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.

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

Napoli are a really good team, shows how good Salah is that he was able to actually get the better of Koulibaly (what a player, one of the best defenders in the world for me!). Think Mertens knock was key, was never as quick or as sharp after the kick and Van Dijk could have been sent off for that. Callejon miss probably even worse than Milik's.

Some of Liverpool's chances came late on when Napoli realised (too late in my opinion) that a 2nd goal didn't matter at all, but Liverpool could have scored 3 prior to that anyway, one of the best performances I've seen this season. Bit strange that the only goal of the game was from iffy goalkeeping with all the other chances and fantastic saves made.