31 January 2019

Visualized: Liverpool 1-1 Leicester

Previous Match Infographics: Crystal Palace (h), Brighton (a), Manchester City (a), Arsenal (h), Newcastle (h), 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. 

Well that was a kick in the teeth. A return to earth. An infuriating result.

And Liverpool didn't even lose.

After Liverpool's win over Crystal Palace, I spent two paragraphs waxing lyrical about how Liverpool have often been lucky this season. So I guess this is only fitting. My bad.

It is easy to complain about Martin Atkinson. It is easy to write that Liverpool should have had at least one penalty if not two: Keïta obviously clipped by Ricardo, for sure, but also when Maguire shoved his forearm into Mo Salah's throat when blocking off his run through the box.

And then there's Maguire again, hauling down Sadio Mané when potentially through on goal, a caution rather than dismissal, mostly likely because of the distance to goal even though it appeared a clear scoring opportunity.

And then there's Maguire again, popping up for Leicester's equalizer literal seconds before the halftime whistle, five minutes after he could have seen red.

It is too easy to complain. Which also makes it easy to overlook the things that Liverpool failed to do.

This was a bad attacking performance. As in really, really bad.

Only Manchester City held Liverpool to fewer shots and a lower xG total at Anfield this season. This is only the third match where Liverpool have failed to take at least one clear-cut chance, after that City match and the 1-0 win at Huddersfield.

Leicester are the first non-Big Six side to hold Liverpool to ten or fewer shots at Anfield since Everton back in April 2017. And I suspect you remember that Merseyside Derby. Liverpool, scoring early then conceding to give Everton hope, but then 3-1 up after an hour and barely taking a shot afterwards, another hilarious derby where Everton think they can think they can think they can and then get put back in their box.

That wasn't quite the same as yesterday's match.

It's the stretch without shots that does me. That spell between the 7th and 74th minute, where Liverpool took just one of their ten shots. Three from the first to the sixth minutes, including the goal, where Liverpool looked on pace to romp, then six from the 74th through the 90th, futilely pushing for a winner despite a paucity of good openings. 67 minutes, with almost half of them when the score was level. One shot: Mo Salah from just inside the box immediately blocked.

But it is hard to take shots when you can't get the ball inside the penalty box.

For all those final third passes, there sure ain't a lot into the box. Or, more accurately, there sure ain't a lot of completed passes into the box.

This is not the first time we've complained about a paucity of shots and difficulties in creating them, the aforementioned 1-0 at Huddersfield, as well as the 1-0 Brighton most notably. There have been a lot of narrow wins won not because Liverpool blew their opponents away but because Liverpool didn't concede. And the opposition's had chances in more than a few of those narrow games: Groß's clear-cut chance saved against Brighton, Mahrez's missed penalty against City, Hogg hitting the woodwork for Huddersfield, missed clear-cut opportunities by Fulham, Everton, and Newcastle with the score still at 0-0.

The law of averages demands that Liverpool be punished sooner or later, pretty much no matter the opponent. And Leicester still needed Keïta's block to fly directly to Chilwell, and Chilwell's header to find Maguire, onside by less than a yard, to get their goal, having missed an earlier clear-cut chance as so many opponents have missed against Liverpool.

To be fair to Leicester, they've already beaten both City and Chelsea this season. Only Everton, Chelsea, Liverpool, and City allow their opponents fewer shots per match. They've still got a team full of players who've won the league. They've got Claude Puel as manager, with a record of 3W-4D-2L against Liverpool, most memorably with four matches unbeaten in charge of Southampton in 2016-17.

And to be fair to Liverpool, it's January 31st and this was Liverpool's first dropped points against a non-top five side. In match 24. Which, coincidentally, has not been a good match for Liverpool in previous seasons.

It's not quite nothing lost, nothing gained. But since Manchester City did similar yet worse a day before – scoring within a minute but giving it away, conceding twice to Liverpool's once – it is as good a time as any to drop two points that Liverpool probably shouldn't have dropped.

Dropped points happen, in crazy circumstances. Every season. That it's taken so long is a credit to this Liverpool side, as much as they've frustrated, as much as this frustrates.

The rest of the season depends on how Liverpool react to these dropped points.

21 January 2019

Visualized: Liverpool 4-3 Crystal Palace

Previous Match Infographics: Brighton (a), Manchester City (a), Arsenal (h), Newcastle (h), 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. 

Do we complain about Liverpool's defense now?

Three goals conceded in a league match for the first time in a calendar year. A counter-attack when Swansea beat Liverpool's six-player press, a simple set play header, and a late, lazy concession when the game appeared to be over.

Three opposition goals from three shots on-target, something that's only happened once since Jürgen Klopp became manager, in the 2-3 loss against Swansea in January 2017. For all of our defensive complaints last season, Liverpool conceded multiple goals from the same amount of shots on-target in just one match last season, the 1-2 loss at Manchester United.

Against an opponent who had the joint-17th worst scoring record in the division going into this match. Who had scored three goals against just one other league opponent so far this season. Which, to be fair, was Manchester City at Manchester City.

Maybe they've got previous.

The xG totals probably underrate Palace's output but, to be slightly fairer to Liverpool, none of the goals conceded came from clear-cut chances.

And, again, it's the first time that Liverpool have conceded three times this season. Liverpool have conceded three or more goals in at least four league matches in each of Klopp's three previous seasons. And Liverpool's record in those matches was 1W-1D-3L in 2015-16, 1W-3L in 2016-17, 1W-2D-2L in 2017-18. You unsurprisingly don't often win when conceding that many goals.

But the last in 2017-18 came almost exactly a year ago. Incidentally, right around the time that Virgil van Dijk signed for the club.

Also, it's not often an opponent beats a press that looks like this.

Both Keïta and Firmino missed tackles, dribbled past by James McArthur – a player who'd completed all of ten successful dribbles going into this game. Henderson, Robertson, and Mané are avoided as well, and van Aanholt got literal miles of space to run into with Milner unsurprisingly dropping back, needing to focus on Zaha's threat. Van Aanholt still finds Zaha, Zaha still beats Milner, and Fabinho and Robertson lose Townsend's cutting-in run with Kouyate also requiring attention.

It's not often that Liverpool concede from a corner. Tomkins' equalizer was just the fourth this season, with three of those in the league. Lamela's consolation came from a bouncing ball through Liverpool's six-yard box. Cork's opener for Burnley came after a couple of ricochets. Only Pavkov's goal for Red Star came from a similar cross directly from the corner-taker.

And it's not often that Liverpool concede that third; not only robbed of possession in their own half but more importantly down to ten men, with the defense both changed and unfamiliar thanks to Milner's dismissal and previous injuries.

We haven't seen goals conceded like those often this season. We haven't been many goals conceded at all this season. And I wouldn't expect to see many more.

But I do expect Liverpool to perform like that at the other end of the pitch.

Conceding three – while very, very annoying – doesn't really matter if you can get 'em back.

Liverpool, trailing in just five league matches so far this season, have come from behind to get at least a point in four of them. A late draw earned by Sturridge's star-destroyer at Chelsea, followed by three wins even though Liverpool conceded first in the last month and a half.

That's ten points gained from losing positions through 23 games. Which is already better than last season's nine points gained from losing positions.

A couple of somewhat-asides. First, we've seen more comeback wins than comeback draws this season in comparison to previous. Wins are good. I like wins. They're better than draws, and much harder to get than draws. Second, more than a few matches where Liverpool earned points from losing positions also saw Liverpool drop points from winning positions: 2-2 West Brom in 2015-16, 2-2 West Ham and 2-2 Bournemouth in 2016-17, and 3-3 Watford and 3-3 Arsenal in 2017-18. Matches where Liverpool were ahead, then behind, then level and hey nothing lost nothing gained. Not like the matches so far this season.

Unsurprisingly, Liverpool's front three got them back into this game. Which was necessary, because they were hardly in it in the first half.

Liverpool took ten first half shots. Just two came from Salah, Firmino, or Mané: Firmino's off-target blast from distance and Mané's easily saved set play header. The rest came from Liverpool's four defenders – two from each center-back, one from each full-back – and Fabinho. Those aren't the players you necessarily want firing at the opposition's goal. And it's somewhat symptomatic of Liverpool's frustration when playing against 11 players behind the ball, restricted to set play efforts and a handful of blasts from distance.

But it wasn't just shots. Salah, Firmino, and Mané combined for 79 touches in the opening 45 minutes, with just ten in Palace's penalty box. That total rose to 106 in the second half, with 22 in the penalty box. Those touches now led to seven shots, and – I guess most importantly – four goals.

It's the third time this season that all three have scored in the same match, and the 11th since the start of last season.

But Liverpool needed a good deal of fortune to get goals from all three. Van Dijk's shot cannoning off Tomkins and Speroni's error setting up Salah's goals. Another deflection on Firmino's goal. The ball bouncing kindly off Wan Bissaka rather than out of play – with Robertson doing excellently to keep it in – in the build-up to Mané's game-sealer.

It's not the first time Liverpool have been lucky this season. Origi's winner in the derby remains most memorable and most hilarious, but there are also Shaqiri's deflections against United, Salah's offside opener at Bournemouth (in a match where he still got a hat-trick), a handful of now-contentious penalties, and multiple missed opposition clear-cut chances – 40% of them off-target compared to Liverpool's 23% – including a potentially-all-important Mahrez penalty at Anfield.

Considering all the slights, both real and imagined, that we can point to from just last season, it's about damned time.

So, after all the out-of-the-ordinary, I am tempted to look at this match as an aberration, at both ends of the pitch. Liverpool do have history with aberrations and insanity against Crystal Palace, both in wild 3-3 and 4-2s, and in fortunate 2-1 turn-arounds.

But I am also aware that so many "flukes" and so much "luck" this season is probably more than just coincidence.

19 January 2019

Liverpool 4-3 Crystal Palace

Townsend 34'
Salah 46' 75'
Firmino 53'
Tomkins 65'
Mané 90+3'
Meyer 90+5'

Did you miss last season's Liverpool? Did you miss the cardiac arrest?

So many memories.

Getting brick-walled in the first half by 11 men behind the ball. An opposition goal from a first counter-attack and first shot on-target. Liverpool somehow going on to concede twice more, from a set play and a late, late scramble. Three incredibly regrettable goals from just three opposition shots on-target.

Liverpool haven't conceded three goals in a match since last season's Champions League final. They hadn't done it in the league since the 4-3 win over City almost exactly a year ago. They hadn't done it against a non-top six side since the opening day of last season.


At least Liverpool can't stop scoring either, once they finally make the break-through. Mohamed Salah can't stop scoring, his 15th and 16th in the league to continue leading the division, with six in the last six games in this regression of a second season. We get goals from all of Salah, Mané, and Firmino, for just the third time this season and only the second in the league. For the first time since *checks watch* Liverpool's last home game.

We get you score, I score, we all score. We get happy. We get angry. We get multiple heart attacks.

There are reminders, multiple reminders, but it's not quite last season's Liverpool.

No matter the threat of dropping points against a side that you shouldn't be dropping points against, a side that's given Liverpool multiple problems in recent meetings, managed by a frequent foil and, yes, former manager.

No matter going behind, going into halftime behind. No matter conceding from one of the easiest set plays you'll see. No matter conceding three times, three very last-season-Liverpool goals, from just three opposition shots on-target.

No matter the scares, no matter the set-backs.

No matter the pressure of leading the league.

This season's Liverpool does not crumble so easily. This season's Liverpool still isn't last season's Liverpool. Take the lead? Fine, we'll come back. Get an equalizer against the run of play? We're not done here yet.

But holy wow were we frightened.

We were frightened when Townsend gave Palace the lead in the 34th minute despite Liverpool having something like 90% possession before hand. The press fully engaged with the front six all chasing, the press broken by McArthur somehow retaining possession then finding van Aanholt in space, to Zaha one-on-one with Milner, Zaha to the byline and Townsend to the penalty spot for the cut-back.

We were frightened when Palace equalized at 2-2 after Liverpool's flurry to start the second half. Salah gets Liverpool back in the game within a minute, cheekily poaching van Dijk's deflected shot from distance with an outside-of-the-boot flick; Firmino gives Liverpool the lead with a bobbling deflected shot after good work from Robertson and Keïta.

We're celebrating. We're thankful. We're proud of this season's Liverpool's perseverance, skill, and fortune. But then we're punished. Thanks to Palace's first corner and the easiest header that James Tomkins will ever have, rising highest when Ayew pins van Dijk out of position and neither Fabinho nor Keïta can cover.

0-1, 2-1, 2-2. The specter of dropped points despite having a lead, something that plagued Liverpool often last season. The specter of dropped points against Crystal Palace, against Roy Hodgson, when the gap with Manchester City is still uncomfortably narrow and City are facing the worst side in the division tomorrow.

But it ain't over yet. And fortune continues to favor the good. And Mohamed Salah continues to be in the right place at the right time. Sustained possession, Fabinho wide to Milner, but his byline cross too close to Speroni. But! Speroni – 37 and making his first start in 13 months – tips it up rather than out. But! Mohamed Salah is on hand to jam it in from an actual inch out, most likely going over the line for an own goal anyway but let's not take chances here.


It looks like we're done here when Mané finally finishes one of Liverpool's multiple fast breaks, slamming in from a wide angle in the 93rd minute, but there are no easy minutes today. Not when James Milner's been sent off a few minutes before because a second yellow on Zaha – who tormented the stand-in right back whenever given the chance. Not when we're finishing with ten men, with Adam Lallana in central midfield and with Firmino then debutant Rafa Camacho as replacement right-backs.

Not when we're emulating last season's Liverpool.

So we're left to sweat and shake and swear when Max Meyer scores in the final minute of injury time, with a right-flank cross into Wickham laid off perfectly, substitute to substitute. We're sweating and shaking and swearing as we play past the 95th minute, with the game ending on van Aanholt's shot from distance, sent gratefully into the stands rather than the back of the net.

But then we're celebrating again, as we've done in the vast majority of matches this season. Because Liverpool's won again, not in the way we've become accustomed to, but as hearteningly and necessarily as every win's been this season.

For all faults, for any faults, this Liverpool team does not stop. And that alone – no matter the talent and no matter the fortune – makes them different than any other Liverpool side in recent memory.

14 January 2019

Visualized: Liverpool 1-0 Brighton

Previous Match Infographics: Manchester City (a), Arsenal (h), Newcastle (h), 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. 

We've somewhat settled into a routine. And it ain't a routine that I'm mad at.

This match looked a bit like others we've seen so far this season. Liverpool, not at their most coherent in attack, but good enough. Liverpool, very much coherent in defense and very much good enough. Another grind, but another win.

This was the fifth time this season that Liverpool have been held to ten shots or fewer in a league match. City (h), Watford (a), Bournemouth (a), City (a), and now Brighton (a). It also happened five times last season: City (a), Tottenham (h), Everton (a), WBA (a), Chelsea (a). Liverpool drew three and lost two of those matches in 2017-18. They've won four of them this season, with only the 1-2 loss at City seeing Liverpool drop points despite a paucity of shots.

This was also Liverpool's fifth 1-0 win of the season so far. Brighton (h), Huddersfield (a), Everton (h), Napoli (h), and Brighton (a). Liverpool had just one match finish with that score line last season: 1-0 Palace at Anfield way back in mid-August. All but the Everton match saw Liverpool score before the 50th minute, needing to hold onto a narrow lead if unable to extend their advantage.

And all but the Everton match saw Mohamed Salah score Liverpool's lone goal. Salah's now scored Liverpool's opening goal in ten matches so far this season – ten of his 17 goals in all competitions, and nine of his 14 in the Premier League. Liverpool have won all ten matches, four by a 1-0 score line, two by 2-0, two by 4-0, and one each at 3-0 and 4-1.

Liverpool have earned nine penalties so far this season, already more than last season's eight in all competitions. Salah's won four of them, including three of the last four since Boxing Day. Salah's scored four of them, including all three that he's won since Boxing Day.

So, yeah, just enough in attack. Once again. Unsurprisingly led by Mohamed Salah.

And then there's the other end of the pitch. Liverpool were fairly good at limiting opposition shots last season, with ten or fewer opposition shots in 28 of 38 league matches. They're on a similar pace this season, with ten or fewer opposition shots in 17 of 22 league matches this season. 73.7% of the league matches last season, 77.3% of league matches this season.

But then there's the quality of those opposition chances. Liverpool's xG per shot allowed last season was around 0.126, not only a bit frighteningly high, but also better than Liverpool's own xG per shot. This season Liverpool are allowing 0.098 xG per shot, below league average but also vastly lower than Liverpool's xG per shot taken, which is an egregiously high 0.142. Last season, Liverpool gave up 1.39 big chances per match. That average is 1.04 per match this season. And a whole lot fewer have been scored – just five so far this season. Compared to 25 through all of last season. 0.22 big chances scored per match versus 0.66 per match last season.

Liverpool had 16 clean sheets in the 2017-18 league campaign. They already have 13 this season.

We can parse this even further, more specific to Saturday's match.

The 1-0 match against Brighton could have been closer earlier this season. Could have finished very differently. Liverpool, fairly capably holding onto a 1-0 lead late on, still conceding a late clear-cut chance to Pascal Groß, thankfully saved by Alisson. Brighton didn't come close to getting a clear-cut chance on Saturday.

Brighton have scored 11 set play goals so far this season, which is joint-second in the league. They had just one set play shot against Liverpool: Andone from a free kick in the 89th minute, needing to try to control and turn, and ultimately shooting well wide.

Brighton didn't put a single shot on-target, the first time Liverpool's kept an opponent from at least one this season. It happened twice last season – the romps over Arsenal and Southampton at Anfield. It also happened twice in 2016-17, both matches against Southampton, both matches finishing in frustrating 0-0 draws.

Brighton, despite playing Murray, Locadia, and Andone – all 6'0" or taller – won just five aerial duels in Liverpool's half, and only two in the final third, both in the last two minutes of the match. Van Dijk, unsurprisingly, won seven of his eight aerial duels, but Fabinho was as impressive, at center-back for just the second time and winning all three of his three. The Brazilian also led Liverpool in both clearances and blocks.

So, Brighton, once again difficult to beat, as they were at Anfield back in August. A 1-0 win, for the second time against this opposition this season, after winning 5-1 and 4-0 last season.

But Brighton once again beaten. Liverpool once again victorious. Liverpool, continuing to do enough at both ends of the pitch, far more impressive at the end we haven't expected Liverpool to impress at.

And Liverpool, still atop the league, now by seven points for a least a few more hours.

04 January 2019

Visualized: Liverpool 1-2 Manchester City

Previous Match Infographics: Arsenal (h), Newcastle (h), 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. 

A goal post is, at most, five inches wide.

Sadio Mané's shot in the 18th minute hit just inside the middle of the goal post, bouncing away from goal, cleared by John Stones off Ederson's face. It was a simply wonderful counter-attack from that three – a one two from Salah and Firmino, the former sprinting away from the usually-everywhere Fernandinho, then releasing Mané past John Stones with a perfectly timed and weighted through ball – and if any move in the match "deserved" a goal, it was that.

Leroy Sane's shot in the 72nd minute hit inside the goal post, bouncing across Liverpool's goal line. It was Manchester City's at their most breakneck: Ederson to Danilo to a just-onside Sterling, running at the defense and waiting until Sané was perfectly between Alexander-Arnold and Mané, the former needing to track Agüero's run and the latter not able to catch up, the pass around Lovren and shot from a wide angle just before Alexander-Arnold could get back over.

I'd guess the difference between Mané's shot and Sane's shot is about an inch. A damned inch. And it's the difference between 1-0 within the first quarter of the match and 1-2 going into the last quarter of it.

And that wasn't even the smallest margin in yesterday's game.

1.12 centimeters.

That's the reported distance that the ricochet following Mané's shot off the post failed to clear City's goal line. The literal width of your pinkie finger.

This stupid game.

Make no mistake, Liverpool and Manchester City were that equal over 180 minutes this season.

Barely a hair's difference in both possession and shots. Over two matches, neither Liverpool nor City reached their average amount of shots in a "normal" Premier League match. Liverpool better with accuracy, shot location, and shot quality; City creating more clear-cut chances but failing to score on any of them, yet still scoring twice. Compared to Liverpool's one.

City seemingly were the better side defensively, over both matches, especially in midfield. City also had slightly more to do.

Bernardo Silva was everywhere yesterday, leading City in attempted tackles, interceptions, and distance run, while also registering the assist for Agüero's opener. Fernandinho barely less impressive, excellently tracking Salah and Firmino throughout the match. The center-backs doing *enough*, whether in blocks or fouls or clearances. Barely enough yesterday, but enough all the same. City with Laporte as a stand-in left back, yet still unable to threaten him, as they very much in last season's Champions League match at Anfield.

But Liverpool weren't bad either. Wijnaldum and Fabinho were excellent in Liverpool's midfield. Granted, one of them came on as a substitute, and led to a change in Liverpool's formation, and led to a change in Liverpool's fortunes, the side scoring seven minutes after his entrance. The Milner-Henderson-Wijnaldum midfield has started eight matches this season. Liverpool are unbeaten at home – 3W-1D – but have won just once away, at Leicester, while drawing with Chelsea and losing to Napoli and now City. Maybe Milner wasn't fully fit, and Henderson was – as is usually the case – better than most give him credit for – but it's been an issue more than just yesterday. And Liverpool's midfield wasn't City's midfield, even with David Silva similarly off-color.

Liverpool's full-backs impressed – Robertson and Alexander-Arnold's involvement in Liverpool's goal, fittingly combining for multiple passes in the sequence, demonstrated their importance to Liverpool's attack, especially in this formation. Robertson was also very, very good up against Sterling, even if he lost him for City's winner, Sterling beating Liverpool's usually outstanding offside trap. Van Dijk was typically imperious, and while Agüero found more joy when switching onto Lovren, the Croatian usually dealt with him reasonably competently. Even Lovren's actions on both goals – facing up Sané, trying to close Sterling's passing angle respectively – weren't *bad*. City's players were just better in the moment.

But Liverpool's front three had their moments as well, even in the restored 4-3-3 that maybe shouldn't have been restored. Those two clear-cut chances against a side that allows very few of them, those hard luck less-than-inches away on two occasions.

Liverpool got that bit of fortune when Mahrez missed a penalty in the match at Anfield, a match where both sides looked far less capable of scoring. City got it yesterday, with Mané and Sane's respective shots, with Ederson less than an inch from conceding an own goal thanks to Stones' clearance, even with Kompany staying on the pitch in the 31st minute after a wild two-footed tackle on Salah.

But Liverpool still have four more points through the season so far, and an arguably easier last 17 games, with only three top-six sides left to play and only one of those matches away from Anfield.

But it ain't the potential seven or ten points. Hay Liga. As if there was any doubt we'd have one.