23 September 2017

Liverpool 3-2 Leicester City

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:
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:
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.


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

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.

28 August 2017

Visualized: Liverpool 4-0 Arsenal

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

Match data from WhoScored and Liverpool FC

As said yesterday, this played out an awful lot like Liverpool's Champions League qualifier. The same set-up from both sides. The opposition blown away from the start. Four Liverpool goals. Almost exact passing totals from the two sides.

Arsenal's opposition scouting has a lot to answer for here.

This is the also second game in a row where Liverpool had six Opta-defined clear-cut chances. Liverpool didn't have six in a match at all last season. And, like Hoffenheim, Arsenal had none.

I still maintain that I'd blame Arsene Wenger for this defeat far more than I would the Arsenal players, but I will also readily admit that individuals did not help their cause. Most of the criticism has fallen on Arsenal's first half midfield, especially Ramsey, or Bellerin's error for Liverpool's third. I'd like to highlight Arsenal's supposed defensive stalwart, the rock between a youngster and a left-back.

Just before the first goal. Koscielny clearly has Firmino.

Koscielny does not have Firmino.

Then, the fourth goal. Koscielny clearly has Sturridge; he's even looking right at him!

Koscielny does not have Sturridge.

If this were from Dejan Lovren, we'd be howling for weeks.

Conversely, while there are a ton of very good things to pick out from individual Liverpool players – the potency of that front three, Wijnaldum completing eight successful take-ons, Emre Can's role in transitions – I'd like to point out one that I've seen go unmentioned so far. Liverpool's first two goals came from Joe Gomez interceptions: one in the final third, one in Liverpool's penalty box. Guile and ability from a 20-year-old who's hardly featured over the last two seasons, at both ends of the pitch, including a weaker-footed assist perfectly weighted to open the scoring. From the third-choice right-back, who's also fourth-choice center-back.

Liverpool have now kept seven clean sheets in their last nine PL games, going back to mid-April last season. Matip-Lovren started all but Liverpool's 1-0 win over Palace last week. There have been ground-out wins: 1-0 West Brom, Watford, and Palace. There have been massacres: 4-0 West Ham, 3-0 Boro, and 4-0 Arsenal. There have been frustrations: 0-0 Southampton. And there have been mistakes: 1-2 Palace, 3-3 Watford. Three of the five goals conceded – one against Palace and two against Watford – came from corners.

There are still mistakes in that unit. It's still too shallow for my liking, with another center-back seemingly necessary. But, because of those notable errors, because of the set play failings, we're sometimes blinded to the fact that it's actually better than we admit.

It's been two years since any side kept a clean sheet in this fixture – since 0-0 at Arsenal under Rodgers in August 2015. It's been more than 11 years since Liverpool kept a clean sheet in this fixture at Anfield, since a 1-0 win in February 2006. This was the first time Arsenal's been held without a shot on-target since October 2014. It's only the fifth time that Liverpool have held a league opponent without a shot on-target under Jürgen Klopp.

It was as thorough a beating as possible. And we're all aware of how good it was in attack. How good Firmino, Mané, and Salah already are, and can continue to be, especially when they're allowed this much space and that many chances to counter. But we also need recognize how good Liverpool were, and can be, in both midfield and defense as well, in contrast to what we feared after the first two games of the season.

27 August 2017

Liverpool 4-0 Arsenal

Firmino 17'
Mané 40'
Salah 57'
Sturridge 77'

We make this joke a lot, usually in matches against other top-six sides. But I truly do wish Liverpool could play Arsenal every week.

Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool have now played Arsenal four times. They've scored at least three goals in all four of those matches. This, however, was the first time that Liverpool also kept a clean sheet. Because Arsenal failed to put a single shot on-target. It's the first time that Liverpool kept a clean sheet against Arsenal at Anfield since February 2006. Yes. More than 11 years ago.

It comes down to two factors. How good Liverpool can be in attack, and the choices that Arsenal – read: Arsene Wenger – made to take on the hosts.

That Arsenal attempted to play the same system and style that Hoffenheim tried at Anfield was a bad idea. Liverpool's midfield again looked a real midfield, out-numbering and over-powering Ramsey and Xhaka in the middle. And then Firmino, Mané, and Salah wreaked utter destruction, because that's what that front three does.

Liverpool should have opened the scoring at the exact same moment as against Hoffenheim as well. A tenth-minute clear-cut chance created by Can and Firmino, taken by Salah, but saved by Cech. At least we wouldn't have to wait much longer. Gomez stealing the ball in Arsenal's half, interplay between him, Salah, and Can, Gomez's cross to an unmarked Firmino run into the box, easily headed past Cech.

One goal from pressing, nearly another two minutes later – Henderson robbing possession, to Firmino, back to Henderson, missed wide from a narrow angle – then three from counter-attacking.

Do not let Liverpool score early, and then do not give Liverpool space.

Do. Not. Give. Liverpool. Space.

I mean, I really want you to. But you probably shouldn't.

It's the 40th minute. Liverpool have had chances to extend their lead but haven't yet, something which always makes as nervous. And Arsenal are in Liverpool's box. But a Gomez interception to Wijnaldum to Can to Firmino to Mané, now one-on-one with poor Rob Holding in Arsenal's box. A cut onto his right, even though every human in the world knows he's cutting onto his right, and a curler past Cech. 16 seconds from start to finish.

2-0 at halftime absolutely did not flatter the home side.

Hoffenheim at least changed to a 4-2-3-1 in the 24th minute to stem Liverpool's tide. It took Arsenal until halftime. And they were better for about ten minutes after the restart, but without reward, any really semblance of reward. Too little, too late. And then Liverpool took over again. Salah, again denied from a close-range clear-cut chance on the counter. Then Salah, finally, with the ball in the back of the net: an Arsenal corner, but Salah robbing Bellerin after the cross is cleared, then sprinting two-thirds the pitch to slot past Cech, seven seconds from start to finish.

57 minutes into the match, and all three of Liverpool's front three have scored. Just as happened at Watford on opening day, almost to the exact second.

From there, Arsenal truly beaten. From there, Liverpool buoyant, passing with purpose, denying chances, in control and always looking for that counter.

A chance to make subs, to rest players after the exertions since the start of the season. And the first substitute gets Liverpool's fourth. Arsenal's cross easily dealt with, Gomez to Firmino, who unbelievably turns away from and between two defenders and finds Can, to Salah, a couldn't-be-better-aimed cross from the left to a couldn't-be-more-open Sturridge at the back post. 15 seconds from start to finish. Sturridge's first goal at Anfield – in front of the Kop – since December.

There's not much else to be said about Liverpool's attack. They are good. Really good. Good in games where there's a lack of space, as at Watford, and really, really good in games like this. There's Sturridge, Solanke, and Origi off the bench, there's Coutinho and Lallana to return from injury. They're all gonna score a lot of goals, and even more goals when Salah starts consistently converting great chances.

It's been five games now. Mané, Firmino, and Salah have all scored three goals. Firmino's got three assists, Mané two, and Salah one. Through five games, Liverpool have had 18 clear-cut chances, an average of 3.5 per game, and Salah, Firmino, and Mané have been on the end of 14 of those. Liverpool averaged 1.9 in the league last season.

But again, I'm almost as impressed with the midfield, if only because we expect this from the attack. Getting this sort of play from Henderson, Wijnaldum, and Can wasn't anywhere near as expected, especially after the first two fixtures. We got the passing, covering, and pressing – especially pressing – from Henderson that we saw on Wednesday. Wijnaldum on the ball was something to behold, surging runs forward, breaking Arsenal ankles on three separate occasions, exactly what he's needed to do. And Emre Can was undeniable, adding passes like those to free Firmino and Salah on the break for Liverpool's second and fourth, and the interplay and low cross for that early Salah chance to his already beast-mode physicality.

And we'll give the defense its due as well. The full-backs were excellent, in both attack – Joe Gomez assist! – and defense. Lovren and Matip did as needed, which is all I'll ever ask. Karius frightened on three separate occasions and that's not great, but whatever, he got through it. But mostly, it was a team effort, with everyone quick to get back and cover, and Arsenal attackers smothered by numbers rather than individual dual wins.

A lot of focus will be what Arsenal did. What Arsenal's players did. Underperformers. Don't respect the shirt. Not passionate enough. Alexis wants out, Özil again goes missing. Sure, a lot of talent didn't do what was needed today. Zero shots on-target is pretty bad, even if none were especially good chances thanks to what Liverpool did. Midfielders, wing-backs, and attackers could and should have been quicker to close down Liverpool in the middle of the pitch, but most the worst examples of it came after Liverpool were already two up. Yes, Ramsey and Oxlade-Chamberlain switched off on Liverpool's first, and Bellerin screwed up on Liverpool's third.

I'm still far more inclined to blame the manager, who picked a side that played directly to Liverpool's strengths. Who started a 21-year-old center-back with 10 Premier League appearances against Sadio Mané, a left-back at center-back opposite Salah, a right wing-back at left-wing back, and a central midfielder at right-wing back. Who left Mustafi, Kolasinac, and Lacazette on the bench. Who played Aaron Ramsey in a two-man midfield against Liverpool's three.

And I'm far more inclined to credit Liverpool's players, in all three areas of the pitch.

26 August 2017

Liverpool v Arsenal 08.27.17

11am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
3-1 Liverpool (h) 03.04.17
4-3 Liverpool (a) 08.14.16
3-3 (h) 01.13.16
0-0 (a) 08.24.15

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 4-2 Hoffenheim (h); 1-0 Palace (h); 2-1 Hoffenheim (a)
Arsenal: 0-1 Stoke (a); 4-3 Leicester (h); 1-1 Chelsea aet [4-1 pens] (n)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Mané 2; Firmino, Salah 1
Arsenal: Giroud, Lacazette, Ramsey, Welbeck 1

Referee: Martin Atkinson (LFC History) (WhoScored)

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

As before Hoffenheim, as against Palace, the starting XI calculus is totally dependent upon players' fitness and potential need for rotation.

Five outfield players have started all four matches – in an 11-day span – so far: Firmino, Mané, Henderson, Wijnaldum, and Matip. This would make five matches in 15 days. The other five outfield players in the above guess at an XI have started three of the four.

That's a lot of match time for it yet to be September. That always makes me nervous.

Both Alexander-Arnold and Emre Can had minor problems against Hoffenheim, but both should be available here.

There seems a small chance we get an XI closer to that against Palace: Sturridge in place of Mané or Salah; Milner for Wijnaldum or Can; Robertson for Moreno. That left-back spot remains the most contentious, with Moreno playing better than expected but Robertson also starring against Palace last week.

That we're coming up on an international break after this match also matters. Screw it. Play whomever you want. Let the countries deal with the fallout. What could possibly go wrong, etc etc etc.

It makes a certain amount of sense to play the same XI as against Hoffenheim. Like Hoffenheim, Arsenal will play 3-4-2-1. Like Hoffenheim, Arsenal will play a high line with wing-backs getting forward. Arsenal will leave space for Mané and Salah, Liverpool will get chances. And Arsenal will as well.

Like that Hoffenheim match, this fixture has seen a lot of goals every time these sides have met since Klopp became Liverpool manager. Liverpool have scored at least three in all three meetings. Arsenal have scored three in two of them.

Arsenal are vastly more dangerous up front than Hoffenheim are.

Alexis Sanchez is back following an abdominal injury, Koscielny's back after suspension. Neither have played yet this season, so maybe it's a reach to throw both in right away, but this is Alexis and Koscielny we're talking about. Both make Arsenal better, usually much better.

Cech; Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Bellerin, Xhaka, Elneny, Kolasinac; Sanchez, Özil; Lacazette. Maybe Oxlade-Chamberlain keeps his place at wing-back or moves into midfield, but that seems less likely given all the talk about rejecting a new contract and possible transfer. Ramsey's another option in midfield. Welbeck, Walcott, and Iwobi are options in attack; Giroud will almost certainly be limited to a role off the bench – which he's thrived in.

This may be the type of game where Liverpool have been at their best over the last couple of seasons, but, as always, past is not necessarily precedent. This can be a different, better Arsenal – even if they're allowing loads of shots so far this season, even if they're coming off a loss to Stoke. A different type of striker in attack, a different style of defense than Liverpool have faced when facing them. It can also be a better Liverpool, at least in attack, but attack has rarely been a problem for Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool.

All signs point to a wacky, wild 3-2, 4-3, 5-2 match. And if any other teams were involved, that'd means we're in for a dire 0-0 or 1-0. But that's not how these teams roll.

Let's hope Liverpool are on the right end of the insanity.

24 August 2017

Visualized: Liverpool 4-2 Hoffenheim

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

Match data from WhoScored.

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

The lesson, as always, is I'm an idiot.

Chances are we're getting "soak up and counter" Liverpool. Defend deeper than usual, hoping to prevent the gaps and mistakes which lead to long-ball and counter-attack concessions. Try not to give away any set plays. And then burn them with pace, with Salah, with Mané. As tempting as it is to go at Hoffenheim from the opening whistle, that Liverpool getting one goal wouldn't dramatically change proceedings will play into Klopp's tactics.

I was spectacularly wrong. Spectacularly. And I couldn't be happier to be so.

It's not as if Liverpool can or will ever completely focus on defense. That's not Liverpool. Liverpool just aren't built to play that way, a couple of first-leg European performances at Dortmund and Villarreal aside. Liverpool "focusing on defense" usually means heavy pressing from the front and quick counter-attacks. And, to be fair, we did get a bit of that.

But I did not expect that show of force, that show of strength. That much of a trip to the woodshed for the first quarter of the match. Those first 24 minutes rivaled anything we've seen in the last few seasons – even The Great Arsenal Massacre of 2013-14.

In those first 24 minutes, until Hoffenheim were forced into a tactics- and formation-altering substitution, Liverpool took nine shots. Hoffenheim took none. Four of those Liverpool shots were clear-cut chances, three of those shots ended in goals.

Hoffenheim just could not breathe.

Within four minutes, Mané was through on goal thanks to Firmino's defense-slaying throughball, denied by Baumann. Within ten, Liverpool opened the scoring – another throughball from Firmino to Mané, this time holding up play before a back-heel to Can, a fortunate finish via deflection. Eight minutes after that, Wijnaldum hit the post when set up by Firmino, and poacher-in-extremis Salah's on hand for the rebound tap-in.

And then, in the 21st minute, one of the prettiest goals you'll ever see. Embedded here, because it's just that sexy. And if this embed is country-protected because Fox Sports – which at least won't get taken down because of copyright – I encourage you to Google. Now. This'll be here when you get back.

My gods. All the gods. Just watch it again, then a few times more. It's as good as team football gets.

Moreno forward into Firmino, who has dropped as a "false nine" should, then turned and makes the necessary run forward after laying off to Wijnaldum. Who delivers as perfectly-weighted a throughball as you'll see – and we'd already seen two from Firmino. Then Mané's intelligence in holding up play rather than an early low cross to a covered Salah; seriously, this is the most underrated part of the move. Then exactly the back-heel needed to release Firmino, followed by Firmino's cross with his weaker foot to the exact spot for Can to finish with his weaker foot. The entire move from start to finish, from one of the pitch to the other, took just 12 seconds.

Woof. I'm done. I'm on the floor and I have no idea where I am or where my pants are.

Incidentally, two of Liverpool's three goals so far had featured back-heels from Sadio Mané. A small matter in the greater scheme of things, but I want to note my fervent approval.

But, credit where due – and it ain't much credit – Hoffenheim steadied. Hoffenheim made a necessary and improving change: Uth for Nordtveit, attacker for defender and a switch to a 4-2-3-1. Because a high-line three center-back defense was getting absolutely shredded by Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino, with Can and Wijnaldum cleverly taking up spaces vacated by retreating center-backs. A back four with deeper full-backs and central midfielders at least stemmed that tide for a while.

And it got Hoffenheim a goal back, with some help.

It feels slightly pedantic to blame an individual player for a goal conceded in a match where Liverpool often ran riot, but step forward Dejan Lovren. Wait. No. Don't step forward. Don't step forward after playing a pass directly to a Hoffenheim attacker in your defensive third, creating the angle for Wagner to feed Uth. The substitute's goal from a wide-box shot to reduce arrears, just as he did in Germany a week ago, this time less than four minutes after coming on.

That could have been tilt. Or at least a little tilt-y. We've seen Liverpool, no matter the good that came before, sink faster than the Titanic when faced with adversity after unnecessarily conceding. But that did not happen here.

Liverpool should have extended its lead even further in the 36th – Moreno cross-field to Alexander-Arnold, one-touch perfectly weighted for Salah, a low cross to Firmino with the goal dead to rights but somehow shot straight at Baumann. Not long after, Emre Can was inches away from a 42-minute hat-trick. Meanwhile, Hoffenheim remained limited to a couple more half-chances from Gnabry and Uth.

Liverpool just kept doing Liverpool. Gegenpress, then go for the throat. Sure, play the high line. Press fervently. Attack, right away, if given the slightest glimmer of a chance.

Liverpool were incorrigible. And ultimately unstoppable. The second half never saw the heights hit in the first, but Liverpool were in control of tenor and tempo if not possession. Another clear-cut chance, a couple of shots on-target well saved by Baumann – who truly prevented a massacre – and then the final nail into Hoffenheim's coffin in the 63rd minute. Henderson charging forward from deep to press Vogt into an error, then laying off for Firmino. 3-1 up, 5-3 on aggregate, with 30 minutes to play, and your deepest midfielder is doing things like that. Liverpool can really be fun sometimes.

And from there, a formality. Liverpool rarely tried to attack, taking 20 minutes from the fourth goal to even register another shot, and Liverpool were kind of, sort of punished for it with Hoffenheim's second consolation: a well-hit cross after a well-worked throw-in, but more notably Matip losing his man, leaving Lovren one versus two and Wagner first to the ball to head past Mignolet. Yes, this was a match where I was extremely happy with what Liverpool did for 97% of the time. But it was a match where Liverpool also conceded two goals mainly because their two center-backs each did something not great.

That second consolation was also enough of a wake-up call. Hoffenheim would get no closer. Hoffenheim wouldn't take another shot for the rest of the match.

Yesterday saw Liverpool's attack almost at its best. Almost. And the only reason it's "almost" is that six or seven goals wouldn't have flattered the home side.

Liverpool had six clear-cut chances. Everyone in front five had at least one. Liverpool's high last season was five, achieved twice, in the 5-1 win over Hull and 6-1 win over Watford, and Hoffenheim is neither Hull nor Watford. I've been tracking Liverpool clear-cut chances for three seasons now. This is the most I've seen in a single match. Meanwhile, Hoffenheim had none.

Liverpool put nine of 20 shots on-target. Liverpool took 17 of 20 shots inside the box. Liverpool out-shot opponents who needed a win, who needed at least two goals to get that win, by 11 shots. And that's despite (or maybe because of) Liverpool having just 45% possession.

We're four games into the season and each of Liverpool's preferred front three have scored two goals. Mo Salah's the only of the three without an assist.

There have only been four games, so "sample size" in big flashing neon letters, but this is what Liverpool's front three are doing so far:

It wasn't just the attack either. We finally got a functional Liverpool midfield too. An assist, five successful tackles, two interceptions, and 89% pass accuracy from Jordan Henderson. Three in-box shots – good chances coming after smart runs – that killer pass to start the move for Liverpool's third goal, and three key passes from Wijnaldum. Oh, and two goals from Emre Can, who was reportedly ill.

Most sides would've have done what I expected Liverpool to do. Hoffenheim needed two goals, so first and foremost make sure Hoffenheim doesn't get two goals. Well, that's not Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool.

Hoffenheim got those two goals. Liverpool got four.

This was Liverpool's game, Liverpool's match, to a T. Look up "Klopp's Liverpool" in the dictionary and you'll see this, probably the best example of what they're capable of against this type of opposition, since the 4-1 victory at Manchester City early in the manager's reign. An onslaught from the opening whistle. Press, blitz, finish. Lather, rinse, repeat. A boot, stamping on a human face – forever. Until the defense does something dumb, but at least not until Liverpool are out of sight.

If only more opponents would let Liverpool approach matches similarly.

However, as noted by someone smarter than I on Twitter (stupid private accounts and pseudonyms make it hard to credit), Liverpool are a Wijnaldum error and blown offside call (on the same injury-time play) from a perfect start to the season. It should be two wins from two in the league, and is two wins from two in the Champions League qualifiers. Despite all the issues we've repeatedly mentioned in previous matches. Despite Coutinho, Lallana, and Clyne yet to play a single minute so far.

Despite Liverpool being capable of much more than we've seen so far. But yesterday was as close a glimpse as we've gotten yet.

22 August 2017

Liverpool v Hoffenheim 08.23.17

Liverpool lead 2-1 on aggregate

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

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-0 Palace (h); 2-1 Hoffenheim (a); 3-3 Watford (a)
Hoffenheim: 1-0 Bremen (h); 1-2 Liverpool (h); 1-0 Rot-Weiß Erfurt (a)

Goalscorers (all):
Liverpool: Mané 2; Alexander-Arnold, Firmino, Salah 1
Hoffenheim: Amiri, Kramaric, Uth 1

Referee: Daniele Orsato (ITA)

Guess at a line-up:
Trent A-A Matip Lovren Robertson
Can Henderson Milner
Salah Firmino Mané

I'd expect to see at least three of those rested against Crystal Palace to come back into the XI: Emre Can, Salah, and Alexander-Arnold. Possibly Lovren as well, although Klavan did play well, and seemingly made Matip look better as well, even if it was just one match. Given his showing on Saturday, Robertson has to be likely to keep his place.

And I'm tempted to think that James Milner will as well, as much for what Wijnaldum hasn't done as for what Milner did.

That key players were able to miss Saturday's match, while Liverpool still won all three points, is of massive benefit. But fatigue remains an issue. Matip, Henderson, Firmino, and Mané are the only four outfield players to start all three matches so far. Matip's played every minute; Mané's missed just one, substituted late a week ago; Firmino has been substituted late in each match so far; and Henderson missed the last half-hour in Germany. That's a lot of minutes played in 11 days. And I can't see any of those players left out tomorrow. Maybe I just don't want to envision any of them left out.

Oh, and Arsenal's on Sunday. As much as we'd like that not to play a role, that will play a role.

Hoffenheim rested players during their weekend league match as well. Similarly three-at-the-back, but 3-5-2 rather than 3-4-2-1, and five changes as well – at wing-back, central midfield, and up front.

Your guess as to their formation and personnel is almost certainly as good as mine, if not better. My best guess is similar to what we saw in Germany, with maybe one or two differences. So let's go with Baumann; Nordtveit, Vogt, Hübner; Kaderabek, Amiri, Demirbay, Zuber; Gnabry, Kramaric; Wagner. Hoffenheim have no new injuries or absentees since last week.

Regardless of XI, Hoffenheim will attack. Hoffenheim have to attack. At Anfield, they'll probably have less of the ball than in Germany. But they need at least two goals, whether or not Liverpool get one. Two goals with no reply will see them through. Two goals while Liverpool score one gets us extra time.

Hoffenheim have yet to score more than once in their three matches so far this season.

Chances are we're getting "soak up and counter" Liverpool. Defend deeper than usual, hoping to prevent the gaps and mistakes which lead to long-ball and counter-attack concessions. Try not to give away any set plays. And then burn them with pace, with Salah, with Mané. As tempting as it is to go at Hoffenheim from the opening whistle, that Liverpool getting one goal wouldn't dramatically change proceedings will play into Klopp's tactics.

There is no way to overstate the importance of tomorrow's match. It is the difference between the Champions League and the Europa League. The difference between a celebration and a return to the big kids' table, or an unwanted Thursday night slog through remote locations.

And it is too early in the season to suffer such a setback.

21 August 2017

Visualized: Liverpool 1-0 Crystal Palace

Previous Match Infographics: Hoffenheim (a), Watford (a)

Match data from WhoScored and Liverpool FC

For all the talk of a new Crystal Palace, of Frank de Boer wanting his side to play football, that was about as deep a defense as Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool have seen. Very much a five-man backline, with both Ward and van Aanholt rarely out of their own half. Only five sides have had less possession in a league match against Klopp's Liverpool than Palace did – 0-2 Burnley (a), 5-1 Hull (h), 2-0 Sunderland (h), 2-3 Swansea (h), 3-0 Boro (h); all in 2016-17. Only two sides have made more interceptions against Klopp's Liverpool in a league match – Aston Villa, in Liverpool's 6-0 home romp, and Leicester, when Liverpool lost 0-2, both in February 2016, both wanting little more than to keep Liverpool out, one successful, one very much not so – and all but one of Palace's interceptions in their own half. Only four sides have taken fewer than four shots against Klopp's Liverpool: 4-0 Everton (h) in 2015-16, and 0-2 Burnley (a), 5-1 Hull (h), and 0-0 Southampton (a) in 2016-17.

So, yes, yet again, Liverpool had to deal with a deep defense. And Liverpool struggled against a deep defense. Liverpool had to grind out a win against that deep defense without ever looking fluent. Liverpool are thankful that Tomkins and Benteke missed excellent chances, from a set play and from a long ball, in the 9th and 55th minutes.

But it was a much-changed Liverpool XI, with five alterations from the line-up in the first two fixtures. But Liverpool took 23 shots, nine more than they had in each of the first two fixtures. But Liverpool put 13 of them on-target. But Liverpool created multiple decent opportunities – few, but two clear-cut in the first half, both via crosses from the excellent Andrew Robertson, then increasingly more and more in the second half, especially after the substitutions and Mané's game-winner.

Incidentally, Sadio Mané has now scored the opening goal in his last three Premier League appearances. 3-1 Everton, 3-3 Watford, and 1-0 Palace.

Nonetheless, 10 of those 23 Liverpool shots came from outside the box. 15 came in the final 35 minutes, with seven after Liverpool finally scored (including six of the 13 on-target). As Andrew Beasley noted, Liverpool scored at least three goals in the three previous matches since 2008-09 where they put 13 shots on-target. Liverpool's xG per shot at Watford was around 0.13 when not including the penalty. It was 0.11 at Hoffenheim. It was 0.09 against Palace.

Liverpool had shots and Liverpool had some good chances – which is good! – but still needed a Palace error, a fortunate break of the ball, and Mané's individual brilliance to win the match. Liverpool kept its first clean sheet of the campaign and Liverpool held the opponents to a dismal shot total, with three new starters in the back line – which is good – but needed those two aforementioned bad misses to win the match.

It remains very, very early, but I'm inclined to continue to complain most about Liverpool's midfield.

10 of Liverpool's outfield players created at least one chance. It was fairly evenly split – most players just one, except Robertson with three (all in the first half), and both Firmino and Gomez with two. The three who didn't create anything? Wijnaldum, Milner, and Lovren – the latter only playing the four minutes of second half injury time.

That is a dire lack of creativity from Liverpool's two advanced central midfielders. Milner's inability, despite completing 100 passes, is one thing, and obviously concerning. But Wijnaldum's inability, despite playing a bit further forward, combined with only 28 attempted passes in 71 minutes despite Liverpool's 73% possession, is even more concerning.

Might as well break out the passing wheel again.

Four completed forward passes: two from his own half, and two short to Robertson on the flank. Six completed passes in the final third, all short and all sideways.

But even more infuriating than the passes played was his utter lack of involvement. Sturridge and Mignolet were the only Liverpool players to make fewer touches, and had Sturridge played 10 more minutes, as Wijnaldum did, he'd probably have surpassed the midfielder.

In three matches, a little more than 250 minutes played, Wijnaldum's had 127 touches. Andrew Robertson had 134 on Saturday. Wijnaldum's made one key pass in these three matches – spread wide for Salah's off-target shot early in the second half at Watford. He's taken four shots – two in each league match. At Watford, both came late, off-target and blocked. Against Palace – he probably could and should have scored, whether with the well-hit shot on-target from distance or when lingering on the ball before getting an effort blocked with his last touch of the match.

This midfield – without Coutinho for the rest of the month at best, without Lallana for the next three or four months, with Woodburn yet to be integrated as one of the creative hubs – cannot abide by passengers. Wijnaldum hasn't been the only disappointment in this area, but Wijnaldum has been little more than a passenger through all three fixtures so far. Irrelevancy is more infuriating than inferiority.

But as said in the match review, right now, just enough is good enough. Improvement's been necessary in all three phases – midfield, attack, and defense – through all three fixtures so far, but we at least got some improvement in the latter two on Saturday. Mané continues to Mané, Salah and Solanke made massive differences off the bench, Robertson impressed on his debut, Gomez did well in his first league start in almost two years, and Klavan and Matip looked more secure than Lovren and Matip in the first two games, against a player who often causes Liverpool fits.

And Liverpool won, against opposition they hadn't beaten at home in each of the previous three seasons. More, much more, will be needed, but that'll do for now.

19 August 2017

Liverpool 1-0 Crystal Palace

Mané 73'

Just enough is good enough.

Of course, it was too close for comfort. Of course, we really would like and need Liverpool to be better and more coherent, especially in midfield.

But Liverpool made five changes, needing to rotate the side with injuries and fixtures already accruing at too fast a rate. I mean, just look at that starting XI. Robertson's debut, Joe Gomez's first league start since October 2015, Klavan partnering Matip, Milner's second league start in midfield since the beginning of last season.

But, after suffering for the first hour, Liverpool finally made necessary substitutions, with Salah for Sturridge and Solanke for Wijnaldum – and a switch to something like a 4-4-2/4-2-3-1 – improving the side immensely.

But Liverpool more than quintupled Palace's shot total. Liverpool had three times as many shots on-target as Palace had shots. Crystal Palace's last shot came in the 55th minute. Liverpool took 15 shots – even if that total only included one goal – after that.

But Liverpool finally scored.

But Liverpool never conceded.

But Liverpool ground out a necessary win against the type of opposition who's given them so many problems over the last season and a bit more. Against a club that's given them so many problems in recent season.

But the home side hadn't won this fixture since Palace beat Liverpool on their own ground in November 2014. Liverpool hadn't beaten Palace at Anfield since October 2013; you know, the season they almost won the league. Liverpool hadn't kept a Premier League clean sheet against Crystal Palace since December 1997, 12 matches before this one.

But three points. And that's really all that matters.

So, yes, Liverpool weren't good in that first half. Liverpool's midfield – for the third straight match – was actually bad; or, at the very nicest, uncreative. Andrew Robertson was the only player creating anything of note. Once again, the match featured Liverpool running headlong into all those deep defenders and failing to break through them.

The 55th minute was the turning point. The second half had started the same as the first. Lots of possession, a couple of speculative shots from distance, and Liverpool seemingly no closer to finding the breakthrough. And then, what had been the sucker punch in far too many fixtures. One long ball forward. Loftus-Cheek beating Klavan far too easily, to the byline, and a cut-back to a wide-open Benteke eight yards out, with Matip in no-man's land and Gomez struggling to catch up.

And the player who'd scored seven goals in his eight matches against Liverpool skied his sitter.

Not long after, Salah replaced Sturridge, and Liverpool incrementally kicked up the gears in attack. Not long after that, Solanke replaced Wijnaldum, and Liverpool kicked them up a bit more. It was a revolutionary idea: the midfield and individual midfielders aren't playing well, so play fewer of them.

And not long after that – two minutes, in fact – Liverpool finally made the breakthrough. Once again, it's Sadio Mané. Once again, it's both a bit of fortune, a bit of talent, and a bit of individual brilliance. Another attempt to quickly link through the final third. Solanke causing trouble with his strength, Mané determined enough and clever enough to continue his run, Liverpool lucky that Milivojevic's touch was poor, and Mané quick enough and talented enough to finally beat Hennessey.

While we're all traumatized and expect the worst and probably rightfully so, Palace had no response. Their solution was to throw Scott Dann forward with Benteke and hoof more long balls. And Liverpool dealt with it just fine. No Palace shots, no Palace threats. Meanwhile, Hennessey needed to deny Salah (twice), Firmino, Solanke, and Robertson in the final ten minutes to keep the scoreline at 1-0.

So, yes, that'll absolutely do, pig. There are still real, discernible problems, problems with we've all screamed about already this season. There's still so much more improvement needed, and there are still transfers which need to be done.

But this early in the season, with this lineup, against this opposition, a win, any win is sufficient.

18 August 2017

Liverpool v Crystal Palace 08.19.17

10am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
1-2 Palace (h) 04.23.17
4-2 Liverpool (a) 10.29.16
2-1 Liverpool (a) 03.06.16
2-1 Palace (h) 11.08.15

Last matches:
Liverpool: 2-1 Hoffenheim (a); 3-3 Watford (a)
Palace: 0-3 Huddersfield (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Firmino, Mané, Salah 1
Palace: n/a

Referee: Kevin Friend (LFC History) (WhoScored)

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

It's hard to see where any changes to the starting XI might come. Sturridge is fit again, but I highly doubt Liverpool want to mess with that front three, the only phase that's been without complaints so far this short season.

There's not much to be done in defense, at least personnel-wise. Clyne's still injured and Alexander-Arnold's done fine. More than fine for 89:30 of 90 minutes against Hoffenheim. Lovren and Matip have each had their issues, but are still probably a better idea than bringing in Klavan or Gomez. Left-back is where Liverpool could make a change, but Moreno hasn't been the problem area in the defensive unit, holding up well despite being target by both Watford and Hoffenheim.

I am, however, tempted to suggest changes in midfield, with Milner replacing Henderson – as happened for the last half-hour against Hoffenheim. It didn't show in preseason, but the first two games suggest something's not right with Liverpool's captain. But even still, without Coutinho and Lallana, with Woodburn not even named in the squad after understudying in the position throughout preseason, Liverpool have a desperate lack of creativity in the center of the pitch. There's a chance Milner helps with that, at least compared to Henderson, with Can moving deeper. At least with this match being at Anfield, Gini Wijnaldum may actually play.

Unless, of course, Liverpool changes are forced. Both Mané and Can appeared to miss training on Thursday, at least according to the training pictures released by the club. But I'm not necessarily sure we can divine absences from official club pictures. It's not as if the club will also announce injuries, but this still feels as if we're reading tea leaves here. Still, if they're both missing, we're getting Sturridge, Solanke or Origi up front with Firmino on the left, and Milner, Henderson, and Wijnaldum in midfield. Which is *shrugs*.

And regardless of who's available for the hosts, Liverpool will be facing a side with a point to prove, a side that will probably play the type of style which has hurt Liverpool in the past, and a side that's bedeviled them over the last few seasons.

Palace were absolutely rinsed by Huddersfield last week, a 0-3 loss at home not flattering the promoted side in the slightest. Huddersfield's crosses – both open and set play, both high and low – punished Palace, while Palace were wasteful – Zaha denied on a glorious chance from a long ball and flick-on, Benteke errant on a couple of trademark chances. Well, Liverpool won't attack Palace as Huddersfield attacked Palace, and Benteke is rarely errant when facing Liverpool.

I suspect Palace will stick with the same 3-4-2-1 formation we saw against Huddersfield as well, despite the result. Something like Hennessey; Fosu-Mensah, Dann, Riedewald; Ward, Puncheon, Milivojevic, van Aanholt; Loftus-Cheek, Townsend; Benteke.

Wilfred Zaha will be a massive miss for Palace, while Bakary Sako's also out. Cabaye, McArthur, Wickham, and Souare are doubtful. If available, there seems a small chance that Cabaye starts rather than Townsend.

I had almost forgotten that these sides met in Hong Kong a month ago. Liverpool's 2-0 win, with second-half goals from Solanke and Origi, was good for preparation but not for precedent.

When the fixtures have actually counted, Palace have won each of their last three matches at Anfield: 1-2, 1-2, and 1-3. The away side, whether Palace or Liverpool, have won the last six meetings. And, probably more notably given what we've complained about over the last couple of weeks, Liverpool haven't kept a clean sheet against Palace in the last 13 fixtures, since a 0-0 draw in the FA Cup way back in 2003.

When the fixtures have actually counted, Christian Benteke's run riot against Liverpool, with seven goals in eight appearances, including both of those scored in last April's loss. Five of those seven goals have come at Anfield. And, of course, I'll remind that his winner last April came from a Crystal Palace corner.

Liverpool know what Liverpool have to do. Better than they did at Watford, in attack, midfield, and defense. They'll need to do it when missing key players, they'll need to do it with a more important fixture lurking next Wednesday. And, as against Watford, they'll need to do it against a side and in a situation where they've disappointed far too often.

16 August 2017

Visualized: Liverpool 2-1 Hoffenheim

Previous Match Infographics: Watford (a)

Match data from WhoScored.

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

It's second-half injury time. Liverpool are clinging onto a one-goal lead. A Liverpool substitute who'd come on just moments before gives away a cheap free kick. And an opposition set play leads to an opposition clear-cut chance.

Four days ago, Britos converted his, which came from a corner following Gomez's foul. Yesterday, Benjamin Hübner sent his header from Demirbay's free kick just over the crossbar.

After Saturday's match, I wrote that "what goes around comes around." Here's yet more proof.

And to be completely honest, it's hard to argue that Liverpool fully merited its win, especially had it remained a two-goal margin.

Liverpool's goals came from the most unlikely of sources: Trent Alexander-Arnold's wonderful free kick and Milner's fortunately deflected cross leading to an own goal. The last time Liverpool scored at least two goals with none coming from Liverpool's front five was nearly a year ago, 2-1 over Chelsea with goals from Lovren and Henderson.

It took both heroics from Simon Mignolet and poor finishing from the hosts to keep Hoffenheim out for 86 minutes. Hoffenheim failed to score any of their three clear-cut chances. Had Kramaric converted his 12th minute penalty – which was admittedly incredibly soft – this is certainly a very different match. Mignolet did well to deny Gnabry in the 43rd, followed up by Wagner's rebound off the post rather than in an open goal-mouth. And then there was the aforementioned Hübner off-target header in the 91st minute.

To be slightly fairer, Liverpool also failed to take two clear-cut chances of their own – Salah's right-footed shot wide on the counter in the 15th and Firmino's close range effort saved in the 47th.

Liverpool's Henderson-Can-Wijnaldum midfield again suffered and again disappointed. All three struggled to get onto the ball in the face of constant Hoffenheim possession, and as at Watford, chances came when defenders found attackers, bypassing the central zone. Neither Henderson nor Wijnaldum created a chance or took a shot, and Liverpool looked vastly better when Milner replaced the captain, shifting Can to a deeper role.

Not that a lack of possession seems to hurt Liverpool. This was the 14th match under Klopp where Liverpool's had less than 50% possession. Liverpool's record in those matches is 8W-5D-1L – 2.07 points per game – with the lone loss coming due to an injury-time goal conceded in the 0-1 loss at Villarreal. But 36.6% possession is by far a new low, the first time Klopp's Liverpool have been held under 40%.

Once again, it's any port in a storm, especially in European competition. Liverpool's had done to them what they did to Hoffenheim far more often than the reverse has happened.

And despite that lack of possession, Liverpool still out-shot Hoffenheim, and could have scored more with better finishing of their own, especially from that vaunted front three. I'll almost always take 50% shooting accuracy – especially when compared to Hoffenheim's 30.8% – but Salah, Firmino, and Mané all left chances out there.

Aside from Lovren In The Time of Cholera (© Not Too Xabi) – responsible for the penalty, completely out of position and up the pitch for Gnabry's chance, and playing Uth onside for the goal – Liverpool defended reasonably well. As usual, there's at least one mistake you can point at for each of the four, but I was still pleased, especially with Liverpool's full-backs.

Special mention goes to Alexander-Arnold, who unfortunately stopped playing when assuming offside for Hoffenheim's goal, but was otherwise faultless, and gave Liverpool that indescribably important lead from a free kick which stunned us all. It's been too long since a Scouser scored for Liverpool – since Steven Gerrard in Steven Gerrard's last game, in May of 2015. This one's only 18.

And with that free-kick, Alexander-Arnold joins a short list of players who've scored from that situation over the last five years.

And while they all count in the end, it bears mentioning that both of Henderson's free kicks, as well as Milner's, came from left-wing crosses missed by both attackers and goalkeeper. In matches which ended 6-0, 6-0, and 4-0.

Long may this continue, Trent.

When all's said and done, Hoffenheim hadn't lost at home since the final day of 2015-16, unbeaten at the Rhein-Neckar through all of 2016-17, with 11 wins and six draws. By hook and crook and talent and luck, Liverpool broke that streak.

Liverpool now take an edge – albeit more slender than we'd like, because of failings we've seen in the past – into next week's match. Liverpool still have work to do, but they're in a position we'd have all happily taken prior to kickoff.