28 February 2019

Visualized: Liverpool 5-0 Watford

Previous Match Infographics: Manchester United (a), Bayern Munich (h), Bournemouth (h) West Ham (a), Leicester (h), 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. 

I may have been hasty in dismissing Liverpool's ability to score from crosses after Sunday's match. Maybe Trent Alexander-Arnold crosses aren't the same as James Milner crosses.

So that was something. After successive 0-0 draws, having scored just one in two of the three league games before those 0-0 draws, we get five goals. Five goals, for the second time this season. Five goals, in back-to-back matches against Watford at Anfield.

Last season, it was the Mohamed Salah show, scoring four and notching an assist: two tightrope runs in the box, one back post cross met, and one fortuitous rebound. This time, it was Liverpool's full-backs and crosses and Sadio Mané and Virgil van Dijk. And Liverpool crosses from Liverpool full-backs.

Four of Liverpool's five goals came from crosses: three from Alexander-Arnold and one from Robertson. Two from open play, two from set plays.

The last Liverpool player to tally three assists in a match? Alberto Aquilani, a 4-0 win over Burnley in in April 2010. A few months shy of nine years ago. Which is not who I would have guessed was last. Alexander-Arnold's now the youngest player to play three assists in a Premier League game.

So, Liverpool can actually thrive on crosses, whether from open play or set plays. As long as the crosses are that good, and we get that front three movement – whether it's Salah every which way down the right flank, Mané shifting side to side and dropping deep but also splitting center-backs, or Origi cutting in from the left – and we get that ferocity of finishing.

Easier written than done, I suspect.

We still only got one key pass from a Liverpool midfielder: Milner's short pass for Salah down the sideline midway through the first half, allowing the Egyptian to once again run at Adam Masina before ballooning a shot over from just outside the box. When Liverpool cross that well, when Liverpool attack that well, it's easy to ignore what the midfield creates. It's easy to remember that Liverpool don't always (or even often) need the midfield to create.

When we get that production from fullback and that production from the front three, it's perfectly fine for Milner and Wijnaldum to shuttle and harry, and for Fabinho to destroy. More than fine. As if that's all they do, mind.

That Origi started on the left with Sadio Mané up front initially baffled, but it worked spectacularly.

Kristian Walsh cleverly highlighted Origi's role in both of Mané's goals, an extra target in the box, requiring attention at the back post to help free Mané to receive Alexander-Arnold's wicked crosses. He also did well tracking back when needing, and can carry the ball inside as Mané can when on that flank, evidenced by his goal that finally killed the game.

But Mané was the focus, at least in the first half, and especially after scoring those goals. Those perfectly Sadio Mané goals. The first, a header that any and every striker would be proud of. The second, with a first touch of lead and a second of platinum, Sadio Mané encapsulated to a tee. Errant control than a spectacular, impudent, why would you even try and how did you actually do it back-heel from 12-yards out. Good lord, Sadio.

As per usual, it's more than just the goals.

It seems almost churlish to make the comparison, but look at Mané's passes received in 77 minutes against Watford versus Sturridge's in 59 minutes at Manchester United.

More a spearhead than a central hub, less effective when pressing because who isn't, but just as active and just as everywhere as Roberto Firmino usually is. Which is exactly what Liverpool needed from a central striker in a match like this, when the defense will be too deep to fully exploit Salah in the middle and when the Egyptian's so effective against Masina on the right anyway. Whether the central player looks to run behind the back line, create, or score, they need to be involved. Heavily. Which is something that both Sturridge and Origi have struggled with at times.

Mané's played as a lone striker for both Southampton and Senegal in the past, but this was the first time he's done it for Liverpool. It went alright, I guess.

But there's also Salah, somehow kept off the score sheet for the first time against Watford, but absolutely embarrassing Adam Masina all match long, heavily involved in the buildup for Liverpool's first two goals as well as winning both a foul and a yellow card before Liverpool's fifth. He somehow attempted 18 (!!!) take-ons yesterday, even if only successful with seven.

There's also Fabinho, who led the side in both tackles and interceptions, dominant in defensive midfield. And just look at one of those tackles.

Unsurprisingly, Gerard Deulofeu did nothing, literally nothing, after this. Fabinho both tackled and terrified him out of the match.

There's also Andy Robertson, with two assists to complement Alexander-Arnold's three.

There's also Virgil van Dijk, again a colossus at the back, again a clean sheet, but also adding two late set play goals (thanks for taking off Troy Deeney!) to run up the score even more.

There's also Alisson, with little to do until the 76th minute, then denying what looked a certain Andre Gray goal, if only likely to be a consolation at that point, when wide open ten yards out after a second phase blown offside line. He'd made a couple of decent saves on Janmaat and Gray prior, but that was special. It's difficult to stay in the match when Watford don't even take a shot until the 52nd minute and you're even less needed to pass the ball around the back than usual, but Alisson made it look easy. Again.

That makes four consecutive clean sheets, for first time since the final four games of 2016-17, where Liverpool rode both defense and luck to a Champions League place.

And, while Watford isn't the most difficult of fixtures – see: this score line in this fixture last season – they did score five in their last match, beating Cardiff 5-1 on Saturday. They'd lost just once in 2019, 1-2 at Tottenham when conceding in the 80th and 87th minutes. They are joint-best of the rest, only behind Wolves in seventh on goal difference thanks to this match.

This is what Liverpool needed. As against Bournemouth a couple of weeks ago, it may well just be one match against opposition that Liverpool usually does well against. But it's a lot better than the alternative, which we'd seen against Leicester, West Ham, and United.

Still top of the pile, still only by a point. Ten games left.

25 February 2019

Visualized: Liverpool 0-0 Manchester United

Previous Match Infographics: Bayern Munich (h), Bournemouth (h) West Ham (a), Leicester (h), 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. 

What came first, the chicken or the egg?

Is the midfield or the front three more responsible for Liverpool's flagging attack, both (yesterday) and in other similar instances this season?

We've complained about a lack of creativity from midfield before. And, since Liverpool failed to score for a second successive match, in a match where Liverpool's midfield did next to nothing in attack, we're complaining about it again.

Passes in the penalty area from midfield would be a good start.

*Gulps, tugs collar*

Key passes would be helpful as well.

It takes a while to get to one of Liverpool's starting midfielders in this match. Milner's chance creation is often set play based, and there's the five or six games at full-back, but he's at least creating chances, and three of his five assists have come from open play. You and I both know that creation isn't necessarily Fabinho, Wijnaldum, or Henderson's job, but it'd be helpful. Especially in matches like this.

Saturday's midfield three combined for one key pass yesterday: Fabinho's layoff for Milner on that first-minute indirect free kick.

*Gulps, tugs collar*

There have been matches where each has been creative. Wijnaldum at Bournemouth, Fabinho against Palace, both Wijnaldum and Fabinho in the reverse fixture, just off the top of my head. But it's also telling that neither Wijnaldum nor Henderson has an assist this season, while Fabinho has two, albeit one from a set play and both while playing in a 4-2-3-1 system back in December.

City – admittedly built in a much different manner, with a very different playing style – have David Silva, de Bruyne, Gündogan, and Bernardo Silva well over 1.0 key passes per 90 minutes. Kovacic, Loftus-Cheek, Barkley, and Kanté all average more for Chelsea. Arsenal have Özil, Ramsey, Mkhitaryan, and Xhaka. Tottenham, probably the most similar to Liverpool in this regard, at least have Eriksen, Dele Alli, and Sissoko over 1.0 key passes per 90 minutes.

Of course, Liverpool's front three only combined for one key pass at United, so…

It's not as if the midfield is the only area suffering from a lack of creativity.

The dip in the earlier part of the season stems from both the switch to 4-2-3-1 and Mané missing a couple of games while both Salah and Firmino were subs in one or two others. But the averages rebounded, and Liverpool won more games, and the winter was pretty damned good. And for the most part, the shots, the shots have remained fairly consistent. The key passes have not. And then you add the lack of creation from midfield as well and you get Saturday.

You also get this.

The goals, there are fewer of them. Almost proportional to the fewer clear-cut chances as well. And it's been happening for a few matches now, as I suspect you're well aware. Whether Saturday was the culmination of that decline or just a new low remains to be seen.

And so we got just seven shots despite 65% possession, with five of them from set play, just one on-target from a very long way out, and neither a clear-cut chance nor a goal. We went from Liverpool's highest shot total – by far – in the reverse fixture two months ago to the joint-lowest in this. Yes, Liverpool still needed two deflected goals in the reverse fixture to win. Yes, Klopp's got a point about how United's injuries both slowed and disrupted Liverpool; you can see similar when a side goes down to ten men. Yes, in isolation, a point isn't a bad result at Old Trafford. Yes, a point returns Liverpool to the top of the table; here we are with problems, complaining about being ahead of one of the most impressive sides ever assembled.

But the trends continue, and not in a good way. Draws continue, this the fourth in five matches. And I remain worried.

24 February 2019

Liverpool 0-0 Manchester United

Opportunity lost.

We're more than familiar with terrible Liverpool-United matches. It's almost par for the course, especially since Mourinho. They're ugly as hell, no one plays well, as just as often as not, no one wins.

This was perfectly in keeping with that. Jose Mourinho might as well still be United manager.

But Manchester United at least had their reasons. Not only are Liverpool frequently capable of cutting open sides very open, but United had to deal with three injuries in the first 45 minutes, with Pereira replacing Herrera, Lingard replacing Mata, and Alexis replacing Lingard, all before halftime. I especially liked how Solskjaer went with a rushed-back-from-injury Lingard instead of Alexis, then needed to replace him with Alexis 18 minutes later.

So there's that. That, and Liverpool have not been good when sides have bunkered deep lately. See: 1-1 Leicester and West Ham, even 0-0 Bayern.

Liverpool were especially not good today. And especially in attack.

Credit where due and all that, but Liverpool were utterly awful in open play. With United sitting deep and narrow, Liverpool forced play wide, time and time again. James Milner, used at fullback with Alexander-Arnold just back from injury, had the most touches and played the most passes by far. I like James, you like James, everybody likes James, but that's not usually a recipe for success.

Liverpool played 26 crosses, about eight more than usual per match and 19 more than United played today. Milner was responsible for 17. Three found Liverpool players, with all three from corners.

I don't like when Liverpool's attack is based around crosses. It doesn't usually go well.

Two of Liverpool's grand total of seven shots came from open play. And both of them were from very, very far away. Just one of Liverpool's seven shots was on-target, one of those very, very far away shots from Daniel Sturridge a minute or so after coming on. It's the first time Liverpool have put just one shot on-target since a 1-2 loss against Palace back in April 2017.

That's now two matches in a row without a Liverpool goal. With a combined total of three shots on-target in those two matches. And at least Liverpool created decent opportunities against Bayern, for what that's worth. They very much did not today.

It certainly did not help that Firmino went off through injury in the 31st minute, casualties claimed on both sides, but that can't be the sole excuse. This ain't the first time we've complained about attacking fluency this season.

We can blame the midfield for not being creative enough; we can blame the front three for being off-color, with both Mané and Salah very below par and an very-underused Sturridge pretty much anonymous. We can blame almost every player for the lack of movement, for individual errors, for resorting to crosses too quickly and too easily; we can blame management for devising the attacking patterns or lack thereof. We can blame lots of things.

Even with all those United injuries, and Liverpool's possession dominance, Liverpool could well have lost that match. They probably would have in previous seasons. United had the only clear-cut chance of the match: Pogba's tame set play header at Alisson. Liverpool needed Alisson to charge out to deny Lingard getting onto Lukaku's 40th minute through ball, the play which saw Lingard injured. Matip had a set play own goal correctly ruled out for offside, but just. And Smalling probably should have gotten on the end of Lukaku's vicious cross in second half stoppage time.

That's far more than Liverpool can claim in attack. An indirect in-box set play all fouled up in the first minute, a wild Salah free kick from a great position after Matip's run in the 16th minute, off-target headers from Jöel Matip's Lego Head in the 44th and 71st minutes, and that's about it.

There's a reason that Liverpool have never had consecutive 0-0 draws under Jürgen Klopp. Because one of Liverpool's successive games without scoring has seen the opposition score at least once.

So there's that. This title challenge has been built on the defense and on clean sheets, after all.

Long story short, no one really played well, especially in attack. Players were complacent, build-up slowed, unpressured passes went every which way but well, no one could beat their marker, no one could create anywhere near a moment of magic. Crosses and set plays, the first, last, and only options of resort. Even the substitutions confused: Sturridge rather than Shaqiri with Salah going up front in the first half, Henderson not removed for Shaqiri and a change to 4-2-3-1 until the 73rd minute, Origi replacing Salah with ten minutes to play.

United had to make three changes before halftime and played with Rashford on one leg for the entire second half. And Liverpool couldn't push or punish them.

But at least Liverpool didn't lose.

That's now two games without a goal. Four draws in the last five matches. We'd like to pretend that there's no such thing as pressure, but Liverpool are not making it easy for us or themselves. Liverpool probably should have beaten at least one or two of Leicester, West Ham, and Bayern. Even matches previous – the helter skelter at Palace, the narrow win over Brighton – weren't especially great. Haven't been especially great for about, say, a month now. Since Manchester City's win over Liverpool reduced a seven-point gap to four.

And now that gap at the top of the table couldn't be narrower. One point separates Liverpool and Manchester City having played the same number of matches. City have a vastly better goal difference. City have a marginally harder schedule: still in all four competitions, at least until today's League Cup final, and a trip to United to come while Liverpool's only top-six games are at Anfield.

A draw at Old Trafford's not the worst result. But a draw at Old Trafford probably isn't good enough either.

20 February 2019

Visualized: Liverpool 0-0 Bayern Munich

Previous Match Infographics: Bournemouth (h) West Ham (a), Leicester (h), 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. 

This suggests that Liverpool done fucked up. A two-legged tie against a side that's literally always in the last stages of the Champions League, at home in the first leg, with that kind of output. And very, very little to show for it.

And that's kind of true! Liverpool really could and maybe should have won with those chances, and I wouldn't be surprised if we regretted and rued Liverpool's finishing come next month in Munich. Of course, I am rarely surprised when bad or disappointing things come to pass because I can't help being me, but still.

It was especially galling in the first half. Three clear-cut chances missed: Salah's back post header off-target in the 24th minute, Mané's shot wide on the spin from Keïta's blocked shot in the 33rd minute, and Mané's attempted bicycle kick – which probably shouldn't go down as a big chance – in the 38th minute.

This certainly wasn't how last season's first legs at Anfield bore out. 3-0 against City, 5-2 against Roma; Liverpool scored three goals from their first four shots against City, Liverpool scored five goals from 12 shots over a 35-minute span bridging halftime, with three from clear-cut chances, against Roma.

That suggests Liverpool need a performance like that to cancel out any potential second-leg drama. Because, despite those score lines, there was still a ton of drama in both of those second legs.

Yet this Liverpool also isn't last season's Liverpool. This season's Liverpool doesn't have to outscore any and everyone because this Liverpool can actually defend. Even when missing Virgil van Dijk, forced to partner fourth-choice Jöel Matip with midfielder-by-trade Fabinho, with Alexander-Arnold also making his first start in five weeks.

Yes, Liverpool put just two shots on-target in the entire match: Liverpool's first shot from Salah in the 12th minute and Liverpool's penultimate shot from Mané in the 86th. That's less than ideal, and two shots on-target from 15 or so shots is something which hasn't happened since last season. It happened three times last season: the 0-0 against Stoke in April sandwiched between the Roma legs, the 1-2 at Manchester United in March, and the 1-1 at Newcastle back in October. And it's still less than ideal when considering that Bayern had none. Yes, none. No shots on-target. With Fabinho and Matip as Liverpool's center-back pairing.

Yes, Liverpool's first shot in second half came in the 81st minute, with Bayern doing a wonderful job of eliminating Liverpool's capacity to press and limiting final third entries. Zero shots for the first 35 minutes of the second half, in a home knock-out round tie. As much credit for that goes to Bayern Munich as blame goes to Liverpool.

Manuel Neuer's 62 attempted passes is the most I can remember from a goalkeeper in a match I've done an infographic for, going back to 2012-13. Only Henderson and Fabinho attempted more passes for Liverpool than Neuer did for Bayern. Pity that Neuer just passed fit for this match, having missed substantial time in the couple of weeks before. Neuer, along with Süle, Kimmich, Hummels, and Thiago, were outstanding at playing keep-away from Liverpool, taking the sting out of the press, especially as players tired in the second half.

And Bayern weren't just calm on the ball, but diligent and resilient off it.

The two sides tackled at a similar rate, but Bayern's interceptions and clearances dwarfed Liverpool's – 20 to 10 and 29 to 12 respectively. The vast majority of those interceptions came just outside the box in the middle of the pitch and inside right territory: also known as Mohamed Salah Territory. The vast majority of the clearances came in a similar area if unsurprisingly deeper: the middle and right side of Bayern's penalty box. Also known as etc etc.

Liverpool had similar amounts of possession and passes in the second half as the first, but found it far harder to get into the penalty area, increasingly forced to shift wide and look for crosses rather than playing through the middle. Which helps explain the dramatic decline in Liverpool shots after halftime.

And now Liverpool has it all to do in Germany. A true knockout tie, precariously balanced but now in Bayern's favor.

There's not a lot of precedent when it comes to 0-0 home legs at Anfield in European knock-out competition. It's happened four previous times: against Valencia in the 1998-99 UEFA Cup, against Bilbao in the 1983-84 European Cup, and against Bayern Munich in the 1980-81 European Cup and 1971-72 Cup Winners' Cup.

Liverpool advanced from three of those four ties: getting past Valencia on away goals and beating both Bilbao and Bayern in the European Cup by a 1-0 margin. The only loss came back in 1971, a 1-3 defeat in Munich. I am very amused that three of the five occurrences in Liverpool's history now feature Bayern Munich.

But Liverpool's past obviously isn't always precedent.

It's not the happiest result, and we may regret Liverpool's inability to take advantage of their first half performance yesterday. But it's certainly not a bad result, especially considering that a makeshift defense nullified Bayern even more than Bayern nullified Liverpool. And Liverpool still have an excellent chance of progressing: any score draw, or, you know, just win.

And it's still only the second 0-0 of the season, the same amount as at this time last season. But last season's were against Manchester United – how's the job search going, Jose? – and West Brom, again both at Anfield. Not quite the same as Manchester City and Bayern Munich.

It's still a competent performance, if not our favorite result, against European royalty, a side that's qualified for the Champions League semi-finals in six of the last seven seasons. A side that's as much troubled by Liverpool as Liverpool were by them.

It's still up to Liverpool to make the most out of this still-impressive season so far.

09 February 2019

Liverpool 3-0 Bournemouth

Mané 24'
Wijnaldum 34'
Salah 48'

I'm not gonna lie. I got worried when Liverpool opened the scoring. For the third straight match, Liverpool poured forward from the opening whistle. For the third straight match, the opposition were pushed back, but the opposition also dropped back, happy to try to contain and control in their own half from the start. And, for a while it worked, until Sadio Mané opened the scoring. For the third straight match.

Just as against Leicester, just as at West Ham. And, yes, we remember what happened from there.

But this wasn't Groundhog Day again.

The morale of the story may be "well, it's Bournemouth." And, yes, they are a lot more open side than Leicester or West Ham.

Yes, but.

Bournemouth are usually a more attacking team, especially as "rest-of-the-league" sides go. Bournemouth do concede, regularly – only the bottom four sides have allowed more goals this season. Bournemouth had lost seven consecutive away games going into this, letting in two goals in all seven.

But Bournemouth were also trying to do what both Leicester and West Ham did: concede possession, concede territory, clog the middle of the pitch, especially in the defensive third. Bournemouth were much ore a 4-5-1 than their usual 4-4-1-1/4-4-2. Bournemouth made six interceptions in the first 23 minutes, and cleared the ball from inside their own box on nine occasions. The only space Liverpool consistently found was on the flanks, especially though Robertson and Milner. Which, to be fair, has worked in the past, but is not where Liverpool are at their most effective and can also leave Liverpool susceptible to counter-attacks.

Still, that's where Liverpool's opening goal came from, as well as from a set play, even if basically in name only. Bournemouth cleared the first ball in from Milner's corner, but Keïta reclaimed, Milner crossed, and an almost-but-not-quite offside Mané headed past Boruc. Simple as that.

Bournemouth failed to keep Liverpool at further bay, as Leicester did, or try to take the game to Liverpool, as West Ham did. Liverpool kept coming. That Liverpool midfield kept pressing, and in the 34th minute, Keïta's tackle pushed the ball to Mané, then over the backline by Robertson, delightfully controlled and then finished even more sumptuously by Wijnaldum, a jaw-dropping chip over Boruc.

That's what Liverpool had been missing. The comfort of a second goal, especially one scored in the 34th minute. A goal from Liverpool's midfield, a fourth runner into the box so the defense can't focus on that front three. Now we can play Liverpool's game.

Also, good finishing is really, really good. I'm almost not surprised Liverpool needed a goal that special to get a second after the previous two matches.

It's a formality when Liverpool get their third, one of those lighting four-pass moves that breaks opponents backs, one of those lightning moves that Liverpool finds more often when they've already scored one or two. Milner's throw-in, Mané's shift inside, Keïta's remarkable pass in behind to Firmino, and a back heel just as good for Salah to run onto, of course finished into the far corner.

This is the Liverpool we know and love.

But if this was truly Liverpool at its most imperious, we've have gotten more from there. A lot more. Salah's goal was Liverpool's first clear-cut chance. They'd go on to get three more – one headed wide by Mané, the other two shot too close to Boruc on fast breaks in the final five minutes. And Salah slammed a shot off the crossbar. And Keïta ballooned the best chance he's had to score his first Liverpool goal. And. And. And.

Meanwhile, there were few if any "ands" for Bournemouth.

This is the difference that a functioning midfield makes. Wijnaldum, back in the side after missing the last match, and Keïta, increasingly excellent with increasing game time. Fabinho, more and more accustomed to playing as the deepest in a three rather than a two-man partnership, the metronome at the base, the protection against counters through the middle. Keïta had a hand in all three goals: hockey assists on the first and third, pressing to start the move for Liverpool's second. He also led the side in touches, tackles, and ball recoveries. Wijnaldum scored that second and created three chances, one clear-cut.

It was the best that Liverpool had looked in the 4-3-3 in months, and while the midfield was a big part of that, the front three played theirs as well. Goals for both Mané – his fourth in four games – and Salah. Four chances created, one clear-cut and assist, for the terrific Firmino, also denied a deserved goal late on.

But Alisson also made two good, if routine, saves and a couple of necessary punches and clearances. Neither Milner nor Robertson were exposed despite spending the majority of the match in Bournemouth's half. Matip, like Keïta, looks increasingly comfortable, this his fourth consecutive start after not playing for more than a month prior. And van Dijk remains van Dijk; yes, yes, the defending, but I will also forever rue Firmino not passing to him in the 80th minute, the 6'4" center-back charging down the pitch alongside the three-on-two fast break. You always feed the big man when he joins the fast break.

So much for Liverpool's nerves. So much for Liverpool cracking under the pressure. So much for Liverpool's crisis.

Sure, it's only Bournemouth – a side that Liverpool had beaten 4-0, 3-0, and 4-0 in the three previous meetings. But similar could be said about West Ham last Wednesday. Similar can be said about a lot of sides in this division.

Liverpool beat the one in front of them this week, winning a match by multiple goals for the first time in 2019. And they'll need to play similarly against the next one. And the one after that. And the one...

05 February 2019

Visualized: Liverpool 1-1 West Ham

Previous Match Infographics: Leicester (h), 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. 

Liverpool go 1-0 up early through Sadio Mané, and are probably fortunate to do so. But then, under a modicum of pressure but still against the run of play, Liverpool unnecessarily concede possession. And unnecessarily concede a free kick. And unnecessarily concede an equalizer. And then Liverpool spend the rest of the half and the rest of the match futile and frustrated and unable to restore their lead.

It happened against Leicester on Wednesday. And now it happened at West Ham yesterday. Two matches in five matches, the same exasperating pattern of play with the same exasperating result.

Groundhog Day was last Saturday. But, still, don't forget your booties cause it's cold out there today.

So, yes, Liverpool have conceded five in the last three games, first letting in three against Palace before one each against both Leicester and West Ham. Liverpool had only conceded in back-to-back league games twice before this stretch this season. Now they've conceded in each the last three, at arguably a very bad time to do so, against sides currently placed 14th, 11th, and 12th.

And the two goals conceded in the last two games were both regrettably bad goals: both set plays, both creative in breaking Liverpool's usually excellent offside line. Those were just the second and third goals conceded this season from free kicks, with the other in the League Cup against Chelsea back in September. And it's not as if it was a fluke each game: Rice should've buried another free kick in the 42nd minute, Noble and Chicharito also had free kick chances in the 38th minute, and Leicester nearly got a second from a free kick last week when Alisson thankfully denied Firmino's own goal.

It's not encouraging. But I still focus on the fact that Liverpool won the match where they conceded three and have now drawn the two where they only scored once. Once again, Liverpool lives and dies by its attack. And we ain't been living much lately.

Ten shots against Leicester, none a clear-cut chance. 11 shots at West Ham, with only Mané's offside goal a clear-cut chance.

Via FiveThirtyEight:

That's a massive discrepancy in shot-based and non-shot xG. Which means lots of possession but no venom. 73% against West Ham, 72% against Leicester. 21 total shots. Two total goals, the first with some help from a Leicester deflection to set up Mané, the second with Milner very, very offside in the build-up.

Liverpool have had a tougher time getting shots – any shots – lately. Which hasn't really happened since the adjustment after switching to a primarily 4-2-3-1 system a few months ago.

Liverpool's shots in the last five games? Seven in the loss at City; ten in the narrow, decisive-penalty 1-0 at Brighton; 19 against Palace; and the aforementioned 10 and 11 in the last two. Oh, right, Palace remains the odd game out.

That said, at least Liverpool put the majority of their mediocre shots on-target. 55%, vastly better than the Leicester match, or previous narrow wins such as Brighton or Everton. That usually bodes well. Liverpool don't necessarily need a lot of shots to win, or win big, when the front three are doing their usual front three things. The side scored three and four from ten shots at Watford and Bournemouth respectively, five goals from 15 shots against Arsenal. But it sure helps, especially when clear-cut chances are at a premium as well.

You have to perfect, or lucky, or both, when you're not getting the opportunities you're accustomed to. At both ends of the pitch. And for the most part, Liverpool were when similar happened earlier this season. For the most part, Liverpool have been all season.

Again, there's a bit of "here we are with all these problems, top of the league." And it's not as if West Ham and Leicester are bad teams, both near the best of the rest even if the table still suggest otherwise, with West Ham having already held Chelsea and beaten both Arsenal and United on their ground this season.

But you can't help the feeling that it could be more, it should be more, and we'll be sat here ruing that it wasn't more in a couple of months.

There's still the specter of previous title challenges. Especially 2008-09, and 1-1 draws with Everton and Wigan right around this time of year, having led the league through December and early January but those two draws taking Liverpool out of top spot.

And what could have been a seven-point gap with Manchester City is now three. They'll have the chance to go top on goal difference, albeit with a game in hand, on Wednesday.

Now is the winter of our discontent. How long it lasts will decide how this season finishes. Let's hope a groundhog sees its shadow soon.