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.