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.

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