23 January 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 0-1 Swansea

Previous Match Infographics: Manchester City (h), Everton (h), Burnley (a), Leicester (a), Swansea (h), Arsenal (a), Bournemouth (a), West Brom (h), Everton (h), Spartak Moscow (h), Brighton (a), Stoke (a), Chelsea (h), Sevilla (a), Southampton (h), West Ham (a), Maribor (h), Huddersfield (h), Tottenham (a), Maribor (a), United (h), Newcastle (a), Spartak Moscow (a), Leicester (a), Burnley (h), Sevilla (h), Manchester City (a), Arsenal (h), Hoffenheim (h), Crystal Palace (h), Hoffenheim (a), Watford (a)

Match data from WhoScored, except average position from the SofaScore app. 



(Here's the formation diagram usually included in match reviews.)

Well, that wasn't fun.

It's a return to the bad old days. Same old Liverpool. Beat the best team, then lose to the worst. And, once again, the sky is falling.

Was there a general lack of creativity, despite taking 21 shots? Sure. Especially in the first half – a lot like when these sides last met – and especially as 11 of those 21 came from outside the box, with more and more late and a surprising amount from Liverpool's defenders.

Did Liverpool need a lot more from its midfield, misplaying passes and running headlong into the packed Swansea defense time and time again before finding the front three, with not enough chances created, without the nous to unlock a triple-bolted steel door? Absolutely. Had Coutinho often been the best player in the squad in situations like this? Sigh. Yes.

Does Liverpool still sometimes stutter against teams who sit as deep as humanly possible and look for little more than to congest the middle of their defensive third. Seems like. As usual, Dan Kennett has some good observations on the subject. Open the tweets to expand the full threads, and also always read Dan's stuff.




Was this way too reminiscent of both Everton and West Brom, matches that Liverpool drew 1-1 and 0-0? Ugh. Except, of course, that Liverpool unnecessarily conceded against the run of play from the first shot on-target faced.

Did Liverpool again concede from a corner? Was it the second ball from a corner, with the cross in not fully cleared? You betcha.

Do I think that Alexander-Arnold should've started instead of Gomez, or that Lallana should have come on earlier – and probably for Wijnaldum rather than Oxlade-Chamberlain? I do. Am I frustrated with the lack of attacking depth on the bench to change matches like these? Very much so. But I'm also sat here in front of a computer without coaching badges or having lifted any trophies so, you know, I'm inclined to shut up and watch the professionals who've made this side a much better side until it's demonstrably not the case anymore.

Has Liverpool lost to a relegated side in each of the last three seasons? Oh, you know it. Hull in 2016-17, Newcastle in 2015-16, and Hull in 2014-15. Maybe Swansea escapes the bottom three – they're only three points behind 17th-place Stoke and six behind 10th-place Watford, after all – but it's not like we don't have precedent for similar failings.

Still, Liverpool had chances to score. Liverpool even had enough chances to win. Four clear-cut chances: Salah, over the bar from van Dijk's arrowed ball over the top in the 30th minute; Mané, slipping and shooting wide in first-half injury time; and Firmino's header off the post followed by Lallana's point-blank effort blocked in second-half injury time. Liverpool had zero clear-cut chances against Manchester City and scored four goals. Each of those four goals was a "harder" chance than any of the above four that Liverpool failed to convert yesterday.

Still, this was the same midfield that started in the 5-0 win against the same opposition a little less than a month ago.

Still, Liverpool had Coutinho for 90 minutes of the aforementioned 0-0 v West Brom which this was so reminiscent of, and he created just one chance despite 96 pass attempts. And he also played the last 12 minutes in the 1-1 draw against Everton. And in a bunch of other frustrating matches that Liverpool either lost or drew. And he's not a Liverpool player anymore so why are we even still talking about him?

Still, Liverpool hadn't conceded from a corner since Sevilla's injury-time equalizer two months ago, with 13 matches in-between. They'd faced 51 corners over that stretch. Yes, it was reminiscent of a couple of goals let in early this season and even more last season, but if you don't think Liverpool's gotten better at defending corners, you're just wrong.



One player vacated his zone, charging for a header that three Liverpool defenders seemingly had covered. And Swansea's player scored through the zone that Liverpool player left, when the header out under pressure – more from other Liverpool defenders than Swansea attackers – didn't get far enough out. And it's not one of your usual scapegoats. It's a mistake – not an out-and-out error, but still certainly not great – but it happens. And it's a mistake that Liverpool hadn't made in a while.

Still, for all the similarities with Everton and West Brom, those were just three matches during this 19-game stretch. There were the massive over-performances in attack against Huddersfield, Brighton, Spartak, Swansea (h), and City, among others. Liverpool very much out-performed its Expected Goals total during this run. Via Michael Caley's numbers, Liverpool had 43.1 Expected Goals in the last 19 games, as well as four penalties and an own goal. Liverpool actually scored 55 goals. The finishing pixie is a cruel etc etc etc.

Yes, I continue to worry. I worry about breaking down the deepest of busses. I worry that Liverpool will fall apart if Liverpool don't score early and often. I worry about Liverpool's options off the bench, I worry that Liverpool needs to replace Coutinho NOW NOW NOW rather than waiting for the preferred option, as Klopp did with van Dijk. I still very much remember Everton and West Brom. I'm still in bits every time Liverpool face a corner, even if it has gotten a lot better in the last few months.

This was Liverpool's first loss in the last 19 games. There was bound to be some sort of regression to frustration. This was just Liverpool's third league loss of the season, after City (a) and Tottenham (a), four and three months ago respectively.

Make no mistake – this sucked, this sucks, and I'm still annoyed. Make no mistake – Liverpool were bad, and Liverpool barely deserved to draw, let alone win. But this happens.

21 January 2018

Liverpool at Swansea 01.22.18

3pm ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
5-0 Liverpool (h) 12.26.17
2-3 Swansea (h) 01.21.17
2-1 Liverpool (a) 10.01.16
1-3 Swansea (a) 05.01.16

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 4-3 City (h); 2-1 Everton (h); 2-1 Burnley (a)
Swansea: 2-1 Wolves (h); 1-1 Newcastle (a); 0-0 Wolves (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Salah 18; Firmino 10; Coutinho 7; Mané 6; Oxlade-Chamberlain 3; Sturridge 2; Alexander-Arnold, Can, Henderson, Klavan, Lovren, Matip, Wijnaldum 1
Swansea: Abraham, Ayew 4; Bony 2; Clucas, Fer, Mawson, Narsingh 1

Referee: Neil Swarbrick (LFC History) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Karius
Trent A-A Matip van Dijk Robertson
Alex O-C Can Wijnaldum
Salah Firmino Mané

Despite the howlings of Liverpool Twitter, Karius will keep his place. Virgil van Dijk's back. Salah has recovered from illness, but neither Klavan nor Lovren trained on Saturday. Henderson and Moreno are also back in training but tomorrow's match probably comes too soon for either.

So the questions are the same as usual. Will it be Gomez or Alexander-Arnold at right-back? Which two from Oxlade-Chamberlain, Lallana, and Wijnaldum will play ahead of Can in midfield? We haven't seen the 4-4-2 in a while, but that'd be basically the same front six, with Mané on one flank, Oxlade-Chamberlain or Lallana on the other, and both Firmino and Salah up top. We've seen elements of that formation even when Liverpool are a more orthodox 4-3-3.

Incidentally, the above guess is damned close to the XI from the last meeting, with only Mané for Coutinho (*boo hiss*), van Dijk for Klavan, and Karius for Mignolet as changes.

Bottom of the table but Swansea have won twice, drawn twice, and lost once since Carlos Carvalhal took over after the last meeting between these sides. A win and draw came against Wolves in the FA Cup, but a late win over Watford in Carvalhal's first match, a draw at Newcastle, and a loss to Tottenham where Spurs only secured victory in the 89th minute is assuredly progress compared to what came before.

This probably won't be the same match as that on Boxing Day. 5-0 is always a big ask, even for a side with the firepower of Liverpool. And that 5-0 was somewhat misleading. Liverpool were exceptionally mediocre in the first half before pulling away in the second, as against Huddersfield, Maribor, and others earlier this season. Three of Liverpool's five goals had help from Swansea players. It was a comfortable win, but it wasn't as thorough a win as the score line would suggest.

And now they've a new manager. And now, they're in a better vein of form.

I've also very little idea how Swansea will line up tomorrow. 5-3-2 against Tottenham, 4-2-2-2 at Watford, 4-4-2 at Newcastle. Rangel's still out injured, Abraham and Sanches are doubtful, and while van der Hoorn looked a concern after going off against Newcastle, but returned to training on Friday.

With van der Hoorn available, we could well see the five-at-the-back that Swansea used to limit Tottenham, but let's guess something closer to the 4-4-2 from the last couple of matches. A 4-4-2 should ask more questions of Liverpool's defense than the 4-3-3 from last time, with Ayew decent on the counter and Bony excellent at hold-up play. A narrow 4-4-2, or even 4-2-2-2, would congest the center in their half of the pitch, where Liverpool will want to play when lacking in fast break opportunities against a deep-lying defense.

So something like Fabianski; Naughton, Fernandez, Mawson, Olsson; Dyer, Ki, Clucas, Carroll; Ayew, Bony. Fer and Mesa are other options in central midfield, Routledge and Narsingh are other options on the flanks, and, heck, maybe we get McBurnie up front against, as in the last meeting. This is a guessing game at the most-informed of times, and this is not one of those times.

And while Klopp et al are assuredly more informed than I, there's still something of an unknown about this side. This Swansea won't play the same as last month's Swansea, even with similar XIs. Liverpool have crapped the bad at least once a season in five of the six seasons since Swansea's promotion – including, as I suspect you remember, at Anfield a year ago. And, unsurprisingly given the home/away divide, Liverpool have had more problems at Swansea than at home, with two one-goal wins, two draws, and two losses at the Liberty Stadium since 2011-12.

But that also shouldn't matter if Liverpool do what Liverpool remain capable of doing. This should be a match that Liverpool wins – which, of course, always seems a dangerous feeling. As against City, Liverpool have had an extended break between matches – eight days since City, which came nine days after Everton – which allows for a harder pressing, higher velocity performance, even if that style will probably fare less well against how Swansea will set up. And after this week, midweek matches start again, both in the league and then Europe next month, not to mention any possible FA Cup replays that might pop up.

Still, it goes back to Liverpool doing what Liverpool can do. Both in attack and, yes, in defense. Creating lots of opportunities, from all angles, even if the best of them come from pressing and counters. Limiting opposition chances, which seems even more likely with van Dijk at the back.

Go get your goals, go get three more points.

15 January 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 4-3 Manchester City

Previous Match Infographics: Everton (h), Burnley (a), Leicester (a), Swansea (h), Arsenal (a), Bournemouth (a), West Brom (h), Everton (h), Spartak Moscow (h), Brighton (a), Stoke (a), Chelsea (h), Sevilla (a), Southampton (h), West Ham (a), Maribor (h), Huddersfield (h), Tottenham (a), Maribor (a), United (h), Newcastle (a), Spartak Moscow (a), Leicester (a), Burnley (h), Sevilla (h), Manchester City (a), Arsenal (h), Hoffenheim (h), Crystal Palace (h), Hoffenheim (a), Watford (a)

Match data from WhoScored, except average position from the SofaScore app. 



Manchester City hadn't lost a league match since April 5, 1-2 at Chelsea, 31 matches before this one.

Manchester City hadn't conceded four goals in a match in almost exactly a year, losing 0-4 at Everton on January 15 2017. They'd conceded twice just three times this season: in a 7-2 win over Stoke, a 3-2 win at West Brom, and a 4-2 win at Napoli.

Manchester City has been out-shot in just two of Guardiola's 61 Premier League games: Tottenham's 2-0 home win in October 2016 and Liverpool yesterday. Tottenham outshot City by one. Liverpool outshot City by five. City's average shot differential in the league this season is +11, with 17.7 taken and 6.7 allowed, the best in the league. And five of City's 11 shots came in the last 10 minutes of the match, with Liverpool already 4-1 up.

The short(-ish) version is that Liverpool won because of Liverpool's pressing and Liverpool's finishing.

Yesterday saw some absolutely bananas finishing. Especially from Liverpool, but also from City as well. Oxlade-Chamberlain's Gerrard-esque run and shot. Firmino's Fowler-esque shoulder and chip. Mané, unconscionably arrowed with his "weaker" foot. Salah, from 40 yards without even looking up.

You're lucky to get one goal of that quality in a game, even with the talent that Liverpool have. Liverpool got four. And they picked a hell of an opponent to do it against.

In a match with seven goals, there was only one clear-cut chance: Bernando Silva's 84th minute goal, set up by an unfortunately perfect deflection as Gomez blocked Gundogan's shot.

I only have clear-cut chance data for the last couple of seasons, but I suspect it's been a long time since Liverpool scored four in a match without a single clear-cut chance. It's the first time this season that Liverpool failed to have at least one clear-cut chance in a match; they're averaging nearly three per league game.

Only three of Liverpool's 16 shots came from the Danger Zone: Salah, just inside the box, blocked in the third minute; Salah, just inside the six-yard box, poked wide in the 15th minute; and Mané, just inside the box, with his goal in the 62nd minute.

This is the first time this season that Liverpool's scored two goals from outside the box in a match as well.

The finishing was good. Great. Superlative. Probably unrepeatable. But Liverpool's pressing was the foundation from which the winning performance was built.

Not counting Andrew Robertson losing his damned mind, I was most impressed by two moments.

First, in the immediate aftermath of Firmino's goal:



Liverpool do not let up. Liverpool send the attackers forward, immediately, upon retaking the lead. There's no sitting back, not with this side. Liverpool are a boot, stamping on a human face – forever. Because this is how Liverpool need to play. This is not a side that can sit back. And it nearly led to a third.

We'd get that third two minutes later.



This was team-wide. This was Liverpool's press at its best. From Firmino and Salah pressing near the byline, to Wijnaldum tracking down Danilo, to Gomez staying tight to Agüero, to six Liverpool players surrounding City's four, closing in, mistake, Salah, Mané.

Two screenshots:



This was the crucial moment. The ball inside triggers both Firmino and Oxlade-Chamberlain onto Fernandinho. From the above to this:



This is a bad place to be in against Liverpool, especially when you're a side built upon playing out from the back. Gundogan goes back to Otamendi, who's finally "okay, need to get rid," but Salah's already atop him and away we go, four versus three.

Incidentally, these two videos featured two of City's five – five! – defensive errors. Since paying attention to defensive errors, I've never seen Liverpool or an opponent commit five in a match.

And all five of City's defensive errors came between the 56th and 68th minutes: Ederson palming a corner to Salah, redeemed by saving Salah's effort; Walker heading a cross-field pass up, for Mané, his shot blocked; the above Fernandinho giveaway under Liverpool pressure following Firmino's goal, with Mané's strike off the woodwork; the above Otamendi giveaway leading to Mané's goal; and Ederson's sweeping straight to Salah for Liverpool's fourth.

Two of those were directly caused by Liverpool pressing. Walker's can be blamed on the same wind that probably hurt Gomez in trying to defend City's first goal. Both of Ederson's were avoidable, and we'd kill either Mignolet or Karius for doing either, but that's what a frenetic Liverpool and frenetic Anfield can do to opposition players. "Unsettled" doesn't even come close to sufficing.

So, yes, that was as textbook as you'll get from Klopp's Liverpool. Unstoppable pressing, non-stop running, unbelievable finishing, and multiple goals – even without Liverpool's usual high-value chances. Limiting the opposition's chances, even an opponent as dangerous as City. But also unnecessary goals conceded, and unnecessary nervousness late in the match.

But that's what Liverpool are capable of when facing a side like Manchester City. A side that wants to play football. A side that'll attempt to overwhelm any opponent, no matter that opponent's style. And Liverpool met and surpassed that test, the first side to do so this season.

We won't get to see Liverpool do this that often. Most sides won't let Liverpool play this way. Most matches won't see finishing of that quality. So enjoy it when it happens.

14 January 2018

Liverpool 4-3 Manchester City

Goals:
Oxlade-Chamberlain 9'
Sané 41'
Firmino 59'
Mané 62'
Salah 68'
B Silva 84'
Gundogan 90+1'

There may never have been a more Liverpool game.

It was Liverpool early in Klopp's tenure, smoking top sides with pressing and counter-attacks, saving their best for the best opposition.

It was Liverpool with Firmino, Mané, and Salah, scoring all sorts of wonderful, wonderful goals, each of them on the scoresheet.

It was Liverpool falling apart, as we've seen too often this season, coming far too close from throwing away a seeming insurmountable lead.

It was a Liverpool game where you could not take a breath. It was Liverpool, trying to kill us all.

It was emotion, every emotion. It was exactly what sport is supposed to be.

Last season, Liverpool opened the scoring in the eighth minute when hosting Manchester City at Anfield. One counter-attacking move, and then a complete negation of the game, finishing 1-0.

That never seemed likely after Oxlade-Chamberlain scored in the ninth minute today, he and Firmino combining to win possession in City's half, tearing at City's goal, and firing past Ederson from outside the box. This season's Liverpool is not last season's Liverpool.

Liverpool, unsurprisingly, kept going. As did Manchester City, because that's what this steamroller side does. But Liverpool did well to limit chances. Liverpool, buoyed by nine days' rest, kept pressing, but City kept coming through de Bruyne and Sané.

Liverpool did well to limit chances until the 41st minute. Gomez misjudges Walker's crossfield pass to Sané, under the flight of ball then wrong-side scrambling to get back, and Sané fiercely beats Karius at the near post. And we're level at halftime in a match where Liverpool had played its game and been the better side.

Ugh. Great. Now steamroller City's gonna come out and steamroller in the second half.

Well, someone steamrollered.

The half started very City. De Bruyne, Sterling, and Agüero at pace on the counter, Matip with a crucial block. Otamendi hitting the crossbar with a header from the subsequent corner.

But then Liverpool went and did Liverpool things. The good Liverpool things. Some very, very insanely good Liverpool things.

Nine minutes. Oxlade-Chamberlain throughball to Firmino, shouldering off Stones before chipping Emerson. Mané railing a shot off the post as Liverpool press from the subsequent kickoff. Salah pressing Otamendi into a giveaway then setting up Mané, a left-footed blast somehow skewed past Ederson. Ederson racing out to clear a hopeful long throughball from Salah, only to play it back to Salah, who passed it into the net from 45 yards. From the 59th to 68th minute, from 1-1 to 4-1.

That was vicious. That was Liverpool at its most potent, and we've sure seen some potency this season.

We've seen in the previous three games that conceding at 1-0 isn't the end of the world. This was the culmination of that.

We've also seen Liverpool completely lose the plot with a two- or three-goal lead against good opposition. This was nearly the culmination of that.

There was 15 minutes of almost complete comfort. From the 68th to 83rd minutes, City had all of one shot: Gundogan from distance swiftly blocked. City had all the possession, but Liverpool would still take their chances to press, somehow still with energy despite the previous exertions. The main highlight was Sterling getting hooked after picking up a yellow card, a match where Robertson kept him pocketed for the duration.

But then, Gundogan beats Milner, one-two with Agüero, into the box. Gomez makes the block, but it somehow falls absolutely perfectly for Bernardo Silva. 4-2. Six minutes plus stoppage time still to go. An absolute eternity against a side like City.

And now you have permission to tilt. Substitutions don't seem to waste enough time. Seconds take eons. City keep coming. City pass and build and shift and pass, exactly as Guardiola's molded them, exactly as they've done all season, exactly as they've done at 0-0 and 1-1 and 4-1 and now 4-2. And now it's 4-3, as Agüero gets into the box out wide and chips towards Gundogan. There are seven Liverpool players between Agüero and Gundogan in the box, with Robertson on his back side and Wijnaldum just outside the area. And Lovren mistimes his header and Gundogan chests down and stabs home and holy hell this is not happening.

Thankfully, no, it is not. But it almost did. It almost did when Milner stupidly fouled and de Bruyne sends in a wicked free kick and Agüero heads just wide but he's offside anyway and blow the whistle blow the whistle blow the whistle phew.

It was all so very Liverpool. For better and for worse. As uncomfortably usual, as wonderfully usual.

Make no mistake. As 0-5 flattered City in the reverse fixture, 4-3 flatters them here. Giving up two late goals to make us nervous – and we're always nervous – was very bad, but that was a masterclass in both gegenpressing and finishing.

Liverpool were helped by the rest between matches, especially as half that City side played in the League Cup on Wednesday. Liverpool needed the previous three comebacks for self-belief today. Liverpool finished chances that they will absolutely not take in most matches, with none of the four goals coming from a clear-cut chance.

Liverpool were really, really good, against the side that's going to win the league by a mile. Liverpool are the first side to beat City in domestic competition this season, their only loss coming in a meaningless last-group-game Champions League match. Liverpool have not lost a match in any competition since October, unbeaten in 18, and they've scored three or more in 12 of those 18.

Liverpool are insane and trying to kill us all and fun. Liverpool are really, really fun.

13 January 2018

Liverpool v Manchester City 01.14.17

11am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
0-5 City (a) 09.09.17
1-1 (a) 03.19.17
1-0 Liverpool (h) 12.31.16
3-0 Liverpool (h) 03.02.16

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-1 Everton (h); 2-1 Burnley (a); 2-1 Leicester (h)
City: 2-1 Bristol City (h); 4-1 Burnley (h); 3-1 Watford (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Salah 17; Firmino 9; Coutinho 7; Mané 5; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sturridge 2; Alexander-Arnold, Can, Henderson, Klavan, Lovren, Matip, Wijnaldum 1
City: Sterling 14; Agüero 13; Jesus 8; de Bruyne, Sané 6; D Silva 5; Otamendi 4; Fernandinho 2; Danilo, Delph, Gundogan, B Silva 1

Referee: Andre Marriner (LFC History) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Mignolet
Gomez Matip van Dijk Robertson
Alex O-C Can Wijnaldum
Salah Firmino Mané

It's Liverpool's first game since Philippe Coutinho's transfer to Barcelona. And it's against the runaway league-leaders, who've yet to lose a league match this season.

Good times.

For better or for worse, this marks a new beginning. The second phase of the season, clearly delineated by the rest the side's had after so many matches in so few days and the exit of Liverpool's ex-little magician. And this is as good a place to start as any other.

Gulp.

Maybe we'll see Lallana or Milner in place of Oxlade-Chamberlain or Wijnaldum in midfield. Maybe Alexander-Arnold instead of Gomez. Maaaaaaaybe Karius remains in goal. Otherwise, we know what we're getting, at least personnel-wise.

Meanwhile, there's so much you can say about this City side. All those goals. All those games unbeaten. Absolutely running away with the league. Having demolished Liverpool the last time these sides met. Here are two things that sum up their season for me. Raheem Sterling's their top scorer in the league. Fabian Delph's become a competent left-back. Both of those statements still do not compute. This team is bananas.

They pass and pass and pass and press. They smother and stifle and squeeze the life out of you. They stab stab stab and score score score. If not at their best, they still somehow conspire to come up with late winners time and time again. Kevin de Bruyne is so on fire that he's odds-on for Premier League player of the season, and we know all too well what Mo Salah's done so far.

Guardiola obviously has options, but we're probably getting 4-3-3 tomorrow. Ederson; Walker, Stones, Otamendi, Delph; de Bruyne, Fernandinho, D Silva; Sterling, Agüero, Sané. Mendy, Gabriel Jesus, and Kompany remain out injured.

Liverpool have had nine days since their last match. City played midweek in the League Cup. Sure, they were able to rest some players, but Sterling, Sané, de Bruyne, and Stones all played 90 minutes, with Agüero and Walker coming off the bench. You just have to look to Chelsea's 0-0 at home against Leicester earlier today, outplayed for long stretches until the visitors went down to 10 men, to see how fatigue can catch up with a side at this time of year.

So, yes, Manchester City have rolled almost everyone so far this season. Including Liverpool, a 0-5 rout that was one of Liverpool's biggest losses in a decade. They've drawn just four times, with two of those won on penalties in the League Cup. They've lost just once: a dead rubber, rest everyone Champions League match at Shakhtar. They've won 28. With 22 games played, they're leading the league by 15 points, with a goal difference of +51. Which is beyond mind-boggling.

But it's not as if Liverpool are without hope. Liverpool are unbeaten in 17 matches. Liverpool have conceded just four goals at Anfield in the league this season. Liverpool have scored the second-most goals in the league this season, behind only City. Liverpool still have Salah, Mané, and Firmino; Liverpool now have Virgil van Dijk.

Phase two starts now, with a chance to avenge September's embarrassment at the Etihad. With a chance to go level on points with Chelsea and United in second and third, at least before the latter plays on Monday. With more than a point to prove.

Go do it.

07 January 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 2-1 Everton

Previous Match Infographics: Burnley (a), Leicester (a), Swansea (h), Arsenal (a), Bournemouth (a), West Brom (h), Everton (h), Spartak Moscow (h), Brighton (a), Stoke (a), Chelsea (h), Sevilla (a), Southampton (h), West Ham (a), Maribor (h), Huddersfield (h), Tottenham (a), Maribor (a), United (h), Newcastle (a), Spartak Moscow (a), Leicester (a), Burnley (h), Sevilla (h), Manchester City (a), Arsenal (h), Hoffenheim (h), Crystal Palace (h), Hoffenheim (a), Watford (a)

Match data from WhoScored, except average position from the SofaScore app. 



I'm actually amazed that Everton had a go. Everton actually tried to make a game of it.

That's not what happened a month ago, with Everton sitting as deep as possible, with Everton having the fewest possession and attempting the fewest passes of any side to face Klopp's Liverpool. That's not what happened in the previous two Anfield derbies, both routs, finishing 3-1 and 4-0.

This was a contentious, closely-fought, often ugly Merseyside derby. One where Everton nearly succeeds in dragging Liverpool down to its level. It's been a while since we've had one of those. It's almost refreshing, although it certainly didn't feel like that while watching.

Average position maps can lie, but compare Friday's to last month's league match at Anfield.



Liverpool's forwards, midfielders, and fullbacks were far deeper; Everton's midfielders and fullbacks much further forward. Aside from Allardyce actually loosening the reins a little, there were two reasons for this. One, the absence of Salah allowed Martina far more license to get forward. Two, and more importantly for Everton's point of view, Yannick Bolasie was available.

Bolasie posed Liverpool a lot of problems, especially early on. He's fast, he's good with the ball at his feet, and he's a more-than-capable crosser.

And Liverpool dealt with him surprisingly well.



Five successful tackles for Andrew Robertson, a tackle and two interceptions for Van Dijk on that flank. Four of Robertson's five tackles dispossessed Bolasie. Six of these eight defensive actions came in the first quarter of the match, with Everton at their most attack and the game very much in the balance.

Robertson's becoming a hell of a left-back with increasing game time, just as we'd hoped he would. And boy does Virgil van Dijk look the part. Of course, we'll never fought a debut derby winner, but happy to shout at everyone to direct his defense, even though he's been with the club less than a week, and comfortable in both battling aerially, defending in his box, and playing out from the back.

To be fair, a more "attacking" Everton took all of one more shot than they did in December's Anfield draw. Four shots versus three. Just one came from inside the box: Calvert-Lewin's off-balance and errant header.

And, of course, Everton still defended, and fairly well. As you'd expect from a Sam Allardyce side. Liverpool struggled to break into the final third. Which is obviously worrying given the absence of both Coutinho and Salah, Liverpool's star attackers. I'm really hoping that's because Merseyside Derby and not a sign of problems to come.

Regardless, five of Liverpool's seven first-half shots came from outside the box – all of them bad shots – with only Milner's penalty and wide box volley inside the area. Liverpool only took 14 shots in total, with only four on-target. Only one Liverpool player created more than one chance: Oxlade-Chamberlain with four, but with three of those coming from set plays.

Which is helpful, because Liverpool very much needed set plays.

During this 17-match unbeaten streak, Liverpool have learned how to score from set plays. Although, to be fair, Liverpool have scored any and every type of goal.

In the first 15 matches of the season, Liverpool scored three set play goals: direct free kicks from Alexander-Arnold and Coutinho against Hoffenheim and Leicester, and a free kick goal from Firmino in the rout at Maribor.

Since then, Liverpool have scored eight goals from corners, two from free kicks, and another Coutinho direct free kick. And a lot of them have been important goals: openers against Sevilla and Brighton, the often-crucial second goal against Huddersfield, West Ham, Bournemouth, and Swansea, and now game-winners in the last two matches, both in the last 10 minutes of the match.

Eight goals from corners is only two fewer than Liverpool scored through all of last season. Six free kick goals already equals last season's total.

Coutinho had been responsible for the delivery on almost all of them during this stretch, so it's been heartening to see the last two coming from Oxlade-Chamberlain: both the free kick at Burnley and the corner against Everton. And given that Coutinho is not a Liverpool player anymore, Oxlade-Chamberlain is going to have a large role in replacing him. Not just from set plays, but set plays sure help.

As usual, I'm fairly content to take a Merseyside Derby in isolation. My main takeaway is that Liverpool won, and that's all that matters. The good things are good, the bad things are *shrugs*, and hopefully won't turn into trends. There were signs for concerns, but there were far more positives than negatives. Robertson and van Dijk. Set plays. Another comeback despite conceding an equalizer, a match that Liverpool would almost certainly have drawn a month ago – as they did a month ago. A 2-1 win, the third in a row, and another late winner.

17 matches unbeaten. Liverpool keeps rolling on and over.

06 January 2018

On Philippe Coutinho

Well, this sucks.

Well, this was expected, even if not for a few more months.

Yes, there's very little that makes sense about doing this deal in January.

It could completely mess up Liverpool's season. On the precipice of top-four going into January, into the knockout rounds of the Champions League for the first time since 2008-09. This is a more well-rounded team, a deeper team, than we've seen since 2008-09, but Coutinho has still been one of the stars. Salah's given him a run for his money this campaign, but Coutinho was Liverpool's player of the season in the previous two by some distance.

It doesn't even really help Barcelona this season, running away with La Liga and with Coutinho cup-tied for the Champions League. You're paying something like €15-20m more just so Iniesta can be rested for Europe? And Barcelona definitely need to sell or release players to balance the books, something I had assumed would happen before buying Coutinho.

But it is what it is. Coutinho really, really wanted to go to Barcelona. Barcelona really, really want him. As with Suarez, as with Mascherano, as with Alonso and Arbeloa, when South American or Iberian players hear from Barcelona or Real Madrid, they're gone. It's not just Liverpool players. See: Cristiano Ronaldo. It's not just Latin players. See: McManaman and Owen, Beckham, Bale. This is the football ecosystem that we live in, despite PSG and City's best efforts at the moment.

And this sucks.

It's hard to be sanguine about it now. It's hard to reminisce when the wound's still fresh. Nonetheless, what's your favorite Coutinho moment?

There are a lot to choose from. Only Henderson, Sturridge, and Flanagan (unfortunately, we're still counting him for now) have been with the club longer; only Henderson's made more Liverpool appearances. We've seen all-around performances, spectacular strikes, brilliant assists. Game-winning goals, game-winning assists, game-winning performances. You could make a hell of a montage just from this season so far.

But I'm going to pick one that most won't. I'm going to pick his first goal for Liverpool. A month shy of five years ago.


Look at that child. He's a hobbit. He's a baby. And he's scoring on his full debut. There's an immediate sign of his potential, cutting inside from the left, with the ball at his feet, with the ball in the back of the net. He was billed as a diminutive playmaker – which he very much was for his first few seasons, and still mainly is – but there was a sign of the goals to come. There was a sign of the player he'd become.

No more signs, signals, premonitions now. For better and for worse, he's all grown up.

Now, Coutinho is potential fulfilled. He is a player capable of the sublime and ridiculous. He is a player at the peak of his powers. He is capable of playing on the left flank, as a #10, and as a more orthodox central midfielder. He's truly dominated games since the end of last season, most notably 4-0 at West Ham in May and 7-0 v Spartak in December, two goals and an assist as a central midfielder in the former, a hat-trick as an outside left in the latter.



He is also a player who has mysteriously picked up injuries as soon as the last two transfer windows opened. He is a player who clearly does not want to be here.

You never want to see your club's best players sold, especially not in January, especially with Liverpool pushing for top four and still in the Champions League. But this is the world we live in. Players get the moves they want, eventually, whether it's Van Dijk to Liverpool, Coutinho to Barcelona, or Neymar to Paris St-Germain. Clubs can only do so much.

Yes, Liverpool could have done more, had they truly wanted. Liverpool could have held firm, as they did over the summer. Deal with his "injuries" this month, get the best out of him until May. What's he gonna do, sit out for five months in a World Cup year? My guess, the only that makes sense, is that Jürgen Klopp's seemingly sick to the teeth of this nonsense. Understandably so.

Between Lallana and Oxlade-Chamberlain, there's at least a modicum of depth in the position Coutinho usually plays. Woodburn, even though he's only 18 and has made just one substitute appearance in the League Cup this season, at least did it in preseason – although he had been rumored to go out on loan this month. Neither are as creative. Neither are as good, period.

As Southampton did with van Dijk, Liverpool have extorted an eye-watering fee. By all reports, €120m now, €40m more with add-ons far achievable than those proposed last summer. Barcelona's highest bid last summer was £82m up front with £36m more in insane add-ons. Liverpool stood firm in the summer, they got more money in January.

This is the second-highest transfer fee ever. It's the highest non-release clause fee. It is €20m more than any other Premier League player has been sold for, and that's before any add-ons come into effect. Coutinho is a very, very good player who is very, very important for Liverpool, but that's still absolutely insane money.

Liverpool have a lot of new money in the accounts as of right this damn second; van Dijk was supposedly budgeted for before this deal. The squad is a lot stronger now than had Coutinho left last season, or even late in the summer having had five months to coalesce both with and without him. But he will need to be replaced, ideally sooner rather than later. I trust that Liverpool have been planning for this day since August. I hope that, as has happened with past huge sales, that trust is not misplaced.

But those fears are for another day.

It's hard at the moment, but enjoy the fact that we got Coutinho's magic for nearly five years. There were growing pains. There was frustration. There were, notably, no trophies. But there was brilliance. There was fun. Football is much better when there's fun, and Coutinho provided an awful lot.

Remember that, rather than the drama over his exit.

05 January 2018

Liverpool 2-1 Everton

Goals:
Milner 35' [pen]
Sigurðsson 67'
van Dijk 84'

Imagine scoring the winner on your debut. You're the new club-record signing, the largest transfer fee for a defender in history. It's a debut none of us thought you'd make, having joined the club four days ago and having not played since early December. And you score in the 84th minute. In front of the Kop. Against the most hated of rivals, who'd somehow managed to equalize barely 15 minutes earlier.

Good lord. I'm getting endorphin-overload just thinking about it.

This is, was, and will forever be the Virgil van Dijk Derby. The narrative is overwhelming and incredible and I love it to death.

So, yeah, it wasn't a great match. It was actually very, very Merseyside Derby, and not the derby we saw last month. Or the romps we saw in Klopp's first two derbies.

It was scrappy. It was ugly. Passes and touches didn't come off, neither side consistently threatened, although Liverpool unsurprisingly had more shots and more possession. Mané and Oxlade-Chamberlain weren't as effective as when on opposite flanks last match; Lallana looked like a player who had missed the last few months; Milner perpetually looks a man running through molasses. But this also wasn't "defend as deep as you can and deny space as much as physically possible." Everton actually attacked, mainly because Yannick Bolasie was available this time, and also a draw's not helpful to Everton this time either. And two Everton players probably should have been sent off, because of course they should have been.

Two highlights to the first half. Liverpool won a penalty almost but not quite as soft as Calvert-Lewin's last month, with Lallana going down in the general vicinity of Holgate, with Milner converting from the spot. And then Mason Holgate's insane push on a full-speed Firmino trying to slow down before crashing into the advertising boards, which sent him over said advertising boards. You rarely see anything more dangerous in football. Firmino jumped out of the stands, rightfully furious, screamed something that the Internet's Lip Reading Community has decided was "are you crazy, you son of a whore?!" in Portuguese, and we got one of those famous everyone shoves around and are we fighting no no we are not fighting. Oh, and Holgate also grabs the referee; you know, what Cristiano got a seven-match ban for earlier this season.

Mason Holgate was not even booked. Um, okay.

So, second half. Which becomes uncomfortably familiar. Liverpool are on top. Liverpool, now 1-0, are getting more chances. Better chances. Gomez misses a back-post header. Lallana shoots wide from the top of the box when put through by Oxlade-Chamberlain. Robertson has a blast saved at the near post. Van Dijk heads a corner straight at Pickford.

Shit, they're gonna score now, aren't they?

Yep.

Liverpool corner, Everton counter. Lookman runs at a retreating Robertson with only Milner as cover, with Lallana and van Dijk trying in vain to get back. He finds Jagielka which – that derby a few years ago notwithstanding – fine shoot please shoot no don't lay it off to Sigurðsson. He's open. Lallana and van Dijk have retreated too far. And he's really accurate in those positions.

And dammit, not again.

But no, not again. Did you not learn anything from the last week?

For some reason, it's different now. Liverpool get late goals now. Liverpool get late winners now.

2-1 v Leicester, despite going behind in the third minute, with Liverpool's winner in the 76th minute. 2-1 at Burnley, despite conceding an equalizer in the 88th minute, with Liverpool's winner in the 94th minute. And now, 2-1 v Everton, despite what happened late month, with Liverpool's winner in 84th minute. A set play winner, for the second match in a row. A winner from Liverpool's new record signing, on his debut.

Sure, maybe it's variance. Swings and roundabouts. Three consecutive 2-1 wins, three consecutive late winners, after going so long without.

But maybe the team needed to prove to themselves that they're capable of it. Maybe they're finding, they've found, that resilience we've been begging for. Maybe this isn't the same side, same squad which stuttered and stumbled in September. Maybe this winter won't be last winter.

And, also, Virgil van Dijk. Wow. What a start.