23 April 2018

Liverpool v AS Roma 04.24.18

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

CL results:
Liverpool: 2-1 City (a); 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)
Roma: 3-0 Barcelona (h); 1-4 Barcelona (a); 1-0 Shakhtar (h); 1-2 Shakhtar (a); 1-0 Qarabag (h); 0-2 Atletico (a); 3-0 Chelsea (h); 3-3 Chelsea (a); 2-1 Qarabag (a); 0-0 Atletico (h)

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-2 West Brom (a); 3-0 Bournemouth (h); 2-1 City (a)
Roma: 3-0 SPAL (a); 2-1 Genoa (h); 0-0 Lazio (a)

Goalscorers (Europe):
Liverpool: Firmino, Salah 9; Mané 7; Coutinho 5; Can 3; Alexander-Arnold, Oxlade-Chamberlain 2; Sturridge 1
Roma: Dzeko 6; El Shaarawy, Manolas, Perotti 2; de Rossi, Kolarov, Ünder 1

Referee: Felix Brych (GER)

His third Liverpool game in this Champions League campaign. 3-0 v City, but also 3-3 at Sevilla.

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

Holy crap, Liverpool really are in a Champions League semi-final. And it's here.

Liverpool's XI is easy. You know it, I know it. There are literally no chances for changes unless someone gets hurt in training (shit, now I'm scared someone gets hurt in training) or Klopp somehow decides to use Wijnaldum rather than Milner or Oxlade-Chamberlain.

The preferred back four back together. Hopefully good Lovren – as he's usually been with van Dijk – rather than bad Lovren. Henderson deep, Milner creative, Oxlade-Chamberlain breaking lines. And that front three, ideally doing all the front three things. A lot of pressing, a lot of fast-paced attacks, hopefully early and often.

As we've gratefully seen an awful lot in this season's Champions League, especially in the first legs of the knockout rounds.

Meanwhile, Roma have had some impressive performances this season. Yes, of course, the last round at Barcelona, a 3-0 win to overcome a 1-4 first leg deficit. But also a 3-0 home win over Chelsea – and 3-3 away draw against the same opponents – in this competition. A 4-2 win at title-chasing Napoli last month. Their best games have a lot of Roma goals. Their worst games do not, for either side.

But Roma are also third in Serie A by some distance, 16 points behind second, just a point ahead of Inter in fifth. Next season's European places are far less settled than England's. The match between the Barcelona legs was an 0-2 loss against ninth-place Fiorentina, but the two matches since Barcelona have been competent, comfortable wins over Genoa and SPAL.

Roma have played four at the back in their last two matches – their usual 4-3-3 formation – but the most frequent guess I've seen seems to be a return to the 3-5-2 used in the win over Barcelona and subsequent 0-0 draw with Lazio.

Allison; Fazio, Manolas, Jesus; Florenzi, Strootman, de Rossi, Nainggolan, Kolarov; Schick, Dzeko.

If it's 4-3-3, then Ünder, El Shaarawy, and Perotti all become options in attack – the first, Mo Salah's replacement in the side on the right; one of the latter two on the left. Gonalons could come into midfield, but the aforementioned three have been preferred when available.

I'd be more worried about a 4-3-3, to be honest. Ünder's fast and can pin Robertson back; Perotti and El Shaarawy are clever on the ball and can deliver defense-splitting passes, drawing Alexander-Arnold inside or forward, or requiring one of the central midfielders to help cover. Two attacking midfielders floating in and around Dzeko, as well as Nainggolan. Plus, 4-3-3 gives Roma a better opportunity to press Liverpool if Liverpool attempt to build from the back.

Meanwhile, 3-5-2 can work against Liverpool, but it's much more likely to work when it's more a 5-3-2, simply denying space again and again before countering. That's still a danger game to play. And a high-line, play-out-from-the-back, fullbacks-attacking 3-5-2 is even more dangerous against this Liverpool side. I wouldn't give Liverpool space in behind. I wouldn't give Liverpool more players to press.

Either formation, Liverpool will have to defend crosses and set plays better than they did on Saturday, but Liverpool should be able to defend crosses and set plays better than they did on Saturday with the first-choice back four returning to the field. Either formation, Dzeko is the type of forward – like Kane, Lukaku, Rondon – that has gotten at Liverpool at times this season: big enough to win headers to set up others, but good on the ball as well. Either formation, Allisson is one of the best keepers in the world. Either formation, Roma have a full complement of players to pick from.

So, yes, Liverpool are top scorers in this competition. Liverpool are unbeaten in this competition. Roma have lost their last three away matches in this competition.

But this competition can make lies of form and favorites. This competition hinges on single moments. See: the last round. Liverpool avoids conceding a second to City after a three-goal first-leg advantage thanks to an offside flag and goes on to win the tie. By a seemingly comprehensive 5-1 margin. Roma gets a second against Barcelona early in the second half when behind by three after the first leg and goes on to win the tie on away goals.

Moments make matches, especially in knockout competition, and mistakes can and often will be severely punished, especially at this level. These are the last four teams in Europe, after all.

Once again, we need it to be Liverpool doing the punishing. Liverpool have come too far to falter here.

Visualized: Liverpool 2-2 West Brom

Previous Match Infographics: Bournemouth (h), 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. 



But, but Liverpool lost a lead again!



It had been 12 matches since Liverpool dropped points despite having a lead, last happening in that I'm-still-mad-at-Jon-Moss 2-2 draw against Tottenham. That's almost the longest stretch since Klopp became manager. The high is 13, between 1-1 at Tottenham and 3-4 at Bournemouth last season. Liverpool were top of the league table before that loss at Bournemouth, far and away the most impressive team in England during the first few months before the winter of our discontent set in.

After that, it happened a lot. Twice in December, twice in January, once in March, and twice in April last season. Once in August, once in September, once in October, twice in November, twice in December this season.

It's happened a lot less lately.

But, but Liverpool conceded from set plays again!



This was the fourth time this season that Liverpool conceded from two set plays in the same game; the others were 3-3 at Watford, 1-4 at Tottenham, and 3-3 at Sevilla. That seems like a lot. And, incidentally, all four were away from home. Every single set play goal conceded aside from Matip's second-phase own goal in the FA Cup has been away from home.

That Sevilla match is a handy dividing line. After that game – the 20th of the season – Liverpool had conceded from nine set plays: five corners and four free kicks. In the 30 matches since, Liverpool have conceded four set play goals: Swansea's winner in the 0-1 loss back in January, Matip's own goal against West Brom, and the two on Saturday, Three of four against the same opposition.

Both Swansea's winner and Matip's own goal were back in January. Liverpool went 14 matches without conceding from a set play prior to this nonsense. Liverpool went from that Swansea winner in January to the 79th minute yesterday without conceding from a corner: nearly 16 full matches, 1478 minutes played, 63 corners faced without conceding.

It's happened a lot less lately.

And, of course, Liverpool conceded just nine goals in total over that 14-match stretch.

And, of course, Liverpool played with an almost entirely different back four on Saturday: two reserve fullbacks, the fourth-choice center-back, and van Dijk playing on the opposite side as usual.

So, sure, there are some concerns. A set-back prior to one of Liverpool's most important matches in the last decade. A potential loss of that indefinable "morale." A reminder of, if not return to, the bad old ways.

More tangibly, there's Liverpool's dearth of shots against West Broom. 62% possession, but only nine shots; only City (a) and Tottenham (h) have held Liverpool to fewer. As at Everton, take one of the front three – or two, in the Merseyside Derby – out of the equation, and the group struggles for chances. Four from Salah and three from Ings, but none from anyone else until Firmino and Milner's late, speculative efforts. Mané, at the heart of a few good moves early on, was notably needed deeper in the build-up and failed to either take a shot or make a key pass in his 65 minutes.

Liverpool's top chance creator came on in the 66th minute, and subsequently set up all three of Liverpool's shots over those 25 minutes.

More tangibly, there's Liverpool's lack of depth. With Can, Lallana, Matip, and Clyne out, this is the XI we got. Only three center-backs available. Only four central midfielders available. Ings as a reasonable replacement up front, but obviously rusty and obviously not Roberto Firmino. Firmino and Oxlade-Chamberlain in reserve, but Dominic Solanke the only other front-six substitute on the bench.

This summer's going to be as much about squad depth as it is adding to the first-choice XI. If not more.

Still, Liverpool did enough to win. Ings scored, his first since Brendan Rodgers' last match. Salah scored, yet again. Liverpool could have won with a different referee. Liverpool could have won if not for one regrettable moment with one substitute deciding to break the offside trap on a free kick. Liverpool still drew despite all those changes to the side, Liverpool are still in pole position for a top-four place.

Thanks to goal difference, Liverpool probably need four points from the final three matches. At most. If Liverpool beat Chelsea in two weeks, then we're moot. But this match, despite the rotation, despite the disjointedness, despite the lack of shots or of control, could have made life a lot less worrisome, at least in league. Should have made.

And Liverpool's "easiest" league match in the last three comes next weekend, against 19th-place Stoke. In a similar situation to the Everton draw, and this West Brom draw. A match where Klopp may feel the need to rotate his side as he did here, as he did at Goodison, with the Champions League looming.

As fun as it's been, as great as it could end up being, I do not want this season to be about lost opportunities and regrets. And I can already think of a few. This doesn't come close to some of the previous, but it's still now on the list.

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.