29 April 2019

Visualized: Liverpool 5-0 Huddersfield

Previous Match Infographics: Cardiff (a), Porto (A), Chelsea (h), Porto (h), Southampton (a), Tottenham (h), Fulham (a), Bayern Munich (a), Burnley (h), Everton (a), Watford (h), 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. 

That's what Liverpool can do against a deep but not particularly organized defense.

We complain about deep defenses all the time. Sometimes Liverpool finds a breakthrough because of the magic front three. As against Chelsea or, to a lesser extent, Fulham in the last month. Sometimes it's set plays, as at Cardiff last week. Sometimes it's luck, as with Origi against Everton.

And sometimes that deep defense just isn't good enough.

It's been awhile since we've seen those long poke, prod, and pass sequences leading to goals. We got three of them on Friday. Liverpool's second goal saw 22 passes over more than a minute, the third 12 passes, the fifth 20 passes. Liverpool pushed and pulled Huddersfield around before delivering a stiletto between shoulder blades time and time again.

It wasn't blitzkrieg. It wasn't set plays. It was jab, jab, jab, jab, uppercut. It's nice to be reminded that Liverpool can still do so when the opportunity presents.

Look at how damned open Liverpool players were for the final ball.

Mané probably shouldn't have that much space between center-backs. And maybe get closer to Andy Robertson.

Yep, he's between defenders caught on the back foot again. And maybe get closer to Jordan Henderson.

At least Durm's watching Salah, about to make a run behind in the top left corner, but maybe somebody tell Kongolo that he might need to help here.

Of course, an early goal helps. The last time Liverpool scored in the first minute of a match was in the 5-1 win over Arsenal back in 2013-14, Skrtel hammering in Gerrard's free kick after 50 seconds – another five-goal romp. Scoring after 15 seconds is the quickest that Liverpool have struck in a match since 1984. It's probably not the best way for the worst side in the division to begin a match at Anfield.

And none of this is to take away from Liverpool's overall quality. Both in general play – the complete control of proceedings, the comfort at the back, – and in all five goals, both in chance creation and conversion. And the creation came from more of the same notes we've hit in recent weeks.

Those crosses though; Liverpool have scored 32 goals from crosses by my count so far this season. Assists from fullbacks; 66 of Liverpool's 104 goals in all competitions have been assisted, and Robertson and Alexander-Arnold are responsible of 24 of those 66. 36%, more than a third. Woof. And assists from Jordan Henderson, who's now got four plus a goal in his last 400 minutes. And an opening goal from pressing, thanks to an opponent who actually allowed Liverpool to press in the final third early on.

It was exactly what Liverpool can do, and what Liverpool wanted to do, from the absolute start to finish. Complete control, thankfully reflected in the score line. Assists from Liverpool's top creators, goals from Liverpool's top scorers. Another clean sheet for van Dijk – the newly minted PFA Player of the Year – Alisson, et al, and Lovren coming back into the side without issue. Continued improvement from Naby Keïta – another goal, a better understanding of Liverpool's pressing timing and rhythm, and Liverpool's top tackler with Fabinho rested – and a well-rounded midfield with Keïta both destroying and running from further forward, Henderson in a more advanced role, Wijnaldum more than capable as the #6, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain returning after a year out.

It was as much as we could have hoped for, and almost as good as Liverpool can be, at this point of the season. With two league games left to play and a Champions League semi-final on Wednesday. Unfortunately, it may not be enough.

22 April 2019

Visualized: Liverpool 2-0 Cardiff

Previous Match Infographics: Porto (A), Chelsea (h), Porto (h), Southampton (a), Tottenham (h), Fulham (a), Bayern Munich (a), Burnley (h), Everton (a), Watford (h), 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 enjoy this team a lot. For the most part, they're all surprisingly likable. They're almost all quite good at the football.

And, somehow – in the meat of the season, with the pressure ratcheted up to 11, in a two-team race with one of the best sides this league's ever had – they just keep winning.

In a lot of ways, we've seen this match before. Quite a bit lately. The stutters and the suffering. The grinding. The 90 minutes of torture.

To be fair, the first half was better than 0-0 suggested. Two clear-cut chances untaken: Firmino ballooning when put through and Salah denied by Etheridge. A couple other reasonable chances through Mané and Firmino. But it's close and it's in the balance and we're on edge, because that's where we are in the season and the standings.

So we get the stutters and the suffering and the grind and a fairly unremarkable first half, but Liverpool finally opens the scoring not long into the second.

I love it too. This is not only a hard-working, never-say-die side. It's not only a very, very talented side. It is a surprisingly clever side, one that's increasingly capable of reacting in-game, whether through the players or manager.

To be fair, we have seen quite a few set play goals so far this season.

There are a handful of goals against Liverpool's peers. The opener at Tottenham back in September, the winner at Bayern, the winner over Tottenham. But the vast majority have come against the bus-parkers. The dross.

West Ham, Leicester, Southampton, Fulham (both matches), Watford (both matches), Burnley, Wolves, Newcastle, Bournemouth, and now Cardiff. Sides currently sitting 11th, 9th, 16th, 19th, 8th, 15th, 10th, 13th, 14th, and 18th. And you can pick whichever category you'd like to put Everton in.

If we're being charitable to Everton, that's four of six opening goals against the dross. And five of the eight game-winners. Aside from running up the score against West Ham, Newcastle, and Watford, they've all been meaningful goals – not that many goals aren't.

I'm sure it's just coincidence that the two seasons in the last ten years where Liverpool led the league in set plays goals were 2013-14 and 2018-19.

And Liverpool needed Sunday's set play goal.

I know that stat's right and I'm still tempted to go look line-by-line over the last two seasons. Liverpool's front three do not let the side down often, but it is essential that Liverpool get goals from other sources the few times that they do.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the pitch. As far as Liverpool matches go, only the reverse fixture saw less opposition possession than Sunday's, and no side's attempted or competed fewer passes against Liverpool this season. But Cardiff at least posed a little bit of a threat. Mendez-Laing helped to pin Alexander-Arnold back early in the first half. The average position diagram suggests that Cardiff targeted Matip and Alexander-Arnold on that flank, as does Cardiff's attacking direction. But Matip and van Dijk cleared nearly everything asked, with both heavily involved in Liverpool's attacking build-up.

More notable was Sean Morrison's clear-cut chance in the 64th minute, just seven after Liverpool scored. But Alisson got the faintest of touches on the cross in, and the ball hit Morrison on the back rather than the head and popped into the air rather than the back of Liverpool's net. As per usual, a bit of luck and a bit of skill – Alisson also did well to save Niasse's corner header just before halftime – and the score stayed at 1-0, and we survive another day.

Morrison's clear-cut chance was Cardiff's last shot of the afternoon, a warning to push Liverpool back into gear, and a reminder that what set plays giveth, set plays can taketh away. Liverpool shut it down, Morrison did a stupid in truing to wrestle Salah, Milner notched the penalty, and we're done here.

And we'll do it all over again in a week. More than likely in a similar manner.

19 April 2019

Visualized: Liverpool 4-1 Porto

Previous Match Infographics: Chelsea (h), Porto (h), Southampton (a), Tottenham (h), Fulham (a), Bayern Munich (a), Burnley (h), Everton (a), Watford (h), 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. 

Well, we certainly didn't expect that to end 4-1 after the first half.

Porto announced their intention within 40 seconds, Corona firing off a first effort after cutting from the right, curling a wide box shot over. They'd take 14 shots in the opening half hour, which ties the record for the most shots that Liverpool have allowed in a match this season. Which happened at Napoli back in early October, arguably Liverpool's worst performance of the season.

14 shots is a lot of shots. All Porto needed was one goal to turn this match, and it seemed a matter of time before coming.


There are a lot of shots there. There are also a lot of shots that probably aren't going in there. Especially from Moussa Marega, who took ten shots over two legs, putting six on target, but with an xG of just 0.09 per shot. And that's including a clear-cut chance from the first leg, saved by Alisson after half an hour. He'd scored six in seven Champions League games prior to this, in every match except the first group tie at Schalke.

It was very much a "bend but don't break" display, something that Liverpool have been reasonably competent at, if more so earlier in the season.

And that Expected Goals map also has one big red dot at the other end of the pitch. Because, once again, Sadio Mané's opening the scoring.

Also, thank you VAR. I feel bad for folks inside the stadium who've gotta unknowingly sit through decisions but otherwise, it's great and usually works. And it's probably yet another example of just a little swing of luck going Liverpool's way.

But more importantly. We learned something we already knew. Porto learned something Porto already knew.

This side wants to counter-attack. This side doesn't get many opportunities to counter attack. This side can be very good on the counter-attack.

The first goal's against the run of play, but it's not truly a counter, let alone a fast break. It's from one end of the pitch to other, starting from van Dijk's wonderful tackle, but Porto have chances to get back and chances to clear: Otavio's header on Wijnaldum's cross-field directly to Robertson rather than away, two Salah shots blocked, albeit by Liverpool's players, with Porto players in position in their own box.

They all count the same, though.

And Liverpool had a fair few true counter-attacks in the second half. Firmino replaced Origi and Liverpool did the "we're up away from home" thing. Lots of Porto possession, few Porto shots. There were 13 Porto shots in the 25 minutes before Liverpool's opener. There were just four afterwards.

Meanwhile, Liverpool scored from two fast breaks and a set play. And they should have had another on the break, Mané rounding Casillas but firing over off-balance in the 72nd minute. Three second half goals to pull away from an opponent trying like hell to get themselves back in the game. Up and down the pitch. Away from home in the Champions League.

It's "Old Liverpool" back again. Because, once again, Liverpool have more chances to be old Liverpool against European opponents rather than domestic. As Bayern Munich learned in the previous leg.

So, as happened last season, we got a five-goal aggregate win over the Portuguese champions, featuring a romp on their own ground. We get Mané, Salah, and Firmino all scoring, for only the fourth time this season after doing it 11 last season.

We get more Liverpool clear-cut chances than shots from outside the box. They're not super prolific in shots, but the shots are good shots, high value shots, because they're coming in transition, from pressing and from counters.

We get Jordan Henderson, somehow still on the most productive streak of his life, tallying yet another assist off the bench – his third in four games to go along with the goal scored at Southampton – from yet another cross. He already registered four key passes, by far the most from a Liverpool player, in only 20 minutes of action.

We get van Dijk mopping up at the back; I'm still in awe of the tackle on Marega prior to starting the move for Liverpool's opener, but it's not as if that's the only moment. We get seven saves from Alisson, none especially difficult but still the most in a single match this season.

Despite a few tetchy moments – encouragingly few – in the end, we get this.

And this.

"Easy draw" be damned. Once again, we get Liverpool doing what they need to do – with an added dash of élan thanks to style of play and game state – for the eighth consecutive win now that we're reached the absolute meat of the season. And we get Liverpool in the Champions League semi-final in consecutive seasons, for the first time since 1983-84 and 1984-85.

16 April 2019

Visualized: Liverpool 2-0 Chelsea

Previous Match Infographics: Porto (h), Southampton (a), Tottenham (h), Fulham (a), Bayern Munich (a), Burnley (h), Everton (a), Watford (h), 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. 

Once again, Liverpool just are.

They just grind. They just get there, whether through a late goal or five-minute flurry or moment of magic. They drag themselves, sometimes kicking and screaming, over the finish line. For the seventh successive win in all competitions, and at this point of this season.

At this point, they are what they are. And what they are is relentless.

Once again, the first half isn't great.

Liverpool take just four shots. Salah's first, on target, was a very good chance, but the rest are more marginal. Once again, a deep, determined back four/six/eight, is stifling Liverpool. And we're getting frustrated.

And not only is Chelsea's defense deep, determined, and in position, they're upsetting Liverpool's flow with an intermittent press, using the front three and maybe a midfielder to hassle the initial build-up before dropping once Liverpool get around the halfway line. Chelsea made a surprisingly high amount of tackles and interceptions in the middle third of the pitch for a side facing Liverpool.

It makes for tough watching, especially as Liverpool, Anfield, and every single one of us knows a win's necessary to keep pace. And every single one of us remembers the last time Liverpool were in this position against Chelsea late in a title-chasing season.

But Liverpool keep going and, encouraged rather than dismayed, Liverpool get two quick-fire goals early in the second half – a passing move the likes of which we've seen all season and an absolute marvel from Mohamed Salah.

Liverpool get that bit of luck, with Hazard's two missed chances, but Liverpool also make their own luck, as has happened almost all season. Liverpool see out the match with comfortable possession after those frightening five minutes, with cool heads and necessary substitutions ensuring said comfort.

It's not quite as frantic as Southampton or Tottenham, and not quite as secure as against Porto, but not wholly out of character from what we've seen over the last few months. For better far more than for worse.

There has been one notable change over the last three matches though. Jordan Henderson's emergence (reemergence?) as an attacking midfielder. The third goal off the bench against Southampton, his first goal of the season. Assists for the game-winning goal against Southampton and Chelsea. The most Liverpool chances created against Porto, including a hockey assist on the crucial second goal, where he also won the ball back in the midfield to start the move.

His assist on Sunday – like his goal against Southampton – was exactly what I've wanted to see more of from Liverpool's midfielders, even when we're getting sufficient creation from the front three and full-backs. Those runs into the box though. This time, backing up Salah and Firmino's entry into the penalty area, following up when Emerson intercepted then standing up a cross to the box post, knowing exactly where to find Sadio Mané. That goal against Southampton came as the extra attacker on the break, charging after Matip's long pass downfield, in the right place for Firmino's centered pass.

They've been important moments, necessary moments.

There is a whole mountain of salt taken with this because of sample size but Henderson's performances as a more advanced midfielder have been more than encouraging.

Running hot in front of goal for a couple of games, yay! Which, maybe, to be fair, but also a pile of key passes and interceptions per 90 minutes compared to others who've played in that position. And, unsurprisingly, compared to what he's done in a deeper role.

There are a couple of other caveats worth mentioning besides sample size and positional foibles. Henderson started in this role against Everton and United a couple of months ago and *gulps, tugs collar*, taking just one shot and failing to create a chance in the two matches, with Liverpool drawing both 0-0. That dribble rate is bad, whether as an attacking midfielder or defensive shield.

As for the others he's compared to. Four of Milner's six goals were from the penalty spot and three of Milner's six assists have been from set plays, so that's marginally inflated. Plus Milner's also played a handful of games at full-back, so warnings about long passes, total passes, and defensive actions. We're often told that a lot of what Wijnaldum's asked to do doesn't show up in stats like these, except maybe his pass accuracy and higher dribble rate than Milner or Henderson. And Keïta's sometimes struggles this season are more than explainable with change in style and league, as well as intermittent injury. Plus, he's also come good over the last few games.

Whether it's a blip or course correction, it has been encouraging, and it has been good timing from Liverpool's captain.

But he has not been the only one. Not on Sunday, not for the last three games or the last month.

Because, once again, Liverpool are what Liverpool are. And it's an everyone thing.

The center-backs and keeper organized and defend. The full-backs defend and create. The midfield possesses and passes and presses, and Fabinho destroys while Keïta and Henderson increasingly add to the attack. And the front three does front three things.

It's less "Mohamed Salah will save us" than at almost any point last season. It's less "Alisson and van Dijk will cancel out any possible mistakes" than earlier in this season. It is very much a team effort, which makes it that much more meaningful.

Sometimes it's great and good fun, although rarely comfortable. Sometimes we get less than we'd like. Sometimes much less, to our chagrin and detriment. But, at least for the last month and more, we've gotten enough. No matter how. Every single time.

14 April 2019

Liverpool 2-0 Chelsea

Mane 51'
Salah 53'

That was a magnificent performance.

2-0, with both goals scored in the second half and in quick succession, may not necessarily suggest so. But Liverpool were incredibly impressively good throughout, and I'm still sat here in awe of it.

Okay, so it's 0-0 for the entire first half. Which, not great. In keeping with some recent frustration. But.

Liverpool are getting chances. Salah's first-time shot after a lovely Keïta pass and Mané cross too close to Kepa. Firmino poking a wicked free kick at Kepa, but also inches offside. Crosses just eluding Liverpool attackers, Chelsea defenders sticking out a leg just in time as attackers charge at goal. There's goals in this here game.

Meanwhile, Liverpool are coping reasonably well with Chelsea's sporadic press, as the front three and more attacking midfielders challenge when the ball's in Liverpool's defensive third before retreating into that frustratingly deep, frustratingly organized shape. No giveaways, no stupid. Which is always encouraging.

And Liverpool are doing enough to stop potentially dangerous Chelsea counters, whether it's Fabinho tackles or van Dijk and Matip in the air or Alisson beating away crosses. Liverpool know they need to win and proceed accordingly with both structure and tempo, but continue to ensure there's far fewer chances for stomach punches. As they've done for the vast majority of the season.

So it's 0-0 when we restart after that first half, and while it's been mostly encouraging, we're mostly full of terror because we're always full of terror. I promise, it was not bad. We might be afraid, because we've been conditioned to be afraid, but Liverpool feel like they're gonna keep doing Liverpool.

And for two glorious minutes, we get a reminder of this side in full flow. We get a reminder of Liverpool at their sword-wielding best. The side that takes names and stomps souls.

We get an opener from Sadio Mané, featuring Liverpool doing everything good that Liverpool does in attack. Constant probing possession. Spread wide to Salah, run at the box. Interplay between Salah, Firmino, and Henderson, the latter refusing to give up on the bounce of the ball. A cross from the byline, a header at the back post. Like so many we've seen come before.

And we almost immediately get a second from Mohamed Salah. Which, good lord. I know Mo Salah hasn't played all that well lately, constantly an inch or a millimeter off of what'd go perfectly last season. I also know that only Mo Salah scores that goal in this side. Van Dijk, cross-field and over the top. Salah, one on one with Emerson, who still retreats despite Salah's struggles. He gets onto that left foot. And he absolutely spanks a shot from absolutely nowhere past Arrizabalaga.

Goals from sustained build-up and crosses, and goals from Mohamed Salah doing literally unbelievable things. Sounds about right.

Of course, then we're jolted back to reality. Five minutes of utter terror. Two moments that should have been Chelsea goals: Hazard twice breaking Liverpool's usually reliable offside line, hitting the post with the first and denied by Alisson on the second. Maybe there's complacency involved, but there's also a Chelsea substitution: Higuain replacing Hudson-Odoi, shifting Hazard ostensibly back to the left. Where he probably should have played from the off.

There has been a lot of good done by Liverpool this season. But there has been a lot of luck as well. And this might well be a different match – it's at least a different Anfield – if Hazard pulls one back. Yes, yes, different season, but I can't help remembering Arsenal last season. 1-0, then 2-0. But then 2-1 and 2-2 and 2-3 and come the hell on.

But this time, van Dijk hollers and Keïta gets his foot on the ball. Liverpool basically stop everything, dominating possession for the next few minutes. Liverpool replace Keïta and Henderson with fresh legs in Milner and Wijnaldum. And Liverpool completely controls the final 30 minutes. You can't call it coasting, because Liverpool never stop running, never stop pressing, and have a few more sights at goal, but for the most part, it's game over and a slow slow death for another opponent. As we got on Tuesday. No muss, no fuss, three points, back on top.

So, yeah. It's basically everything you want to see. Liverpool, determined and resilient in attack despite early frustration, eventually getting the needed minutes of magic. Liverpool, determined and resilient in defense, in control for the vast majority but also doing enough to hang on during the frightful five.

And that's just in isolation. You cannot forget the context. City have cantered to another win just prior, strolling 3-1 at Palace, to leapfrog Liverpool in the table. And Liverpool are up against Chelsea – not only a decent side who can counter-act a lot of what Liverpool want to do, not only the toughest opponent left to face in this league campaign, but you know and I know and they know that this is also a fixture with far too much PTSD attached. This time of year. This spot in the standings. And this opposition.

And Liverpool did exactly what they needed to. Again. A seventh win in a row in all competitions, a fifth in the league, unbeaten since January 7.

This team just will not stop. And you cannot help but love them for it, no matter what may come.

11 April 2019

Visualized: Liverpool 2-0 Porto

Previous Match Infographics: Southampton (a), Tottenham (h), Fulham (a), Bayern Munich (a), Burnley (h), Everton (a), Watford (h), 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 love European football.

Because, unlike the vast majority of the Premier League, European sides do not set up to specifically deny Liverpool opportunities to press.

And then matches like this happen.

As Beasley says, that's an egregious amount of tackles and ball recoveries for a side that had that much possession. 64% possession is about what Liverpool averaged against Southampton (67%), Fulham (63%), and Everton (59%) over the last month or so.

Those matches did not look like this one, even if the results were mostly similar (*glares at Merseyside Derby*).

More importantly, it's probably not coincidence that both of Liverpool's goals came from winning the ball back in midfield.

Fabinho presses the Porto attack, and while Danilo tries to tackle him, Milner – even though he's at left-back, is there to pick up the pieces, immediately looking long for Mané and going, allowing Liverpool to run at Porto before Porto can regroup.

Mané does the right thing up against two defenders, Firmino somehow finds space in the box for the layoff, and Keïta's shot is at least going to be on-target before the deflection, but this very much starts in midfield and in transition.

Similar goes for Liverpool's second, as Mané's tackled in the final third but Henderson's forward to back him up, spreading play to Keïta, who finds Firmino once again in a pocket of space, returned to Henderson who's now joined the attack.

So, we can highlight individual performances. Firmino was heavily involved in both goals, and not for the first time over the last month, having scored four and assisted three in his last six games.

Porto's system – with three deeper center-backs, one a right-back by trade – and Oliver Torres rather than Hector Herrera – probably gave Firmino a bit too much space to operate.

The average position map kind of lies – being an average position map – but there also aren't many Porto players near Firmino's position.

When Firmino plays this well, it is very, very hard to stop Liverpool. Salah and Mané get the attacking headlines, van Dijk and Alisson the defensive, but I'm still tempted to argue that no player is as essential to Jürgen Klopp's style of play as Roberto Firmino.

But there's also Naby Keïta, leading the side in tackles, almost top in ball recoveries, an opening goal within five minutes no matter the heavy deflection, and so much running. So, so much running, compared to what Liverpool's midfield has looked like with Milner and Wijnaldum in advanced positions.

There's also Jordan Henderson, again in a more advanced position, complementing Keïta, and similarly all-around everywhere, highlighted by his role in Liverpool's second goal, both in ball recovery and hockey assist.

There's Alisson, saving two clear-cut chances from Moussa Marega in two minutes, less than five minutes after Liverpool scored its second. The game is very, very different had Porto made it 2-1 in the 30th or 31st minute.

There's Fabinho, stood tall in the center circle shouting YOU WILL NOT PASS.

There's Virgil van Dijk, the best defender in Europe, and Dejan Lovren partnering him, uncertain early on having just returned from injury, but increasingly comfortable as the match progressed.

There's Trent Alexander-Arnold, another assist from a wide position, even if it wasn't a cross, and there's James Milner on the other flank, deputizing at left-back even though he hadn't played that position in ages, because he's James Milner and will do a job at any position.

Aside from finishing one or two more chances (*glares at Mo Salah's form*), it's pretty much all you could have hoped for. And it all sets up Liverpool nicely for the second leg. Because Liverpool again won a European match at Anfield.

The last time Liverpool lost European match at Anfield was October 2014, 0-3 to Real Madrid under Brendan Rodgers. Klopp's still yet to lose one, winning 14 and drawing four in the Champions League and Europa League.

We've seen clean sheets in 11 of those 18 games. We've seen two or more goals in 13 of those 18 games, with three or more in nine of them.

We've seen Liverpool in the Europa League final, then the Champions League final, and now putting themselves in position to qualify for this season's semi-finals.

European nights are assuredly back at Anfield. And Liverpool are back amongst European's elite.

08 April 2019

Visualized: Liverpool 3-1 Southampton

Previous Match Infographics: Tottenham (h), Fulham (a), Bayern Munich (a), Burnley (h), Everton (a), Watford (h), 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. 

We can talk about comeback wins again.

There was the draw at Chelsea, but since then we've had Burnley (a), Arsenal (h), Palace (h), Burnley (h), and now Southampton (a). The only Premier League match that Liverpool trailed in and failed to take points from was the 1-2 loss at City, where Liverpool hauled themselves back level only to succumb to Sane's 72nd-minute strike.

We can talk about late goals and late wins again. Everton, United, and that Chelsea draw earlier in the season, and now three in a row with the winner coming after the 80th minute. Scoring when it matters most, in the matches where it matters most. It ain't great for the heart but it's sure great for the overwhelming euphoria when we finally get to full time.

Of course, we had to get to needing to come back and needing to win late, so we can also talk about Salah's struggles until scoring, the midfield issues in the first half – don't rewatch how Højbjerg's tracked on Southampton's opener – or how Liverpool have now failed to keep a clean sheet in five successive matches, the longest stretch without one since December 2018 - January 2019.

But Salah did score; the midfield –  a trio which hadn't started together since 3-0 Bournemouth in February – improved as the match went on, especially after Henderson replaced Wijnaldum; and Liverpool only conceded the one despite threatening more in the rickety opening half hour.

So we can talk about other things.

Like how Liverpool's full-backs have a combined 16 league assists so far. Which is tied with Cardiff and five more than Huddersfield has. The entire team. In the entire campaign.

Liverpool most certainly have not gotten this level of production from full-back in recent seasons.

Robertson's nine assists so far this season – with two more in the Champions League – would be more than all of Liverpool's full-backs totaled in 12 of the previous 14 seasons, all except 2004-05 and 2006-07. But the opposition can't just focus on his deliveries, because you've got Alexander-Arnold on the other side of the pitch.

The production from those two has also meant a lot more goals from crosses than we're used to.

By my count, we've seen 26 goals coming from crosses. Granted, this is using the loosest definition of crossing. We're counting Alderweireld's own goal against Tottenham, Alexander-Arnold's cross leading to Salah's shot saved. We're counting Mané's goal on opening day against West Ham, where Milner kept in a cross at the back post and laid off for Mané. We're counting both high crosses and low crosses, as long as the low cross isn't more of a close-range pass, and both open play and set play.

Here's the list.

And here's the spreadsheet, with some more detailed notes.

18 of 26 led to goals directly from the cross. 14 goals came from open play, 12 from set plays. 12 crosses led to headed goals, nine to left-footed goals, and five to right-footed goals. 21 came from high crosses, five from low crosses, but the subjectivity means we probably could have counted a couple more goals as coming from low crosses – goals like Henderson's at Southampton on Friday.

13 of the 26 have led to Liverpool's opening goal. Liverpool went on to win 12 of those 13 matches, the 1-1 draw with West Ham two months ago the only exception.

But only four different players have an assist from crosses: Robertson, Alexander-Arnold, Milner, and Salah. Salah's only came from a corner, as did two of Milner's four, with the others a cross and the aforementioned back-post lay off.

Crossing is also a strategy we've complained about it, in previous seasons and earlier this season. Because it is a strategy often employed by the weak – Tony Pulis' Stoke, Sam Allardyce's whomever. Get it in the mixer and let the big bodies do the work. Low risk, high reward, and agricultural as all get out.

Which is obviously not how Liverpool treat crosses.

Liverpool's crossing style is varied, Liverpool's targets for crosses are varied, but the output comes almost solely from two players, especially when in open play. And they're Liverpool's full-backs.

Most importantly. Yes, we've seen goals against Bayern, Tottenham, and Arsenal, but the vast majority of these have come against Watford and West Ham and Newcastle and the like. Sides that sit deep, sides that defend, sides that Liverpool have to break down. This is the way that Liverpool have tried to rectify the failings of previous seasons. The brick wall bus parkers. The frustration. The inability to cut through an opponent when there are few opportunities to press or to counter.

It is not always easy to watch, and has become harder as the season's gone on. The draining season becomes more evident when watching the ever-presents. Liverpool concede cheap goals more often, even if it's thankfully not all that often. Games narrow, results stay in the balance for the duration.

But Liverpool somehow survive and somehow advance.

It's a strategy that's working. The league table is evidence enough of that.