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.