29 May 2014

On Liverpool Shooting 2013-14

Premier League totals only. Not including Liverpool's five Premier League own goals.

Location data taken from the match infographics done throughout the course of the season, which you can find here. And as a reminder, this is where Liverpool's 96 non-own goal Premier League goals came from (from this post):

Locations with Above-Average Accuracy:
Six-Yard Box, Box Central, Byline Left, Byline Right, Box Right, Out Box Left

Locations with Below-Average Accuracy:
Box Left, Out Box D, Out Box Right, Out Box Center, Deep Left, Deep Center, Deep Right, Wide Left, Wide Right

Which makes sense. Five of the six "Above-Average Accuracy" are inside the box, while Liverpool took fewer shots from "Out Box Left" compared to the other locations directly outside the box. It's slightly odd that Liverpool were better from the right side of the box compared to the left, but better outside the box on the left compared to the right. Sample size and all, I imagine; in this case, Liverpool were more accurate on the side where they took fewer shots.

The most efficient areas? The six-yard box and middle of the 18-yard box. The least efficient areas? The central areas outside the box, especially outside the penalty arc, where Liverpool took 121 shots and scored just seven goals. Again, nothing surprising.

And that's unsurprisingly a large discrepancy between potency and accuracy inside and outside the box. But Liverpool was nowhere near the worst offender in this regard. Only five Premiership teams took a smaller percentage of shots from outside the box: City, Everton, United, Arsenal, and West Ham. And only seven scored a higher percentage of goals from outside the box: Norwich, Stoke, Chelsea, Hull, Everton, and Tottenham. Only Everton, who scored 40 fewer goals than Liverpool, shows up on both lists. You can see the league-wide totals here.

All season long, Liverpool did well to get shots from high value positions, and did better than average in converting their more speculative efforts, and reaped 101 goals – 24 more than Liverpool's next-best Premiership campaign – as a reward.

In 2012-13, Liverpool scored 59 goals inside the box (83.1% of all goals) and 12 from outside the box (16.9%), with 421 shots inside the box and 318 shots outside the box. Liverpool took more shots in total in 2012-13 – more than any other team in either 2012-13 or 2013-14 – but the proportion of shots inside the box compared to shots outside the box was almost exactly the same. But in 2012-13, Liverpool scored from outside the box once every 26.5 shots, almost 12 shots more per goal than it took in 2013-14. Players who scored from outside the box?

In 2013-14, Liverpool's shots on target and overall accuracy improved as the season went on, especially after the January signings of Sturridge and Coutinho. Liverpool had to get better, quickly, starting poorly in Rodgers' first campaign, but finishing rather strongly as personnel improved and ideas took hold.

By the end of the season, Liverpool's shot accuracy had risen to 31.4%; it was 28.3% prior to Sturridge's full debut. And the 2012-13 mark was a little less than a percentage point better than the 2011-12 mark, which was 30.7%, even though Liverpool scored just 47 goals that season. Suarez 7; Sturridge 4; Coutinho, Gerrard, Henderson 2;

This season's 39.6% shot accuracy is more than eight percentage points better than last season. Eight! That's an egregious, hopefully-not-unsustainable amount. And like in 2012-13, it improved as the season went on, but to a lesser extent.

Liverpool only took three more shots over the second half of the season, but 10 more were on-target and, more importantly, 17 fewer were blocked. Liverpool's shot accuracy was 2.5% better in the second half of the season. That resulted in 13 more goals. And that 14-match unbeaten streak which propelled Liverpool toward an unlikely title challenge.

Putting nearly 70% of the shots at Stoke on target, culminating in a 5-3 win, was a major factor in the rolling six-match accuracy improvement to start the second half of the campaign, but there's a noticeable rise over the final 19 games, only dropping below 40% after the loss to Chelsea, followed up by the draw at Palace, with Liverpool putting slightly more than 30% of its shots on target in each of those matches.

On the whole, aside from a handful of matches (*glares at the Chelsea result*), this was a very good season for Liverpool's shooting. And it was a key factor, the key factor, in this being a very good season for Liverpool. But, of course, I'm very concerned how sustainable it'll be going forward.

Coming soon: I'll focus solely on Suarez and Sturridge's contributions. Maybe tomorrow, but probably Monday.

21 May 2014

Liverpool Assists 2013-14 [Infographic]

An update of this post from February, which was inspired by this from the must-read Bass Tuned to Red.

Click to open larger table in new window

The above totals are for all competitions.

• 15 different Liverpool players tallied at least one assist. 10 of them assisted at least one Suarez goal. Every Liverpool player with at least two assists, excluding Suarez of course, assisted at least one Suarez goal. Everyone feeds the kitty. Everyone. Similar goes for Sturridge, with nine different players tallying at least one assist for the striker. Only Johnson created more than one assist but failed to set at least one up for Sturridge.

• Last season, Liverpool's most-frequent assist/scorer combination was Enrique to Suarez, responsible for four goals. Five combinations surpassed that this season: Suarez to Sterling (6), Gerrard to Sturridge (5), Suarez to Sturridge (5), Henderson to Suarez (5), and Sturridge to Suarez (5).

• The player responsible for the largest proportion of a second player's goals was Suarez in setting up six of Sterling's 10 goals: 60%. Gerrard was responsible for four of Skrtel's seven – 57.1% – unsurprisingly from three corners and one free kick. Not counting those who scored just once, obviously. The slackers.

• Just one of Gerrard's 14 goals was assisted. Because just one of Gerrard's 14 goals came from open play: 11 were penalties, two were direct free kicks.

• Aside from Gerrard, the only other multiple goal-scorer with more than half his goals unassisted was Henderson, with no assist provider for three of his five strikes. As for Liverpool's top two, 29% of Suarez's goals were unassisted, 21% of Sturridge's.

• This season, 42 of Liverpool's 110 goals were unassisted, including six own goals, which was 38.2% of all Liverpool goals. Last season, 37.8% of Liverpool's goals (37 of 98) were unassisted. So, yeah, almost exactly the same proportion.

20 May 2014

Liverpool Top 10 Goals 2013-14

Sorry that this took longer than in seasons past (here are 2012-13, 2011-12, 2010-11 and 2008-09 if you're curious; the rest have been pulled down by various hosting services). It was not easy to make this list this season. Picking 10 from 110 can be a bit of a chore. A fun chore, though.

Unsurprisingly, it's the Suarez and Sturridge show: five from Suarez, three from Sturridge, and one each from Coutinho and Flanagan.

10) Coutinho 3-0 Tottenham (h) : This is why Brendan Rodgers likes his teams to play out from the back. Okay, there's nothing on, so go backward. Draw Tottenham out of position with intelligent short passes, encouraging the opposition to fruitlessly chase the ball. One clever turn upfield – from Flanagan, no less – and there are miles and miles of space to run into, capped off with an actual, honest-to-goodness shot-on-target from outside the box by Coutinho.
9) Suarez 2-1 Everton (a): I wasn't gonna include any direct free kicks this season. Suarez has scored eight of them in the last two seasons, after all, while Gerrard also notched two this season. But this one was too fun, the bend around the wall and the placement into the one place he'd actually score too perfect. And that it happened against Everton, at Everton no less, is a fairly big bonus.
8) Suarez 3-0 Cardiff (h): Passing across the back to pull Cardiff out of shape? Yep. Suarez's non-stop work rate setting the whole thing in motion? Yep. A back-heeled assist from Henderson? Yep. A physics-defying curler into the only space where the keeper couldn't stop the shot? Yep yep yep. Suarez continues to make the difficult look incredibly simple. Just another day at the office. This spot was a toss-up between this and his first in the same match, an ostentatious volley again from a Henderson assist. It was a hell of a way to mark signing his new contract.
7) Sturridge 4-0 Arsenal (h): 75% holy shit what a pass from Coutinho, 15% Sturridge's perfectly-timed run between the center-backs and subsequent finish, 10% "hahahaha Liverpool are 4-0 up on Arsenal within 20 minutes what is going on?"
6) Flanagan 3-0 Tottenham (a): This was probably my favorite goal of the season. This compilation was almost just this goal replayed 10 times over. It remains wonderful and hilarious and wonderlarious. Also,

5) Suarez 2-0 West Brom (h): This was the best Liverpool headed goal since Luis Garcia against Anderlecht. He's outside the box! There's no power on the cross! He's outside the box! Aly Cissokho assist! I absolutely adore difficult headed goals and really, really wanted to put this higher on the list, but the next four goals wouldn't let me.
4) Sturridge 3-0 Everton (h): A straight ball over the top following a quick free kick, a no-look chip from 20 yards out. That is so much harder than Sturridge makes it look. That he was able to make such clean contact on a ball bouncing over his shoulder is amazing enough, let alone placing it as perfectly as he did, over an onrushing Tim Howard. But, as the next goal demonstrates, it certainly was not a fluke.
3) Sturridge 4-1 West Brom (h): Because Sturridge's goal against Everton was his second unbelievable chip of the season. This was the first. I struggled to decide which was more impressive – consider them 3a and 3b – but went with this one because he was under more pressure from an opposition defender and has much much much less space to find the back of the net, with Myhill much closer to his goal line. And yet Sturridge still found said back of the net, with typical aplomb.
2) Suarez 1-0 Norwich (h): Yeah, this seemed to be everyone else's #1. And it's really, really, really good. Deserving of being #1. But we've also seen him try similar and miss horribly. No matter how undeniably, unbelievably talented Suarez is, there's an awful lot of luck involved. If it's against anyone other than Norwich, it's probably 75% less likely to go in. His next goal, though.
1) Suarez 3-0 Norwich (h): Holy wow. The ability to chest control a difficult pass. The ball-on-a-string embarrassment of Leroy Fer. The guile to wait a second longer than everyone expected before taking the shot, fooling the defenders and keeper into giving him the space he needed to strike. This was special. Even for Luis Suarez.

Honorable Mention:
Sterling 1-0 City (h)
Suarez 1-0 Cardiff (h)
Suarez 4-0 Tottenham (a)
Sturridge 1-0 Swansea [Sterling assist] (h)
Sturridge 1-1 Fulham [Gerrard assist] (a)
Skrtel 2-0 Arsenal (h)
Suarez 4-2 Cardiff (a)
Coutinho 1-0 City (a)
Suarez 3-0 Fulham (h)
Sturridge 1-0 West Brom (a)

15 May 2014

Liverpool Goals Scored and Conceded 2013-14 [Infographic]

See also: the 2012-13 and 2011-12 versions.

The graphics pretty much speak for themselves, but a few quick notes anyway:

• Quick and dirty comparison in case you're too lazy to click on the two previous seasons' versions.

The goals scored have risen in each season, by a big margin. And that is the reason Liverpool finished second, with a chance at first, this season. But the goals conceded totals are getting worse. That has has has has has to stop.

• Still, holy wow, that's a lot of goals. Especially set play goals, accounting for the highest proportion of Liverpool's goals since I started this blog. 23.6% of Liverpool's goals came from set plays; if you include penalties, that total rises to 33.6%. Conversely, 21.8% of the opposition's goals came from set plays, rising to 27.3% if you include penalties.

• By my count, eight of Liverpool's 26 set play goals were game-winners (the goal that ended up being the winning goal, even if more goals were scored): 1-0 United (h), 1-0 Fulham (h), 2-0 Norwich (h), 2-0 West Ham (h), 1-0 Hull (h), 1-0 Everton (h), 2-0 Arsenal (h), 2-1 Newcastle (h). Yep, all eight came at Anfield.

• I found it interesting that the 6-yard box/18-yard box/outside the box percentages were almost exactly equal for both goals scored and conceded. I suspect – but don't have the data to back it up – you'd see similar proportions league-wide.

• It's the first time since I've started keeping these statistics (so, since 2008-09 at least) that Liverpool scored more first half goals than second half goals, and it wasn't even close. 40 of the 110 goals came in the first 30 minutes of matches. I doubt I need remind that directly led to 5-0 Tottenham, 4-0 Everton, 5-1 Arsenal, 5-0 Tottenham, among others.

• Next season, let's work on not conceding so much in the second half. Liverpool's most frequent scoring time-slot was between the 16th and 30th minutes. The opposition's was between the 76th and 90th. Too many late goals. Especially the three of 13 late goals which came at Crystal Palace.

13 May 2014

Liverpool Results Comparison [Infographic]

See also: the 2012-13, 2011-12, 2010-11, and 2009-10 versions.

versus club:
• United (1st to 7th) = +6
• City (2nd to 1st) = +1
• Chelsea (3rd to 3rd) = -2
• Arsenal (4th to 4th) = +2
• Tottenham (5th to 6th) = +3
• Everton (6th to 5th) = +3
• West Brom (8th to 17th) = +4
• Swansea (9th to 12th) = 0
• West Ham (10th to 13th) = +2
• Norwich (11th to 18th) = 0
• Fulham (12th to 19th) = 0
• Stoke (13th to 9th) = +5
• Southampton (14th to 8th) = 0
• Villa (15th to 15th) = +1
• Newcastle (16th to 10th ) = 0
• Sunderland (17th to 14th) = +2
• Relegated/Promoted 1 (Wigan 18th to Cardiff 20th) = 0
• Relegated/Promoted 2 (Reading 19th to Hull 16th) = -1
• Relegated/Promoted 3 (QPR 20th to Palace 11th) = -2

Be better against the promoted sides. Those are three points that Liverpool really could have used. Two of the three promoted sides and Chelsea were the only sides that Liverpool were worse against compared to last season; Hull and Palace proved difficult opposition, although, yes, Liverpool should have taken all six points against Palace rather than just four. Next season's promoted sides will be Leicester, Burnley, and either QPR or Derby.

The "+6" next to Manchester United remains hilarious.

versus league place:
• vs 1st = 0 to 3 = +3
• vs 2nd = 2 to n/a = +4 (combined with 7th)
• vs 3rd = 2 to 0 = -2
• vs 4th = 1 to 3 = +2
• vs 5th = 3 to 4 = +1
• vs 6th = 2 to 6 = +4
• vs 7th = n/a to 6 = +4 (combined with 7th)
• vs 8th = 0 to 3 = +3
• vs 9th = 4 to 6 = +2
• vs 10th = 4 to 4 = 0
• vs 11th = 6 to 4 = -2
• vs 12th = 6 to 4 = -2
• vs 13th = 1 to 6 = +5
• vs 14th = 3 to 6 = +3
• vs 15th = 3 to 4 = +1
• vs 16th = 4 to 3 = -1
• vs 17th = 4 to 4 = 0
• vs 18th = 6 to 6 = 0
• vs 19th = 4 to 6 = +2
• vs 20th = 6 to 6 = 0

Much better against the top sides – except, of course, Chelsea (sigh) – but there's still improvement to be made about the mid- to lower-table sides, especially away from home. For the first time since 2001-02, Liverpool took all 18 points on offer against the three relegated sides. Yeah, it's been 12 seasons since that last happened.

And, for added emphasis, comparing Liverpool's results in over the course of the season:

12 May 2014

The Difference A Season Makes [Infographic]

Click to open larger version in new window

Since 1995-96, when the Premiership shifted from a 42- to 38-match season, just four teams in Premier League history have improved by 20 points or more on their previous seasons' total: 2001-02 Newcastle, going from 51 to 71 points; 2004-05 Everton, going from 39 to 51 points, 2005-06 Liverpool, going from 58 to 82 points; and this season's Liverpool, going from 61 to 84 points.

The average difference for the highest-rising team in the league each season was 16 points, a range of a seven-point increase by Bolton in 2009-10 to a 24-point increase by Liverpool in 2005-06.

I've also included the season before the season before in the above graphic as well, in a lighter color, as a useful barometer. In some cases, in shows just how much a team's improved over the three campaigns, such as this season's Liverpool. Conversely, there were a few instances of a team "bouncing back" after a bad season: '97-98 Blackburn, '99-00 Liverpool, '03-04 Arsenal, '04-05 Everton, '12-13 Chelsea. Which takes a bit of the gloss off the achievement. Not included were 1994-95 Sheffield Wednesday, who played 42 games, or 2009-10 Newcastle, as they were in the Championship rather than the Premiership.

Liverpool's three-season increase from 2011-12 to 2013-14 was 32 points, from 52 in Dalglish's last season to 84 in Rodgers' second. That is, by far, the biggest jump over a three-season span; the only team even close to that was Tottenham's 24-point rise from 2007-08 to 2009-10, and they've hovered around the 70-point mark in three of the four subsequent seasons, aside from falling to 62 in 2010-11.

Only one team in the above graphic finished with more points than this season's Liverpool, only one finished in a higher position: 2003-04 Arsenal in both cases, winning the title with 90 points after a something of a collapse (all the way down to 2nd) the season before.

As I'm obviously Liverpool biased, what jumps out at me are the similarities between those two highest increases, in Brendan Rodgers' and Rafa Benitez's second seasons.

Benitez's Liverpool went on a 12-match unbeaten run in 2005-06, including a 10-match winning streak. Rodgers' Liverpool went on a 16-match unbeaten run in 2013-14, including an 11-match winning streak.

Benitez did it with defense, Rodgers with attack; the differences in Goals Scored and Goals Conceded by the two managers' sides are significant. Benitez's two most important second season signings were Reina and Agger. Rodgers' most important signings arguably took place in January of his first season: Sturridge and Coutinho. Let's not talk about the attacking signings from last summer.

Yes, Liverpool's squad was stronger (and the league arguably weaker as a whole) when Benitez became manager, but it also had to cope with extended FA Cup and Champions League campaigns in 2005-06.

If this the precedent for what's to come for Rodgers' Liverpool over the next couple of seasons, I'm okay with that. But the goal is obviously to surpass it.

Coincidentally, the outstanding Match Story independently did a slightly different version of this today, which you should absolutely check out.

Visualized: Liverpool 2-1 Newcastle

Previous Match Infographics: Palace (a), Chelsea (h), Norwich (a), Manchester City (h), West Ham (a), Tottenham (h), Sunderland (h), Cardiff (a), Manchester United (a), Southampton (a), Swansea (h), Fulham (a), Arsenal (h), West Brom (a), Everton (h), Aston Villa (h), Stoke (a), Hull (h), Chelsea (a), Manchester City (a), Cardiff (h), Tottenham (a), West Ham (h), Norwich (h), Hull City (a), Everton (a), Fulham (h), Arsenal (a), West Brom (h), Newcastle (a), Crystal Palace (h), Sunderland (a), Southampton (h), Swansea (a), Manchester United (h), Aston Villa (a), Stoke (h)

As always, match data from Stats Zone and Squawka.

It's been a long season. Yesterday, Liverpool showed signs of just how long, how draining, it has been. It was a match that looked very much like an end-of-season contest, even if Liverpool still ostensibly had something to play for. At least, until word trickled in about the score at the City of Manchester Stadium.

Suarez and Sturridge have played together in 38 matches for Liverpool: 24 this season, 14 last season. This is the first time they've played together and neither created a single chance. Some matches, Sturridge had been a substitute. Some matches, only one player created a chance: sometimes Sturridge, more often Suarez. But this is the first time both failed to do so.

Newcastle did well to deny both players space in the final third, especially Suarez. And Newcastle did well to get men behind the ball, blocking five of the seven Liverpool shots from outside the box. 13 of 19 of Newcastle's tackles and 13 of 16 Newcastle's interceptions came in their own defense third. But there were also signs that both just looked off-form: Suarez successful with just two of eight dribbles, Sturridge missing a golden chance that he'd bury nine times out of ten in the 41st minute, both players attempting and completing fewer passes than they've averaged this season.

Like Chelsea, like Crystal Palace, Newcastle had 10 players behind the ball at most times, evident in the average position diagram from WhoScored:

Liverpool averaged 55.9% possession in this season's 38 matches. In the last three matches, they've averaged 69% possession. Chelsea, Palace, and Newcastle were happy to stand off, take away space, take away the counter, and make Liverpool slice, dice, shake, and bake their way through. One win, one draw, and one loss, although, yes, it should have been two wins and a loss at the least. Regardless, Liverpool haven't looked anywhere near their best over the last 270 minutes. This is something that Liverpool's going to see an awful lot next season. And it's something that Liverpool will have to cope with far better than they did in the final three matches.

When Newcastle attacked, it came down the flanks, targeting Liverpool's fullbacks. Both have been weak points this season, and both spent much of their time in the opposition half trying to break through the bus. Almost all of Liverpool's tackles and interceptions came on the flanks. We're starting to see transfer rumors already, and they're not about fullbacks, but I'm convinced that this position, both left and right back, is the most important purchase this summer.

But once again, Liverpool were saved by set plays. Yesterday's two free kicks were Liverpool's 25th and 26th set play goals of the season: 13 free kicks, 12 corners, and a lone throw-in. That's six more than the next closest side, Manchester City, and 11 more than the side after that, Chelsea. The league average was 11.25. Liverpool scored from 11 set plays in 2012-13, 14 in 2011-12, 11 in 2010-11, and 14 in 2009-10. The most scored in a single season since 2009-10 – prior to this season's Liverpool, of course – was Manchester United's 22 last season.

Most of the credit to for that goes to Liverpool's captain. Gerrard contributed 13 assists this season, the highest total in the league. I only have data going back to 2008-09, but it's at least his highest assist total since that season, and I'd be willing to bet it's the highest of his career. 11 of those assists came on set plays: corners against Sunderland (a), Fulham (h), Arsenal (h). City (h). and Palace (a); free kicks against West Brom (h), Everton (a), West Ham (h), Arsenal (h), and the two yesterday. His two open play assists came home and away against Fulham. So Liverpool won eight and drew two when Gerrard tallied an assist. I don't know how his delivery has become so phenomenal this season, but long may it continue.

11 May 2014

Liverpool 2-1 Newcastle

Skrtel OG 20'
Agger 63'
Sturridge 65'

Well, at least it didn't end how it looked like ending after an hour.

Liverpool won, but so did Manchester City, so Liverpool's win meant little more than confirming second. Liverpool finish second, and the overriding emotion is disappointment. That's still gonna take awhile to sink in.

And Liverpool made hard work of it today. Mediocre but the better side for the first 18 minutes, a bit off-color but unfortunately denied an opening goal when Dowd pulled back Suarez's quick free kick. Because of course, they were subsequently immediately behind thanks to yet another individual error, the sixth own goal of the season, Skrtel's fourth own goal of the season: Newcastle countering down Liverpool's right flank, Gouffran and Haidara combining before the Slovakian haplessly redirected Gouffran's cross into his own net. Sigh.

Which prompted little Liverpool response. Sure, they continued to dominate possession and had a smattering of chances, but not much went right in the final third. Suarez scuffed a shot after a trademark dribble, Sturridge headed wide from close range following Henderson's inch-perfect cross. Newcastle's back five stifled Liverpool's frequent ferocity, no matter their insipid current form, sacrificing possession and territory for solidity and maybe a counter-attack or two. We've seen similar in the last three matches. We're going to see it a lot more next season. And Liverpool were lucky they weren't down by two in the 27th minute: another counter-attack, Gouffran splitting Johnson and Skrtel, but Mignolet making the necessary save.

Rodgers tried to rectify matters with a tactical substitution at halftime, bringing on Cissokho for Flanagan, switching to wing-backs, with first Henderson then Sterling manning the right as Johnson played as a third center-back. Which changed little. Coutinho's entrance for Allen again shifted the side, and was the start of Liverpool's comeback, but once again, it was set plays that saved the side.

Newcastle's lack of discipline has cost them time and time again under Pardew. And as Liverpool racked up free kicks in dangerous positions, Liverpool looked more and more like scoring, with yellow cards for Anita, Tiote, and Gouffran. Then came two goals in quick succession, carbon copies of each other: Gerrard's delivery from the right channel, the goal-scorer at the back post, first Agger, then Sturridge.

And, because Newcastle, conceding two was compounded by a red card for Shola Ameobi, booked and then sent off for dissent in the space of 30 seconds. I've never seen anything like it. It was the fourth consecutive Liverpool/Newcastle match where Newcastle had a player sent off: Coloccini and Debuchy last season, Yanga-Mbiwa and Ameobi this season. That has to be a record. Only Alan Pardew's side would set such a record.

It looked like Liverpool would add to its newfound advantage – Sturridge's on-target shot from the top of the box hitting Coutinho, Agger just missing a third set play goal, among a couple of other chances – but Liverpool were soon content to play out the clock, knowing that City were comfortably ahead in Manchester. Newcastle still found a way to have another player sent off, Dummett for a dangerous tackle (that luckily looked worse than it really was) on Suarez in the 86th minute. So five dismissals in four matches. A team truly in its manager's own image.

And so the contest, and the season, ebbed away, Liverpool stringing harmless passes together while imploring Phil Dowd to blow the whistle early. Here we are, sat in second, devastated and heart-broken.

It's the first time Liverpool have scored more than 100 goals in a Premier League season. The first time Liverpool have won 16 home games since 1985-86. Liverpool have the best away record in the league. Liverpool won 15, drew three, and lost just once in the second half of the season, an average of 2.53 points per game. Suarez matched (but, sadly, didn't surpass) Ronaldo's record for goals in a 38-game Premiership season. Liverpool improved by 23 points on last season's total, the second biggest jump in the Premier League era. From seventh – after finishing 8th, 6th, and 7th in the three preceding seasons – to second, just two points behind the league winners. No team had gone from 7th to 3rd in the Premier League era, let alone 2nd.

All of that is incredible. Don't let the last few weeks blind us to that. Roll on the summer window, with the holes in the squad made sadly obvious during the run-in, and roll on next season.

Now, finally, Liverpool are back. And we go again.

10 May 2014

Liverpool v Newcastle 05.11.14

10am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
2-2 (a) 10.19.13
6-0 Liverpool (a) 04.27.13
1-1 (h) 11.04.12
0-2 Newcastle (a) 04.01.12

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 3-3 Palace (a); 0-2 Chelsea (h); 3-2 Norwich (a)
Newcastle: 3-0 Cardiff (h); 0-3 Arsenal (a); 1-2 Swansea (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Suarez 31; Sturridge 20; Gerrard 13; Sterling 9; Skrtel 7; Coutinho 5; Henderson 4; Agger, Allen, Flanagan, Moses, Sakho 1
Newcastle: Remy 14; Cabaye 7; Gouffran 6; Ben Arfa, Sissoko 3; Sh Ameobi, Cisse 2; Anita, Debuchy, Dummett, Taylor 1


Guess at a line-up:
Johnson Skrtel Sakho Flanagan
Henderson Allen
Sturridge Suarez

No matter what happens, at Anfield or any other ground, make no mistake. Tomorrow is a celebration, not a eulogy.

The odds of Liverpool lifting the Premier League trophy in a little more than 24 hours are on the wrong side of slim and none. Yes, partly due to last week's naive capitulation at Palace, partly due to an inability to break down a resilient Chelsea the week before, and partly due to a handful of regrettable incidents we can point to over the 35 previous game weeks. We will probably rue the missed opportunities all summer long.

So be it.

It's still been a phenomenal season that's surpassed all expectations. Tomorrow damn well should be a celebration.

There's really only one lineup question. Liverpool are playing the 4-4-2 diamond; Mignolet, Johnson, Skrtel, Flanagan, Gerrard, Sterling, Sturridge, and Suarez seem certain starters. And Henderson, finally, belatedly, man-I-wish-he-had-been-available-for-the-last-three-matches, will return from suspension. So, who does he replace: Allen or Coutinho?

That Lucas started ahead of Coutinho at Palace – with Liverpool scoring three, including one from Allen – is probably a fairly big hint. Yes, that was away from Anfield. Yes, in the end, it ultimately didn't help, as Liverpool conceded three in the final 11 minutes. Allen's arguably in better form, Coutinho's arguably more of a help off the bench, with Liverpool wholly lacking in attacking substitutions (*glares at Moses, Aspas*). But maybe Coutinho gets the nod, at home against struggling opposition, where Liverpool will expect to monopolize possession and attack at will. Henderson and Coutinho utterly dominated midfield a year ago in the 6-0 win at Newcastle (even if Henderson ostensibly started on the left), with Coutinho providing throughball after throughball; the Brazilian was notably absent for this season's reverse fixture, ending 2-2 with Liverpool unable to put a man advantage to full use (*glares at Moses again*).

Well, maybe there are two lineup questions. There's also a slight possibility Agger comes in for Sakho, although I've said that for about a month now and still it hasn't happened. And, if he does, let's hope it's a "we've conceded nine goals in Sakho's last four starts and the last time we kept a clean sheet was the last time Agger started" change and not a "everybody say goodbye because Agger's probably getting sold" change. It better not be the latter.

Meanwhile, the Geordies have been on cruise control for nearly two months, all but guaranteed to finish somewhere between 8th and 10th since early March. And they subsequently lost six straight – five without scoring – before beating hapless Cardiff 3-0 at home last week. Newcastle have won just five of 18 matches since New Year's Day. Liverpool have won 14.

A week ago, Newcastle played 4-2-3-1, with Remy cutting in from the left: Krul; Debuchy, Williamson, Coloccini, Dummett; Anita, Tiote; Sissoko, Gouffran, Remy; Ameobi. But Pardew could also choose to pack the midfield, bringing in Gosling for either Ameobi or Gouffran, or the defense, playing five at the back as he did in losses to Swansea and Stoke. I suspect it'll one of those two options – if forced to guess, probably the stronger midfield – in an attempt to nullify Liverpool's control of proceedings. Papiss Cisse and Davide Santon are out injured.

So here we are. The last game of an incredible season. The last game of the season, and it still means something. For the first time in a very long time. Liverpool are actually on television in the UK on Sky Sports 2, and are on one the main US stations, not relegated to Bravo or CNBC or one of the other spillover stations. On the last day of the season! The Premier League will have to bring a second Premier League trophy to Anfield *just in case*. Amazing.

Enjoy it, no matter what goes on in Manchester. Hopefully, there will be many more of these to come.

06 May 2014

Visualized: Liverpool 3-3 Crystal Palace

Previous Match Infographics: Chelsea (h), Norwich (a), Manchester City (h), West Ham (a), Tottenham (h), Sunderland (h), Cardiff (a), Manchester United (a), Southampton (a), Swansea (h), Fulham (a), Arsenal (h), West Brom (a), Everton (h), Aston Villa (h), Stoke (a), Hull (h), Chelsea (a), Manchester City (a), Cardiff (h), Tottenham (a), West Ham (h), Norwich (h), Hull City (a), Everton (a), Fulham (h), Arsenal (a), West Brom (h), Newcastle (a), Crystal Palace (h), Sunderland (a), Southampton (h), Swansea (a), Manchester United (h), Aston Villa (a), Stoke (h)

As always, match data from Stats Zone and Squawka.

Well, even though it's completely against my natural inclination, let's start with the good.

Liverpool's attack, at least for the first hour, was much better in breaking down the ubiquitous parked bus. Liverpool's attackers varied their positions more often, with Suarez obviously aided by Sturridge's return, even if the latter was rusty while the former was ill. Liverpool played far more patiently, trying to build up attacks to make the breakthrough rather than ramming hopefully shots from distance, most evident in the second goal. And Liverpool took advantage of at least one of their set plays, as they'd done so often this season, the 24th goal scored from a free kick or corner this season. Liverpool had clearly learned something from last week's failings.

Against Chelsea, just five of Liverpool's 26 shots came from inside the box; 11 came from 30 yards from goal or farther. Yesterday, 16 of 26 shots came from inside the box, including two of the three goals; Sturridge's goal was from just outside the box in the penalty arc, which has been Liverpool's third-most prolific shot location this season (after, unsurprisingly, the six-yard box and the center of the 18-yard box). And just one Liverpool shot came from outside of 30 yards: Suarez's free kick, which wasn't far from hitting the target.

Liverpool scored three against a side that'd given up three goals just once in 25 matches under Tony Pulis, to Newcastle of all sides, way back on December 21.

But then the last 15-20 minutes happened.

And Liverpool promptly conceded three to a side that had scored three goals just three times under Tony Pulis: against West Brom in February, at Cardiff a month ago, and at Everton just over two weeks ago. And it took less than 10 minutes to do so.

All the good things in attack over the first hour, all the bad things in defense in the final 15 minutes. First, an unnecessary free kick, followed by standing off Jedinak then Delaney in acres of midfield space, capped off with an unlucky deflection. Second, caution to the wind with almost everyone forward for a corner kick, beaten all ends up on the counter when Bolasie sprinted past Johnson. Third, a tired Liverpool allowing Palace to pass pass pass in unthreatening positions, but then caught out by a long ball when Skrtel attempted to track Murray into midfield, leaving Gayle wide open when Johnson couldn't get over to cover the second ball.

Liverpool nearly did the same thing at Norwich just two weeks ago.

Yes, Glen Johnson was at the center of all three Palace goals: the deflection, the missed tackle, not tracking Gayle. But all season long it's been team-wide breakdowns coupled with individual errors. Which is why it's fitting that this is the way the world ends. The only error leading to a goal given by Opta was to Skrtel, for haplessly chasing Murray.

How much Liverpool had tired was evident in the tackles attempted in the final 20 minutes.

10 unsuccessful tackles, out of 12 attempted. Liverpool were successful with just 17 of 35 in total, the only time they've been successful with less than half of the tackles attempted this season.

And two of those unsuccessful tackles led to Palace's first two goals: Sterling's awkward foul on Jedinak for the free kick for the first; Johnson completely whiffing on stopping Bolasie's counter two minutes later.

Conceding three goals isn't in Tony Pulis' playbook, but taking advantage of the chances you get certainly is. Palace put six of 10 shots on target, and scored with three of those six. Liverpool have had 60% or better shooting accuracy just once this season, putting nine of 13 shots on target in the 5-3 win at Stoke. And Liverpool have the highest shooting accuracy in the league this season, the only side to put more than 40% of its shots on target (40.1%, if we're being precise).

Liverpool have now allowed three goals away from home against all three promoted teams: 1-3 at Hull, 6-3 at Cardiff, and 3-3 at Palace. I'm not sure what's more amazing: that it happened or that all three didn't end in losses thanks to Liverpool's formidable attack.

The last time Liverpool conceded 49 goals in a Premier League season was 1998-99. They finished 7th that season, which was the failed attempt to have Evans and Houllier as joint managers, ending up 25 points behind the league winners.

Every Liverpool manager since then has built from the back: Houllier and Benitez most notably, but even Hodgson and Dalglish to a lesser extent. With Liverpool having scored just 47 goals the season before Rodgers took over, he's gone about it in the opposite manner. And Liverpool's attack is, has been glorious, far better than we could have hoped, far quicker than we could have expected.

The next step forward will obviously be at the other end of the pitch.

05 May 2014

Liverpool 3-3 Crystal Palace

Allen 18'
Sturridge 53'
Suarez 55'
Delaney 79'
Gayle 81' 88'

That was amazing. Indescribably, unbelievably amazing. But in the worst possible way.

A brilliant, beautiful disaster that you couldn't script. This was beyond naïve. I should be angry. I imagine all of you are angry. But right now, I'm just too amazed to be angry.

Aside from the first three matches of the season, Liverpool have been swashbuckling. And Liverpool have been more open than a pervert's trench coat. Liverpool have thrown caution to the wind in search of goals goals goals, and were propelled to an unlikely title challenge by the best attack we've seen in two decades.

And they'd done it in spite of their worst defensive record in 15 seasons. Well, that defensive record caught up with them, in less than 10 minutes, because of Liverpool's focus on an all-out attack. A very, very naïve focus, but to be fair, that's been Liverpool's modus operandi all season long.

As fans, it's all well and good to claim that Liverpool could replicate a 9-0 result from 24 seasons ago, the last time that Liverpool won the title. It's a completely different matter for the players and manager to evidently believe it.

1-0 – a goal earned in the 18th minute through yet another set play, scored by what might have been the most unlikely scorer in Joe Allen, from a header no less – wasn't good enough. Even at the best of times, against the best of defenses, Tony Pulis' sides are capable of nicking at least one. But after a two-goal blitz in the space of two minutes from Liverpool's two strikers – Sturridge's fortunate deflection after Gerrard's brilliant long pass, a precise blitzkrieg break by Sterling and Suarez – bracketed by a handful of chances where Liverpool could have extended the lead even further (including the required one off the woodwork), there should have been no thought of a Palace comeback.

But regardless of situation, regardless of fitness, regardless of squad depth, Liverpool hammered the pedal to the floor, in spite of themselves. Push as hard as you can, as fast as you can, and somehow make up a nine goal difference rather than putting the onus on Manchester City. In retrospect, that was not smart. But, that's Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool, for better or worse, for better and worse.

Put simply, Liverpool got carried away. And Liverpool players unsurprisingly ran out of gas by the 70th minutes, with no depth available on the bench thanks to Coutinho's minor injury. Which, unsurprisingly, is when Palace began to create chances on the counter, after two Palace substitutions and none from Liverpool. That should have been a five-alarm warning. But it went unheeded. Less than a minute after Coutinho finally came on for Sterling, what deflections giveth, deflections taketh away: Delaney's shot from distance rebounding off Johnson. Two minutes later, Palace broke three-versus-three from a Liverpool corner: Bolasie took a fading Johnson completely out of the play, then centered to an open Gayle.

Liverpool could not stop the flood. And in the 88th minute, a long ball from Palace's defense pulled Skrtel out of position because neither of Liverpool's covering midfielders had the energy to get to Glenn Murray, then Murray flicked on to an open Gayle, right where Skrtel should have been, and Gayle had an easy tap-in for the equalizer.

Liverpool tried to regroup in five minutes of added time, but that the two best chances came following a corner but fell to Lucas and Moses sums up how this season will end. Just not good enough in defense, and just not deep enough to recover from setbacks.

So in the end, Liverpool just aren't, weren't good enough. So be it. This is the way the world ends. With both a bang and a whimper.

It shouldn't take away from how brilliant, how fun, how much of a revelation that this season has been.

04 May 2014

Liverpool at Crystal Palace 05.05.14

3pm ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
3-1 Liverpool (h) 10.05.13
1-2 Palace (a; League Cup) 10.25.05
0-1 Palace (a) 04.23.05
3-2 Liverpool (h) 11.13.04

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-2 Chelsea (h); 3-2 Norwich (a); 3-2 City (h)
Palace: 0-2 City (h); 1-0 West Ham (a); 3-2 Everton (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Suarez 30; Sturridge 20; Gerrard 13; Sterling 9; Skrtel 7; Coutinho 5; Henderson 4; Agger, Flanagan, Moses, Sakho 1
Palace: Puncheon 7; Chamakh 5; Gayle 3; Jerome, Ledley 2; Bannan, Dann, Gabbidon, Ince, Jedinak, Mariappa, Murray, O'Keefe 1

Referee: Mark Clattenburg

Guess at a line-up:
Johnson Skrtel Sakho Flanagan
Allen Coutinho
Sturridge Suarez

Bus Parkin' 2: Electric Boogaloo.

Last week went not so good. And Liverpool have struggled with defensive sides away from home at times this season, most notably at Hull and West Brom, but to a lesser extent at Newcastle and West Ham, among a handful of others. Palace will pose similar problems, with a manager who has defined the style, and they've been one of the league's tougher sides over the last six weeks.

Like last week, Liverpool's only line-up question is whether Sturridge is fit to start. If so, almost certainly the above diamond formation, with the striker taking Lucas' place in the starting XI. If not, then the same XI as the last two matches, although I don't know whether it'll be the 4-3-2-1 seen at Norwich or the 4-3-3 against Chelsea. Needing runners from deep to disrupt an entrenched defense, attackers attacking from multiple angles, makes me think that the 4-3-2-1 would be more likely if Sturridge is absent. The more open 4-3-3 didn't work against either Chelsea without Sturridge or at West Ham with Sturridge.

And Liverpool will have a massive incentive to score early and often. Yes, that's usually the case because that's usually how you win football matches. But, after last week's debacle and City's win at Everton yesterday, there's an excellent chance that the title will go down to goal difference. And City's is currently nine better than Liverpool's. That's a hell of a chasm to make up over two matches, but it's not entirely unprecedented.

Meanwhile, Palace will do what Pulis does. Ensure that a football match doesn't accidentally occur. The starting XI is almost certainly Speroni; Mariappa, Dann, Delaney, Ward; Puncheon, Jedinak, Ledley, Bolasie; Chamakh; Jerome. A 4-2-3-1/4-4-1-1 hybrid with two defensive midfielders, restrained fullbacks, and long balls toward Chamakh and Jerome. Puncheon and Bolasie have pace down the flanks, capable of troubling Liverpool's fullbacks, especially if Flanagan and Johnson are determined to get forward. Murray could start in place of Jerome, Ince in place of Puncheon or Bolasie, but Pulis has used a fairly settled side over the last few matches, helped by the fact that Palace have no injury concerns.

West Ham away a month ago, a narrow 2-1 win, is probably a better barometer than Chelsea's parked bus. Allardyce and Pulis have the same philosophy: maximizing efficiency, maximizing the few chances created, minimizing the amount of football played. Quick transitions up the flanks, crosses toward Jerome and Chamakh, creating havoc on set plays. West Ham dragged Liverpool down into the mud at Upton Park, but even though Liverpool needed two penalties to score two goals, West Ham wouldn't have even scored one if not for Carroll punching Mignolet in the face. Still, Liverpool's gonna need more from open play than they created against the Hammers.

All Liverpool can do is win its final two matches and hope for the best. Focus on themselves, and respond to last week's loss. It'll be a true measure of how far this team has come mentally, because last week was one hell of a demoralizing set back.

So, will it be déjà vu all over again, or did Liverpool learn something from last week?