17 November 2017

Liverpool v Southampton 11.18.17

10am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports Gold (uggggggh)

Last four head-to-head:
0-0 (h) 05.07.17
0-1 Southampton (h; League Cup) 01.25.17
0-1 Southampton (a; League Cup) 01.11.17
0-0 (a) 11.19.16

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 4-1 West Ham (a); 3-0 Maribor (h); 3-0 Huddersfield (h)
Southampton: 0-1 Burnley (h); 1-1 Brighton (a); 1-0 West Brom (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Salah 7; Firmino, Mané 3; Coutinho, Sturridge 2; Alex O-C, Henderson, Matip, Wijnaldum 1
Southampton: Gabbiadini 3; Davis 2; Austin, Boufal, Tadic, Yoshida 1

Referee: Mike Jones (LFC History) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Mignolet
Gomez Matip Lovren Moreno
Wijnaldum Henderson Can
Salah Firmino Coutinho

Does... does Liverpool have an almost fully fit squad? And right after an international break?

Coutinho should be fit enough to start, having featured in Brazil's internationals. Mané will be checked on today, leaving early from the Senegal squad after the first match but with Liverpool seemingly not very worried. And Adam Lallana is available, for the first time this season.

It is a strange feeling. And I'm unsure how Liverpool will line up with almost everyone available. It's not something we've had to contemplate that often.

We can rule out Lallana starting, at least for another week or so – this ain't gonna be a "Mané will only play 20 minutes" thing. We can also probably rule out the 4-4-2 we saw before the break against West Ham; I wouldn't entirely dismiss the idea but it's probably hard to shoehorn everyone into that formation with Coutinho and Henderson back in the fold; Coutinho especially doesn't seem to have a place in that system. Whether Mané's fit decides the front three – either Coutinho plays there if he's not, or Coutinho plays in midfield with one of Henderson, Can, or Wijnaldum making way. And once Lallana returns, your guess is as good as mine. I can absolutely see Lallana in the role Oxlade-Chamberlain played at West Ham.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the pitch, don't get too shouty if Lovren returns in place of Klavan. He's usually preferred, no matter his greater propensity for massive hilarious errors, although that this match is against his old club may give Klopp a few more reservations. And given Southampton's complete lack of attacking desire in both league fixtures last season, I wouldn't be surprised to see Alexander-Arnold at right-back rather than Gomez, even if I'm wary of how the "ONE FULLBACK SITS. ALWAYS SITS." works with Trent rather than Joe.

As for the opposition. Southampton have been definitively mid-table so far this season. 13th in the league, only two points behind eighth but only four ahead of 17th. And while they've underperformed relative to last season, they're still very Southampton: 15th in goals scored but 7th in goals conceded, having let in six fewer goals than Liverpool.

Only Crystal Palace, Bournemouth, Swansea, and Huddersfield have scored less than Southampton. Southampton have scored more than once in just one of the last nine league matches, in a 2-2 draw against Newcastle a month ago. But Southampton are getting shots; only Liverpool, City, Tottenham, and Arsenal average more per game. And they're not bad shots – Southampton are almost exactly league average in xG and take almost 60% of their shots from inside the box.

Four clean sheets in Liverpool's last six matches not withstanding, facing a side that probably should be scoring more than it has seems troublesome. Especially when Liverpool are winless against said side in their last five meetings, failing to score in each of last season's four. Liverpool had a combined 32 shots in the two league matches last season. Southampton had seven. Both matches ended 0-0.

And Southampton's XI will be a lot like that faced last season. Forster; Cedric, Hoedt, van Dijk, Bertrand; Romeu, Davis; Tadic, Boufal, Redmond; Gabbiadini. Maybe Yoshida rather than Hoedt at center-back; maybe James Ward-Prowse or Højbjerg in midfield rather than Boufal or Tadic, with Davis pushed further forward. Shane Long and Charlie Austin are likely substitutes off the bench, especially if Southampton are chasing the game. Their most notable summer signing, midfielder Mario Lemina, is out injured.

Liverpool are three games unbeaten, scoring at least three in all three. If we ignore the Tottenham match – let's all agree to ignore the Tottenham match – they've conceded just once in those last five games. And Liverpool, after an absolutely awful September trickling into October, are up to fifth, just four points off second.

The squad's almost fully fit. There are no more international breaks until March. Liverpool are slowly climbing the table in the league and are in first place in their Champions League group. It's time to go. And it starts against Liverpool's feeder squad, who Liverpool have they struggled against for more than a season.

Go.

06 November 2017

Visualized: Liverpool 4-1 West Ham

Previous Match Infographics: 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.



This was only the fifth time we've seen a starting Liverpool formation that wasn't 4-3-3 since the beginning of 2016-17. 4-Diamond-2 in the 1-1 at Manchester United, 4-0 at West Ham, and 3-0 v Boro last season; 3-5-1-1 in the 2-1 at Stoke with an unbelievably rotated side. And 60 matches with a Liverpool XI in a 4-3-3.

We changed the system and yesterday was the first time we did it, 4-4-2, which looked maybe from the beginning like a very offensive line-up, we had a different idea - we wanted to defend deeper, more compact and using the space which we had for the counter-attacks. We will never know how it would have been if we don’t score the first one, I think it was kind of an open game up until then. We had to get used to it a little bit, it was difficult for the boys to wait a little bit more for the challenge than jump always. – Jürgen Klopp

There have been only five matches this season where Liverpool had less possession than they did on Saturday: 2-2 at Sevilla, much more a cagey European tie; 0-5 at Manchester City, thanks to the red card; 4-0 v Arsenal, where Liverpool were three-up by the 57th minute and sat deep and soaked up for the final 30 minutes; and both legs against Hoffenheim, which played out similarly to the match against Arsenal.

The last time Liverpool had 52% possession or less against a non-Top 6, non-European, or non-Everton opponent was 2-1 at Bournemouth in April 2016, a soak-up and counter 4-2-3-1 that had been heavily rotated after Liverpool's unfathomable midweek victory over Dortmund.

We're all well aware that Liverpool have struggled to break down the league's lesser lights far too often, both this season and last. And with West Ham set up in a 3-4-3 with restricted wing-backs and players like Chicharito and Lanzini who thrive on the counter, that seemed more than possible on Saturday had Liverpool started with its usual formation. Outside of the Manchester City loss, the vast majority of Liverpool's goals conceded have come on set plays, counter-attacks, and defensive errors. Saturday's system did well to limit the potential for the first two, Liverpool's players mostly did well to limit the third.

It was a welcomed change to see Klopp willing to adjust tactics and formation based on what was likely to work against certain opposition. Too often it's felt like, "This is what we've done when we've been at our best, even if sometimes it doesn't succeed. Roll the ball out and we'll find a way," even I know that's not necessarily the case.

So, yes, it took time for Liverpool to get going. Unfamiliar XI, unusual formation, one which didn't have a lot of time to come together on the training pitch this week. But given the one opportunity that Liverpool had been waiting for, playing for with a quarter of the match gone, Liverpool slit throats. Mo Salah and Sadio Mané slit throats, because that's what Mo Salah and Sadio Mané do.

While Klopp's obviously correct in saying that it was a more defensive formation, it was also a formation that got the best out of the attackers that Liverpool were able to put on the pitch. Salah, further forward rather than needing to track back on the right since Liverpool kept the fullbacks relatively deep; Oxlade-Chamberlain's work-rate was far more helpful in that position. Given more central support, Firmino could press with more intensity – he made six successful tackles, by far the most from a Liverpool player and only four fewer than the entire West Ham team – and take up deeper positions to better effect – look at what he did for Liverpool's third goal, getting the ball just past the halfway line not long after Liverpool kicked off, then driving past two West Ham defenders through their entire half of the pitch. Mané created two assists for Salah on counter-attacks, running through West Ham's half before finding Salah with the perfectly timed and weighted pass.

There were only 15 Liverpool shots, with the majority coming after Liverpool scored their third. There were only three first-half shots, joint-fewest in a Liverpool first half this season along with the opening day match at Watford.

But Liverpool's shots were almost all high-value shots. Liverpool's xG per shot was around 0.17, the second-highest for the season behind the romp over Arsenal. Liverpool had more clear-cut chances than they had shots from outside the box.

It wasn't just Liverpool, though. Six of the ten shots in the first hour of the match were clear-cut chances: three of Liverpool's six shots, three of West Ham's four shots. And two of the Liverpool shots that weren't could have been as such: Firmino's second-minute close-range effort and Oxlade-Chamberlain's first before his scoring rebound.

For all the delight that Liverpool's change in formation helped Liverpool do better in match which have caused so many issues, this was the main difference in the match. Liverpool scored its three clear-cut chances in that first hour. West Ham scored one of their three, and only after Liverpool already had two goals.

To be fairer to Liverpool, one of those West Ham chances came very early and West Ham were lucky it did. Lanzini's two came during the why-is-this-match-so-open spell in the 15 minutes after halftime, as West Ham changed to a 4-4-2 and Liverpool already had a two-goal lead. During the period in-between, where Liverpool played their way into the game and established that necessary lead, West Ham had nothing. Literally nothing, limited to one off-target Lanzini shot from long range in first half injury time between the 10th and 45th minutes.

Incidentally, if you ignore the Tottenham game – let's all ignore the Tottenham game! – Liverpool have held their opponents to just four shots on-target through five games. One by Manchester United, one by Maribor in each of their matches, none by Huddersfield, and one by West Ham. Five games. Four shots on-target. Four clean sheets. And just one goal conceded, that one from Lanzini. That's pretty okay.

Still, there's an excellent chance it's a very different match if Ayew converts in the ninth minute. Released by a Lanzini pass somehow deflected directly to him, rammed off the post rather than into the back of the net. That goal forces Liverpool to come out. That goal allows West Ham to sit deeper. That makes this game potentially a re-run of Spartak or Burnley, no matter the starting Liverpool formation.

But there's an excellent chance it's still the same result if Firmino converts in the second minute, barely denied by the heel of Joe Hart's trailing leg.

That's football. Put the ball in the net more than the other team. Liverpool are often good at doing that. The foundation, formation, tactics, and XI on Saturday set up Liverpool to do that more than West Ham could.

Open matches are almost always better for Liverpool than tight, compact, attack-versus-defense matches, even if they're more terrifying for us. Because chances are you're going to lose to Liverpool in an arms race. There are few teams in the world that can match Liverpool's firepower up front, and only one or two in the Premier League.

Make no mistake. West Ham aren't good. There are reasons they currently sit in the relegation zone and there are reasons why they've now fired their manager. This formation probably won't work against a lot of sides in the league. But it's another arrow in the quiver. And it worked on Saturday.

Nonetheless, Liverpool did what Liverpool needed to do, for the third consecutive match and the third consecutive match where Liverpool have won by three goals. Credit to Jürgen Klopp for making the changes that made this performance and result possible. And credit to Liverpool's players for making it happen.

04 November 2017

Liverpool 4-1 West Ham

Goals:
Salah 21' 76'
Matip 24'
Lanzini 55'
Oxlade-Chamberlain 56'

Liverpool away from home remains a roller coaster. Thankfully, this roller coaster stayed on the tracks rather than careening through a guardrail and killing everyone aboard. West Ham helped.

It begin with a tense, scrappy opening 20 minutes. A confusing Liverpool in a surprising XI, closest to a 4-2-4 with both Firmino and Salah up top, Oxlade-Chamberlain and the somehow-returning Mané on the flanks, and a two-man midfield of Wijnaldum and Can. We got an early set play chance, Hart saving Firmino from close-range with his back heel, but not much more. An unfamiliar XI and formation taking time to coalesce is no real surprise.

That disjointed Liverpool mostly held West Ham at bay, with less Liverpool possession than usual but only one real West Ham chance. Still, one good chance: Lanzini's throughball deflected directly to an onside Ayew, his shot off the post with Mignolet making himself big. So far, West Ham aren't bad, Liverpool aren't great. This one could go either way.

And then, a West Ham corner. And then, a goal. A Liverpool goal. Matip heads clear, Salah and Mané fly up the pitch, Mané feeds Salah, Salah scores. Meep meep. I think they left scorch-marks down the center of the London Stadium pitch.

And West Ham fall apart. Liverpool score a second almost immediately, Salah's corner ricocheted on goal by Noble, saved, but Matip with the rebound. West Ham do literally nothing for the rest of the half, although Liverpool remain a bit out of sorts and nowhere near as threatening as you'd hope. But Liverpool are still Liverpool, and 2-0 remains the most dangerous lead in sports™.

West Ham were always going to be at least a bit better after halftime, especially when throwing on Andy Carroll to give Liverpool something different to worry about. A switch to 4-4-2 more closely matches Liverpool's formation and gives Liverpool's fullbacks a lot more to deal with. And it takes ten minutes for West Ham to pull one back: a cross-field pass to Lanzini at the back post, shrugging off Gomez too easily but also beautiful control and finish.

Uh oh.

But then West Ham went and West Hammed again. Within a minute, Liverpool restored its two-goal lead: Firmino controlling Moreno's pass, jamming through the defense, finding Oxlade-Chamberlain, his first shot saved, his second under Hart.

It's literally less than a minute. We missed almost the entire move because they're still showing replays of Lanzini's goal. Well done, West Ham. And we're done here.

As at Leicester, Liverpool made us worried. Liverpool threatened to throw away a two-goal lead, but ultimately didn't. Liverpool looked okay, then good, then frightening, then good again. Liverpool never conceded a second, as against Leicester. Liverpool added even more gloss than against Leicester with a fourth on the break: Salah's second goal, Mané's second assist. Liverpool could have added still more.

It was better than against Leicester. It was less frightening and less dumb than against Leicester. That's progress? Also, West Ham are worse than Leicester.

So, yeah, it's annoying that two goals never seems enough away from home, even if it would have been today. It remains confusing that Liverpool didn't shut up shop until after scoring their fourth, leaving an exposed midfield and defense despite all we've seen before. End to end, drunk and dumb, for the first half-hour of the second half. Four of West Ham's six shots came between the 55th and 69th minutes: all four in the Danger Zone, two clear-cut chances for Lanzini, two close-range headers from Chicharito. We didn't see a Liverpool substitution until after the fourth goal, when Milner finally came on to give Liverpool a three-man midfield. Coincidentally, West Ham didn't have another shot for the rest of the match.

Still. For all of the heartburn we've had, Liverpool have now won each of its last three games by a three-goal margin. The last time that happened was March 2014. Liverpool have won its last three games, full stop.

Liverpool have been patient, diligent, and secure at home in two of those last three matches. Liverpool were wild today, in all three area of the pitch, but ultimately throughly deserved winners. Salah's now got 12 goals through 17 starts, Oxlade-Chamberlain has two goals in his last five games, and don't look now but Sadio Mané's back.

It wasn't comfortable, because that's not Liverpool, but – for the third game in a row – Liverpool did what Liverpool needed to do. Tottenham aside, it's been a perfectly cromulent month of football since returning from the last international break.

And now we've got another international break. Then we start again.

03 November 2017

Liverpool at West Ham 11.04.17

1:30pm ET, live in the US on NBC

Last four head-to-head:
4-0 Liverpool (a) 05.14.17
2-2 (h) 12.11.16
1-2 West Ham (a; FA Cup) 02.09.16
0-0 (h; FA Cup) 01.30.16

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 3-0 Maribor (h); 3-0 Huddersfield (h); 1-4 Tottenham (a)
West Ham: 2-2 Palace (a); 3-2 Tottenham (a); 0-3 Brighton (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Salah 5; Firmino, Mané 3; Coutinho, Sturridge 2; Henderson, WIjnaldum 1
West Ham: Chicharito 4; Ayew 2; Antonio, Kouyate, Obiang, Sakho 1

Referee: Neil Swarbrick (LFC History) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Mignolet
Gomez Matip Klavan Moreno
Milner Henderson Can
Salah Sturridge Firmino

Coutinho's still out, while Lovren and Wijnaldum are close but also probably out. Amazingly, Sadio Mané might be able to get a 20-25 minute run-out as a substitute. I think we'd all enjoy that.

Mignolet will come back in for Karius, Gomez will probably come back in for Alexander-Arnold, Sturridge will probably come back in for Oxlade-Chamberlain. But it's gonna look a lot like the XIs which beat Huddersfield and Maribor 3-0.

It hasn't been Liverpool's strongest XI. We haven't seen Liverpool's best performances. But we've seen consistency. We've seen a lot more good than bad. We've seen wins.

It's been more than welcomed. But I can't help thinking that we've seen this good at Anfield, and we've rarely seen it away from Anfield this season.

Yes, sample size. Yes, quality of opposition: 5th, 20th, 7th, 2nd, and 13th at home versus 8th, 1st, 11th, 9th, 3rd away. But also this.



Eek.

So, yeah, if we're really seeing consistency and improvement, we could do with some better Liverpool performances away from Anfield. And it starts tomorrow.

Meanwhile, if you know which West Ham we'll get tomorrow, I'd love to know. Liverpool would love to know. We gonna see the West Ham that's won just one of its last six league games? Or we gonna see the West Ham that scored three goals in the second half to come back to win the League Cup tie at Tottenham last week? The West Ham which scored twice in the first half at Crystal Palace or the West Ham which conceded twice in the second half at Crystal Palace?

The West Ham that almost always raises its game against Liverpool, with a manager who loves beating Liverpool, or the West Ham that got smoked by Liverpool in the penultimate match last season?

Whichever West Ham it is, it'll be a West Ham missing at least four potential starters, if not six. Antonio, Collins, and Byram are definitely out injured, Zabaleta's suspended, and both Fonte and Reid are doubtful. Five of those six players are defenders.

It sounds as if Fonte's more likely than Reid, so let's guess Hart; Fonte, Kouyate, Ogbonna; Fernandes, Obiang, Noble, Lanzini, Cresswell; Ayew, Carroll.

There are still good players in that XI. West Ham will play three at the back, which will look like five at the back an awful lot. West Ham will try to frustrate, then West Ham will try to counter and set play. It's gonna be one of those games. We've seen a lot of those games. And we'll keep seeing them until Liverpool consistently do better in them, the last two matches notwithstanding.

And it will be one of those games with Andy Carroll likely to start up front. You remember Andy Carroll. He's good at winning headers on long balls from defense to set up counter-attacks. He's really good at heading crosses from both open play and set play. He hasn't yet scored a league goal this season, and I suspect he'd really enjoy scoring against Liverpool. Or maybe Chicarito plays instead, a player who presents an entirely different set of counter-attacking problems which Liverpool have been vulnerable against.

16th place and ostensibly struggling, but there are concerns about this West Ham side. Up front, in midfield, and at the back.

It'll be up to Liverpool to keep doing whatever they've been doing in the last two games. And, this time, to do it away from home.

02 November 2017

Visualized: Liverpool 3-0 Maribor

Previous Match Infographics: 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 LiverpoolFC.com app.



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

That was almost – almost – more satisfying than strolling 7-0 at Maribor.

Are two matches enough for a trend? Do two swallows make a summer?

0-0 at half time, 3-0 at full time. Against a deep, deep, deep defense. At Anfield. Despite a missed penalty.

It really was Huddersfield all over again. But better, against deeper.

More shots, better shots. Four clear-cut chances, as against Huddersfield, but a higher percentage of Danger Zone shots and a higher Expected Goals total. More possession. Somehow out-tacking and out-intercepting Maribor despite having 75% possession, with ten of 19 tackles and four of ten interceptions in Maribor's half. Better goals. Liverpool didn't require an opposition error to open the scoring, but won the ball back in Maribor's half, sustained possession, and saw both an well-taken cross and finish. Liverpool's second was one of the better goals they've scored this season, and the exact type of move needed to break through 11 defenders: quick passing finished with a wonderful one-two through the heart of the defense, excellently taken by Emre Can. Even the penalty was better won and better taken, even if it ended in the same result.

There were more Maribor shots than Huddersfield shots, but it's hard to have fewer than one, and Maribor's five chances had about the same chance of going in as Huddersfield's one. Liverpool have now allowed one – one! – shot on-target in the last two matches, and that one shot on-target was about as routine as save as possible, low, central and from about 30 yards out.

The massacre in the last meeting forced Maribor to change tactics, formation, and style. Five at the back for the first time this season. An average position which saw all 11 starters in Maribor's half of the pitch.

And it took time for Liverpool to break through, as against Huddersfield. That happens when there are 11 opposition players in one half of the pitch. That happens when Liverpool make two changes to the front six, and need to make a substitution within 17 minutes. And it's frustrating. But it's not the end of the world. It's hard for us to remember there are 90 minutes in a football match, especially when Liverpool's best matches have seen Liverpool at their best from the opening whistle.

And despite that first half frustration, Liverpool score within five minutes of the restart. And Liverpool finish 3-0 winners. Mohamed Salah scores his 10th goal in his 16th start. Emre Can scores his third Champions League goal in his sixth Champions League match this season; he had five goals through all of last season. Liverpool's fullbacks both contribute assists. James Milner creates the most Liverpool chances and tallies an assist in consecutive matches, Daniel Sturridge scores in consecutive matches – something he hasn't done since April 2016. And with two games to play, Liverpool sit top of the group. Liverpool need one win from their last two games to assure qualification to the Champions League knockout rounds, a place they haven't been since 2008.

Six points from six in the last two games, against the type of sides who've frustrated Liverpool in the past two seasons. The sides who have been happy to sit deep and wait for Liverpool to fall apart, either up front or at the back. Or sometimes both. And Liverpool haven't done either.

Two swallows may not make a summer, but it's an awful lot better, and an awful lot more encouraging, than what came before.

31 October 2017

Liverpool v Maribor 11.01.17

3:45pm ET, live in the US on ESPN3 and Fox Soccer Plus

Previous Group results:
Liverpool: 7-0 Maribor (a); 1-1 Spartak (a); 2-2 Sevilla (h)
Maribor: 0-7 Liverpool (h); 0-3 Sevilla (a); 1-1 Spartak (h)

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 3-0 Huddersfield (h); 1-4 Tottenham (a); 7-0 Maribor (a)
Maribor: 1-0 Domzale (a); 1-0 Ankaran Hrvatini (h); 0-7 Liverpool (h)

Goalscorers (Europe):
Liverpool: Firmino, Salah 4; Alexander-Arnold, Can, Coutinho 2; Oxlade-Chamberlain 1
Maribor: Tavares 4; Viler 2; Bohar, Zahovic 1

Referee: Ivan Kružliak (SVK)

Guess at a line-up:
Karius
Trent A-A Matip Klavan Robertson
Wijnaldum Can Milner
Salah Sturridge Firmino

It should go without saying that Liverpool can't stroll into Anfield expecting to whomp Maribor by seven goals again. Supporters cannot expect Liverpool to whomp Maribor by seven goals again.

Yes, Liverpool should win. Yes, we'll have a right to be angry if they don't. But no one - not the players, not us - can expect last time out to automatically happen.

It will, of course, be a slightly different side to the XI from last time as well. Coutinho and Lovren have a small chance of returning from their respective recent injuries, while both Moreno and Gomez have minor issues.

And if Liverpool need to change both full-backs in addition to players already absent and Karius as cup goalkeeper, I wouldn't expect many more alterations. We're all well aware how little Klopp likes to rotate unless need be.

So, give Sturridge another run as striker, another run with Firmino, seeing as how the two scored in the same game when both started for the first time in almost 18 months last match. Oxlade-Chamberlain could start in the front three (midfield's unlikely), but I expect he'll continue to be a substitute for the immediate future. Pick three from the usual four in midfield, and I don't really care whom. The same midfield we saw against Maribor (without Henderson), the same as against Huddersfield (without Can), or the most frequent combination (without Milner). There hasn't been a whole lot of difference between the units; sometimes they play well, sometimes they disappoint. It's been a roll of the dice. I'm guessing the above because Can was seemingly rested on the weekend, Milner did the press conference, and Wijnaldum will be playing at Anfield. But it's very much a guess.

Since we last spoke, Maribor have kept two clean in two matches, and scored two goals. Two 1-0 wins, one home and one away. As if to emphasize that demolition against Liverpool was an aberration.

As a reminder, this was Maribor's team in the last meeting: Handanovic; Milec, Rajcevic, Suler, Viler; Kabha, Vrhovec; Kramaric, Ahmedi, Boher; Tavares. There will probably be some changes; they've no new injuries, but Mesanovic's started both league games (once in place of Ahmedi, once in place of Taveres) and scored both of Maribor's goals. Pihler started both in place of Kramaric, Vrsic both in place of Vrhovec.

Maribor should be cagier than last time. Maribor should give Liverpool fewer opportunities to press. Maribor should put more emphasis on counter-attacking Liverpool (or just attacking Liverpool), especially if we see those changes in defense. Liverpool will have to cope, and as against Huddersfield, Liverpool will have to find a way to break through, no matter how long it takes or how frustrating it is.

After two draws to start the group, Liverpool sit top on goal difference after the massacre in Maribor. Spartak, who surprisingly housed Sevilla in the last round of fixtures to go level on points with Liverpool, travel to Sevilla, who are just a point behind. This is a chance for Liverpool to stake a claim to qualification, before traveling to Sevilla and hosting Spartak in what should be two more difficult fixtures than this.

This is a chance to prove that Liverpool's last match wasn't a fluke. Something Liverpool couldn't do in the match following that massacre at Maribor.

30 October 2017

Visualized: Liverpool 3-0 Huddersfield

Previous Match Infographics: 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.)

If any other top side went into halftime at 0-0 against a side they expected to beat and ended up winning 3-0, we'd call it a professional performance. Patience in breaking down what might have been the deepest opponents Liverpool have faced this season, then turning the screws, then the necessary opening, then winning with ease. Take what you're given, don't give anything away, and take all three points.

That's literally the template. But we're too damaged for that.

Yes, the first half was awkward. It took Liverpool 15 minutes to register a shot, then 12 more to register a second. It was either patient or just slow depending on your point of view. But that should have been expected given how we knew Huddersfield would line up, how Liverpool have often struggled against opposition like this, and the state that Liverpool are currently in. Not only were Liverpool coming off an embarrassing, debilitating loss, but they were again without three of their most influential attacking players in Coutinho, Mané, and Lallana.

While it may have been painful to watch, Liverpool did the right things. Liverpool kept working, kept trying. The front three and midfield three constantly switched positions in an attempt to confuse and shift defenders. Milner, no matter which side he was on, often pulled out to the flank. We saw a lot of those cross-field, back-post long passes from both Milner and Henderson. Both Firmino and Sturridge dropped deep to pick up possession, with something like seven or eight Huddersfield players between them and goal. The fullbacks – especially Gomez – sat much deeper than usual, ostensibly in an attempt to prevent counter-attacks.

Yes, there were 40 minutes of futility with few chances: Sturridge mishit over the bar, Salah and Milner straight at the keeper, and that's it. Then, Liverpool got an unlikely penalty, which Salah subsequently failed to convert, with Henderson's rebound off the post. Sturridge's opener came from an opposition error: Tommy Smith's attempted clearance falling directly to him in an offside position. Firmino's header eight minutes later – from a corner – went between Lossi's legs; literally two inches in either direction and it's saved. And Wijnaldum's capstone rocket is one he puts in the top corner one time out of ten, if I'm generous.

It admittedly wasn't overwhelming attacking brilliance. Liverpool's opener was definitely fortunate, and there was a bit of luck in both subsequent goals. But it was enough. It was the first time that both Firmino and Sturridge scored when starting together since 2-1 at Bournemouth in April 2016. Firmino's header was Liverpool's first goal from a corner this season. 12 of Liverpool's 16 shots from inside the box, 11 of those in the Danger Zone, and four clear-cut chances.

Liverpool scored goals that their opponents usually score against them. An opener from a defensive error. A second from a set play. The final goal from a quick attack through the middle of the pitch.

And Liverpool's opponents didn't score. While Huddersfield offered little in attack – they haven't scored away from home since opening day – Liverpool still didn't give anything away. During that awkward opening 15-20 minutes, Huddersfield had more threatening possession than they did throughout the rest of the match. A free kick in a dangerous position, a couple of corners, a couple of counters. No Huddersfield chances.

I have never seen a Liverpool opponent register just one shot. One shot, which was off-target, from outside the box, and from a direct free kick. In the 73rd minute, after Liverpool were already 2-0 up. I don't care how bad the opposition are. That's strangulation. The previous low since I started doing these infographics in 2012-13 was two, by Hull at Anfield last season. And, because Liverpool, Hull scored from one of those two.

Liverpool have conceded just one league goal at Anfield this season through five league matches. There was that regrettable 1-1 against Burnley, but we've now seen clean sheets against Palace, Arsenal, United, and Huddersfield. I remain surprised by that statistic. Liverpool registered its fourth Premier League clean sheet on December 14th last season.

I can't put it any better than Neil Atkinson did in the Anfield Wrap match review. Under Houllier and Benitez, this was par for the course. It was par for the course for last season's Chelsea and it's par for the course for this season's United. This is what good teams do when they're not at their best.

A 3-0 scoreline may not suggest an ugly, grinding win, but it was an ugly, grinding win. And ugly, grinding wins are good, especially when you score three and concede none. Especially when ugly, grinding wins are hard to come by for this side.

The better team won, comfortably in the end even if ugly at times. Sometimes, it's just that simple. With Liverpool, it's rarely that simple.

But, like the massacre at Maribor, it's just one match. One welcomed result, but just one result all the same. Liverpool need to be able to do this on a much more regular basis.

27 October 2017

Liverpool v Huddersfield 10.28.17

10am ET, live in the US on CNBC

Last four head-to-head:
2-0 Liverpool (a; FA Cup) 12.12.99
1-0 Liverpool (a) 02.12.72
2-0 Liverpool (h) 10.23.71
0-0 (a) 12.19.70

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-4 Tottenham (a); 7-0 Maribor (a); 0-0 United (h)
Huddersfield: 2-1 United (h); 0-2 Swansea (a); 0-4 Tottenham (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Salah 5; Mané 3; Coutinho, Firmino 2; Henderson, Sturridge 1
Huddersfield: Depoitre, Mooy, Mounie 2

Referee: Kevin Friend (LFC History) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Mignolet
Trent A-A Gomez Matip Moreno
Wijnaldum Henderson Can
Salah Firmino Alex O-C

So, how mad is everyone going to be when the Liverpool XI isn't that much different to last weekend's?

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Klopp blows everything up. But we've rarely since this manager reactionary.

Coutinho is probably out with an adductor injury, which means that either Firmino will play on the left with Sturridge central or Oxlade-Chamberlain makes his first Liverpool league start. Lovren almost certainly should be taken out of the firing line, which means either Gomez or Klavan at center-back; if it's Gomez, that means both Gomez and Alexander-Arnold start, and Klopp's been reticent to do that, rotating both in Clyne's absence. Unless Milner or Can play at right-back.

But maybe Lovren keeps his place; it wouldn't be the most surprising decision we've seen. But Mignolet's probably keeping his place, with Karius to continue as Champions League keeper and Ward out with a back injury. But Henderson's probably keeping his place, rather than Can as the deepest midfielder bracketed by two from Wijnaldum, Milner, and Oxlade-Chamberlain. But we're probably not going to see a complete formation change, whether 4-2-3-1 with Firmino in the hole or three-at-the-back or a midfield diamond.

But Jürgen Klopp – rightly or wrongly – has faith in his methods and his players and will do all he can to make it right within what he believes is the best system with the best available players. And all we can do is hope that he's right.

I admittedly know less about this Huddersfield side than any other in the division. Yes, David Wagner is Klopp's best friend. Yes, there are similarities in playing style. Huddersfield are compact. They're decent at pressing, at stealing the ball, at forcing mistakes – as in both goals against Manchester United last weekend. The first came when Mooy dispossessed Mata and countered. The second came when Lindelof erred on a goal kick and Depoitre took advantage. Both of those goals should make Liverpool nervous. That win over United was, by far, their most impressive performance of the season; only the surprising 3-0 opening day win at Crystal Palace is even in the discussion, a win made to look less impressive by what Palace have done since.

Huddersfield usually play 4-2-3-1, and if it's the same XI as against Manchester United – and I've no reason to suspect otherwise – it'll be Lossi; Smith, Zanka, Schindler, Löwe; Hogg, Williams; Kachunga, Mooy, Ince; Depoitre. Mooy can play deeper in midfield if need be. Maybe Mounie comes back into the side, returning from injury as a substitute against United, but Depoitre's done well in his absence. Kachunga's questionable with a back injury, and if he can't start, it'll probably be Rajiv van la Parra.

Even with all the Klopp v Wagner narratives, once again, it seems less about what the opposition can or will do, and more about what Liverpool does or doesn't.

We've said it too often this season already, and it's not even November. It almost doesn't matter who plays – although that's obviously not entirely true. But we know this squad is capable of better than we've seen for the majority of this season, regardless of injuries, regardless of starting XI. We know they're vastly better than what we saw last Sunday, even (and especially) the most egregious scapegoats.

Response. Needed. Now.

23 October 2017

Visualized: Liverpool 1-4 Tottenham

Previous Match Infographics: 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.



Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool have lost by three or more goals just three times in the 114 matches since he became manager. The first was in his 15th game – 0-3 at Watford in December 2015 – something of an aberration featuring a heaping helping of Adam Bogdan.

The second was five weeks ago at Manchester City. The third was yesterday.

Despite all of the defensive shenanigans we've seen over the last few seasons, Klopp's Liverpool went 89 games without losing by three or more. And now they've done it twice in the last ten games. Both times away against Top-6 rivals, in fixtures that both ended 1-1 last season.

That's not good. And more frighteningly, that's not progress.

Tottenham only added a couple of players last summer, but those added were at the heart of their defensive performance yesterday: Davidson Sanchez anchoring the back three and Serge Aurier doing a commendable job on Mo Salah. And, more importantly, Tottenham had a stronger base to build from. An attack as young and potent as Liverpool's, but a much, much better defense to begin with.

We've all become so, so tired writing about Liverpool's failure to upgrade the defense last summer, but it can't be helped. Liverpool added one defender, and the one added can't get into the team because the player he was supposed to replace has revived his career, and is currently the best performer at the back. Meanwhile, we get to see Lovren and Matip flail and fail at least one every couple of matches, and sometimes more. And, sometimes, as happened yesterday, a lot more.

Wish in one hand and shit in the other, and see which keeps more clean sheets first.

This remains a Liverpool side capable of shutting down and shutting out consecutive opponents – only two, but two's at least a start – but then having the first 30 minutes we saw on Sunday. Only one Opta-defined defensive error in those first 30 minutes, but at least four failures. One very defense-wide, with at least four players to single out, but three others starring Dejan Lovren, and all four featuring Dejan Lovren seeing a ball sail parabolically over his head.

So, yeah, the Opta definition of defensive errors is narrow. Yesterday saw Liverpool commit two of the four we've seen this season. Sample size remains an issue. This still isn't fun.



Four Tottenham goals, and all you can truly credit them for is a well-placed assists from Trippier and Kane and excellent finishing on the first three goals. Yes, they out-Liverpool'd Liverpool in the first 30 minutes – some pressing, but more importantly swarming pace and counter-attacks against an exposed defense – but it seemed more meaningful that Liverpool gift-wrapped everything else, whether it was Matip, Lovren, Gomez, and Mignolet on the first; Lovren on the second; Matip on the third; or Mignolet on the fourth.

It's also worth pointing out that Tottenham's final two goals were set up by Liverpool touches. That's the sixth time that's happened this season. Exactly a quarter of Liverpool's goals conceded came from touches from Liverpool players: Matip and Alexander-Arnold, then Mignolet at Watford; Klavan against Burnley; Matip at Newcastle; Matip, then Mignolet at Tottenham.

I'm seeing similar names in the previous list, and they're not "Dejan Lovren." Lovren was unconscionably, there-must-be-something-wrong bad yesterday, but there's more than enough blame to go around. Including for the manager. He's not out there watching the ball fly overhead with a stupefied look on his face, but he's picking this side, he's setting up this side, and – as far as we know – he's got the final say on Liverpool's transfer dealings.

At what point do we stop blaming individual errors and start blaming the system?




I'm serious; this isn't a rhetorical question. I truly don't know. Six times out of 10, when Liverpool concede stupidly, there's an elemental, you-should-not-have-done-that error involved. I want to believe that means it's not the system, but it also keeps happening again and again and again so maybe? But Lovren and Mignolet did this sort of nonsense under the previous manager as well. But Matip had his faults at Schalke. But Gomez and Alexander-Arnold are still babies.

We're nowhere near KLOPP OUT. We've seen too much good, too much promise over the last few seasons; FSG clearly trust him with everything; he ain't out here missing easy defensive headers or spurning clear-cut chances; and I doubt it'd improve a damned thing when looking over this squad. But I can't help thinking he's got too much faith in his ability to coach players that have made the same mistakes for three or four seasons now. It's become too difficult when I have to do this Groundhog Day shtick seemingly every week.

Through nine league matches, Liverpool's opponents are averaging 8.78 shots per match and 4.22 shots on-target – a shot accuracy of 48.1%. That's 38 shots on-target through nine matches, and 17 of those shots on-target have been clear-cut chances – 44.7% – with 12 scored and five saved. Only two opposition clear-cut chances in the league have been off-target.

That's very bad. You will drop a whole mess of points allowing that many shots on-target and that many clear-cut chances. Meanwhile, Liverpool are putting 35.7% of their shots on-target. Only 23.3% of Liverpool's shots on-target have been clear-cut chances (14 of 60). Liverpool have put six clear-cut chances off-target.

So, yes, Liverpool's defense – I reiterate, again – is what truly cost Liverpool this match, but I can't help condemning the attack at least a little bit. As against Sevilla, Burnley, Spartak, Newcastle, United, etc.

Only 12 shots despite 64% possession. Eight of those 12 shots from outside the box, just two in the Danger Zone. A good goal from Mohamed Salah, but one which also featured a heavy Dele Alli deflection on the assist and a shot that bobbled in off the far post.

Look, it's hard to attack when you're 0-2 down within 12 minutes, but this is still bad. You'd still hope your top chance-creator wasn't also your top scorer. You'd hope your central midfield would create more than two chances: Henderson's deflected assist – which arguably should get taken away because of the deflection – and Milner's deep cross-field pass to Moreno for a long shot from distance. You'd still hope your central striker who played 77 minutes would, you know, take a shot or create a chance. Just one.

This was primarily, obviously a defensive failing, but it was also an attacking failing. It was also a midfield failing, whether in providing for the attack or protecting the defensive against a team obviously built to swarm and counter.

For all the emphasis on individual errors, it was a Liverpool failing. And we've already seen too many Liverpool failings this season.

22 October 2017

Liverpool 1-4 Tottenham

Goals:
Kane 4' 56'
Son 12'
Salah 24'
Dele 45+3'

The most Liverpool week ever is Liverpool at its most potent, scoring the most goals they've ever scored under Jürgen Klopp, immediately followed by Liverpool at its most defensively hilarious, conceding four goals solely because of things that Liverpool did wrong. And they did so against a direct rivals, on a ground where those rivals had scored just three league goals through four matches, to make it extra fun.

Once again, it's one step forward followed by two backwards.

What can you even say.

Liverpool conceded from a collective defensive mistake, an individual defensive mistake, a second phase set play, and a goalkeeper error. We're reached a new Peak Liverpool.

Liverpool conceded twice within 12 minutes, almost completely ruining any chance of getting something from this game. A game that Liverpool desperately needed to get something from.

We'll give Tottenham a bit of credit. All those swarming attacking midfielders and two very, very fast wing-backs made it impossible for Liverpool to get the ball forward. For Liverpool to play on the front foot. For Liverpool to press. For Liverpool to play their game. Tottenham started from a stronger foundation to win this match.

That's obviously concerning. But you still cannot legislate for defensive mistakes.

First, Liverpool are all idiots from an attacking throw-in. No one presses the ball, allowing Trippier to place a chip over the top for Kane. Lovren watches it go over his head without even trying to jump for a header or retreat. Matip throws his arm up for offside and stands still for two seconds. It's not offside, because Gomez is a couple of feet behind Kane even though he's on the opposite side of the pitch with no Tottenham player remotely nearby and he's staring down the line. Mignolet comes out but doesn't get the ball, Matip slows down because he thinks Mignolet might get the ball instead of clearing everything and everyone out, and Kane keeps his balance to score. Just hilarity all over.

Eight minutes later – after a spell where Liverpool have had all the possession without threatening – Hugo Lloris throws the ball long after claiming Milner's cross. Lloris is good at throwing the ball out. Kane's always a threat on quick counters. But Dejan Lovren's got this. Dejan Lovren's gonna head this away and Liverpool will resume trying to get at Tottenham.

Dejan Lovren completely misses his header – hilariously so, as if he's wearing someone else's glasses and has no depth-perception – and Harry Kane's in. So, so in. Kane and Son versus poor Joël Matip, and Kane's cross is excellent and the ball's in the net.

Four minutes later, it should have been three: a quick free kick, Liverpool asleep, Lovren in a different universe, Son in behind, Son off the crossbar.

But then, hope. Hope? Really? Coutinho wins possession, Henderson blasts a remarkable long through-ball to Salah between center-backs, and the winger converts. Converted with his right foot, converted awkwardly and in off the post, but converted nonetheless. Converted for his fifth league goal, and his eighth goal in 11 starts. 1-2. Actually a game.

And still a game even after Lovren allows Son in behind again, with Mignolet making the save, as Liverpool scrambled to get Oxlade-Chamberlain in for Lovren. I don't know what happened today. Was it just Lovren at his worst? Was it just Lovren has had to take painkillers to play for two months now and this is what happens when that has to happen? Don't know. It's easy to say in retrospect that he probably shouldn't have played. But this was the same side that's kept clean sheets in its last two matches, even if against very, very different opponents. We laugh and joke and cry about Lovren's calamities but this was something different. This was a player completely out of his depth, as if something's very, very wrong.

So Oxlade-Chamberlain comes on, and Liverpool shuffle within the same formation. And it's okay? We're seeing Liverpool pressure, even if we're not seeing Liverpool chances. Tottenham's back three becomes a back five. Tottenham are compressed into their own half, with only Kane and Son forward, and Gomez and Matip are doing a better job controlling that then Matip and Lovren. We're seeing crosses and set plays, and they're not coming that close – Tottenham are quite good at the defense, after all – but all it takes is one moment, one opening, one fortunate bounce.

But Liverpool are on the front four. But Liverpool are going to go into halftime just a goal down. Maybe halftime's coming at a bad time? It feels like it's at a bad time. This is all Liverpool, even if chances are few and far between.

Nope. Emre Can loses possession. Emre Can concedes a foul – yes, he gets ball, but he also gets man, and he's coming from behind, and referees are calling that four times out of five. But it's a deep free kick. But Tottenham are just trying to get into the changing room, only throwing a couple of bodies forward.

Nope. Matip heads the ball directly to Dele Alli rather than the five Liverpool players nearby, and Alli restores Tottenham's two-goal lead.

Goodnight, nurse.

I'm going to slow down and say it again. Tottenham. Were. Not. Even. Trying. To. Score. Kane was the only player attacking the free kick and Matip somehow headed it directly to the only Spurs player following it up. It's actually amazing.

So the second half's now a formality. Spurs just have to keep a demoralized Liverpool at arm's length. Spurs almost score on a free kick, with Kane's awkward header wide, then Spurs score from a free kick as Mignolet charges out but misses the cross – as Mignolet's prone to do – and Kane scored the rebound after Firmino cleared the first effort off the line.

Fantastic.

I'll be honest. I barely watched after that. I think Lloris denied a nice Coutinho strike from range? Liverpool made a couple of substitutions. Tottenham made some too, giving Son, Eriksen, and Kane time for rounds of applause, and thankfully stopped trying to score. And Liverpool thankfully stopped giving them goals to score.

Great work, guys. Way to prevent another rival from scoring five on you.

This was a boot, stamping on Liverpool's face – forever. Just like at Manchester City – two utterly humiliating losses against Top-6 rivals in the space of five weeks, a season after going unbeaten against all of Liverpool's Top-6 rivals. And this time, Liverpool don't even have the excuse of a red card dismissal.

This time, it was Liverpool's own boot doing the stamping.

21 October 2017

Liverpool at Tottenham 10.22.17

11am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
2-0 Liverpool (h) 02.11.17
2-1 Liverpool (h; League Cup) 10.25.16
1-1 (a) 08.27.16
1-1 (h) 04.02.16

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 7-0 Maribor (a); 0-0 United (h); 1-1 Newcastle (a)
Tottenham: 1-1 Real Madrid (a); 1-0 Bournemouth (h); 4-0 Huddersfield (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Salah 4; Mané 3; Coutinho, Firmino 2; Henderson, Sturridge 1
Tottenham: Kane 6; Eriksen 3; Alli, Davies 2; Sissoko 1

Referee: Andre Marriner (LFC History) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Mignolet
Gomez Matip Lovren Moreno
Milner Henderson Can
Salah Firmino Coutinho

Liverpool's ten-match voodoo over Tottenham versus Liverpool's results over the last month. Klopp's record at Wembley versus Tottenham's relative struggles at home.

Liverpool's recent form versus Liverpool's recent record.

Maribor was good. Really, really good. But whether Maribor removed the millstone hanging from Liverpool's neck since September or was a singular explosion will remain a concern.

Mignolet will come back in for Karius. Gomez probably will for Alexander-Arnold. And Henderson's expected to as well, although I'm hoping it's for Wijnaldum rather than Milner. Yes, yes, Maribor were Maribor, but Milner felt crucial to Liverpool's improved counter-press, although Can playing deeper was probably just as vital. Still, Milner in this role almost – but not quite – felt like Lallana was back in the side. Milner ran farther than any other player in the Liverpool team on Tuesday. And Milner created two clear-cut chances from wide positions inside the penalty box: one scored, one missed. And, yes, The Wijnaldum Away Axiom sadly remains in effect.

We know what we need from this Liverpool side. What's perpetually in doubt is whether they'll do it. An effective press. Taking the chances they'll almost certainly create. And continuing to get more secure in defense; after Maribor, Liverpool have now kept consecutive clean sheets for the first time this season.

But Tottenham presents a far different challenge than either Manchester United or Maribor. Tottenham isn't parking any bus. Tottenham remains somewhat of fun house mirror version of Liverpool, one that's a year further along in its development. They're young, they're settled, they've a discernible, fun style. They really like to press. They're potent up front – especially Harry Kane, but I'll also nervously mention Eriksen's set plays – but still excellent in defense, with five clean sheets through eight league matches.

And they've become more versatile this season. It hasn't been 3-4-2-1 in every match. If Spurs play their "usual" XI, it'll be Lloris; Alderweireld, Sanchez, Vertonghen; Trippier, Dier, Winks, Davies; Eriksen, Alli; Kane. But there's a more-than-negligible chance that Spurs attempt to replicate their performance at Real Madrid, sitting deeper and counter-attacking – even though Madrid should have won had they converted their chances, even though Spurs are at home, and even though (despite our most fevered dreams) Liverpool are not Real Madrid.

Tottenham's line-up on Wednesday was Lloris; Aurier, Sanchez, Dier, Alderweireld, Vertonghen; Sissoko, Winks, Eriksen; Llorente, Kane. And Pochettino could (and probably should) tweak that if using this style. Dier could move into midfield, with Vertoghen shifting inside and Davies or Rose coming in at left-back. Alli could play in midfield or up front. Son Heung-Min could come in for Llorente.

Tottenham have options, Pochettino has options. The only absentees are Dembele, Wanyama, and Lamela.

This will be an excellent test of each's potential for the rest of the season. We're nearing the hallowed ten-matches-in mark, where the league starts to settle into place. And Tottenham are third, impressive but not City or United impressive, and five points behind the league leaders (which is likely to be eight by kickoff tomorrow). And Liverpool are eighth, four points behind Tottenham.

Away from home, against a top-six club, coming off a record win under the current manager. Coming off a result that finally match the performance. And a chance to set a marker. It's set up for you, Liverpool. Just knock it down.

18 October 2017

Visualized: Liverpool 7-0 Maribor

Previous Match Infographics: 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.)

I missed you, goals. Yep, it was only a matter of time before Liverpool absolutely went off on someone. Just like we all *looks around shiftily* predicted.

• 53.8% shot accuracy. In the six non-League Cup games following the Manchester City debacle (Sevilla, Burnley, Leicester, Spartak, Newcastle, and United), Liverpool's shot accuracy was 26.1%.

• 33.3% goal conversion. In those previous six games, Liverpool's goal conversion was 9.9%.

• Seven clear-cut chances created, five clear-cut chances scored. In those previous six games, Liverpool created 15 clear-cut chances, but scored only three.

• 19 of 26 shots from inside the box – 73.1%. Just 56.7% of Liverpool's shots in those previous six games came from inside the box.

4.5 xG. Liverpool's xG average over the previous six games was just under 2.0. Liverpool's previous xG high under Jürgen Klopp was 3.7, the 4-0 massacre of Everton in 2016.


I also missed you, counter-pressing. All but one of Liverpool's seven goals started in Maribor's half.

• Viler's error and Salah's pace for the first. One pass later, goal.

• Can blocking an attempting clearance, which fell directly to Firmino, to start the move for Liverpool's third. One pass later, goal.

• Can recovering a mis-hit pass out of the back to start the move for Liverpool's fourth. Three passes, goal.

• Can winning a free kick after Maribor couldn't clear Coutinho's free kick for the fifth. One set play cross, goal.

• Suler's error and Sturridge's quick counter and pass to Oxlade-Chamberlain for the sixth. One pass, goal.

• Tavares' weak header picked up by Coutinho, spread wide for Alexander-Arnold for Liverpool's sixth. One pass (and one deflection), goal.

Liverpool had sustained possession prior to the third, fourth, and seventh goals as well. Yes, Liverpool lost possession. But Liverpool didn't let Maribor out. Liverpool swarmed, Liverpool immediately reclaimed possession – by both luck and talent – and Liverpool punched Maribor in the face. Repeatedly.

And that's not to downplay Liverpool's second goal, arguably the best of the bunch. Coutinho recovers the ball in Liverpool's defensive third and charges forward. Firmino holds position as the fulcrum on the halfway line, receives the pass, and immediately looks for a charging Salah down the right. A throughball to Milner, a cross to Coutinho – who, again, started the move basically in Liverpool's penalty area – hit first time past Handanovic. The move took all of 16 seconds.

Go. Go fast. Go fast towards their goal. Don't look back, don't let them get into position. Just go. That's how Liverpool succeed.

The early error and initial onslaught pushed Maribor deeper and deeper. Maribor are also probably the slowest side that Liverpool have faced this season. Maribor committed three errors leading to goals – including the all-important first – and two more leading to shots. Maribor admittedly were not good.

I do not care. Spartak Moscow weren't good, and Liverpool could only draw 1-1. Liverpool had five clear-cut chances in that match as well. Burnley, Newcastle, and United weren't all that impressive either, if to a lesser extent than Maribor or Spartak, and Liverpool could and probably should have won all of those matches.

There are only two matches in recent memory which come close to this level of annihilation: Liverpool's 7-0 FA Cup win at Birmingham in 2005-06 and Liverpool's 8-0 Champions League win over Besiktas in 2007-08. I don't care how bad the opposition may have been. When you're setting records for the joint-biggest Champions League away win, the biggest Champions League away win by an English side, and the club record biggest European away win, you're doing something right.

This was Liverpool's largest margin of victory in a decade. Just let that sink in for a second.

For the third time this season, Liverpool's starting front three all scored – the first time it's happened away from home – and they did so within 19 minutes of opening whistle. The match ended with each of those front three involved in three of the seven goals: two goals and an assist for both Firmino and Salah, two assists and a goal for Coutinho. Coutinho's now scored in four successive away matches. The last Liverpool player to do that was Steven Gerrard in 2013-14, and all of his goals during that stretch came from the penalty spot.

Seven different players created at least one chance, and six of them registered an assist. Five different players created a clear-cut chance: Salah, Milner, Firmino, Moreno, and Sturridge. Only Coutinho created more chances than Milner, making just his third start of the season. While Emre Can doesn't show up on the attacking stat sheet, he was heavily involved in reclaiming possession for the game-killing third and fourth goals.

And at the other end of the pitch, Liverpool kept its first clean sheet away from home this season; they may not have been tested often, but I'll churlishly point out that Maribor put more shots on-target than Manchester United did. And had a slightly higher xG total, thanks to Suler's missed set play clear-cut chance.

Liverpool are now top of their Champions League group on goal difference after Spartak amazingly beat Sevilla 5-1. It's a knot, with Liverpool and Spartak on five points and Sevilla on four. But Liverpool, with two of three matches left at Anfield, are back in control of their own destiny.

And Liverpool, after this performance, need to reclaim their destiny in the Premier League. We almost certainly won't see this potency again this season, but this performance cannot be a one-off. And it starts with Tottenham on Sunday.

16 October 2017

Visualized: Liverpool 0-0 Manchester United

Previous Match Infographics: 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.



As has become depressingly usual, there's not a lot to be said that hasn't already been said over the last month.

Yes, Liverpool were better than Manchester United in most phases of the game. Liverpool had more and better chances to win. Liverpool played better than in this fixture last season, when Manchester United were in far worse form and Liverpool in far better.



Liverpool still got the same result as last season. Liverpool still drew. For the fifth time in the last seven matches.

So, yes, Liverpool had two clear-cut chances where United had none. Liverpool had vastly more shots. More shots on-target, and more inside the box.

It's the first time United have been held scoreless this season. United's last shot came in the 43rd minute, which was United's only shot on-target, well saved by Mignolet after Gomez did just enough to put him off. And I'll remind that this United side had scored 33 goals in its first 11 matches in all competitions.

But Liverpool's last shot on-target came in the 41st minute. 10 shots in the second half: four blocked, and six off-target. The final six shots of the match were all off-target. Those two clear-cut chances were saved by De Gea and missed by Emre Can.

Once again, Liverpool have been let down by its finishing. As against Sevilla, Burnley, Spartak, and Newcastle – every single one of those other draws over the last month.

My biggest concern – outside of the overall lack of goals and the results, obviously – is that Liverpool rarely felt capable of getting a winner as the match went on. Increasingly frustrated and increasingly poorer Liverpool shots. Blocked, blocked, blocked, blocked, off-target, off-target, off-target, off-target, off-target, off-target.

It remains difficult to get over Liverpool's substitutions. Yes, we're coming off an international break. Yes, Liverpool play again on Tuesday, in a match where points are arguably even more important; there are 30 league matches left, while there are potentially only four left in the Champions League.

But it remains strange to see Coutinho, Salah, and Firmino taken off when chasing a match-winner. Oxlade-Chamberlain at least looked dangerous and created two chances (albeit both from corners), but neither Sturridge nor Solanke took a shot. Or created a chance. Or did anything of note. And subsequently, Liverpool took just two shots after the substitutions. From Lovren and Matip – Liverpool's two center-backs – both from corners, both off-target.

This is not the first time Liverpool have looked increasingly inept in front of goal as the match progressed.



The last time Liverpool scored a winner after the 75th minute was at Everton in December 2016. The last time Liverpool conceded a late winner was against Southampton in the second leg of last January's League Cup semi-final. The last time it happened in the league was at Bournemouth in December 2016.

Just compare the amount of opposition goals scored after the 75th minute since last January to the amount scored by Liverpool.

Liverpool have yet to score after the 77th minute this season: Sturridge's added gloss in the 4-0 romp over Arsenal. The latest game winner remains Mané's against Palace in the 73rd minute in August. The latest meaningful goal was a minute later in the previous match: Liverpool's second at Hoffenheim, necessary due to Liverpool conceding late in that match, making what would have been an equalizer merely a consolation.

Incidentally, Manchester United have scored 10 league goals after the 77th minute in the league this season, so at least Liverpool didn't allow that. Liverpool didn't look anywhere near allowing that. And that's always a positive with this Liverpool side.

Still, I'm not sure what happened to the side which had those late heroics at Norwich and against Dortmund in 2015-16, or the side which at least persevered to late wins against Sunderland and Everton in the first half of 2016-16.

So, yes, Manchester United are difficult opponents. This is always a narrow fixture, one which Liverpool have struggled in for a few seasons now no matter each side's respective form. In isolation, it's an annoying result, but nowhere near a bad result. Unfortunately, we can't take it in isolation. Not after the last month of results.

Once again, Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool almost always lives and dies by the goals they score. And if they're not scoring...

14 October 2017

Liverpool 0-0 Manchester United

Liverpool played well. Liverpool still got Mourinho'd.

It is frustrating to see United come to Anfield with no ambition other than keeping Liverpool out, but it's what Jose Mourinho does at Anfield.

And it works. It especially works when United are already seven points ahead of Liverpool because of Liverpool's earlier disappointments against the type of sides that United have already blown away.

This fixture's become a damp squib, which is exactly how Mourinho likes it. And it's a damp squib that Liverpool haven't won in the last seven league meetings.

For Liverpool's 62% possession, for Liverpool's 19-6 shot difference, for Liverpool's five shots on-target to United's one, for Liverpool's 1.8-0.3 xG difference, there really isn't that much to regret in front of goal. Compared to previous regrets, at least. De Gea had his usual moment of brilliance at Anfield when denying Matip in the 34rd minute, swiftly followed by Salah firing narrowly wide. Can's awkward close-range flick over from Gomez's wonderful cross in the 56th. A soft-but-seen-them-given penalty shout for Coutinho in the 61st. And that's about all worth mentioning.

So, yeah, three very good chances, and one penalty claim. Which, admittedly, is a lot for this fixture. But it wasn't simply failing to put the damned ball in the damned net, as against Burnley, Spartak, etc. It was the final ball not good enough. It was an inability to deal with Mourinho's damned parked bus, and not for the first time. It was Manchester United's good at the defense; that have conceded just two league goals, after all. Not enough potency, again, but more importantly, not enough guile.

They also need to stop scheduling this fixture right after an international break. This was a lot like last season, except United are in far better form and Liverpool aren't.

At least Liverpool barely gave United a glimpse at their goal. Even less than this fixture last season. United played for counters and set plays – Liverpool's demonstrable weaknesses – and created one moment of note, when Liverpool lost possession in transition, got diced through the middle, and Mignolet denied a fierce but straight rocket from Lukaku just before halftime. Three corners and a couple of free kicks led to nothing, potential counter-attacks were smothered well, especially by Liverpool's full-backs.

That's Liverpool's third clean sheet of the season. Crystal Palace – still yet to score in the league – Arsenal, and Manchester United. It is a weird season and this is a weird team.

It is somewhat surprising to see a side that's scored 33 goals through 11 matches in all competitions, that's scored three or more goals in five of their last six games, play so negatively but hi have you met Jose Mourinho.

So, yes, Liverpool played well. Liverpool still drew, for the fifth time in the last seven matches.

I still maintain that "one win in eight" lies. Liverpool's two losses came because of a red card and in a competition no one cares about. Liverpool should have won approximately three or four more of those matches. But it's still one win in eight.

It'd be better if Liverpool were firing on all cylinders. It'd be easier if Liverpool were bad. But Liverpool are just barely not quite good enough. Either wasting chances, or conceding too easily on those aforementioned counters and set plays, or simply unable to break down the super-powered version of Tony Pulis' Stoke. Almost there. But not quite good enough. Again.

Liverpool are close. But close is only good enough in horseshoes and hand grenades. It's certainly not good enough in this league.

13 October 2017

Liverpool v Manchester United 10.15.17

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

Last four head-to-head:
1-1 (a) 01.15.17
0-0 (h) 10.17.16
1-1 (a; Europa League) 03.17.16
2-0 (h; Europa League) 03.10.16

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-1 Newcastle (a); 1-1 Spartak (a); 3-2 Leicester (a)
United: 4-0 Palace (h); 4-1 CSKA Moscow (a); 1-0 Southampton (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Salah 4; Mané 3; Coutinho, Firmino 2; Henderson, Sturridge 1
United: Lukaku 7; Fellaini, Martial 3; Pogba, Rashford 2; Bailly, Mkhitaryan, Valencia 1

Referee: Martin Atkinson (LFC History) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Mignolet
Trent A-A Matip Lovren Moreno
Wijnaldum Henderson Can
Salah Firmino Coutinho

The international break was good, because it was nearly two full weeks without Liverpool drama. That's always welcomed.

The international break was bad, because it claimed yet another casualty, as it always seems to do. Sadio Mané, with a hamstring, in the conservatory. He'll be out for around six weeks. I doubt I need remind of Liverpool's record without Sadio Mané.

Mohamed Salah will make it less likely that Mané's absence leads to what happened when Mané was absent last winter. But we'll still probably see a more conservative, more defensive, more grinding, and less potent Liverpool – as we saw when Mané was absent at the end of last season. A stretch where Liverpool won five, drew two, and lost just once.

We'll probably see Coutinho move back into the front three, with Henderson, Wijnaldum, and Can in midfield. There are a couple of other less likely options, and we'll probably see all of them over the next few weeks, even if infrequently. Firmino going to the left with Sturridge or Solanke central. Oxlade-Chamberlain in the front three with Coutinho in midfield. A switch to 4-2-3-1, with either Wijnaldum or Can making way for Sturridge or Solanke up top. But we'll probably start with Coutinho in attack, because that seems the XI with the highest possible ceiling.

There's also the question of Trent Alexander-Arnold or Gomez at right-back. Both quick enough to deal with Rashford or Martial, but one ostensibly more attacking and one ostensibly more defensive. Which would suggest Gomez in this fixture, but Trent Alexander-Arnold's a Scouser. There needs to be a Scouser when these sides meet.

So I'm not incredibly excited for this fixture. Not that I ever am.

Liverpool do not have the best results following international breaks: 3W-4D-1L, although they've been mostly difficult fixtures, against Tottenham (twice), City (twice), Leicester, Southampton, Everton, and United. Liverpool do not have the best results in early kickoffs: 7W-5D-8L, although 15 of those 20 games came away from Anfield.

And, as we're all aware, Liverpool have not had the best results of late.

Meanwhile, Manchester United have scored 21 goals through seven league games, behind only Manchester City. United have scored six via set plays – more than any other side in the division – with three from corners and three from crossed free kicks. Romelu Lukaku is the league's top scorer.

United have conceded just twice in the league, both in a 2-2 draw at Stoke, the only league match where they've dropped points this season. They're level on points with Manchester City, five points ahead of third. They're unbeaten in both Champions League matches, each a three-goal win.

At least United didn't come out of the international break unscathed either. Fellaini strained knee ligaments, and will be out for the next few weeks. With Pogba and Carrick already missing, United's midfield has to be Herrera and Matic. Phil Jones pulled out of the England squad, but will probably be available here. Rojo and Ibrahimovic remain long-term absentees.

Which makes tomorrow's likely XI: De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Jones, Young; Matic, Herrera; Mata, Mkhitaryan, Rashford; Lukaku. Maybe Martial starts in place of Rashford, maybe Jones can't go and it's Smalling instead. Those are pretty much the only alternatives.

We know what we're getting with Jose Mourinho's side. And we know what we're getting with Jose Mourinho. United have become a lot more potent this season, mainly thanks to Lukaku, but they're still low-block-and-counter rather than blitzkrieg. Strangle then garrote, rather than Liverpool's ideal fist-to-the-face-and-don't-stop-punching. Only six of United's 21 goals have come in the first half. 10 of the 21 have come after the 80th minute. Which *glances at Watford and Sevilla's equalizers, and Leicester in the League Cup* isn't ideal.

This may not be the ideal fixture for a fresh start, but it's a fresh start all the same. Yes, results were bad over the last month, but the play really wasn't. Yes, United are playing depressingly well. Yes, Liverpool tend to stumble in early kickoffs and after international breaks.

But this is what it is. Liverpool have to deal with it, Liverpool have to overcome it.

I know I am pessimistic far too often for most folks' liking. And I am admittedly pessimistic about tomorrow. But a good performance certainly isn't out of the question. And a win certainly isn't out of the question. We've seen Liverpool storm out of the blocks in a big game at Anfield. We've seen Liverpool convert the chances we saw Liverpool create but fail to convert over the last month. We've seen Liverpool keep an in-form Lukaku completely under wraps.

Liverpool can; we know Liverpool can. The question, as always, is whether Liverpool will.

09 October 2017

Two Years of Jürgen Klopp

Yesterday marked two years since Jürgen Klopp became Liverpool's manager. Jürgen Klopp. It's still hard to believe sometimes.

And it's been a wild two years.

A rebuild, rebirth, renaissance after the nadir in 2014-15. 3-1 Chelsea and 4-1 City little more than a month after Klopp's appointment; 4-3, 3-1, and 4-0 Arsenal; 4-0 in his first Merseyside Derby; multiple three-, four-, and five-goal wins. Two cup finals in his first season. Champions League qualification for only the second time in eight years in his second season.

There has been player development: Coutinho and Firmino are now bonafide stars; Henderson, Lallana, and Can have all improved as well. There have been clever transfer purchases: Mané and Salah are phenomenal, even at the costs, while Matip and Wijnaldum look decent deals as well. There has been youth development: Alexander-Arnold, Woodburn, and Gomez; Solanke, Grujic, Robertson, and Origi are a stage older but will continue to progress; even Emre Can's still only 23.

Liverpool have a young squad but Liverpool also have a settled squad.

And when Liverpool are fun, they're really damned fun. When they're not, welp.

Yes, there have also been issues. You know the issues. The issues are even more suffocating after the month we've seen. We'll talk more about the issues.



After this last month, you will probably not be surprised to learn that Klopp's most common scoreline has been 1-1, with 15 in all competitions and 10 in the league. Next most frequent has been 1-0 – yes, Liverpool can grind out games every now and then – with 13 in all competitions and eight in the league – followed by 2-1 (ten in all competitions; seven in the league), 2-2 (8; 6), and 0-0 (8; 4).

I don't have the stats for the entire Premier League, but I suspect this isn't uncommon. They are, after all, fairly common scorelines. And none of those most common scorelines end in a Liverpool loss.

Good. That's how it should be. Even more impressive is the fact that Liverpool have scored at least three goals in 30 of Klopp's 111 matches – 27%. It's happened in 23 of 75 in the Premier League – 30.7%.

Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool are good at the goals.



Again, Coutinho and Firmino have become fully-fledged superstars. Sadio Mané has less than a full season worth of games due to injury, international absences, and suspension, and already has 16 goals, all in the Premier League. Mo Salah, who's played just 11 games, is already joint-ninth top scorer since Klopp became manager. Liverpool have seen 29 different goal-scorers over the last two years, although only 17 are still with the club (with Origi and Ojo out on loan, futures to be determined).

Goals are good, and goals usually haven't been the problem for Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool – this last month, and last winter last season not withstanding.

So, how have Klopp's two years compared to managers past?



Gulp. That goals against average, especially in the league. Otherwise known as that 'the same struggles in defense, especially against set plays and teams you expect to beat, for two years now.' That 'great at limiting shots, awful at limiting good shots and goals.' That 'yep, you didn't buy a center-back this summer and the internet is still angry.' That 'nate is tired of repeating himself on the internet; I don't know how to keep rephrasing these things.'

Also, that points-per-game average, which is lower than I'd have guessed, and surprisingly less than both Rodgers and Benitez.

There are, unsurprisingly, a plethora of caveats.

Both Klopp and Houllier took over mid-season, which makes a difference, and had much more difficult rebuilds. Rodgers' first season wasn't great, but then 2013-14 happened. And then 2014-15 happened. And then 2015-16 started. That ship ran around and sank quickly. You ain't gonna get me to say anything bad about Rafa Benitez but hoooo boy that first league campaign had a good deal of hot garbage. And the league is vastly, vastly more difficult now than it was for Benitez or Houllier – the bottom teams are richer, and the top teams are really, really richer.

But Benitez had won the Champions League – if slightly flukey – and FA Cup by the end of his first two seasons, and his sides played 11 more games over two years than Klopp's "overwhelming" fixture list. Rodgers guided Liverpool to its best season in nearly a decade in his second year, even if it was very much Luis Suarez-led. By the end of 2000-01, Houllier's "third" season after a midseason appointment – the same time frame that Klopp's Liverpool is at right now – Liverpool had won a Cup Treble.

Gulp.

To be fairer, there's also this:



It's too bad that there aren't more Top 6 teams. Because Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool remains superlative against them. And Liverpool remain unbeaten in the Champions League this season, after going a lot farther in the Europa League that we'd any right to expect in Klopp's first season. Klopp's Liverpool are good against good teams and that's good. But a win percentage of just 53% in league matches against clubs outside the top six isn't going to cut it. Beat The Dross, Win The League™.

We know the weaknesses. Unfortunately, and depressingly, they've mostly been the same weaknesses for almost Klopp's entire tenure, at least in defense. The attack's gotten better and continues to get better, even if Liverpool seemingly can't convert a clear-cut chance of late. The defense, yet again, apparently is what it is.



There have been disappointments. There have been stalls and set-backs, last winter most notably, but this last month to a lesser extent. Progress has been slower than we'd like, but there has been progress.

Year Three has been a key year for all of the aforementioned Liverpool managers. Rodgers' Liverpool fell apart in stages, and continued to get worse, and Rodgers rightfully got sacked. Benitez's Liverpool didn't replicate those early cup successes but consolidated their top position in the league – better in 2006-07, better in 2007-08, and should have won the league in 2008-09. Houllier's Liverpool's won the League Cup, FA Cup, UEFA Cup, Charity Shield, and UEFA Super Cup.

Where Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool goes this year – which is still very much up in the air – may well define where Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool career goes.