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.

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