miss out, it'll probably be Hart; Lowton, Tarkowski, Mee, Taylor; Lennon, Westwood, Cork, Gudmundsson; Hendrick; Wood. Either Vokes or Barnes could start ahead of Wood up front. Maybe Burnley go more 4-4-2 with one of them paired with Wood in place of Hendrick. If Defour's available, he'll replace Westwood. If Brady is, he could play on either flank.

For all of Burnley's struggles, I remain nervous. A midweek match, with key players likely absent for Liverpool. An opponent who's given them problems in the past, no matter current form; last season's 1-1 at Anfield, the 0-2 at Burnley in 2016-17, even last season's 2-1 win at Burnley, decided thanks to Ragnar Klavan's only league goal for Liverpool, scored in the 90th minute. Liverpool are coming off a massive, morale-boosting win, but one achieved via fluke rather than force. Liverpool still aren't in the best form either, especially going forward.

We're reaching the point of the season where it doesn't matter how wins are achieved, with this many matches in quick succession, with crucial players needing rest or recuperation. Which, to be fair, is how we've felt for almost the entire season so far – a record amount of points at this phase of the season for Liverpool, but earned without ever truly impressing.

No matter. Just keep doing that. By any means necessary.

03 December 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 1-0 Everton

Previous Match Infographics: Paris St-Germain (a), Watford (a), Fulham (h), Arsenal (a), Cardiff (h), 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. 

In case you were wondering how vital the press is to creating chances, yesterday was a good example.

It is no secret that Liverpool's attack has struggled lately, whether playing 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1. And that attack struggled some more against Everton, needing a hilariously – I mean HILARIOUSLY – flukey 96th minute winner.

But Liverpool also had five clear-cut chances, for the first time in the league since Opening Day. Liverpool should have scored long before Jordan Pickford wrote his name in Merseyside lore.

Two of those clear-cut chances came from scrambled set plays, both from Origi in the dying minutes, both from about a combined two yards out, the first off the cross bar, the second the winner. A third came from quick build-up, hoofed out from the back, Fabinho to Firmino to Mané in the 54th minute. But the other two came from possession regains in Everton's half by Liverpool's midfielders. The other two came from Liverpool's press.

12th minute. Wijnaldum tackles Andre Gomes, who's trying to carry the ball out of his defensive third. Robertson picks up, to Salah, to Mané, blazed over.

34th minute. Fabinho tackles Gueye inside Everton's half, playing the ball directly to Salah. Turn, passed wide to an open Shaqiri, the shot too close to Pickford.

Not coincidentally, those were Liverpool's first two clear-cut chances, taking the game to Everton early in the match, before the sides settled into a more familiar pattern, before both Liverpool and Everton began to tire.

Similar goes for Everton, though. They had two clear-cut chances of their own. A set play – where Mina should have been flagged for offside – and robbing Salah of possession in Liverpool's half, quickly transitioning to the move which saw Gomes' point blank shot saved then cleared off the line.

Transitions matter, deeply. And Liverpool have not been able to transition often enough and quickly enough in recent weeks, whether due to how the opposition are playing and how often Liverpool's front six choose when and where to press. Liverpool pressed more vigorously yesterday, especially in the first half, while Everton's style of play under Marco Silva also allowed Liverpool more opportunities to press.

And if for better finishing, this game would have been over long before Pickford had the opportunity to go Full English Goalkeeper in the 96th minute. So that's still an issue with the attack. Once again, Liverpool fail to put shots on target, with only three of 16 on goal – a horrific 19% shooting accuracy. It was Liverpool's second-lowest shot accuracy in the league so far this season, after only putting two of 11 shots on-target in the 1-0 win at Huddersfield in October.

Once again, I also remain worried about both Salah and Firmino in this 4-2-3-1 formation. Neither played badly; Firmino took three shots and set up Mané's 53rd minute clear-cut chance, Salah was Liverpool's most creative player with four key passes, two of them for clear-cut chances.

But Firmino was still nowhere near as involved as he's been in previous matches, dropping increasingly deep to pick up possession, with just 27 passes attempted, the vast majority around the center circle. And is the best use of Salah as Liverpool's most creative player rather than shot taker, shot scorer? Salah's lone shot was a 20-yard curler, receiving possession with his back to goal marked by a central defender, pushed wide of the post. So many long passes played towards him by midfielders and defenders, in the hopes of finding him before being too closely marked, with little success. It's one thing to use him as a central striker when Liverpool have already scored, when the game's stretched, when there are chances to counter. It seems another to use him as an orthodox front-man, back to goal and marked by at least one center-back rather than in space to run down the right flank. Salah attempted just one dribble yesterday, in the ninth minute, unsurprisingly unsuccessful.

But, to be fair, that's all a bit moot for at least two more days, when Liverpool travel to Burnley. It's the Merseyside Derby; who gives how it happens, as long as it's a good result after 90 minutes. I'd rather focus on the result. I'd rather focus on Jordan Pickford doing this in the 96th minute.

And I still cannot stop laughing.

02 December 2018

Liverpool 1-0 Everton

Origi 90+6'

I cannot even. How are you even supposed to summarize that.

It's 0-0 for 95 minutes. It's a typical Merseyside Derby score line without being a typical Merseyside Derby. There are actual, honest-to-goodness chances. For both sides. There is actual, honest-to-goodness football. From both sides. Both sides press, both sides attack, both sides are denied goals only due to incredible defending or errant finishing. Four clear-cut chances from Liverpool, two from Everton. There are only a handful of vicious tackles, play acting, or any of the other ugly that's become all too typical in this fixture, although Everton had clearly retreated deeper and deeper in the second half, happy to maintain their point.

But it's still 0-0.

And then Liverpool have a free kick. It's unsurprisingly a scramble, seemingly ending with van Dijk's errant volley skyward rather than at goal. But it's one of those awkward, arcing efforts where the goalkeeper's not entirely sure whether he's going to need to tip it over. Jordan Pickford, with his wee little arms, goes to tip it over. And he completely fails, somehow pushing it onto the crossbar, deflecting directly to Divock Origi about a yard out from goal. Divock Origi, who has not played a league game for Liverpool since August 2017.

1-0. With the clock at 95:08.

I cannot even.

It's even better than a 4-0 riot. It's even better than Sadio Mané in the 94th minute at Goodison. It might even be better than McAllister's free kick from absolutely nowhere at the absolute death at their place, and that was more than 17 years ago. Just because of the comedy. The utter failure. The "why always us????". It could not be funnier. It could not be crueler. Supporting Everton must be the absolute worst. I'd feel bad except, well, you know.

So, yeah, we can analyze a bit, but where's the fun in that? Liverpool reverted to 4-2-3-1, the familiar iteration with Fabinho and Wijnaldum holding, Shaqiri on the right, Firmino in the hole but at least further forward than we've seen in more frustrated fixtures. Liverpool were better in attack, although it certainly helps that Everton wanted to press and attack more than other recent opponents. Liverpool still had problems in attack, at least in finishing. Mané firing over in the 12th minute, set up by Wijnaldum's final third regain and Salah's chip. Shaqiri in on goal later in the first half, set up by Fabinho's pressing tackle and Salah's through ball, the shot too close to Pickford. Mané in on goal in the second half, Fabinho again, this time flicking a long pass towards Firmino, chest control, through ball, shot pushed wide.

But at the same time, Liverpool were tested. Yerry Mina's set play header wide in the 4th minute, offside but uncalled. Alisson somehow denying Andre Gomes' header in the 21st, a point blank save then cleared off the line at the last possible second by Joe Gomez. Both sides looking to press, both sides sending their full-backs forward, both sides with spells of pressure and dominance with the ball trapped at the opponents end of the pitch meant we got a surprisingly open match, at least for the first half. It was more familiar in the second half, with Everton dropping increasingly deep, Everton increasingly happy to ugly the match, Liverpool increasingly frustrated and tired, but Richarlison remained a threat on the counter, supported by Sigurðsson and two attacking full-backs.

Klopp threw all but the kitchen sink at proceedings, bringing on Keïta for Shaqiri for increased dynamism in midfield and Sturridge for Salah for a more orthodox striker, then went with the kitchen sink in Origi for Firmino. Everton were happier to hold what they had, Lookman for Walcott – for increased counter-attacking pace – the only substitution that mattered until time-wasting changes at the very end. And despite Liverpool's efforts, because of Everton's efforts, this still looked likely to end in frustration, as in both Merseyside Derbies last season.

Then that moment happened. Jordan Pickford happened. Divock Origi happened, karmic payback for the career changing injury he suffered against Everton two and a half years ago.

Liverpool happened to Everton, as Liverpool seems to always happen to Everton.

The little brother just cannot get a break against the bigger. And I cannot stop laughing.