21 April 2018

Liverpool 2-2 West Brom

Goals:
Ings 4'
Salah 72'
Livermore 79'
Rondon 88'

I thought we had solved this problem.

Liverpool hadn't conceded from a set play since the end of January? Welp.

Liverpool hadn't dropped points after taking a lead since the beginning of February? Welp.

Liverpool hadn't thrown away a two-goal lead since the end of December? Welp.

I preferred the new Liverpool to the old Liverpool.

Annoying. Annoying pitch, annoying opposition, annoying referee, annoying result.

We got the new Liverpool early on. It wasn't pretty, but it was enough, made more so by another early goal. Danny Ings, his first under Jürgen Klopp. His first in 930 days. From a well-worked set play, Short, Mané center with the defense moving, Wijnaldum's touch setting up the striker.

West Brom did well to prevent a second goal: Dawson deflecting Salah's chance in the 15th minute, Foster denying Ings in 42nd. Liverpool did well – or were lucky – to survive a five-minute stretch with five corners and an almost tap-in from Rodriguez, usually presented to them by mistakes from the makeshift back four.

And then West Brom uglies up the second half, with a lot of help from Stuart Attwell, who made clear why he's one of the least-used select group referees. A clear penalty on Ings ignored when Dawson steps across him and knees him over. Hegazi's punch – a literal punch – into Ings' midsection either ignored or unseen. Multiple card-worthy challenges left unpunished; 12 West Brom fouls, and there should have been more, without a single West Brom booking. All played on a desert dry pitch that got worse as the match went on.

But Liverpool were still okay. Liverpool were pushing through it. Not enough shots, not enough good play, but it still looked a lot like matches that Liverpool have won in recent weeks: Newcastle, Palace, and Bournemouth. Sure, it was a grind, but it seemed to be enough, especially once Salah got Liverpool's second. His 31st in the league, tying the record. His 41st of the season. The beautiful man.

It should have been enough. But Liverpool make changes to alter the shape. Liverpool concede on a scrambled corner – West Brom's seventh of the match – with Livermore slamming in after Karius' initial save and with Karius screaming for a foul. Liverpool retreat. Liverpool change the shape even more, with Lovren on for Salah. And Liverpool concede again, from an unnecessary free kick after Gomez gives the ball away and fouls – an unbelievably soft foul, I might add – and Rondon smashes in a near post header because Lovren's screwed the offside trap.

Fun times.

I, of course, worry first and foremost about what this means for Tuesday's semifinal. It went fairly badly. It ended really badly.

I am going to try to remain hopeful that this is what can happen when you replace three of the back four – two just back from injury, one for his just his fourth appearance in 2018 (and his first league start since November), and your center-back leader has to play on his "wrong" side. That this is what can happen when a Champions League semifinal is lingering in the backs of your minds no matter how much you're trying to focus on what's in front of you. That this is what can happen when you're facing a home side who's playing for pride in front of a new manager. That this is what can happen when you're facing a side that's already annoyed the hell out of you this season with a 0-0 draw at Anfield in the league and a 2-3 monstrosity in the FA Cup.

I am very excited for Liverpool to not have to face West Brom next season. And I want to be churlish and say "you're still going down, West Brom, and Liverpool are still probably finishing fourth."

You're still going down West Brom. But Liverpool have not sewn up fourth just yet.

20 April 2018

Liverpool at West Brom 04.21.18

7:30am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
2-3 West Brom (h; FA Cup) 01.27.18
0-0 (h) 12.13.17
1-0 Liverpool (a) 04.16.17
2-1 Liverpool (h) 10.22.16

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 3-0 Bournemouth (h); 2-1 City (a); 0-0 Everton (a)
West Brom: 1-0 United (a); 1-1 Swansea (h); 1-2 Burnley (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Salah 30; Firmino 15; Mané 10; Coutinho 7; Can, Oxlade-Chamberlain 3; Sturridge 2; Alexander-Arnold, Henderson, Klavan, Lovren, Matip, Wijnaldum 1
West Brom: Rodriguez 7; Rondon 6; Dawson, Evans, Hegazi, Robson-Kanu 2; Barry, Chadli, Field, McClean, Morrison, Phillips 1

Referee: Stuart Attwell (LFCHistory) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Karius
Trent A-A Lovren van Dijk Robertson
Alex O-C Henderson Milner
Salah Firmino Mané

You may have heard that Liverpool have a Champions League semi-final against Roma on Tuesday.

You may also have some idea what that's going to do to tomorrow's XI. I do not.

My suspicion is that it changes nothing.

Maybe Klavan comes in for Lovren, just back from injury. Maybe Gomez, now back from injury, comes in for Alexander-Arnold. It's still three from four in midfield, and Wijnaldum could easily replace any of the above. But I don't see wholesale rest or rotation.

I understand the desire to leave out key players. Liverpool are heavily reliant on that front three for goals, Liverpool only have four available central midfielders. That defense has finally gotten pretty good with those four players involved, and one's injury prone and two are still pretty young. And while tomorrow's match is still necessary in the top-four race, Tuesday's match is one of the most important this club's seen in a decade. But Klopp et al have been planning this season's training and fitness schedule to peak right now. But Klopp et al will not want to take the foot off the gas prior to that semifinal, and with the fight for next season's Champions League places still somewhat in the balance.

Klopp et al will want Liverpool to keep doing Liverpool. They've done a fairly good job of that over the last couple of months.

Meanwhile, West Brom. They might not be bad anymore? Sure, they're still bottom the table, by a good bit. They're almost certain to be relegated. But they also just beat Manchester United at Manchester United to hand City the title when City couldn't do it themselves a week before, winning 1-0 thanks to a scrambled corner in the 73rd minute.

And that win at United looked a lot like West Brom's draw at Anfield in December,aside from Rodriguez's winner. West Brom were deep. United were slow. And West Brom sucked all the energy and all the life out of the opposition, holding them at bay far too easily for United's liking.

Not to mention that there's also Liverpool's loss to West Brom in the FA Cup two months ago. Self-inflicted nonsense despite going a goal up within five minutes, with an added helping of VAR fun. That was arguably the last time that Liverpool have been bad defensively.

But West Brom were very much helped by Liverpool in that last meeting. West Brom were very much helped in that United match by United's style of play. By United's pace of play. Liverpool – when Liverpool actually do Liverpool – do not play at that tempo.

I suspect we'll still see the same XI as against United. Foster; Nyom, Dawson, Hegazi, Gibbs; Phillips, Livermore, Brunt, McClean; Rondon, Rodriguez. Maybe Krychowiak or Yacob come into midfield in pace of Brunt. Or maybe Field at left-back. Morrison is out; Evans, Robson-Kanu, and Barry are doubtful; Sturridge – who's healthy again! – is ineligible.

West Brom will play two up top, and those will be the only two players in Liverpool's half for the majority of the game. There will be a lot of long balls, mainly from Foster and the center-backs, to those two strikers. West Brom will have two speedy wingers on the flanks in the hopes of counter-attacking when Liverpool throw bodies forward. West Brom will have those long balls, those counters, and maybe some set plays, and they'll hope for the best on at least one of them, but their main goal will be keeping Liverpool out.

While West Brom aren't mathematically relegated, West Brom are already relegated. Making up at least nine points in four games almost certainly isn't happening. But if last week's any indication, they're not going out without a fight. "A fight" is all they have left, and Darren Moore's only job for the rest of the season is to make sure they continue to fight. For places in next season's Championship side or for transfers to other clubs.

West Brom have already given Liverpool a fight twice this season, ensuring that at least one relegated side will take points off of Liverpool for the fourth consecutive season, and for the 15th time in the last 16 seasons.

I demand vengeance for those previous two meetings. I demand vengeance for 15 of those last 16 seasons. I demand a head on a spike, in full view of a Roma side paying attention to what Liverpool's up to this weekend. A Roma side who will rest a lot more players than Liverpool rest, regardless of Liverpool's XI. I demand that Liverpool do Liverpool, for the first time this season against this opposition.

16 April 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 3-0 Bournemouth

Previous Match Infographics: Manchester City [CL] (a), Everton (a), Manchester City [CL] (h), Crystal Palace (a), Watford (h), United (a), Porto (h), Newcastle (h), West Ham (h), Porto (a), Southampton (a), Tottenham (h), Huddersfield (a), Swansea (a), 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. 



Unlike last season, I'm starting to enjoy Liverpool's games against Bournemouth.

Whether Bournemouth try to attack Liverpool – as in the game at Bournemouth – or try to sit deep – as on Saturday – Liverpool still absolutely Liverpool them.

Liverpool get chances. 20 Liverpool shots, the first time they've reached that total since the 4-1 win over West Ham back on February 24, ten matches ago. Two clear-cut chances within seven minutes, the first missed but the second scored. Liverpool took 21 shots the last time these sides met, in a much more open match.

Liverpool get goals. An opening goal in the first 15 minutes for the 12th time this season.
Mané, Salah, and Firmino all score in the same match for the seventh time this season. Mo Salah does moreMo Salah things, and "finally" gets to that 40-goal mark. Sadio Mané's now on 17 goals for the season, his highest total since moving to England. Firmino's scored 25, the highest total in his career.

Liverpool can press. Even though Bournemouth played deeper than usual, Bournemouth also still tried to play out from the back. And it went not so well. 12 of Liverpool's 26 successful tackles came in Bournemouth's half. That's the highest amount of tackles in the opposition half in a Liverpool match this season, and not far off the highest proportion of successful tackles. Only Tottenham (h), Hoffenheim (h), Maribor (h), Sevilla (h), and Bournemouth (a) saw a higher percentage of successful tackles in the opposition half. Incidentally, the other match against Bournemouth was the second-highest proportion of the season.

Liverpool's top tacklers on Saturday? Henderson with six, Oxlade-Chamberlain with five, and Firmino and Wijnaldum with four. All of each's attempted tackles were successful. The midfield, breaking up the opposition before the opposition could get going. But also breaking down the opposition. All three starting central midfielders created at least two chances, something that hadn't happened since the 1-1 draw with Burnley back in September. And Wijnaldum led the team with four, which is his high for the season.

And, yes, once again, Liverpool can defend.

That's now nine clean sheets in the last 14 games. There have been only three opposition clear-cut chances scored over that stretch, with Karius saving seven and five put off-target. Liverpool haven't conceded from a corner since Swansea's winner at the end of January – 57 corners ago. Bournemouth had five corners on Saturday. Bournemouth took zero shots between the ninth and 81st minutes, with the game kinda sorta still in the balance. Or, more accurately, Bournemouth were allowed zero shots between the ninth and 81st minutes.

Liverpool did this even with four potential starters missing – Can, Gomez, Matip, and Lallana – and with Lovren picking up a knock in the last 15 minutes. Liverpool did this despite a potential let-down, drained after the mid-week euphoria. Liverpool have not been especially good after European matches this season.



Four wins prior to Saturday's, but two of those early in the season after the qualifiers against Hoffenheim and the other two against West Ham. More importantly, five draws and two losses. Losses at United and Tottenham – annoying but almost understandable – but those draws, 0-0 and 1-1 with both tired and rotated sides. Hangover games. This was not Liverpool at its best, but it was not a hangover game.

This was Liverpool finishing the season as they should. Finishing what they started. This was Liverpool doing Liverpool, despite opportunities to do otherwise.

14 April 2018

Liverpool 3-0 Bournemouth

Goals:
Mané 7'
Salah 69'
Firmino 90'

Yawn.

I mean, not really. This Liverpool side remains insanely fun to watch. They're good at the football. They force a side who likes to play football to constantly sit with 10 players behind the ball because otherwise they know Liverpool will probably run riot over them.

But Liverpool took the lead within seven minutes – Bournemouth can't get out after a Liverpool corner, Henderson cross, Mané saved but Mané unstoppable – and Liverpool never ever ever looked remotely like relinquishing it. It wasn't full throttle – and at this stage of the season, after the week Liverpool have had, you wouldn't expect it to be – but it was absolutely comprehensive.

The only way this could have been more comfortable was if Liverpool could have gotten the game-killing second goal earlier. No matter how good the football has been, there's always a lingering concern at 1-0 that if one crazy or bad thing happens, all the good's thrown away. That concerned voice in the back of your head has been a lot quieter lately, though.

And Liverpool probably should have gotten the second goal sooner. And all I can really blame is Mo Salah trying too hard to get his 40th of the season, his 30th of the Premier League campaign. Pushing a shot wide before Mané's opener, a few tame or wild shots from distance with teammates in better positions, unable to control when open in the box after Mané's lovely scooped pass. It feels like the first time Salah had forced things this season.

But otherwise, the first half was Henderson flying around, Firmino pressing like a madman, Oxlade-Chamberlain trying to break lines, fullbacks bombing forward, Wijnaldum and the central defenders recycling. The ball permanent in Bournemouth's half, the ball permanently with Liverpool. Lather, rinse, repeat, but no more goals.

The tempo unsurprisingly dropped in the second half, with Liverpool still in control but more patient, less potent. A few more shots from distance, a few more direct long balls over the top. But then Mo Salah. The irrepressible. Alexander-Arnold's early cross to the only spot that's leading to a chance, and Mo Salah's acrobatic, back-to-goal header looping over Begovic. It'd be unbelievable if it wasn't Mo Salah, and it's now one of my favorite degree-of-difficulty headers that I can remember, after Suarez from outside the box against West Brom and Luis Garcia doing similar against Anderlecht.

It's Mo Salah. Surprisingly frustrating for 68 minutes, then utterly unconscious in one brilliant moment to remind us that, yes, it's Mo Salah and you should be very afraid. Always.

And we're all but done here.

This is the problem with holding on at 0-1 down, hoping Liverpool are going to make a mistake and you can sneak a draw. "Just keep it close, lads, who knows what can happen." Because it rarely remains one goal with this Liverpool.

Bournemouth took just one shot for the first 81 minutes of the match. Jordon Ibe, right after Mané's opener, from about 30 yards out and about that far from troubling Karius. 74 minutes without, the majority of it when you're only losing by one goal. It's probably not the best way to approach a match with Liverpool. Unfortunately for the opposition, there's seemingly no good way to approach a match with Liverpool these days.

Liverpool scrambled at the end to keep the clean sheet; Lovren picked up a knock, soon to be replaced by Klavan, and Liverpool got too deep, saved by Mousset unable to put a cross on goal then saved by Karius on Gosling's clear-cut chance rebound. But then Firmino gets the third when fed by Oxlade-Chamberlain on the break, and it's 3-0 again. The 23rd time this season that Liverpool have scored three or more goals and the 14th time Liverpool have scored three or more with the opposition scoring none. The seventh time that Mané, Firmino, and Salah have all scored in the same match.

Yawn.

This front three is too good, and when you can combine that with the midfield doing what they did and the defense defending like they did, it's a problem.

Welcome to trying to play against Liverpool, especially at Anfield, for the vast majority of the Premier League. You can play your football at home and get beaten 4-0 or try to shut up shop and congest the final third and get beaten 3-0. Your choice.

13 April 2018

Liverpool v Bournemouth 04.14.18

12:30pm ET, live in the US on NBC

Last four head-to-head:
4-0 Liverpool (a) 12.17.17
2-2 (h) 04.05.17
3-4 Bournemouth (a) 12.04.16
2-1 Liverpool (a) 04.17.16

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-1 City (a); 0-0 Everton (a); 3-0 City (h)
Bournemouth: 2-2 Palace (h); 2-2 Watford (a); 2-1 West Brom (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Salah 29; Firmino 14; Mané 9; Coutinho 7; Can, Oxlade-Chamberlain 3; Sturridge 2; Alexander-Arnold, Henderson, Klavan, Lovren, Matip, Wijnaldum 1
Bournemouth: Wilson 7; King 6; Stanislas 5; Defoe 4; Ake, S Cook, Gosling, Ibe, Mousset, Surman 2; Arter, Daniels, A Smith 1

Referee: Chris Kavanagh (WhoScored)

This will be the first time that Kavanagh has refereed a Liverpool match.

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

Normally, I'd start off by asking whether Liverpool would rest players after Tuesday's exertions. That City tie was draining, and the majority involved played three games in six days: two incredibly difficult, one a derby that almost wasn't even a derby. And after this, there's a week before the next match, at bottom-of-the-table manager-less West Brom before we get the Champions League semi-finals.

Ha. As if Liverpool have enough healthy bodies to rest players.

The injury list remains extensive and not really getting better. Can, Lallana, Gomez, and Matip are long-term, although the first three *might* be back before the end of the season. And now both Clyne and Klavan are probably out with minor issues picked up in training.

So, once again, it's a case of who's available and go with that.

Henderson will come back into the side, meaning one from Milner, Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Wijnaldum get a match off. Maybe one of the front three is left on the bench for either Solanke or Ings; Salah's the most likely after a groin injury in the first leg against City but he's still Mo Salah and I love him and I want him on the pitch at all times. Maaaaaaaaaybe Moreno comes in for Robertson. But that's it. This is the Liverpool we've got but at least the Liverpool we've got is pretty dang good.

Meanwhile, Bournemouth. Look, I've got a lot of time for Eddie Howe. Sure, Bournemouth have had a very mid-table season. Bad for a while, better since the turn of the new year, concrete near the top of the "everyone else after the top six." 38 points, 11th place, ten points and goal difference outside the relegation zone.

But Bournemouth, unlike your Evertons, want to play football. Bournemouth don't want to box clever, Bournemouth want to box. They've scored more goals than all but nine other teams in the division, but they've conceded more goals than all but four. Bournemouth can be fun, and there isn't enough fun in "everyone else after the top six" part of the league.

Bournemouth have scored in 15 consecutive league games. That's more than Liverpool. And that could well be a problem, despite the defensive improvement we've been lauding lately. But Bournemouth have also kept a clean sheet in just one of those games. And it wasn't the game you'd expect: a 3-0 win at Chelsea at the end of January. It doesn't happen often, but maybe just maybe they both can box and box clever in these types of matches.

And Bournemouth boxing has gone well in previous games against Liverpool. Last season's two meetings were two of the most painful, especially the 4-3 at Bournemouth, coming back from two goals down in the final 30 minutes with an injury time winner, but don't sleep on the 2-2 at Anfield. A late-season Liverpool line-up. Liverpool conceding early from an error. A struggle. Two goals bracketing halftime to take the lead, but then pressure, but then a stomach punch, but then a late equalizer.

But then there was this season's meeting. It's a lot harder to box with this season's Liverpool. Bournemouth tried to go toe-to-toe with Liverpool. High-line defense, play out from the back, attack open spaces. Get at those Liverpool defenders who made so many mistakes when these sides met last season. And it went very, very, very badly for them.

Bournemouth will probably play the same 4-4-1-1 we saw in the last meeting, that we usually see from Bournemouth. My best guess is Begovic; Francis, S Cook, Ake, Daniels; Fraser, L Cook, Gosling, Pugh; King, Wilson. But Defoe could start up front, Mousset on the flanks, Surman in midfield. Stanislas and Adam Smith are out injured, while Ibe's questionable after illness and Mings has just returned to training after missing almost the entire season.

The mantra for tomorrow is simple. Don't be a let-down. Liverpool have two league games before AS Roma and a Champions League semi-final becomes a thing. Liverpool are coming off a huge win at Manchester City, a huge step in the progression of this club in progression to the last four left in Europe.

But there's still the league. There's still a surmountable gap between Liverpool in the CL spots for next season and Liverpool not. There are still five games to play and potentially nine points needed.

These are three of them. And they're on offer at Anfield, where Liverpool have yet to lose this season. And Bournemouth owe us points. So go get them.

11 April 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 2-1 Manchester City

Previous Match Infographics: Everton (a), Manchester City [CL], Crystal Palace (a), Watford (h), United (a), Porto (h), Newcastle (h), West Ham (h), Porto (a), Southampton (a), Tottenham (h), Huddersfield (a), Swansea (a), 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.)

There are more than a few stories in this tie, but the story I'm sticking with is same as the story of the 4-3 between these sides at Anfield. Liverpool took more of their chances than Manchester City did. Liverpool took chances that City didn't, that City couldn't.

Liverpool had just five shots yesterday. That's the joint-lowest I can remember since 2011-12, when I started paying attention to these things, level with a 1-0 win over Aston Villa during the Suarez-less start of 2013-14.

Liverpool scored twice from those five shots. Yesterday's opener in the 56th minute, a lot like Liverpool's opener a week ago. Liverpool with some sustained possession, something they found impossible in the first half, but then a defense-splitting pass. Wijnaldum to Oxlade-Chamberlain to Salah to Mané, bursting into the box, denied by Ederson after arguably fouled by Laporte. But guess who's first to the loose ball in the box? Mo Salah, for the 39th time this season, another he-makes-it-look-so-easy finish with a chip over Otamendi. Tie over. 20 minutes later, Firmino pressing Otamendi, Firmino interception, Firmino on goal, Firmino goal. Poor Nicolas Otamendi. We're reaching Torres v Vidic levels here.

Quickly slicing through the opposition and Mo Salah doing Mo Salah things for the first. A pressing turnover leading directly to a goal for the second. Liverpool doing Liverpool. Both goals were clear-cut chances, as were two of Liverpool's three a week ago.

But, boy, did Liverpool have to hold onto their butts before Liverpool could do Liverpool.

Pep Guardiola certainly went for it. It wasn't City's more-familiar 4-3-3, but a 3-1-4-2 that piled as many dangerous attackers on the pitch as possible. None of this square pegs, round holes, out-thinking yourself, but three defenders, with Fernandinho helping if need be – and six or seven attackers coming forward endlessly.

And it was terrifying, at least in the first half, especially as it took City less than two minutes to pull one back, self-inflicted by Liverpool as Karius passed to an unwilling van Dijk and van Dijk pleaded for a foul and gave the ball away rather than get rid, Bernardo's interception, Fernandinho into Sterling, centered for Jesus, with Lovren trying to mark both as van Dijk's wholly out of frame.

But that was Manchester City's only goal, from 31 shots over two legs. Manchester City put just three of those 31 shots on-target, all yesterday, with only Gabriel Jesus' goal from inside the box. Jesus' goal was City's only clear-cut chance in 180 minutes, despite 66% possession last week and 68% possession yesterday. Even though this Manchester City side has been the most potent that the Premier League has seen in years.

City took 20 shots yesterday! That's a lot, especially against Liverpool. Who hadn't allowed that many shots in a match since Klopp became manager. And 12 of those 20 shots were blocked by a Liverpool player, by far Liverpool's high for the season. Everybody got involved: four blocks from Milner; three from Lovren; two from Oxlade-Chamberlain, and one each from van Dijk, Robertson, Firmino, and Ings. Eight of Liverpool's 12 blocked shots came in the first half.

Sure, it's probably a different match if Sané's "offside" goal counts just before halftime. By the letter of the law, it's still confusing. The last touch before the strike came off Milner, but was it on purpose? Does "on purpose" even matter? Jon Moss, in that match against Tottenham didn't think so. The rulebook, as is the rulebook's wont far too often, leaves it open to interpretation. I'd be furious if it happened to Liverpool, I can of course rationalize it when it happens against.

Either way, Liverpool were lucky. As Liverpool were when Robertson didn't concede a penalty against Sterling. As Liverpool were when Mané wasn't sent off for slipping into Otamendi – in retrospect, yellow was almost harsh, but in real time it looked bad. As Liverpool were when Bernando Silva's first half strike deflected off Lovren's head onto the post.

I have written it approximately a thousand times and I will probably write it again. It is better to be lucky than good in sport. It is best to be lucky and good.

Liverpool rode the lightning, and finished off the first half with a surprisingly good chance from some surprisingly Liverpool football, and that was the turning point. Then the second half at City looked a lot like the second half at Anfield but with bonus Liverpool goals. Possession without reward, and far better from Liverpool than the first half in all areas. Sure, Salah's strike absolutely deflated City, meaning they'd need four goals in little more than half an hour, but once Liverpool scored, Liverpool were in control. And, to be fair, Salah's goal was the first shot of the half for either side.

Liverpool made adjustments to free players up, whether rotating the front three so Salah's central and Firmino's tracking back on the left, or switching the midfielders to offer the fullbacks more protection, or just getting the side more compact: the defense further forward, the midfielders closer to the attackers. Liverpool stopped holding onto their butts and actually played football, out-possessing City for the first ten minutes of the second half then ruthlessly taking advantage when given the opportunity. That was the Liverpool we needed to see.

And once again, it wasn't the Manchester City that City wanted to see. City unable to put all that pressure and possession to use, City unable to put that early mistake and goal to use. All those errant and blocked shots. Sané offside seven different times yesterday, and often pocketed by Trent Alexander-Arnold (six interceptions, three successful tackles) when he wasn't. Again. 17 corners from City over two legs, with every single one competently dealt with by Liverpool. Liverpool haven't conceded from a corner since the 0-1 loss at Swansea two-and-a-half months ago. 15 games ago. 52 corners ago. Maybe we can put this narrative to rest.

So, even though City are aggrieved and will stay aggrieved, Liverpool go through. Deservedly so, in my obviously unbiased opinion. Even if City were the "better" side for approximately half of the tie – the second half last week, the first half yesterday – Liverpool were better at the sharper end, both in scoring when it mattered in both legs and defending when needed in both legs.

And now Liverpool are in the last four of Europe's premier club competition. Yes, yes, knockout competitions can do crazy things, but it's also not unfair to say that these are the four "best" teams. Even if they're not the four best, they're the four last.

And Liverpool are one of them, for the first time in a decade. For the first time in a decade after making the semi-finals in three of the four previous seasons: 2004-05, 2006-07, and 2007-08.

We're back, baby. Up Jürgen Klopp's European Terror Reds.

09 April 2018

Liverpool at Manchester City 04.10.18

Liverpool lead 3-0 on aggregate

2:45pm ET, live in the US on Fox Sports 1

Last four head-to-head:
3-0 Liverpool (h) 04.04.18
4-3 Liverpool (h) 01.14.18
0-5 City (a) 09.09.17
1-1 (a) 03.19.17

CL results:
Liverpool: 3-0 City (h); 0-0 Porto (h); 5-0 Porto (a); 7-0 Spartak (h); 3-3 Sevilla (a); 3-0 Maribor (h); 7-0 Maribor (a); 1-1 Spartak (a); 2-2 Sevilla (h); 4-2 Hoffenheim (h); 2-1 Hoffenheim (a)
City: 0-3 Liverpool (a); 1-2 Basel (h); 4-0 Basel (a); 1-2 Shakhtar (a); 1-0 Feyenoord (h); 4-2 Napoli (a); 2-1 Napoli (h); 2-0 Shakhtar (h); 4-0 Feyenoord (a)

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-0 Everton (a); 3-0 City (a); 2-1 Palace (a)
City: 2-3 United (h); 0-3 Liverpool (a); 3-1 Everton (a)

Goalscorers (Europe):
Liverpool: Firmino, Salah 8; Mané 7; Coutinho 5; Can 3; Alexander-Arnold, Oxlade-Chamberlain 2; Sturridge 1
City: Agüero, Sterling 4; Jesus, Stones 3; Gündogan 2; de Bruyne, Otamendi, B Silva 1

Referee: Antonio Mateu Lahoz (ESP)

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

23 times.

That's how many times this season that Manchester City have scored three or more goals in a match. 23 matches out of 50 in all competitions. Almost half.

Including, as you may remember, a 5-0 win against Liverpool back in September. Which, yeah, explanatory, possibly unrepeatable excuses, but it still happened.

This quarterfinal is not over.

Liverpool's XI is straight-forward, as long as both Salah and Robertson recover from their respective minor injuries. Matip, Can, Gomez, and Lallana remain out long-term, Henderson's suspended. The defense basically has to be the defense, the midfield has to be the midfield, and the front three will be the front three if at all possible.

Of course, the midfield remains the most frightening. Liverpool's three most attacking players of the five who vie for starting spots. Wijnaldum as the deepest, for just the second time in his Liverpool career following an encouraging performance against a far less attacking Everton. Playing against de Bruyne, Silva, and Fernandinho is gonna be a lot different than against Rooney, Davies, and Schneiderlin.

Unless Salah won't be fit to start. That's the most frightening. And I have no idea what Liverpool will do if Salah can't go. Oxlade-Chamberlain, who's started in the front three or wide in a 4-4-2, has to play in midfield due to absences if Liverpool stick with 4-3-3. Woodburn's back in training but hasn't featured for the first team yet this season. Hell, even Moreno would be an option on the left wing rather than at full-back, with Mané switching to the right, but he's as doubtful as Salah due to injury. I guess it'd be either Firmino on the right with Ings or Solanke – probably Ings up front – or a 4-4-2 with a front six of Oxlade-Chamberlain, Wijnaldum, Milner, Mané; Firmino, Ings/Solanke, but neither option fills me with optimism.

Meanwhile, Pep's gonna Pep, but I have to believe we're done with the nonsense seen in the last leg. This must be his "strongest" XI. The most familiar XI. Ederson; Walker, Kompany, Otamendi, Delph; de Bruyne, Fernandinho, Silva; Sterling, Agüero, Sané. The only possible change should be Stones for Otamendi – who has not had the best of games in his last two against Liverpool – or Kompany – who might not be able to start three games in six days. But no "center-back at left-back." No "de Bruyne playing deeper." No "Gündogan on the right." City's best players in City's most familiar formation.

Of course, that familiar formation – albeit with Bernardo Silva as a false nine and Gündogan rather than de Bruyne for the first 70 minutes – roared out to a 2-0 lead on Saturday before capitulating against United, conceding three goals in 16 minutes to their nearest rivals. They had the chance to cement the league against the Evil Empire and they failed spectacularly, first shutting off, seeming thinking the game and the league were won, then unable to turn it back on. I have never seen City give up three goals in a short span. That just does not happen, especially not in City's last two matches against Liverpool. Wink, nudge, etc.

Liverpool have to learn from the last leg. For better or for worse, Liverpool have to do Liverpool. They can't sit back and go "sure, score three." Yes, Liverpool defended egregiously well in the last leg, shutting City down in the second half, protecting that three-goal lead, but that can't and won't happen every game, despite Liverpool's recent defensive improvement. Manchester City absolutely love playing against packed, deep defenses who don't want the ball. It's what they do best.

Liverpool have to full-throated press, guns blazing, front three vicious. Liverpool have to blitzkrieg counter as soon as Liverpool gain possession, wherever Liverpool gain possession. Liverpool have to rattle them. Liverpool have to score – not to cement the gap and require City to need five goals, but because Liverpool thrive when Liverpool score and Liverpool don't when Liverpool don't. Liverpool have to come out and announce, "This is what we do. Fear us."

Liverpool have conceded three goals in five matches this season. 3-3 at Watford, 0-5 at City, 3-3 v Sevilla, 3-3 at Arsenal, 4-3 v City. Yes, twice against City, but only the 0-5 saw Liverpool fail to score. Not only can we blame Mané's red card for that, it also happened seven months ago. Liverpool have gotten a bit better since then.

Liverpool's game is Liverpool scoring.

As in the last leg.

Do Liverpool. And the rest should follow.

Visualized: Liverpool 0-0 Everton

Previous Match Infographics: Manchester City [CL], Crystal Palace (a), Watford (h), United (a), Porto (h), Newcastle (h), West Ham (h), Porto (a), Southampton (a), Tottenham (h), Huddersfield (a), Swansea (a), 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. 



There remains very little to say about this match. Which remains very weird for a Merseyside Derby.

No goals, no cards, and aside from two saves from Pickford and two Everton misses late in the match plus that first half save from Karius, not much goalmouth action to care about.

But that's where these sides are now. Liverpool have other priorities, and a lot of key players missing. Everton have become incredibly Sam Allardyce, and are now 17 matches without a win in this fixture.

So let's focus on a couple of facets which will play a big part in Tuesday's Champions League decider.

First, step forward Gini Wijnaldum. Actually, no. Stay deep, Gini Wijnaldum.

This was the first time Wijnaldum's played as a lone holding midfielder for Liverpool. And it went pretty well!



(You may notice a discrepancy in Wijnaidum's passing totals here versus the above infographic. The map I used for this came from Squawka, which doesn't count free kicks. WhoScored's total does.)

Sure, there's a big gap forward and to the right, and I'm inclined to blame Henderson and Ings. But blame isn't really the right word. Henderson, deeper than Milner and often on the same line as Wijnaldum, was responsible for more of Liverpool's passes up that flank, to Clyne, Ings, and Solanke. And at the same time, Ings didn't show enough for passes out of midfield.

But there's still a reasonable amount of progressive passes, mainly to Milner, who was Liverpool's most threatening attacker. More importantly, Wijnaldum showed for the ball, something he's had issues with both away from home and when further forward. He was comfortable on the ball. He kept possession of the ball. Add three successful dribbles, turning away from a pressing player and striding out of the center circle, an interception, an aerial duel win, and a handful of recoveries in the middle of the pitch, and it was a fairly comprehensive performance as a #6.

Which Liverpool will very much need against City, who will ask Wijnaldum a lot more questions than Everton did. There are going to be a lot more players around Wijnaldum when he's in possession, not just Davies, Schneiderlin, Gueye, or Rooney coming at him one at a time.

Second, Liverpool's defense. It's still pretty good, guys.

Liverpool have now kept seven clean sheets in last ten games, including all three Champions League games. Only two sides have taken more than eight shots during that ten-game stretch: City last week and Porto in the 0-0 at Anfield – both in the Champions League and both without scoring. Liverpool haven't allowed more than seven shots in a league match since the draw against Tottenham more than two months ago.

And Liverpool's opponents have scored just one clear-cut chance over these ten games. Liverpool have allowed nine in total – which isn't great but still less than one per match – but almost half of those came in Liverpool's win at Crystal Palace. The one scored came in that match as well: Milivojevic's penalty. As Tottenham's one clear-cut chance scored also came from the spot, Liverpool haven't had a non-penalty clear-cut chance scored against them since Swansea in mid-January. During that span, Karius has saved six clear-cut chances and the opposition's missed five. And none of those clear-cut chances have come in the Champions League.

Yes, everyone's playing pretty well – Robertson, Karius, Alexander-Arnold, etc – but my main takeaways is still that Southampton probably should have asked for more than £75m for Virgil van Dijk.

So, yeah, this game was a training exercise. Which, again, is super weird to say about a Merseyside Derby, and Everton should very much take offense at that.

But from Liverpool's point of view, it was game time for Clyne, Ings, and Solanke. It was match practice for Wijnaldum in a position he'll have to play more of during what's left of this season. It was evidence that while Liverpool are obviously weaker without Firmino and Salah, Liverpool can still control a game despite all those missing players and changes to the XI. The defense is getting better and the squad's getting deeper – Liverpool were missing its two top scorers, two central midfielders, and three defenders, and still kept a clean sheet and arguably could have won had Solanke taken one of his early chances. These are obviously good things.

But tomorrow's match will ask Liverpool a lot more and a lot tougher questions than Everton could or did.