31 December 2017

Liverpool at Burnley 01.01.18

10am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
1-1 (h) 09.16.17
2-1 Liverpool (h) 03.12.17
0-2 Burnley (a) 08.20.16
2-0 Liverpool (h) 03.04.15

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-1 Leicester (h); 5-0 Swansea (h); 3-3 Arsenal (a)
Burnley: 0-0 Huddersfield (a); 2-2 United (a); 0-3 Tottenham (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Salah 17; Firmino 9; Coutinho 7; Mané 4; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sturridge 2; Alexander-Arnold, Can, Henderson, Lovren, Matip, Wijnaldum 1
Burnley: Wood 4; Barnes, Vokes 3; Arfield, Hendrick 2; Brady, Cork, Defour, Ward 1

Referee: Roger East (LFC History) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Trent A-A Lovren Klavan Robertson
Alex O-C Wijnaldum Can Mané
Solanke Firmino

It's Liverpool's ninth game since the start of December. It's Liverpool second game in 48 hours. And Liverpool are playing a side that's given them – and more than a few others – fits over the last few meetings.

I literally have no idea how Liverpool will line up.

That Simon Mignolet will come back in is basically the only certainty. Some of those left out against Leicester – especially Oxlade-Chamberlain and Wijnaldum – are likely to come in. It'll probably be Alexander-Arnold rather than Gomez. Robertson and Can seemingly have to keep their places for lack of alternatives. Given how Klopp's rotated his center-backs lately, Klavan probably replaces Matip. Salah, who limped off late against Leicester, probably misses this game even if his injury's minor just given his workload over the last few weeks. Otherwise, *throws arms up in exasperation*.

One guess I will venture is the 4-4-2 formation. Burnley has stifled Liverpool's 4-3-3 well in each of the recent meetings, whether win, loss, or draw. This would be something different, would make Burnley have to mark differently than they've been able to in the past. The formation worked well away at the likes of West Ham and Stoke, although it admittedly stuttered against West Brom.

But it's still a guess. At least Liverpool have options. There are the changes guessed above. 4-4-2 or 4-3-3, or a little of both. Another start for Coutinho in midfield or the left rather than a rest. Lallana yet to start after returning from injury, like Coutinho capable of playing on the flank or in a three-man midfield. Both Solanke or even Ings could replace Firmino or play along with him.

Two games in two days is not ideal, especially with two matches a week for almost two months, but Liverpool are far more capable of coping than they were a year ago.

And Burnley haven't coped with the festive season as they'd have hoped. They're winless in four, with a decent 2-2 at United – albeit one where they lost a 2-0 lead – but also boring 0-0 draws at Brighton and Huddersfield, and an 0-3 whooping by Tottenham, failing to score in three of those four matches. Top scorer Chris Wood, along with Ward and Brady, will miss this match due to injuries incurred in December, although Tarkowski will return from suspension.

Unsurprisingly, an early Tottenham goal was crucial in that match, scoring in the seventh minute, frustrated by Burnley for the next hour but not allowing them counter-attack chances, then scoring two more when Burnley finally had to come out. That's similar to what Liverpool did against Southampton and Stoke in November. That's the template for tomorrow.

Of course, form hasn't really mattered when these sides have met over the last season and a half. There's the 0-2 loss at the start of last season, where Liverpool went behind to two first-half goals and ran headlong into Burnley's defensive wall. There's the 1-1 earlier this season, where Liverpool went behind but thankfully got a quick equalizer, but then ran headlong into Burnley's defensive wall. And there was a 2-1 win at Anfield last season, a match which looked a lot like yesterday's against Leicester, ugly but enough.

And yet Burnley remain seventh, only three points behind Arsenal and Tottenham, although both have a game in hand. Because Sean Dyche is somehow a wizard. They've been more impressive away than home this season – in contrast to last season – beating Chelsea and drawing with Tottenham and Liverpool, but they've still conceded just six goals at home this season. Only Liverpool and United have conceded fewer.

We'll probably see some rotation from Burnley, but as with Leicester, it's a small squad with fewer potential changes. Something like Pope; Lowton, Tarkowski, Mee, Taylor; Gudmundson, Cork, Defour, Arfield; Walters, Vokes. Barnes could go again up front, maybe Hendrick or Westwood in midfield, maybe Wells on the flanks. Maybe 4-1-4-1 rather than 4-4-1-1. Either way, they'll play deep, they'll look to soak up pressure, they'll look to counter, but they'll also run and harry and hassle when Liverpool are trying to transition from defense to attack in their own half, hoping Liverpool do a Liverpool, as Liverpool did at the start against Leicester.

One more match, then something like a return to normalcy. Or at least as normal as Liverpool ever are. At least we'll be down to one match a week rather than two or three.

January was the beginning of the decline last season, the winter of our discontent, with only one replay win against Plymouth Argyle in the month's nine matches. There will be fewer fixtures this month. Liverpool have a larger, better squad to deal with this winter's trials.

Liverpool have an opportunity to rectify last season's failings. Liverpool have an opportunity to keep the distance between Tottenham and Arsenal, and gain ground on United and Chelsea in this unbelievably tight race for next season's Champions League spots. Liverpool have an opportunity to start the new year as they finished the old, still unbeaten in the last 15 matches, and somehow we're angry about a third of those matches.

But Liverpool will have to do it against – ugh – Sean Dyche's Burnley.

30 December 2017

Liverpool 2-1 Leicester

Vardy 3'
Salah 52' 76'

That was all set up for failure.

Liverpool go behind within three minutes, as Matip's error – a misplaced pass from the back to Can – led a Jamie Vardy opener, the defense out of position and out-numbered, Iborra's perfectly weighted ball to Mahrez, just onside, centered to Vardy for a tap-in.

And it's all too perfect that it took 98 seconds for Liverpool to be behind thanks to a defensive error with Virgil van Dijk watching from the stands. This is what you're in for, brother, we want you to be aware of it as soon as possible.

Bad Liverpool often starts with comedy at the back. Bad Liverpool often continues with missed chances up front. Which is exactly what we processed to get.

Leicester are one of the worst sides in the world to give a 1-0 lead to. They're good at soaking up pressure and denying space in the final third. They're good at counter-attacking. And they're great at the dark arts: fouls that don't get called, time-wasting which doesn't get booked. Frustration mounts. Then Vardy goes and scores again, with his punchable face, probably after elbowing someone when the referee wasn't looking.

And it's made worse when Liverpool actually have chances. Specifically, Liverpool's top scorer. Two clear-cut opportunities for Salah, in the seventh and 20th minutes: the first pushed wide from Mané's cutback after lovely control, the second chipped wide when played in by Firmino. Couple that with a Mané "goal" rightfully ruled out for offside and Firmino's effort save but then played just close enough for Salah to touch but not to turn towards goal, and it felt like one of those days.

It especially felt like one of those days as the game increasingly deteriorated. Less space, less penetration in the final third. More shots from distance. More frustration.

This was the part of the match where Liverpool's midfield felt like a failure. Liverpool were behind because of defensive error and failure to convert chances, but Liverpool's midfield felt the most vexatious. Emre Can's having one of his "terrier running downhill chasing a tennis ball" games. Milner trying to make runs, trying to create, but he's still James Milner. And Coutinho's deployed on the right side of the three, ostensibly for Milner's protection against Mahrez on the counter, but a position which means he's rarely in a natural shooting or passing position, constantly needing to check back to create or shoot, or playing low-percentage outside-of-the-boot passes.

It was all very infuriating. As has been far too often the case in matches at Anfield this season. As is far too often the case against Leicester.

But, somehow, Liverpool go and redeem themselves in the second half. Mo Salah goes and redeems himself, not that he needed redemption with the season he's had so far.

First, after a Liverpool throw-in – a throw-in Liverpool had because Salah somehow kept the pass from defense in play. Firmino to Can to Mané, wonderfully back-heeled into the Salah Zone, Salah behind Maguire and in front of Fuchs, holding off the left-back, cutting away from Amartay, and slotting through Schmeichel.

So good – the assist, the control, the strength, the run, the finish. Two missed chances, but he goes and does that, and we end up expecting every chance to go in.

But we've been here before. 1-1 at Anfield, even when conceding first.

Five minutes after that, Salah's chip is on the roof of the net rather than the back of it, another clear-cut chance missed. Eight minutes after that, Mané has the ball in the net again but is offside again. And two minutes after that, hearts in mouths with Leicester possession and Leicester pressure and holy crap I thought that shot from Ndidi was in.

And it starts to ebb away. Chances dry up. More Leicester possession happens. Substitutions happen, taking even more sting out of the game. We have definitely been here before.

But then Mo Salah happens. Again.

Slow build-up and Firmino dropping deep leads to a pass into Milner, who back-heels it into the Salah Zone, this time with the forward backing into Maguire. Who's 6'4" and 220 pounds but surprisingly quick for a big man and surprisingly competent for an Englishman, Salah holds him off, turns him, evades the desperate tackle, and thwacks it under Schmeichel.

Sometimes I have no words for that man. Two Mohammed Salah goals – his 22nd and 23rd of the season so far, his 16th and 17th in the league. Liverpool are scoring for fun a lot this season, multiple players, and somehow Salah still has 35% of Liverpool's league goals and 30% in all competitions. And I have to mention that both goals came from back-heels, which remains a lot of fun.

So, we're back baby. 30 seconds ago, we're decrying how little time there was left in the match. Now it felt like too much. Way too much. And neither Leicester nor Liverpool helped. The former is actually decent at retaining possession when they want to. The latter loves to give us both heart attacks and aneurysms at the same time when put under pressure.

Long throws and crosses and so many long throws and holy crap they're coming back again. But with only one Leicester shot after Liverpool's go-ahead goal to show for it: Okazaki blocked from the top of the box with five Liverpool defenders between him and the goal.

By hook, crook, scrambles, and luck, Liverpool did enough to keep Leicester at bay. Even though we were terrified throughout, because we're all too aware that it takes just one moment. Liverpool never allowed nor gave Leicester that moment.

We did it guys. A late winner. Two goals in a match.

Salah's 76th minute goal is the latest decisive goal that Liverpool have scored this season. It's Liverpool's latest game-winning goal since Mané's at Everton way back in December 2016. 376 days ago.

This was the first time that Liverpool have won when conceding first this season.

This was the first time that Liverpool have scored two goals in a league match this season.

This was only the third time that Liverpool have won without scoring in the first half this season, after 1-0 v Palace and 3-0 v Huddersfield.

And this is the first time that Liverpool have beaten a Claude Puel-managed side, with a loss and draw against his Lyon, and two draws and two losses against his Southampton. Those Lyon matches hardly count, almost a decade ago, but the constant and overwhelming frustration in those Southampton matches last season remains very fresh in the minds.

And it feels so good. A narrow, battling, contentious 2-1 win feels better than 5-0 and 7-0 romps because we know this side is capable of 5-0 and 7-0. We've not seen them capable of narrow wins, of comeback wins, of ugly wins, of Anfield wins rather than Anfield draws in matches like these.

Liverpool are now unbeaten in their last 15 games, including 12 in the league. Liverpool will finish 2017 in fourth. Liverpool have done what Liverpool needed to do today, no matter the pain it caused us over 90 minutes.

Now they need to do it again in less than two days.

29 December 2017

Liverpool v Leicester 12.30.17

10am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
3-2 Liverpool (a) 09.23.17
0-2 Leicester (a; League Cup) 09.19.17
1-3 Leicester (a) 02.27.17
4-1 Liverpool (h) 09.10.16

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 5-0 Swansea (h); 3-3 Arsenal (a); 4-0 Bournemouth (a)
Leicester: 1-2 Watford (a); 2-2 United (h); 1-1 City aet [3-4 pens] (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Salah 15; Firmino 9; Coutinho 7; Mané 4; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sturridge 2; Alexander-Arnold, Can, Henderson, Lovren, Matip, Wijnaldum 1
Leicester: Vardy 8; Mahrez, Okazaki 6; Gray 3; Maguire 2; Albrighton, Iborra, King 1

Referee: Neil Swarbrick (LFC History) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Gomez Matip Klavan Robertson
Milner Can Alex O-C
Salah Firmino Mané

Guessing tomorrow's XI seems almost a fool's errand.

There will be changes. There have been changes from match-to-match all month long. And Liverpool have another match exactly 46 hours after this one ends.

I suspect it'll be more 4-3-3 than 4-4-2 given Leicester's playing style and that Liverpool are at home but, as against Swansea, even when Liverpool line up 4-3-3, there are elements of 4-4-2. From there, my guessed XI is plug-and-play based on who fits and who's available.

Firmino, Salah, and Robertson all had some rest when taken off against Swansea. Can seemingly has to play as the deepest midfielder in this formation, but could be flanked by Coutinho, Wijnaldum, Milner, Lallana, or Oxlade-Chamberlain. Salah seems to play every match. There seems no reason to change the Matip-Klavan partnership, Gomez will probably come back in for Alexander-Arnold, and evidently Mignolet's keeping his place until the heat-death of the universe.

Henderson, Moreno, Sturridge, and Clyne remain absent. I know Henderson's been a preferred scapegoat this season – and admittedly often hasn't been at his best – but he'll be a big miss in midfield with fixture overload.

And, no, Virgil van Dijk won't be available. It's not even January. He's not even a Liverpool player. You've got at least a week to wait.

Meanwhile, Leicester. Are back to Leicestering. Four games without a win belies what they've done since Claude Puel took over. A 1-1 draw with Manchester City in the League Cup was impressive, only losing on penalties, as was a 2-2 draw with United thanks to an injury time equalizer. Last Tuesday's 1-2 loss at Watford certainly wasn't great, but came about with a rotated side and the losing goal via a Schmeichel own goal.

The festive season poses Leicester problems though. They're often reliant on Vardy and Mahrez. There's not a ton of depth or the ability to rotate. They could well look at Huddersfield on Monday as the more important match – or, at least the match where they're more likely to take all three points.

But they'll pose problems, as they did under Shakespeare in Liverpool's 3-2 league win a few months back. As they did in their 2-0 League Cup win over Liverpool four days prior to the league meeting. Vardy and Mahrez are a pain in the butt on counters. As is Demarai Gray, when he comes up with an end product. Albrighton and Fuchs are excellent crossers. And Okazaki – who started against Watford and rarely starts two in a row – has caused Liverpool problems in the last few meetings.

So let's guess Schmeichel; Dragovic, Morgan, Maguire, Fuchs; Albrighton, Ndidi, Iborra, Gray; Mahrez; Vardy. Either Gray or Albrighton would be left out if Okazaki or Slimani start up front with Vardy. King's an option in midfield; Chilwell could keep his place at left-back. Simpson and Huth are out injured.

Forget the future. Burnley on Monday, Everton in the FA Cup, the imminency of the Virgil van Dijk era. Tomorrow's Leicester. A side that's given Liverpool fits, but more often away from home, with Liverpool unbeaten against the Foxes at Anfield since promotion. But Liverpool's disappointed at Anfield, with the same number of draws as wins in the league – all five of those draws regrettable, all five either 1-1 or 0-0 – the main reason Liverpool are clinging onto fourth. And Liverpool are clinging onto fourth, just one point ahead of both Arsenal and Tottenham while Chelsea and United are four and five points ahead respectively.

Leicester will sit deep, Leicester will counter, Leicester will have chances. Liverpool are missing players, in a time of the season where missing players truly punishes. There have been a lot of games over the last month, there will be more games over the next week without a break.

But if Liverpool do what Liverpool are capable of – at both ends of the pitch, regardless of who starts – these should not be issues.

27 December 2017

Visualized: Liverpool 5-0 Swansea

Previous Match Infographics: Arsenal (a), Bournemouth (a), West Brom (h), Everton (h), Spartak Moscow (h), Brighton (a), Stoke (a), Chelsea (h), Sevilla (a), Southampton (h), West Ham (a), Maribor (h), Huddersfield (h), Tottenham (a), Maribor (a), United (h), Newcastle (a), Spartak Moscow (a), Leicester (a), Burnley (h), Sevilla (h), Manchester City (a), Arsenal (h), Hoffenheim (h), Crystal Palace (h), Hoffenheim (a), Watford (a)

Match data from WhoScored, except average position from the SofaScore app. 

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

Ah, yes, a routine win. Exactly what you want to see on Boxing Day. A handful of changes to the starting XI. Heights rarely hit, but Liverpool rarely troubled, and Liverpool comfortable by the final whistle.

Exactly what Liverpool needed.

Liverpool were mediocre in the first half. Somewhat sloppy in possession, and almost lazy in their shooting, with five of eight shots from outside the box, many in moments where the shooter had other options.

Coutinho's opening goal gave Liverpool the breathing space it often needs, but also seemed to set the tone for Liverpool's attacks. A bit of pressing – especially in the opening goal – but way too many attempts from distance. Not enough final third interplay. Settling for the easier rather than the intricacy we know they're capable of.

And then, just before halftime, Liverpool's best chance. Again from a strong press, this time Oxlade-Chamberlain and Salah. And pushed wide by Firmino, evoking memories of clear-cut chances not taken right around the same time in draws against Arsenal and Everton.

It had been *fine*, but it felt like Liverpool could and should be better. And needed to be better. And when that's happened, Liverpool often have been punished for not being better.

So, how would the second half play out? Like Everton? Arsenal?

Nope. It'd play out with Liverpool doing exactly what Liverpool needed to do. It'd play out as against Huddersfield and Maribor at home and Stoke, the needed opening goal eventually followed by multiple more in the second half, with Liverpool ultimately comfortable, even if not as comfortable as the scoreline would suggest.

And that's why that was exactly what Liverpool needed.

From 1-0 at halftime to 2-0 by the 52nd minute to 4-0 by the 66th to 5-0 at the final whistle. Firmino converting Coutinho's free kick, Trent Alexander-Arnold first to a half-cleared cross for his first goal in front of the Kop, Salah and Firmino taking full advantage of a horrific back pass, and Oxlade-Chamberlain simply willing and working himself a goal when Swansea again couldn't clear their box.

In the meantime, Swansea rarely had sight of Liverpool's goal. One shot on-target between Liverpool's second and the end of the game, from Abraham in the last minute of added time. Swansea had all of seven shots in total, despite going behind in the sixth minute. Sure, teams with fewer or less likely efforts have scored against Liverpool before, but this time, Liverpool kept its powder dry.

And, sure, Liverpool's final three goals all had help from Swansea players, whether in a clear error from Fer or poor clearances from Mawson and Naughton. The first as well, if we're being unkind, as Ayew dives under pressure from Firmino and rightfully doesn't get a free kick. And the other was a set play – Liverpool's 12th set play goal of the season so far. All but two corner goals at Sevilla have come in wins.

Don't care. Goals, and – not for the first time – lots of them. None for the opposition, for the eighth time in the last 14 matches. Liverpool had 12 clean sheets in the league through all of last season. Through 20 of 38 league matches, Liverpool have nine this season.

And it all happened with Liverpool nowhere near their best yesterday. All those mediocre shots in a mediocre first half. Only two of five clear-cut chances converted. No goals from Liverpool's runaway top scorer.

But a win nonetheless. A thorough win. A routine win.

Other teams' "routine" wins usually end 2-0. That's a scoreline we haven't seen since February. Liverpool's "routine" wins end 3-0, 4-0, 4-1, 5-0.

Liverpool have yet to finish a league match with two goals scored this season.

Liverpool scored its 75th goal of the season yesterday. It's still December. Liverpool have played 29 games. For comparison, Liverpool scored 74 goals in 58 matches in 2014-15, the last full season before Klopp took over. Only three of yesterday's starting XI were with the club that season, which should emphasize how much change we've seen – how much change has been necessary – over the last three years.

Firmino's brace brings him up to 16 goals on the season. HIs previous high for Liverpool was 12, set last season. Coutinho has 12, two behind his season-high of 14 from last season, but also already with eight assists – which, again, is a high for a season since joining Liverpool. And Mo Salah, who failed to score yesterday – is still on 21 goals, a high for a Liverpool player since Suarez and Sturridge went absolutely bananas in 2013-14. Liverpool have scored three or more goals in 11 of the last 14 matches. Liverpool remain unbeaten in those 14 matches, even if there are five draws in there we'd rather not talk about.

This remains an insanely prolific team, one which scores early and often. And when they do, good things tend to happen. But even when they do, sometimes bad things still also happen – see: Watford, Sevilla, Arsenal. We were nowhere near bad things happening yesterday.

And, so, even if today wasn't Liverpool's best, it was Liverpool at its best. Doing most of the things we've lauded this season with next to none of the bad. Sure, Swansea are horrific – completely impotent up front, uncreative in midfield, organized but often still scrambling in defense, and deservedly last in the league – but it's not as if West Brom, Everton, Newcastle, etc. are or were that much better.

No, this doesn't make up for dropped points in the past. There remain valid concerns over midfield, center-back, and goalkeeper, areas which will be further tested in future matches. But we asked for Liverpool to be "more boring" after the Arsenal debacle. And this was about as boring as Liverpool get. It's just that "boring" isn't a word you can ever use with this side.

5-0 wins should never, ever feel routine, but somehow they do with this Liverpool.

24 December 2017

Visualized: Liverpool 3-3 Arsenal

Previous Match Infographics: Bournemouth (a), West Brom (h), Everton (h), Spartak Moscow (h), Brighton (a), Stoke (a), Chelsea (h), Sevilla (a), Southampton (h), West Ham (a), Maribor (h), Huddersfield (h), Tottenham (a), Maribor (a), United (h), Newcastle (a), Spartak Moscow (a), Leicester (a), Burnley (h), Sevilla (h), Manchester City (a), Arsenal (h), Hoffenheim (h), Crystal Palace (h), Hoffenheim (a), Watford (a)

Match data from WhoScored, except average position from the SofaScore app. 

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

Shot map? Good. 10 of 13 shots in the Danger Zone, just three from outside the box.

Chance creation? Good. Liverpool had four big chances. 2.2 Expected Goals to Arsenal's 1.5, on Arsenal's ground.

Chance conversion? I mean, Liverpool scored three goals. Liverpool over-performed xG. They failed to convert three of four clear-cut chances – the third time they've failed to convert three big chances in the last four games – but they also put nine of 14 shots on-target. I mean, three goals should be enough to win a match.

Arsenal had allowed just one goal in their last five games – albeit against BATE Borisov, Southampton, West Ham, Newcastle, and West Ham – with clean sheets in their last three, after all.

Liverpool remain excitingly, impressively good at the attacking.

But then, those five minutes of defending. Bad. So, so, so bad.

Just five minutes. But that's all Liverpool needed. That's all Arsenal needed.

Less than a minute after Liverpool finally took a two-goal lead, there's Gomez losing Alexis at the back post. It happens. He's 20. It's regrettable, especially since Liverpool had just scored, hadn't allowed Arsenal a shot on-target in 142 minutes this season at that point, and hadn't conceded from open play since Chelsea's equalizer seven games before this one.

But Liverpool are still 2-1 up. Liverpool should still be able to see this out. Well, most teams should be able to. Maybe not Liverpool.

Because then, less than three minutes later, there's Mignolet failing to save a shot that's saved 199 times out of 200. I don't care that it swerves. It's straight down his neck and he throws it up, and it's not for the first time.

Because then, two minutes after that, a giveaway after Liverpool have a free kick in their own half, Klavan and Robertson playing into pressure. In their own half, after supposedly relieving the pressure! There's Emre Can stopping at the top of the box, failing to stay with Özil. And there's Mignolet again, diving before Özil's even decided where to shoot, making it far too easy to convert.

And we've gone from 2-0 to 2-3 in less than five minutes. At least Liverpool got back to 3-3, thanks to Salah and Can and Firmino, and Arsenal's again vacant central midfield, and Cech trying to out-do Mignolet.

It's almost, but thankfully not quite, Tottenham away all over again. Individual errors, in quick succession. Far too often, when Liverpool concede once, they concede multiples: Watford, City, Sevilla, Leicester, Tottenham, Sevilla, and now Arsenal. They often don't seem like systematic errors, but when individual errors keep happening again and again and again when do we blame the system as much as the individuals?

This is the third time this season that Liverpool have scored three goals but failed to win.

3-3 at Watford on opening day, evidently setting the tone for the season, a match drawn because of an (offside) injury-time equalizer after Liverpool had come back from a deficit.

3-3 at Sevilla, a three-goal lead thrown away because of individual errors and goals conceded in quick succession, then an injury-time equalizer.

And now, 3-3 Arsenal, a two-goal lead thrown away because of individual errors and goals conceded in quick succession, but at least with Liverpool getting one back.

Liverpool scored three but failed to win twice in Klopp's first season and a half. 3-3 v Arsenal in 2015-16 – a match not entirely dissimilar to Friday's – and 3-4 at Bournemouth last season.

Two in 99 games versus three in 28. It makes it hard to argue that it's not systematic.

But then you remember the individuals. Specifically one from Friday's match.


Those are a lot of high-value chances, especially in proportion to the amount of total shots allowed. Which we know is a problem (although it's been a little better this season), and almost certainly a systematic problem. But then, individuals. But, good lord, that Danger Zone save percentage.

Mignolet's even getting worse relative to previous seasons. His PL save percentage last season was 63.9% – still below league average but better than so far this season. He saved 56% of the Danger Zone shots that Liverpool allowed in 2016-17, compared to 36.7% so far this season. He saved 35.5% of the on-target clear-cut chances faced last season (11 of 31) compared to just 26.1% so far this season (6 of 23).

And it's even worse when you see what goalkeepers are doing against Liverpool. Opposition keepers have saved 51.5% of Liverpool's Danger Zone shots in the league this season. Opposition keepers have saved 33.3% of Liverpool's on-target clear-cut chances. Opposition keepers have saved 67.7% of Liverpool's total shots on-target in the league this season – almost exactly league average.

Mignolet has been worse than league average, for the majority of his time here. This season has been the low point so far. There are excuses – high-value chances allowed, an accident-prone defense, and some decent runs of form during his tenure, especially at the end of last season – but not enough.

Play Karius, play Ward when he's healthy again. After all this time, we know what we have with Simon Mignolet. And it's not enough.

So, once again, despite the annoyance and disappointment, we didn't really learn a lot. We know where we stand. Liverpool remain fourth at the midway mark, by the skin of Firmino's pearly white teeth, one point ahead of Tottenham and Arsenal but four points behind Chelsea.

Liverpool remain incredibly good going forward. Coutinho, Firmino, and Salah all scored in a match for the fourth time in the last two months. Salah's already got 21 goals this season, with 15 in 19 league appearances. Liverpool scored three or more for the tenth time in the last 13 matches, Liverpool scored three or more away from home for the sixth consecutive away match.

And Liverpool defended reasonably well for – as Klopp said – 89 of 94 minutes. As they had in their previous four matches. But we get spells. We get calamities, we get disasters, we get multiple goals conceded in a matter of minutes despite not looking like conceding for the 52 minutes before that.

And it's infuriating. For as well as Liverpool had played for 52 minutes, as well as Liverpool defended for their last few matches, they remain as capable of this as they are capable of absolutely blasting some poor opponent. As they did five days earlier.

For better or for worse, for better and for worse, this is what Liverpool are. Wild up front, and wild at the back. And all we can do for now is hang on for the ride.

And also drop Mignolet.

21 December 2017

Liverpool at Arsenal 12.22.17

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

Last four head-to-head:
4-0 Liverpool (h) 08.27.17
3-1 Liverpool (h) 03.04.17
4-3 Liverpool (a) 08.14.16
3-3 (h) 01.13.16

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 4-0 Bournemouth (a); 0-0 West Brom (h); 1-1 Everton (h)
Arsenal: 1-0 West Ham (h); 1-0 Newcastle (h); 0-0 West Ham (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Salah 14; Firmino 6; Coutinho 5; Mané 4; Sturridge 2; Alex O-C, Can, Henderson, Lovren, Matip, Wijnaldum 1
Arsenal: Lacazette 8; Alexis, Giroud 4; Özil, Ramsey, Welbeck 3; Monreal 2; Iwobi, Kolasinac, Mertesacker, Mustafi 1

Referee: Martin Atkinson (LFC History) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Gomez Lovren Klavan Milner
Can Henderson Coutinho
Salah Firmino Mané

There will have been five days since Liverpool's last match when this kicks off. It's the longest spell between matches since an international break a little more than a month ago. Does this mean we're still getting fairly substantial rotation?

Considering that, starting with this, Liverpool will have four games in ten days, yes, yes we probably are.

But Liverpool have options. Good options.

I think the above is the most likely formation. Maybe Oxlade-Chamberlain for Can, given form and Can not signing a new contract and Oxlade-Chamberlain desperate to play against his old side. It seems a toss-up between Robertson and Milner; the former is an actual left-back who's looked increasingly good in successive starts, but there's also the experienced 'devil you know, safe pair of hands' in Milner.

But I'm also very tempted to guess the increasingly-seen-away-from-home 4-4-2. That back four, but a front six of Oxlade-Chamberlain, Henderson, Can, Coutinho; Firmino, Salah. It's been fun, it gets Liverpool's best players on form all into the attack, and it can absolutely maul sides on the counter-attack.

However, I find it hard to believe that Sadio Mané will be left out of successive matches when available, although he is an option in place of Oxlade-Chamberlain in this formation. I'm not sure that Liverpool will want to play 4-4-2 against Arsenal's likely 4-2-3-1, against a side that doesn't need to be drawn out for Liverpool to have space. Liverpool's 4-3-3 pressing formation – which we saw in full effect at Bournemouth – has done well against Arsenal every time they've met since Klopp became manager.

So we're guess the above. Not that I've had much luck guessing XIs or formations lately.

Meanwhile, Arsenal. One point behind Liverpool in fifth. They've failed to score more than once in their last four games, but are unbeaten in those four with three clean sheets. Arsenal have an outstanding home record, with eight wins and one loss in the league, that wacky how-did-we-end-up-with-this-scoreline 1-3 defeat to United at the beginning of the month the only dropped points.

With a handful of injuries piling up, Wenger has reverted to a 4-2-3-1 in recent matches. Ramsey and Giroud are out injured, while Mustafi and Coquelin are doubtful. If Mustafi's not fit, it'll probably be Monreal at center-back with Kolasinac or Maitland-Niles at left-back.

It seems unlikely that anyone who started the 1-0 Legaue Cup win against West Ham will start tomorrow. So let's guess Cech; Bellerin, Koscielny, Mustafi, Monreal; Wilshere, Xhaka; Iwobi, Özil, Alexis; Lacazette. And we'll probably be closer in that guess than we are with Liverpool's XI.

This fixture has had goals since Klopp took over. 3-3, 4-3, 3-1, 4-0. Liverpool have had goals lately, scoring at least three goals in nine of the last 12 matches unbeaten, including four, three, three, five, and four in the away matches during that stretch. Arsenal have not allowed goals lately, with the three conceded against United the only time they've conceded more than once in a match since a 1-3 loss at City nearly two months ago. And while they've been low-scoring lately, we've still seen 5-0 v Huddersfield and 6-0 v BATE Borisov in the last month.

With Liverpool's recent results over Arsenal, coupled with a narrow lead in the table, it's all Liverpool's to lose. A win's not expected, but it's kind of expected. A loss would be a big setback, especially given how well Liverpool played on Sunday, and with games to come annoyingly fast and thick over the next two weeks.

This fixture's been wild recently. Liverpool, for better and worse, have been wild recently. Arsenal, even with their good record, have not been all that wild, but hey, they're still Arsenal.

So expect wild. Expect heart palpitations. And hope for the best.

18 December 2017

Visualized: Liverpool 4-0 Bournemouth

Previous Match Infographics: West Brom (h), Everton (h), Spartak Moscow (h), Brighton (a), Stoke (a), Chelsea (h), Sevilla (a), Southampton (h), West Ham (a), Maribor (h), Huddersfield (h), Tottenham (a), Maribor (a), United (h), Newcastle (a), Spartak Moscow (a), Leicester (a), Burnley (h), Sevilla (h), Manchester City (a), Arsenal (h), Hoffenheim (h), Crystal Palace (h), Hoffenheim (a), Watford (a)

Match data from WhoScored, except average position from the SofaScore app. 

Space: The Favored Frontier

Want to know what Liverpool can do when they've got possession in situations like this? With all that space in behind?

Liverpool will often score. Coutinho will dribble at retreating defenders and Salah will run behind and beyond them, and they'll put the ball past the opposition goalkeeper at a fairly high rate. Because Coutinho and Salah are exemplary footballers, and Firmino, Mané, Oxlade-Chamberlain, etc. ain't bad either.

It's not as if these were the only moments where Liverpool took advantage of Bournemouth's set-up. Liverpool's first real chance – Coutinho's free kick – came from a similar moment. Bournemouth, with the back four pushing forward, trying to play out from the back, pressed into a giveaway, then Coutinho's chip over the top for Firmino to run onto, fouled by Ake. There's also neither King nor Surman tracking Henderson's run for the one-two for Firmino's chance which led to Liverpool's corner for the second goal. Pressing led to the counter-attack insane interplay chance that Salah had saved just before his goal. Pressing led to Oxlade-Chamberlain's single-handed chance off the post, winning the ball in the final third and running at retreating defenders.

A combination of an often-higher-than-Liverpool-usually-see back line coupled with a desire to play out from the back is exactly what Liverpool like to see. Players to press and room to run. It's not often you see a side that won 4-0 and had 56% of the possession out-tackle and out-intercept their opponents, especially considering Liverpool's usually-low interception rate. There's a reason why the total passes from Everton and West Brom's back four combined were vastly lower than Bournemouth's yesterday. Playing Liverpool? Stay deep and get rid, dummies. So, hey, thanks Bournemouth.

To be fair, Liverpool can be opened up in similar ways. And Liverpool had a similar problem on Defoe's clear-cut chance. But Bournemouth couldn't convert it. And it's the only time Liverpool were opened up as they opened up Bournemouth early and often. Unlike when these sides met in a similarly open match last season, where Liverpool took an early lead and scored multiple goals but Bournemouth scored even more.

The short version. Don't give Liverpool space. Don't give Liverpool opportunities to press. Don't try to play Liverpool's game against Liverpool. It's almost certainly not going to go well, and it's gonna go even worse for you than it did last season.

Liverpool, despite scoring four, weren't anywhere near as potent as they could have been either. This wasn't scoring four goals from 12 shots or three goals from 14 shots, as at Brighton and Stoke. Liverpool put seven of 21 shots on-target – exactly one-third – which certainly isn't bad, but Liverpool have bettered that multiple times this season. Coutinho put just one of seven shots on-target. Salah missed two efforts similar to his goal before finally hammering one in.

Liverpool only converted two of four clear-cut chances, which is vastly better than against Everton or West Brom, but certainly not the ruthlessness we saw against Spartak, among others.

Liverpool's shot quality (xG per shot) was good – 0.148 – but it was almost exactly the same as that against West Brom, where they failed to score.

Liverpool's attack was very good, but Liverpool could have been even better.

Set play goals have been a big part of Liverpool's recent successes. Lovren's was Liverpool's seventh corner goal of the season – all since Huddersfield. Liverpool only had 10 through all last season. And, with few exceptions, they've been early goals in matches where Liverpool scored multiple times. 2-0 Huddersfield, 3-0 Maribor, 2-0 West Ham, 1-0 and 2-0 Sevilla, 1-0 Brighton, and 2-0 Bournemouth. Sevilla was the only match Liverpool failed to win, for other obvious reasons. Two for Firmino, one each for Sturridge, Matip, Mané, Can, and Lovren.

And early goals have been a big part of it. Liverpool have drawn just two matches where they've scored in the first quarter of the match, before the 23rd minute. Both were against Sevilla. Otherwise, 4-2 Hoffenheim, 4-0 Arsenal, 3-2 Leicester, 7-0 Maribor, 4-1 West Ham, 3-0 Stoke, 7-0 Spartak, and 4-0 Bournemouth.

But these, like a lot of things we saw yesterday, aren't new to us. Liverpool are good when the attack is good. Liverpool are good when the attack has space to operate and opponents to press. If Liverpool score early, Liverpool often score more. If Liverpool score early and often, the opposition has a hard time scoring any of their own. This has happened more away from home than at Anfield of late.

All features and facets we've seen before. Successes in the type of matches we've seen successes in before. That's not to downplay yesterday, by any stretch, either certain exceptional individuals or as a collective. No Liverpool player was below a "seven" if we're doing individual ratings, with many higher. Including whomever your favorite scapegoat has been lately. No side has beaten Bournemouth so thoroughly in a long time; Liverpool are the first to score four against Bournemouth since February.

This was very good, from front to back, from start to finish. Not only from attack, but also from midfield and defense. And that's no small matter.

But this isn't where Liverpool have run into roadblocks lately, either.

17 December 2017

Liverpool 4-0 Bournemouth

Coutinho 20'
Lovren 26'
Salah 44'
Firmino 66'

Revenge for last season? Sure, why not. It's a start, at least.

This was West Ham, Stoke, and Brighton again. This was Liverpool nearing, if not at the apex, of its attacking best, after the disappointments in the last two matches. This was Liverpool scoring early, then Liverpool scoring often. This was another away game shellacking of a side that had given Liverpool problems in past seasons, as we all very much remember.

Bournemouth did what Bournemouth said they were going to do. Bournemouth didn't drop 10 behind the ball and hope to stop Liverpool. Bournemouth wanted to play an open game.

Bournemouth paid for it.

Liverpool went at Bournemouth from the opening whistle, but Liverpool also had space to go at Bournemouth. This wasn't "let's run at a deep brick wall and hope for the best." There were gaps between central midfield and defense. There were wingers who didn't do enough to support under-fire fullbacks.

There were Liverpool chances, almost right away. There was the woodwork saving Bournemouth from an 11th minute concession, denying Coutinho a third free kick goal this season. There was Salah, torturing Charlie Daniels from the opening whistle, setting a marker when missing a I'm-gonna-cut-in-and-shoot-you-can't-stop me Arjen Robben attempt.

And in the 20th minute, there was Coutinho with the ball at his feet on the halfway line. Lay-off to Robertson, with a quickly released pass back getting Coutinho beyond defenders. There he goes. There's Francis retreating with no idea where to go, especially when Robertson also steams into the picture. There's a drop of the shoulder to both remove and embarrass Lewis Cook. There's the ball in the net. The clichéd "mazy run" doesn't even come close to covering it. It was art.

When Liverpool score a first in the first half-hour, they usually get a second.

The second came six minutes after the first. Corner, Wijnaldum flick, Firmino somehow keeps it in, a chip over his shoulder, Lovren first to react with a torpedo diving header. Another set play goal, as against Brighton, Sevilla, West Ham, Maribor, and Huddersfield during this run. You know, a lot of those matches where Liverpool scored multiple goals.

When Liverpool score two in the first half-hour, they usually get more.

But first, one of those sliding-doors moments which happen almost every match.

Liverpool lose possession in midfield – something which didn't often happen today. Cook to Stanislas, through ball to Defoe in space behind Lovren, holding his line with Gomez still retreating. Defoe, with one of his trademark chances: on the counter, in behind, one-on-one with the keeper.

He hits the post.

The woodwork giveth, the woodwork taketh away.

Is it a different game if Defoe finishes his clear-cut chance in the 39th minute, with Liverpool *only* up 2-0? Of course it is. Even if the result stays the same, we get to see if Liverpool tilt, we get acid flashbacks of last season at Bournemouth. We get to see Liverpool tested.

But, of course, it's a different game against Everton if Liverpool convert one of three missed clear-cut chances or the referee doesn't give a nonsense penalty. It's a different game against West Brom if Liverpool convert one of three missed clear-cut chances or the referee doesn't rule out Solanke's goal for an accidental close-range handball.

The finishing pixie is a cruel mistress. And football is a cruel game. We knew that. We've learned that before.

And other than that Defoe miss, Liverpool weren't really tested.

Salah added the game-killing third just before halftime, mere seconds after Begovic saved his clear-cut chance from just outrageous Liverpool passing, this time absolutely destroying both Daniels and Ake before finally Robbening one in.

Second half, cruise control. Bournemouth rarely threatened after Defoe's miss: a couple of swiftly blocked shots, Fraser's no-angle effort into the side-netting, and Mignolet's nice save on Defoe's effort on the hour mark. Not that it mattered by that point, but Bournemouth didn't have a single shot in the last 30 minutes.

We got a fourth from Firmino in the 66th, a goal his performance merited: probably offside, but a second diving header, this one converting Coutinho's cross.

We got all-English subs, with Lallana, Solanke, and Ings replacing Salah, Firmino, and Coutinho, with both Ings and Solanke unlucky not to get Liverpool's fifth.

We got another comprehensive away win, which doesn't quite make up for the pain this opponent caused last season, but it's a start. We got a comprehensive away win after the two draws earlier this week.

So, what did we learn? Actually, not a lot.

When Liverpool are good, Liverpool are really good. When Liverpool score early and often, Liverpool are really good.

We knew that.

Coutinho and Salah are wonderful footballers, each with an indescribably good solo goal. Firmino's work rate fuels the front three, his flick to keep the ball in for Lovren's goal, his headed goal, his constant running and pressing and leading the line.

We knew that.

Liverpool often thrive against open opposition, even more this season than last. We knew that. So, thanks to Bournemouth for not only playing open, but playing passively, and playing with a two-man midfield that both wasn't deep enough and didn't challenge Henderson, Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Wijnaldum, with the first two actually excellent today. Oxlade-Chamberlain's getting better each match, and Jordan Henderson thrives in games like these, when he's not challenged in midfield, when he's got space to look up for forward passes, when he has a chance to press opponents.

And, to be fair, Bournemouth's task was made even harder today with two players taken off through injury by the 56th minute: Josh King in the first half, Charlie Daniels early in the second. King especially could have made a difference, the pace and hold-up play on the counter that neither Defoe nor Stanislas have. I'm struggling to feel bad for them, though.

I'm just gonna leave these here.

Liverpool are now unbeaten in their last 12 matches, even if we're still mad about the two which came before this. Liverpool have scored three or more in nine of those 12 matches. Liverpool kept a clean sheet in seven of those 12 matches.

Liverpool are a good side, especially in these conditions, and really especially when Liverpool's key players play this well. When those key players take the chances they're presented with.

But, again, this isn't last season's Liverpool. These aren't the matches we've had to worry about lately. But we'll worry about those later.

16 December 2017

Liverpool at Bournemouth 12.17.17

11:30am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
2-2 (h) 04.05.17
3-4 Bournemouth (a) 12.04.16
2-1 Liverpool (a) 04.17.16
1-0 Liverpool (h; League Cup) 10.28.15

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-0 West Brom (h); 1-1 Everton (h); 7-0 Spartak (h)
Bournemouth: 0-1 United (a); 2-2 Palace (a); 1-1 Southampton (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Salah 13; Firmino 5; Coutinho, Mané 4; Sturridge 2; Alex O-C, Can, Henderson, Matip, Wijnaldum 1
Bournemouth: Defoe, Wilson 3; King, Surman 2; Arter, S Cook, Daniels, Fraser, Stanislas 1

Referee: Andre Marriner (LFC History) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Gomez Lovren Klavan Milner
Wijnaldum Henderson Can
Mané Firmino Coutinho

We're having a minor crisis of confidence here.

Two stuttering, slightly unlucky draws to slow down Liverpool's run. Stifled attacking play, dismal finishing, and some unhelpful referee decisions. It's not been the most enjoyable week, especially considering the six weeks which came before.

So, sure, it's a great time to play a side that twice drove Liverpool insane last season, twice coming back to take points off of Liverpool despite a Liverpool lead, drawing 2-2 at Anfield despite a 2-1 lead in the 86th minute and losing 3-4 at Bournemouth despite a 3-1 lead in the 75th minute. It took a few more matches to truly set in, but defeat at Bournemouth last December marked the beginning of Liverpool's winter of discontent a year ago. Liverpool topped the table going into that round of fixtures. They'd never see first again after that loss.

At least Bournemouth won't play like Everton or West Brom. Eddie Howe doesn't know how. Their last game at United seems illustrative. Bournemouth attacked United. Bournemouth out-shot United. Bournemouth looked to both build play and counter quickly. And Bournemouth only lost because of one well-taken Lukaku header and an inability to get past De Gea at the other end.

Which makes it even harder to guess Liverpool's XI, not that it's been anywhere near easy lately. There will undoubtedly be a surprise or two left out. But Liverpool seem more likely to play 4-3-3, because Liverpool won't have to draw out a reluctant home side as they did at West Ham, Stoke, and Brighton, because Bournemouth are coming at them anyway.

Mignolet will come back in at keeper. Gomez will return at full-back. Lovren and Klavan have to remain center-backs. Robertson probably gets a breather given he's had two consecutive starts after not playing for a few months. As usual, the front six is harder to guess. Let's start with the one I'm guessing absent. Liverpool's player of the season so far: Mohamed Salah. He's started every match since Stoke, four already in December, when every other attacker's had at least one match on the bench.

Salah's absence should mean either Coutinho or Oxlade-Chamberlain in the front three. The former would lead to Henderson, Can, and Wijnaldum in midfield, the latter seeing one of them left out as Coutinho plays deeper. Lallana's probably only fit enough for the bench, having made just one short substitute appearance a few weeks back. Sturridge is, again, struggling with some sort of minor injury.

But, of course, I could be completely wrong and it's 4-4-2 with Salah and Firmino and Oxlade-Chamberlain and Coutinho and Henderson and Wijnaldum and who knows anymore it's almost been refreshing to not be able to guess the side. Well, as long as Liverpool win.

Not that it's especially mattered against Liverpool lately, but Bournemouth are winless in their last five, with draws against Swansea, Southampton, and Palace, and losses against Burnley and United. They also have a mammoth week ahead. Not that sides don't or won't get up for games against Liverpool – especially after last season's fixtures – but they've a League Cup quarterfinal at Chelsea on Wednesday followed by a trip to runaway leaders Manchester City next Saturday.

So we'll see some rotation from Bournemouth. An XI something like Begovic; Smith, S Cook, Ake, Daniels; Stanislas, L Cook, Surman, Fraser; King, Defoe. But Eddie Howe's necessarily rotated his side over the last few weeks anyway, which makes guessing the XI slightly a fool's game here as well. Gosling and Arter are other options in midfield; Pugh and Ibe could play on the flanks. But that back line has usually been the back line, and King and Defoe are usually preferred up front – although Callum Wilson could definitely pose a few threats on the counter. Federici, Mings, and ex-Liverpool player Brad Smith are out injured.

This will be Liverpool's ninth match in the last month. They'll have another five after this before finally getting a week between fixtures. It's gotten gritty. It's gone off the boil. There have been disappointments.

Liverpool are still unbeaten during this stretch. Liverpool are still playing better, with a deeper squad, than they were at this time last season, even during the last two draws.

So rather than tiresome and unwelcomed, this is another opportunity. Not only an opportunity to reverse the recent minor rot, but also to avenge last season's failures in this fixture.

14 December 2017

Visualized: Liverpool 0-0 West Brom

Previous Match Infographics: Everton (h), Spartak Moscow (h), Brighton (a), Stoke (a), Chelsea (h), Sevilla (a), Southampton (h), West Ham (a), Maribor (h), Huddersfield (h), Tottenham (a), Maribor (a), United (h), Newcastle (a), Spartak Moscow (a), Leicester (a), Burnley (h), Sevilla (h), Manchester City (a), Arsenal (h), Hoffenheim (h), Crystal Palace (h), Hoffenheim (a), Watford (a)

Match data from WhoScored, except average position from the SofaScore app. 

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

The finishing pixie is a cruel, cruel mistress.

Liverpool had been flying.

At least three goals a game in eight of nine games, from Huddersfield through Spartak.

And then Everton and West Brom happened, and we're seemingly back to the bad old days of 1-1 Burnley, Spartak, and Newcastle.

To be fair, it is not easy to score when the opposition often look like this.

Three defenders directly in front of the man on the ball, six other defenders packed into the penalty box. And the lone striker, the other outfield opponent, is still in camera frame. All 11 West Brom players, in about a quarter of the pitch. And I swear I'm not cherry-picking moments here; this was randomly grabbed from the BBC Match of the Day highlights. I could have chosen eight other moments from that package, and 30 more had I bothered to go from the full match.

But this is the right of the weak. If Liverpool can't find a way past it – which they had done a whole lot of times over the last month and a half – then it's Liverpool's fault.

And it's not helping that Liverpool's previously flying front four have not had a good last two games.

Yes, sample size, obviously. But everyone's shot accuracy (except Coutinho's, with all of his shots on-target in the last two games from outside the box) and conversion has fallen off a cliff against Everton and West Brom. Salah especially has reverted to mere mortality, putting just one of nine shots on-target in the last two games. And he scored with that one on-target.

Liverpool had seven clear-cut chances in the 7-0 win against Spartak Moscow a week ago. And Liverpool converted six of them.

Liverpool had seven clear-cut chances combined in the draws against Everton and West Brom. Mané's fast break shot wide and Salah and Gomez's headers off-target against Everton; Firmino's shot wide, Salah's header off-target, Wijnaldum's toe-poke cleared off the line, and Solanke's shot cleared off the line against West Brom. Five off-target, two cleared off the goal line by opposition defenders.

Three of Liverpool's fabulous front four getting chances to win the match, all put off-target.

Them's the breaks. Swings and roundabouts.

It's not as if Liverpool haven't had the opportunities.

Liverpool just haven't taken those opportunities. It happens, evidently even to the best of us.

And, as the match went on, we became increasingly convinced this was not going to be a good day.

We're veering dramatically into obvious territory, but when Liverpool score early, good things happen. Lots of goals happen. When Liverpool don't, *gulps, tugs collar*

Liverpool have scored 11 goals this season after the 75th minute. That's a lot!

They mostly didn't matter. One against Hoffenheim, when Liverpool scored four; one against Arsenal, when Liverpool scored four; two at Maribor, when Liverpool scored seven; one against Huddersfield, when Liverpool scored three; one against Maribor, when Liverpool scored three; one at West Ham, when Liverpool scored four; two at Brighton, when Liverpool scored five; and two against Spartak, when Liverpool scored seven.

Liverpool have scored just two goals after the 60th minute in matches where they weren't already ahead. Mané's 74th-minute winner against Palace back in August and Salah's go-ahead goal in the 65th minute against Chelsea, a match that Liverpool drew 1-1 when Chelsea scored in the 85th minute.

Just two go-ahead goals after the hour mark, with one that Liverpool ultimately threw away.

That's not good.

Conversely, Liverpool have lost once (Leicester in the League Cup) and drawn five (Watford, Sevilla, Sevilla, Chelsea, and Everton) thanks to goals conceded after an hour.

That's not good.

Liverpool have won 13 matches so far this season.

There have been five second-half game-winning goals, but two of them only because Liverpool went on to concede later. Otherwise, those matches would have been won in the 35th and 23rd minutes respectively. All the games where Liverpool scored four or more – and we've already had six of them – all saw the opening goal by the 31st minute at the latest.

So, yes, as said all season, this team lives and dies by the goals they score. And they either score those goals in the first 30 or 50 minutes at most, or else it's a no good, very bad day.

To be fair, it takes just one referee decision (I thought we weren't calling accidental, close-range ball-to-hand as handball this season. Or is that only for defenders, not attackers?) or a couple of inches on a shot in either direction, and Liverpool eke out a second 1-0 win of the campaign. Liverpool had chances to win, and they actually had most of them late in the match; three of those four aforementioned clear-cut chances came after the 56th minute.

But it didn't happen.

So, now, Liverpool have drawn its fifth league match at Anfield this season. In nine attempts. Five draws (three 1-1, two 0-0), one 1-0 win, two 3-0 wins, and one 4-0 win. Yes, yes, still unbeaten, but it's not quite Fortress Anfield. Not to compare this to one of the best campaigns in recent memory, but I can't help remember 2008-09, where Liverpool could and should have won the league if not for midseason draws at Anfield.

Liverpool have dropped two points, for the second consecutive match, and we're rightly aggrieved about it. It hasn't been rotation's fault. Subs came late yesterday, but it hasn't really been the manager's fault. The play hasn't been great, but on the whole, the players haven't been awful. Except in front of goal.

It comes down to goals. With this side, it's always about goals. And in the last two matches, Liverpool haven't scored the goals that Liverpool had been scoring.

12 December 2017

Liverpool v West Brom 12.13.17

3pm ET, live in the US on NBC Sports Gold

Last four head-to-head:
1-0 Liverpool (a) 04.16.17
2-1 Liverpool (h) 10.22.16
1-1 (a) 05.15.16
2-2 (h) 12.13.15

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-1 Everton (h); 7-0 Spartak (h); 5-1 Brighton (a)
West Brom: 0-1 Swansea (a); 0-0 Palace (h); 2-2 Newcastle (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Salah 13; Firmino 5; Coutinho, Mané 4; Sturridge 2; Alex O-C, Can, Henderson, Matip, Wijnaldum 1
West Brom: Robson-Kanu, Rodriguez, Rondon 2; Chadli, Evans, Field, Hegazi, Morrison, Phillips 1

Referee: Paul Tierney (LFC History) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Trent A-A Lovren Klavan Milner
Wijnaldum Henderson Can
Mané Firmino Coutinho

Sunday was the Sam Allardyce Redemption Match, and now we get Alan Pardew as a second act. Fantastic. The magical manager tour is coming to take us away.

It shouldn't matter. And Liverpool should have been up for this match regardless, but now they've extra motivation after Sunday's miscarriage of justice.

Maybe we'll get the first choice front four, but I suspect rotation and rest will continue and this time it's Salah's turn. But even if that's the case, your guess remains as good as mine who will start and how they'll line up. As per usual of late.

Maybe the above. Maybe Oxlade-Chamberlain on the flank with Coutinho in midfield. Maybe 4-4-2, with Sturridge, Solanke, or even Ings joining Firmino up top and one of Henderson, Can, and Wijnaldum left out. Moreno and Matip remain absent, but Adam Lallana returns to contention. Given it's his first game back in the squad after a short absence after a long absence, I suspect he'll be used as a substitute at most.

Whomever starts, in whichever formation, I expect a reaction to Sunday's disappointment. I expect blood and thunder, hellfire and brimstone. I expect – nay, demand – goals. Lots of them.

Especially since Liverpool's opponent is winless since August.

You live by Pulisball, you eventually die by Pulisball. And that's exactly what happened. West Brom finished 13th in 2014-15 after Pulis took over midway through the season, 14th in 2015-16, and 10th in 2016-17. It was exactly as expected: good enough and organized enough to stay up, but not a whole lot more, and a whole lot of ugly football. And then West Brom won its first three matches this season: 1-0 against Bournemouth and Burnley, 3-1 in the League Cup.

And then West Brom fell off a cliff. They'd draw four and lose seven in the next 11 games and Pulis would be fired with West Brom in 17th, just a point outside the relegation zone.

And now West Brom's contracted a severe case of Pardew-mania.

Pardew's played all three of West Brom's strikers in the front three of a 4-3-3 in his two matches in charge, but Klopp doesn't think that'll be the case tomorrow. McClean, Brunt, and Burke are all more orthodox wingers, as are Chadli, Phillips, and Brunt if they're available. Incidentally, West Brom are yet to score since Pardew became manager despite playing three strikers in a front three.

My guess at tomorrow's XI is still pretty close to the side we've seen from Pardew's two games. Foster; Nyom, Hegazi, Evans, Gibbs; Livermore, Yacob, Field; McClean, Rondon, Rodriguez. Morrison, Barry, and Dawson are absent through injury, while Chadli, Phillips, and Brunt are doubtful. If any of the doubtful three are available, they'd be definite possibilities on the flanks. Krychowiak could also start in midfield in place of Field.

Pardew doesn't have the same history of frustrating Liverpool that Allardyce has, but we've had our moments. His first meeting with Klopp's Liverpool saw Palace win 2-1. His record for Newcastle and Palace against Rodgers' Liverpool was 2W-2D-3L. He is one of that tribe of perpetual Premier League managers whose career goal seems to be to take charge of every single club outside the top six.

And Pardew's style is more attacking than Allardyce, but it won't be that much more attacking. The remnants of Pulisball still linger. West Brom remain tough to beat: 0-4 v Chelsea – Pulis' last match – and 0-2 at Arsenal are West Brom's only losses by more than one goal. Only Chelsea and City have scored more than twice against West Brom. West Brom haven't scored in Pardew's two matches, but they've only conceded once: Swansea's late winner from a fortuitous corner scramble on Saturday.

Hegazi's big like West Brom's center-backs are always big, but can actually play a little. Jonny Evans was supposedly wanted by Manchester City last summer. Barry and Yacob can ugly up a game in midfield, Rondon and Rodriguez are handfuls on both counter-attacks and set plays.

But if Liverpool can do Liverpool – the Liverpool we saw in seven wins while scoring three goals over the last ten matches, not the Liverpool which fumbles and frustrates and concedes from a late stupid mistake, mind you – it won't matter. It shouldn't matter.

11 December 2017

Visualized: Liverpool 1-1 Everton

Previous Match Infographics: Spartak Moscow (h), Brighton (a), Stoke (a), Chelsea (h), Sevilla (a), Southampton (h), West Ham (a), Maribor (h), Huddersfield (h), Tottenham (a), Maribor (a), United (h), Newcastle (a), Spartak Moscow (a), Leicester (a), Burnley (h), Sevilla (h), Manchester City (a), Arsenal (h), Hoffenheim (h), Crystal Palace (h), Hoffenheim (a), Watford (a)

Match data from WhoScored, except average position from the SofaScore app. 

We have said it before, we will say it again.

Liverpool live and die by the goals they score. And they only scored one on Sunday.

The finishing pixie is a cruel mistress. Liverpool had been on an almost unsustainable scoring streak. That ended against Everton.

The three above pieces showing Liverpool's shooting should be sufficient. That shots, assists, chances created graphic. That shot-by-shot graphic. That shot location graphic. Ouch.

23 Liverpool shots, but only three on-target: Salah's goal, Mané's egregious bicycle kick attempt from just outside the box, and Coutinho's free kick from 30 yards out. 13% shooting accuracy, when the side had averaged 42.5% in the six previous league matches since the Tottenham defeat.

Three Opta-defined clear-cut chances, all with Liverpool up 1-0, and all off-target: Mané's miss with three players waiting for the tap-in, and Salah and Gomez's second-half headers. Liverpool converted 13 of 18 clear-cut chances – 72.2% – in the six previous league matches since the Tottenham defeat.

Sure, Liverpool's shot quality was a good deal worse than in previous matches. 13 of 23 from outside the box, and an average xG per shot of 0.087. Liverpool's xG per shot this season prior to Sunday's game was 0.116 and since Spurs it had been 0.149.

But Liverpool still had the chances to win that game.

One of which will live long in the memory.

This game hinged upon two moments. Sadio Mané's miss in the first-half added time was the first.

*screams internally*

Remember Liverpool's second goal against Spartak Moscow? Mané to Salah to Firmino to Coutinho. Quick passes, unselfishly looking for a teammate rather than doing it yourself. The final pass taking the chance quality from – and this is a rough guess here – something like 15% to 40%. Do that. Always aim to do that. Don't do this.

If Liverpool get a second goal, going into halftime two-up rather than one, there's an excellent chance that Liverpool score more. Everton have to come out, whereas they can stick deep and continue to hope for just one moment and one mistake at 1-0, and even though two of Liverpool's best counter-attacking players weren't on the pitch, Salah and Mané should have thrived with more space in behind compared to how the match played out at 1-0. Two Liverpool goals had led to at least three in eight of the previous nine matches. Liverpool have finished with just two goals twice this season, and never in the league, and it hasn't happened since early September.

But 1-0 still should have been enough. Because Everton's penalty in the 77th minute was the second moment. And that was not a penalty. (Edit: I don't know why the GIFs aren't loading here; click on them to open in a new window and play)

Come on, now.

Okay, yes, camera angles can lie.

So, here, this is a worse angle for Lovren – which unfortunately, was also the referee's angle – but you can still see Calvert-Lewin move towards and into Lovren, then fall to the ground as Lovren's pulling his arms away from him.

I don't care that Lovren's caught on the back foot and gets too close and "gives the referee a decision to make." I don't care that Lovren has previous, which makes us extra likely to extra blame him. That you're giving that penalty against Liverpool on Liverpool's own ground when Everton have had just two shots and next to no possession is a crime against humanity. Especially after the non-penalty which Brighton got last weekend. That was forgivable because Liverpool were cruising by that point. That made it almost funny. This was assuredly not funny.

I also can't help but think that was Grade A "Big Sam's an English manager and Calvert-Lewin's an English striker" beef.

Without one of those two moments, the other doesn't matter.

It doesn't matter that Liverpool rotated more heavily than expected, that Liverpool left out both Firmino and Coutinho, as well as Can and Wijnaldum. Liverpool should have done enough, even if 1-0 is rarely ever enough for this side.

And now we get a result that brings memories to the mediocre old days. Liverpool's fifth 1-1 draw of the season, the most common score line so far. Three of those 1-1 draws came with Liverpool taking the lead but losing it – the last three of them.

The mediocre old days of an inability to break down incredibly deep sides, with a bunch of possession and a bunch of shots but not enough good shots and not enough of those shots converted. The mediocre old days of drawing a match that Liverpool *should* have won against a side they *should* be beating. Something we thought we'd mostly gotten past with the wins over Huddersfield, Maribor, West Ham, Southampton, Stoke, Brighton, and Spartak.

So, yes, it's a set-back. But it's not the end of days. It's one match, one during a spell overloaded with matches, against seven before where Liverpool did what they couldn't on Sunday.

10 December 2017

Liverpool 1-1 Everton

Salah 42'
Rooney 77' [pen]

We've been Allardyced. And Pawsoned. And it's really damned annoying.

But the story is still the story we've known before, even if it's been awhile since seeing that story. If Liverpool don't score more than one, Liverpool are at risk of doing a Liverpool. Which is exactly what happened, even if it was never a penalty because come the hell on.

It's everybody's fault.

It's Sam Allardyce's fault, because he made the game exactly as ugly as he always does. That felt more like a Sam Allardyce match than a Merseyside Derby. Not ugly as in vicious, which these games can be, but ugly as in the least ambitious side Liverpool's faced this season. Which is completely their right, and proven right. Two massively, massively deep lines of four, the most possession Liverpool have had in a match this season. The most since losing 0-2 to Burnley in August 2015, actually.

It's Jürgen Klopp's fault, because Liverpool couldn't cope with the ugly. Because Klopp kept Firmino and Coutinho out, again using the full squad to prevent the winter collapse which happened last season. Because he continued to make unexpected changes to the starting XI but this time got burned. Because that 4-3-3 couldn't play through the middle because Henderson and Milner aren't creative enough and Mané and Salah were too wide, and crossing did not work. Eight Liverpool shots in the first 41 minutes of the match: three off-target, five blocked. Five from outside the box, just one in the Danger Zone.

It's not Mohamed Salah's fault, because in the 42nd minute, Mohamed Salah did Mohamed Salah things, turning Cuco Martina, beating Idrissa Gana, and curling an unstoppable shot past Pickford to finally break the deadlock. His 13th goal in the league this season, his 19th goal in all competitions. He's really good at the football.

It's Sadio Mané's fault, because just before halftime, Mané wins possession and steams towards goal and he's got three runners inside for a tap-in and he screws a left-footed shot wide of the goal. That was Liverpool's first clear-cut chance of the game. And 2-0 kills the game. It kills it dead. Liverpool desperately needed 2-0. Liverpool would not get 2-0. This remains unforgivable.

It's Jürgen Klopp's fault, because he took off Liverpool's best player in the 67th minute. That was Klopp's adjustment to Allardyce's changes. Not Can or Wijnaldum for bodies in midfield. Not Coutinho for creation. Firmino – who is a very good player who I like very much but does the pressing more than anything else and that's not what was needed – for Salah. I understand worries about player overload, especially in regards to Salah, but we've proven time and time again that 1-0 isn't enough for Liverpool.

And 1-0 wasn't enough today. Even though Everton had next to no possession, even though Everton had all of two shots to that point, both from well outside the box and not dangerous in the slighest.

It's Craig Pawson's fault, because that was almost as soft a penalty as Brighton's in Liverpool's last match. It's Dejan Lovren's fault because he did a Dejan Lovren thing again. It's Firmino's fault, because he tried an incredibly unlikely back heel to try to get a doubly-marked Mané a chance at goal and lost possession and now Liverpool have five players ahead of the ball (including both left-sided players) and Everton countered down Liverpool's left side and Rooney crossed to Calvert-Lewin from deep and Calvert-Lewin fell over because Lovren looked in his direction.

And it's Liverpool's fault. Because, once again, Liverpool lost a one-goal lead they took into the 70th minute. As at Watford, against Sevilla, at Sevilla, and against Chelsea. Because, once again, Liverpool couldn't find a needed late winner; the last time Liverpool got one after the 70th minute was 2-1 at Stoke last April. The last time Liverpool got one after the 80th minute was at Everton almost a calendar year ago. Because, once again, substitutions did little and the other manager's changes helped more than Liverpool's.

23 shots to three. 79% possession. And Liverpool drew. Because they couldn't create more chances, they couldn't take the few chances they did create, and then they committed one soft, unlucky, and stupid mistake that a referee absolutely helped. And then dropped points from a winning position for the fifth time this season and the 23rd time since Klopp became manager. Against the team you want to beat more than any other.

It is absolutely infuriating.

But here's the thing. Liverpool are still unbeaten in their last 10 matches. Liverpool are still fourth, a point ahead of Arsenal and two ahead of Tottenham. Everton still haven't won a Merseyside Derby since Roy Freaking Hodgson was manager. Mo Salah remains amazing, Joe Gomez is an absolute prodigy, and on the whole, Liverpool did more good things than bad things today. In the seventh match the side's had to play in the last three weeks.

Still. It could have been more. It should have been more. And – not to be too selfish after all the good we've seen over the last eight weeks – it's certainly not for the first time this season.