23 September 2017

Liverpool 3-2 Leicester City

Goals:
Salah 15'
Coutinho 23'
Okazaki 45+3'
Henderson 68'
Vardy 69'

That was Liverpool distilled to almost as pure an essence as possible. Almost.

We got three great Liverpool goals, from three different players, from three different types of moves.

We got stupid and unlucky Liverpool concessions to make a game that should have been settled clearly not settled.

We saw the best of Mignolet and the worst of Mignolet in the space of three minutes, and throughout the entire match.

We saw Liverpool rampant and Liverpool on tilt. We had heart attacks throughout, especially in second-half added time.

Forget "pass and move, it's the Liverpool groove." Dumb and fun, that's how Liverpool run.

The only reason I wrote "almost" is that Liverpool won, thankfully denying us that narrative for at least one more match. Liverpool won, by any means necessary. Liverpool won despite themselves, Liverpool won because of themselves. In spite of opposition that almost always gives them trouble, in spite of a referee who also ruined Liverpool's opening day fixture.

The match started in the almost the best possible manner, with early goals from Salah and Coutinho. Salah's point-blank but difficult-angle header thanks to Coutinho's brilliant cross, then Coutinho's even better direct free kick. Liverpool could have had more had Can's shot from distance not slammed off the post, with Salah poking the rebound wide, or had Firmino converted his left-footed effort on the counter.

Liverpool could have conceded had Mignolet not denied Vardy in the sixth minute after Lovren played him onside, had Okazaki's shot not been deflected after Vardy robbed a dallying Mignolet, or had the linesman missed multiple Leicester players offside on a free kick that Okazaki then put into the net.

Obviously, 2-0 is rarely ever safe for this side, but Liverpool looked like seeing out the half fairly comfortably in spite of those earlier Leicester chances. They hadn't allowed a non-offside shot since the 17th minute. They were controlling tempo and tenor, even if with less possession than usual, and Firmino had just nearly scored a third.

But then, in the second minute of added time, a hopeful punt forward. Mignolet has it covered, charging out to clear, but Matip gets close enough to Vardy to allow him to dive. Which he does. And the free kick's given. And all hell breaks loose.

Mignolet denies Vardy's header from the free kick, but that means a corner. And you know what corners mean. Mignolet rashly charges out to try to punch. He misses, but he's also fouled, but it's also not called. Ndidi's errant header falls to Maguire, who's fouling Gomez, and everyone's out of position and the ball somehow gets to an open Okazaki on the goal line.

Half-time whistle. 2-1. Leicester back in the game.

Would Liverpool, unfairly punished in each their last three matches, fall apart after the restart? Would Leicester, often so good at home, make them pay for it?

Kind of, but not quite.

Leicester took the game to Liverpool more than they had at any other point after the restart. Nervous Liverpool touches, scrambled Liverpool clearances, they come again. But no Leicester shots. But just enough, just like between the 18th and 45th minutes. Liverpool even had the only potential scoring moment of note when Lovren was clearly, clearly, clearly held on a corner, preventing a clean header. Anthony Taylor, in all his wisdom, thoughtfully took everything in then booked Lovren for dissent.

Still, just enough until it almost wasn't, as Vardy got in behind onto Albrighton's through-ball but Matip recovered in time to block. Just enough, barely enough, until it seemed to be more than enough as Liverpool finally clicked on the counter just seconds after Vardy's chance. Henderson's interception, quick to Coutinho, quick to Sturridge, running to the penalty box then centering for Henderson, a touch to shirk the defender and shift the angle, and the two-goal lead restored.

For all of another minute.

Leicester kick-off. A couple of passes, a soft foul, a free kick spread wide to Albrighton, a run away from Gomez, a cross to Gray open at the back post, saved by Mignolet but right to Vardy unmarked six yards from goal.

Liverpool, everybody. Almost as pure an essence as possible.

At 2-1, we'd only seen partial tilt. Now we got full tilt. Three minutes after Vardy scored, Vardy stood on the penalty spot, somehow fouled by Mignolet on another long pass that beat Liverpool's back-line, fouled because Mignolet absolutely whiffed on an attempted clearance.

It had not been a good day for Simon Mignolet. The mistake for Okazaki's chance in the 17th minute. Yes, fouled, but still not strong enough to prevent Leicester's opener. Palming Gray's shot right to Vardy for Leicester's second. And now, conceding the penalty for what looked to be Leicester's equalizer, as Vardy had scored all five of the penalties he'd put on goal.

Simon Mignolet saved it.

Peak Simon Mignolet.

Incidentally, Mignolet has now saved seven of 15 penalties he's faced for Liverpool in the league.

From there, confidence somehow restored. Liverpool somehow almost comfortable – as comfortable as Liverpool get, at least – even when defending an unnecessary free kick in the fifth minute of added time. One Leicester shot in the final 20 minutes, from Ndidi 25 yards out and immediately blocked, compared to not-far-off chances from Sturridge (twice) and Wijnaldum.

So, yeah, it wasn't easy to watch. It rarely is. There were a lot of the good things we've seen from Liverpool: Coutinho and Salah and Henderson and Sturridge as a substitute. And there was a lot of the bad, with Liverpool defending more than adequately until WHAM they don't. Party at the front – even if less so than in draws against Sevilla or Burnley – and a party for the opposition at the back.

But Liverpool won. Despite that bad and that terror. On a ground where they'd lost by two goals all three times they'd faced Leicester under Klopp.

So, yeah, Liverpool once against needed at least three goals to win, as seems to be the case unless they're playing still-goalless Crystal Palace or Arsenal. But we can worry about those recurring defensive issues on set plays and against direct sides and despite having a lead tomorrow. And Monday. And when Liverpool *gulp* travel to Russia *gulp* to face Spartak Moscow on Tuesday.

But not today. When you've failed to win your last four matches, and probably deserved to win three of those four, I do not care how today's was achieved. When you beat opposition that's caused you so many problems recently, I do not care how today's was achieved.

Only that it's achieved.

22 September 2017

Liverpool at Leicester 09.23.17

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

Last four head-to-head:
0-2 Leicester (a; League Cup) 09.19.17
1-3 Leicester (a) 02.27.17
4-1 Liverpool (h) 09.10.16
0-2 Leicester (a) 02.02.16

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-2 Leicester (a); 1-1 Burnley (h); 2-2 Sevilla (h)
Burnley: 2-0 Liverpool (h); 1-1 Huddersfield (a); 1-2 Chelsea (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Mané, Salah 3; Firmino 2; Sturridge 1
Leicester: Vardy 4; Okazaki 2; Maguire 1

Referee: Anthony Taylor (LFC History) (WhoScored)

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

Only one match left to go on Sadio Mané's suspension. That can't end soon enough. Coincidentally, Liverpool have lost, drawn, drawn, and lost in the matches since Mané's red card.

It's been a fun two weeks. Thankfully, Liverpool supporters – as is their inclination – have taken it in stride. Or the opposite. Whichever.

And to continue the fun, yesterday saw the less than welcome news that Lovren, Can, and Matip are all struggling with injury issues. Coming off a loss to the same opposition, on the same ground, albeit with a team that'll be very different tomorrow, it's not exactly ideal.

Emre Can at least trained on Thursday, but neither Lovren nor Matip did. That's, um, worrisome. That would mean Liverpool would be starting its third- and fourth-choice center-backs – the same two who started on Tuesday. In the sixth league match of the season. For all of the injury problems last season, there was never a time where both Matip and Lovren missed a league match, where Liverpool had to start Lucas and Klavan together.

I remain more forgiving than most, but I still need another reminder as to why Liverpool didn't buy a center-back this summer. I also remain hopeful that Matip will be available, more likely in my mind than Lovren given how that the latter's already missed two matches, but "hopeful" is very much a relative term.

With Can in contention, Liverpool seemingly have two options for the front six. The first is the front three we saw against Burnley, with Can left on the bench – or Wijnaldum, as Liverpool are playing away from Anfield. But more likely, and the guess above, is the most-frequently deployed midfield with Coutinho moving into the front three.

I am not especially inclined to see Firmino and Sturridge start together again. The results have been less than ideal. I admit that it's slightly unfair to phrase it that way rather than "I'd prefer Firmino did not play on the left, thank you" but the results don't really lie. If it's 4-3-3, Liverpool have not done well when those two start. 4-Diamond-2? Fine, although it ain't happening when Salah's available. 4-2-3-1? I'm willing if you are, and I'm honestly surprised we haven't seen it in so long a time. But not 4-3-3. Firmino needs to be central – read: "central" – even if at the expense of Sturridge.

Regardless of who starts, Liverpool have not had the best of times against Leicester since Klopp became manager. Liverpool have won both home matches – one narrowly, one emphatically – but have lost all three at the King Power Stadium. All three by two-goal margins – 0-2 and 1-3 in the league in the previous two seasons, and 0-2 in the League Cup earlier this week.

Leicester, especially on their own ground, are the archetypes of exactly how Liverpool often fail in "these types of matches." Leicester can press, better than they're given credit for, but Leicester are much more likely to sit deep and deny Liverpool, then look to counter against the high line. Liverpool do well, but sputter in the final third, then Liverpool concede against the run of play, then all fresh hell breaks loose. Leicester have done it to excellent effect against Liverpool more than once, even if Leicester are not the only ones.

Robert Huth and Matty James are out, but Jamie Vardy should be back in training after missing the midweek match. Which isn't the best news, as he's scored five goals in his last three games against Liverpool, including two in both of Leicester's away wins. Fuchs should also return from an eye injury.

Leicester's XI seems likely to be Schmeichel; Simpson, Morgan, Maguire, Fuchs; Mahrez, Ndidi, King, Albrighton; Okazaki, Vardy. Which features only three starters from Tuesday's meeting, although Okazaki obviously had an impact off the bench, and either Amartey – who was at right-back on Tuesday – or Iborra could play in midfield rather than King.

For all the complaints, life and Liverpool really aren't the worst. The underlying statistics – even with Mané absent, even with one or even both center-backs missing – suggest someone's due for a hammering. Ideally sooner rather than later. It's still early, this Liverpool side is better than its recent results, and Liverpool have played better than their recent results.

It could well be tomorrow – as happened when these sides met at Anfield in September last season. But, given precedent, I'll still fear the worst until Liverpool proves otherwise.

18 September 2017

Visualized: Liverpool 1-1 Burnley

Previous Match Infographics: 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.)

One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn't belong...



35 shots is a lot of shots. Like, "happened only six times in the last six and-a-little-more seasons" lot. 35 shots is a shot every two minutes and 35 seconds. For 90 minutes on Saturday, Liverpool took aim at Burnley's goal once every 155 seconds. And Liverpool usually missed.

Sure, three of the above games were Luis Suarez-driven. One was a red card-inspired whooping handed out in one of the most lopsided Merseyside Derbies in most of our lifetimes. And the other happened against a beat-from-the-beginning Hull City when Liverpool were entirely on-fire a year ago.

But Liverpool also managed to score at least four goals in all of them, despite a similar number of shots on-target. Somehow, Liverpool only scored one goal on Saturday.

I ain't blaming just one person – albeit one who took a fifth of those shots – but this wasn't quite welcome back, Phil.



But Sturridge's shot map wasn't much better, but Can's shot map wasn't much better. Salah's was, but still not what we're becoming used to from him. And Firmino's shot map was almost nonexistent.

I ain't blaming just two people, but this wasn't the match where Firmino and Sturridge finally proved they could play together either.



Three wins, three draws, and three losses. Against that opposition. Yikes.

Their individual stats over that series of matches aren't actually bad. Each have taken about as many shots and played about as many key passes as usual, each have surpassed their usual shot accuracy. But Firmino has just two goals – both against Leicester – and one assist. Sturridge has scored once and assisted once. In nine matches. Where – if they all counted for points – Liverpool would have averaged just 1.33 points per game.

This wasn't a problem in 2015-16 under Klopp. Those two started 12 matches together. Liverpool won six, drew five, and lost just one. Sturridge scored seven, Firmino scored two and assisted two. But Liverpool also played 4-2-3-1, with Sturridge up top and Firmino lurking behind and around.

Since the start of last season, Liverpool have tried to shoe horn Firmino and Sturridge into the now-preferred 4-3-3, with either Firmino on the left or Sturridge on the right. And it has not worked. Only the 3-0 win against Boro on the last day of last season saw a change in formation, the 4-4-2 diamond where Liverpool needed a riotous win and got a riotous win.

Liverpool really should have gotten more rewards from their attack in both of their last two matches.



And Liverpool should not have conceded three times from what the opposition's attack did in the last two matches.

Liverpool have now conceded from the opposition's first shot on-target against Watford, Hoffenheim (h), Sevilla, and Burnley. Which is half of the matches so far this season, and four of the six where Liverpool have conceded at all. This annoyance has returned with a vengeance.

It's the same pattern which has frustrated us over the last two seasons. The opposition gets a preventable goal – sometimes early, sometimes late – while Liverpool's attack can't do enough to overcome the at-least-once-a-match lapse at the back.

This time, one long ball – delivered with Burnley not pressed in their own half – one lost aerial duel, one Klavan Kalamity™, and Liverpool are behind. Liverpool immediately get one back through a very well worked move of their own – the type of speed and movement from Salah we knew was so necessary in breaking down opposition like this – but no more. Burnley could have gotten a winner – Mee cleared off the line by Matip then denied by Mignolet, both from corners; Liverpool could have gotten one more – Salah's penalty shout ignored before Solanke poked a clear-cut chance off the crossbar.

So, yes, there's a bit of bad luck about the result. Ignored penalty shouts, woodwork. That many shots probably would have led to far more than one goal on most other days. So, yes, it's not as if this is the first time Burnley have done similar to good opponents, having already beaten Chelsea and drawn Tottenham away, not to mention the two matches against this side last season. This looked a lot like Liverpool's early-season match at Burnley in 2016-17, except at least Liverpool are coming away with a point rather than none.

But that it's the same pattern which has frustrated us over the last two seasons, coming after a week where Liverpool were annihilated by Manchester City and had similar happen against Sevilla, makes it that much harder to stomach.

15 September 2017

Liverpool v Burnley 09.16.17

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

Last four head-to-head:
2-1 Liverpool (h) 03.12.17
0-2 Burnley (a) 08.20.16
2-0 Liverpool (h) 03.04.15
1-0 Liverpool (a) 12.26.14

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-2 Sevilla (h); 0-5 City (a); 4-0 Arsenal (h)
Burnley: 1-0 Palace (h); 1-1 Tottenham (a); 2-0 Blackburn (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Mané 3; Firmino, Salah 2; Sturridge 1
Burnley: Vokes, Wood 2; Ward 1

Referee: Roger East (LFC History) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Mignolet
Trent A-A Matip Lovren Robertson
Alex O-C Henderson Wijnaldum
Salah Firmino Coutinho

As against Crystal Palace two weeks ago, there will be rotation. Probably at least five changes, with one enforced – the first of three matches where Sadio Mané's suspended.

Mignolet for Karius is certain. Coutinho's first start of the season, whether in the front three or midfield, probably is as well. Alexander-Arnold for Gomez, Oxlade-Chamberlain in midfield, and Robertson at left-back also seem likely. But maybe also Klavan for Lovren, Sturridge for Firmino? Maybe Henderson's left out for the first time this season, with Can as the deepest midfielder. Maybe Coutinho in midfield, Firmino on the left, and Sturridge up top?

We could even see a formation change. 4-4-2, whether with a midfield diamond or not, Firmino and Sturridge or Firmino and Salah or Salah and Sturridge. 4-2-3-1, with Firmino or Coutinho lurking as the #10. Or three-at-the-back, which was the switch made when reduced to ten men at Manchester City, for all the good that did.

Liverpool do have more options than last season. It's still early, and we're still not entirely sure how Klopp's going to handle somewhere between 10 and 15 more matches this season than last.

Burnley, level on points with Liverpool after four games, is in terrifying form. But it's not as if they're smashing all comers. Their loss came at home against West Brom, who were just smashed by Brighton, of all sides. And Burnley have failed to score more than once in a league match since opening day.

But it's how they've played in two of those four matches. The 3-2 win at Chelsea on opening day, the surprise of the round which thankfully led to less focus on Liverpool's awfulness at Watford, and a 1-1 draw with Tottenham two weeks ago thanks to a 90th-minute equalizer.

Their two toughest matches, the only two away from home, both against top-four sides. A stunning win and a punishing-for-their-opponents draw. Yikes.

Burnley will most likely stick with Dyche's preferred 4-4-2 formation, that which gave Liverpool problems in both meetings last season, but it is worth nothing he switched to 4-5-1 at both Chelsea and Tottenham. Still, the most likely XI remains Pope; Lowton, Tarkowski, Mee, Ward; Gudmundsson, Cork, Defour, Mee; Vokes, Wood.

I had almost forgotten that Jon Walters, often Liverpool's bane, joined Burnley this summer. Ashley Barnes, who scored Burnley's seventh-minute opener in this fixture last season, is still around as well. Midfielder Jeff Hendrick, a starter prior to injury, is back in training. First-choice keeper Tom Heaton will be out for a few months, and back-up Nick Pope will make his first Premier League start after coming on a sub last week, but that only heightens my expectations for opposition keeper heroics. Record signing Chris Wood's in hot form with two goals in two games, his first two appearances for the club.

These matches are never easy and rarely fun. Burnley love aerial duels, set plays, and frustrating Liverpool. Liverpool seemingly love frustrating us. This was a tricky fixture last season, these are often tricky fixtures, and Liverpool have struggled for consistency, to put it nicely, so far this season. Arsenal and Hoffenheim were great, City was not, Palace was fine, and there was both good and bad against Watford and Sevilla.

Liverpool's attack – even without Sadio Mané, so often the lynchpin – is better than last season's, and should be better than against this opposition last season. But Liverpool's defense will remain terrifying, especially in matches like these, until consistently proving otherwise.

14 September 2017

Visualized: Liverpool 2-2 Sevilla

Previous Match Infographics: Manchester City (a), Arsenal (h), Hoffenheim (h), Crystal Palace (h), Hoffenheim (a), Watford (a)

Match data from WhoScored and Liverpool FC



There's only so much you can say when similar things keep happening again and again and again and again.

Once again, a defensive error that should never have happened proves costly.




Once again, Liverpool drop points from a winning position thanks to a second half concession.




Once again, Liverpool's opponent scores from every single shot on-target.




Liverpool players – especially goalkeepers and center-backs – commit errors at way too high a pace. Liverpool let opposition sides back into games way too frequently. Liverpool don't allow many shots, but Liverpool allow really, really good shots.

This often happens in matches that Liverpool "should" win. They're often matches that Liverpool should have won on balance of play. It continues to happen at about the same rate since Jürgen Klopp became manager.

This time, Liverpool – read: Dejan Lovren – committed an early error which set an awful tone. As against Palace and Watford in 2015-16; Burnley, Southampton (League Cup), Hull, and Leicester in 2016-16.

This time, Liverpool let a lead slip late – the midfielders slow to react to a quick throw-in, Lovren and Moreno caught ball-watching, although give Correa credit where due for the control and finish. Liverpool did similar against Southampton, West Brom, Sunderland, Southampton, Tottenham, and Newcastle in 2015-16; Tottenham, Bournemouth, Sunderland, United, and Bournemouth in 2016-17, and Watford already this season.

Yes, credit where due. That second goal was quite clever, if aided by Liverpool. Sevilla improved as the match went on. Sevilla's changes improved the side. Sevilla finished the stronger side. That shouldn't have mattered after that first half performance.

Liverpool's attack remains very good. Better than last season. Vastly so. But, too often, Liverpool need that attack to take almost every single chance in order to get past these issues we've seen again and again and again and again. Do that, and we get 4-0 Arsenal. Don't do that, and don't turn that first half dominance into at least three goals, and miss a penalty just before halftime, and here we are.

Again.

Visualized: Liverpool 0-5 Manchester City

Previous Match Infographics: Arsenal (h), Hoffenheim (h), Crystal Palace (h), Hoffenheim (a), Watford (a)

Match data from WhoScored.



(Here are the formation diagrams usually included in match reviews: At the start; After all subs.)

I think I can be excused for a few days tardiness because of a hurricane. And, to be fair, there's not a whole lot to say about this anyway, whether said on Sunday or Thursday. We're here almost solely for thoroughness and completeness' sake.

That was an emphatic a whooping as can be. That's not good. Liverpool were second-best, if not by much, for the first 35 minutes, then not even fourth-best after the sending off.

And it was almost as meaningless as a whooping can be.

Well, "meaningless" isn't necessarily the best word for this. That Liverpool rolled over so easily in the second half isn't meaningless. That Liverpool's tactical switch in the second half – shifting to something like a 3-5-1 – completely failed to stem any more damage isn't meaningless. That Liverpool's midfield was so easily passed around and around and around until passed through when down to ten men isn't meaningless; just look at the chalkboards for all four of City's man-advantage goals, especially the second and fourth. This is not a good side when it's not a pressing side, especially in the middle of the pitch, and Manchester City is exactly the type who can and will make them pay for it.

And that Liverpool were already losing 0-1 when Sadio Mané was sent off isn't meaningless.

But once Mané was sent off – and I ain't arguing with the red card; it may have been accidental but it was also all sorts of dangerous play – and especially once Jesus got City's second just before halftime, this match was completely over as a contest. Whether it finished 0-2 or 0-5 only really matters towards goal difference.

To be fair, a Pep Guardiola team is the last team you want to face with a man disadvantage. But that was still all sorts of unacceptable, Liverpool.

13 September 2017

Liverpool 2-2 Sevilla

Goals:
Ben Yedder 5'
Firmino 21'
Salah 37'
Correa 72'

At least it went better than the last time Liverpool faced Sevilla?

But, look, we've been here before. The match started in the worst possible manner and the match ended in a not great manner. In between, especially the first half and very much especially in attack, was competent if not excellent.

But Liverpool did dumb things in defense, and paid for it. Liverpool failed to take enough chances to make up for doing dumb things in defense – a missed penalty in the 42nd minute the most galling – and paid for it.

An Anfield roaring for the return of the Champions League proper should have been the catalyst to blow the doors off Sevilla, as it was against Hoffenheim. And it almost was, it might have been. Liverpool pushed, Can and Henderson tried their luck from distance almost immediately. But one Sevilla attack: Sevilla's first attack, Sevilla's only real attack of the half. One low cross into a dangerous position, but a low cross that should have been easily cleared. One kick through nothing but air from Dejan Lovren. And one goal for Liverpool's opponents from a defensive error. One goal conceded from one shot on-target.

But Liverpool responded. Anfield didn't stop, and that attack didn't stop. Mané and Salah again gave their markers nothing but nightmares. Liverpool's midfield took turns pressing feverishly, giving Sevilla little outlet or time to breathe. Firmino everywhere, overloads everywhere. Liverpool kept coming until Liverpool equalized: pressure and possession finished off by Moreno to Henderson to Moreno, a low cross for Firmino's tap-in, Wijnaldum waiting at the back post if the striker didn't get there.

And Liverpool didn't stop. Can shot narrowly wide after a wonderful, wonderful break. Mercado saw yellow in frustration, again turned inside out by a Liverpool attacker. Liverpool kept pressing and kept breaking, and in the 37th minute, Salah won possession fairly despite protests, looked up, and immediately shot at goal, a lucky deflection taking it over Sergio Rico. You get what you deserve.

And Liverpool arguably deserved even more. Four minutes later, Mané beat Correa all ends up to win a penalty. He could have had two: Correa both handled the ball and pulled Mané back. Liverpool needed two, because Firmino sent his spot kick off the post. Subsequent dangerous crosses from Moreno and Wijnaldum nearly but couldn't quite lead to anything. And yet another full tilt break just before the whistle saw Rico barely keep Moreno's effort out.

But the second half was a different story. Liverpool remained on top, but less so, increasingly less so. Less quick to press, less vicious both on and off the ball. Fewer chances, more speculative chances. Deep curlers from Salah and Mané wide, Firmino from distance wide, Wijnaldum from distance saved.

Sevilla knew they were close to getting away with it. One side grew in stature and the other proportionally diminished. Liverpool at least looked secure? Silly rabbit. Liverpool aren't ever secure.

And in the 72nd minute, Liverpool were finally punished. Henderson and Can were out of position on Sevilla's throw-in and Muriel, who'd been on the pitch less than three minutes, was able to run at the heart of Liverpool's defense. Lovren froze, Correa sprinted behind Moreno, somehow controlled the pass, and beat Karius maybe just a little bit too easily. Again, you get what you deserve, in both attack and defense.

22 Liverpool shots at that point. Six on-target, two goals. That's not bad. Three Sevilla shots. Two on-target, two goals. That's very bad. The one non-goal Sevilla shot? From distance, easily blocked, late in the first half. The other two were clear-cut chances. The other two were goals. Easy goals, avoidable goals. This is not the first time this has happened.

Unlike after conceding early, Liverpool dropped. Liverpool diminished, at an even quicker pace. Probably tired from the earlier exertions. Losing shape and style after substitutions, with Coutinho replacing Can, Sturridge replacing Mané, and Oxlade-Chamberlain replacing Salah. There was little reply. There were just two Liverpool shots: both headers, both from corners, neither threatening.

And Sevilla could have won it late: Muriel again somehow through on goal in added time, shooting wide after being fouled by Gomez, advantage played and the defender sent off for a second yellow. Honestly, I'll take the dismissal rather than the loss.

Literally only two good things happened in the second half. Coutinho came on for his first appearance of the season; sure, he played like lukewarm garbage, but at least he's cup-tied. And Sevilla's manager was sent off for extreme pettiness – twice knocking throw-ins away from Gomez – which is the type of extreme pettiness you can only admire. Although, the Muriel substitution came after the sending off, so maybe that wasn't so great.

So here were are, yet again. It's not the worst result, especially since the other two sides in the group also drew, but it's also not good enough, yet again. Schizophrenic Liverpool, yet again.

Minutes seven though 71 – especially the tenth through 45th – again show what Liverpool are capable of, as they've done in at least parts of every match except last weekend's. But one moment in the fifth minute and everything after the 71st show how much Liverpool still have to improve and still have to overcome if they're going to get anywhere near achieving their goals.

29 August 2017

On Naby Keita

We've got to wait a year – WHICH SUCKS; GRATIFY ME NOW – but it's official. Naby Keita will be a Liverpool player. Later, rather than sooner, specifically on July 1, 2018. 306 days from now. Let the countdown begin.

Liverpool are paying more than next summer's release clause – reportedly around £55m – to ensure that Naby Keita will be a Liverpool player next season. There will not be a chance for other clubs to jump in ahead of Liverpool. He will be a Liverpool player whether or not Liverpool are in next season's Champions League. We'd all prefer it'd be this season than next, but RB Leipzig just weren't going to sell now. If now isn't an option, a year from now is the best possible outcome. Because Naby Keita will be a Liverpool player.

And I cannot wait. Because I do not understand Naby Keita.

Wait, that came out wrong. Let me rephrase.

I do not understand how Naby Keita does everything that Naby Keita does.



I do not understand how a player who scored eight goals and tallied seven assists in the league last season – with only one assist and no goals from set plays; the others all from open play – also averaged more than three tackles and three interceptions every 90 minutes.



I do not understand how that same player – a central midfielder capable of playing in literally any midfield role – also completes more than three successful dribbles per 90, with a surprisingly large amount through the congested center of the opposition's half.



I do not understand how a player this well-rounded, who does almost everything exceptionally well, who has almost no statistical midfield peer (*waves at Thiago Alcantara and Luka Modric and that's about it*), is only 22 years old.



I do not understand Naby Keita. And that is very much a good thing.



*long, low whistle*

Naby Keita's attacking statistics are similar to Adam Lallana's, the most potent of Liverpool's midfielders last season. His defensive statistics are almost all better than both Can and Henderson's. He's more well-rounded that Gini Wijnaldum. There's no point even including Lucas Leiva in the above chart, who played half of his matches as a center-back and still only surpasses Keita in fouls committed and aerial duels. None of Liverpool's central midfielders are anywhere near as talented as Keita when running with the ball; Keita's successful dribbles per 90 and dribble success rate even surpass Coutinho's (2.81 per 90, 61.95% success rate). No central midfielder who made at least 10 Bundesliga appearances averaged more dribbles per 90 minutes than Naby Keita.

The shorter version. His attacking output reminds me of Lallana, but he's seven years younger. His late runs into the box and movement remind me of Wijnaldum, but he's a vastly more influential player. His dribbling reminds me of Coutinho, who played "wide" in the front three for the vast majority of last season. And his recovery when chasing down the opposition, his octopus-esque tackles and interceptions, don't remind me of anyone in the current Liverpool squad, because no one does it anywhere near as well as Keita does.

Let's play the precedent game.

There's some Gerrard to him: a midfielder with an almost complete tool set, but that's not close enough. Keita doesn't have the physicality or size, but is also clearly an out-and-out central midfielder. Unlike Gerrard, who often never seemed disciplined enough, whose best seasons came as a #10 or as a right-winger (and I will probably die with the words "Gerrard should have been a right-back" on my lips).

There's some Yaya Toure to him: a complete midfielder from box to box, a player supposedly his idol. Keita clearly doesn't have Toure's CLANK CLANK REMOVE YOURSELF FROM MY PATH, PUNY HUMANS physicality, but he's also a vastly superior passer and dribbler, much quicker and smarter in possession, and better at taking the ball from the other team.

There's more than some Iniesta to him: his ability with the ball, his ability on the ball, his ability in tight spaces, but there's also a lot more going on in defense. And a similar comparison can be made with the too-quickly-forgotten Deco – a nickname he inherited early in his career and is still referred to in his Instagram handle.

And yes, there's a little bit of Makelele or Kante because of those defensive abilities, but it's a comparison far too facile and made far too often solely because of his skin color. Mascherano applies too, especially in the way he chases down attackers, but Keita is light years upon light years better on the ball than all three.

There are a lot of different archetypes rolled into one midfielder here. And, again, it's a 22-year-old midfielder we're talking about here. Who did all these things when playing for the second-place side in the second- or third-best league in Europe, a side which was playing in the German second division just two seasons ago.

I do not understand Naby Keita. Naby Keita is utterly baffling. And in the best possible way.

There is almost nothing concerning. Almost no weaknesses, which is something you can't write about 99% of the midfielders in football. But there are a couple.

Keita's only real fault is his aerial ability. He's a wee little fella, in a team already full of wee little fellas. Naby Keita is 5'7", which would somewhat frighten if he's deployed as the deepest midfielder in the band of three that Liverpool usually plays, given certain sides' delight at launching long balls into Liverpool's defensive third. That and he commits fouls at a fairly high rate – just like Emre Can – which, considering Liverpool's set play defending, etc etc.

But I also don't think Naby Keita will play as Liverpool's deepest midfielder all that often. There will be times, because of the amount of matches to come, because injuries are inevitable, but that's not where I expect he'll primarily be deployed.

Speaking of injuries, that's the one bane to completing a transfer a year ahead of time. Let us bow our heads and pray, and hope that absolutely nothing happens to our dear Naby Keita over the next 12 months. RB Leipzig know they're not going to have the player after this season – not that they were going to anyway – and if they're absolute jerks, they could run him into the ground. Protect your neck, kid.

And, as with Salah – who's already made a massive difference, even if we'd all appreciate putting away more of his chances – I have absolutely no concerns about the transfer fee.

I write this with no exaggeration. I am no expert – you should know this by now – but having watched far too many of Keita's matches and read into Keita's stats far too deeply over the last two months, I am damned near convinced that he is uniquely, superlatively talented. That he is worth every cent, pence, and euro of his transfer fee, even though it's by far the club record, even though he's still not joining Liverpool for another year.

That Naby Keita is a prototypical Jürgen Klopp type of player. That Naby Keita is already one of the best midfielders in the world. That he'll probably get even better at RB Leipzig over the course of this season, in the Champions League, in a side that every other Bundesliga side will be gunning for. That he has the potential to be one of the best midfielders to ever play the game. And that he is the sort of player who helps you win the league.

It's not a deal that should have any impact on whether Coutinho stays or goes, either this summer or next. But it will make the pain less if the Brazilian does depart next year. I can't do anything but take Liverpool at face value, and continue to believe that Coutinho will still be with the club comes September 1. It's even better if this is the sort of deal that helps convince Coutinho that this is the sort of club he should be at.

Either way, it is another masterstroke by Liverpool's often-criticized recruitment department. Firmino, very much a Michael Edwards and Transfer Committee deal, prior to Klopp's arrival. Mané, Salah, and now Keita for eye-watering fees that are still well-below market value. Wijnaldum and Matip, seemingly successes, if to a lesser extent. Grujic and Robertson odds-on to come good in the future. It's a fantastic deal for a player who'll improve Liverpool immeasurably next season, who will still only be 23 when he joins the club. It's evidence of long-term planning, something which rarely happened under previous managers or transfer committees.

This season's just started – we're just coming off a 4-0 win over Arsenal, for heaven's sake – and I already can't wait for next season.

It truly is fun when Liverpool are fun again.