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.

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