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.


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Anonymous said...

The strength on the bench this season will likely see LFC all the way to the end.