05 December 2016

Visualized: Liverpool 3-4 Bournemouth

Previous Match Infographics: Sunderland (h), Southampton (a), Watford (h), Crystal Palace (a), West Brom (h), United (h), Swansea (a), Hull (h), Chelsea (a), Leicester (h), Tottenham (a), Burnley (a), Arsenal (a)

All match data from Stats Zone and Who Scored.

Here's a list of all the matches where Liverpool have drawn or lost from a 2-0 lead since 2004-05.

3-4 Bournemouth (a) 2016-17
2-2 Newcastle (h) 2015-16
2-3 Southampton (a) 2015-16
2-2 Sunderland (h) 2015-16

2-2 Leicester (h) 2014-15
3-3 Palace (a) 2013-14
2-2 Arsenal (a) 2012-13
2-2 Everton (a) 2012-13

2-3 QPR (a) 2011-12

4-4 Chelsea CL (a) 2008-09

Sure, it's the first time it's happened this season – and we've seen much, much more good than bad this season – but that's four times in the last 28 league matches. Four times in the last 12 league matches that Liverpool have failed to win. That's seven more points that Liverpool should have had last season – and seven more points would've seen Liverpool finish fourth – to go along with three that would've seen Liverpool keep pace with Chelsea this season.

Liverpool giving away a 2-0 lead happened four times in Rodgers' three-and-a-little-more seasons, with Liverpool at least drawing all four, once in Dalglish's season-and-a-half, and once in Benitez's six seasons, in the Champions League with Liverpool chasing an away goal deficit.

Liverpool's football has been a lot more fun this season than in any other but two of those other 12 seasons, but this is not a good trend.

There's probably some recency bias involved, but this seemed the first of the four matches where Liverpool truly deserved to drop points. Sunderland and Newcastle were both flukes (as much as you can call something that's happened multiple times "flukes"). Southampton and Liverpool were more evenly matched, but Liverpool's "good" first half was far better than yesterday's, Liverpool probably should have been further ahead than 2-0, and Liverpool's defense collapsed even more at St Mary's after Lovren went off at halftime and all but helped hand Southampton the win (hi Skrtel, how's Turkey?).

Yesterday, Liverpool weren't especially impressive even in the first half. Sure, they pressed exceedingly well, completely pinning Bournemouth back, but their possession didn't lead to many chances, taking just five shots. Both of Liverpool's goals came from long passes and pace rather than well-worked moves and were absolutely helped by Boruc's goal-keeping. Shot accuracy wasn't great – just three on-target, all three goals – Firmino did little out wide, etc, etc.

And the second half was a completely different story. Again, scads of Liverpool possession, but still too few shots, coupled with a lot more chances for Bournemouth, mainly through counter-attacks and set plays and especially in the final 30 minutes. Ten of Bournemouth's 12 shots came after Can gave Liverpool a 3-1 lead. Seven of those ten shots were on-target.

This was the first time that Liverpool were out-shot in a match this season.

But, despite Bournemouth being honestly good, especially in the second half but even in the first, there's still more than a bit of Liverpool shooting itself in the foot.

I still can't get over Bournemouth's second goal. You're two goals up with 15 minutes to play. You've seen off one Bournemouth attempt at getting back in the game, responding to Wilson's penalty with a Can's excellent strike, and seen the last ten minutes pass with just one frightening incident, Fraser's effort saved by Karius after a left-wing cross.

Then, this happens.

Eight Liverpool players – everyone bar the center-backs and Karius – in Bournemouth's half (Henderson's just behind Can, barely out of the picture, and pushes both further forward and to the right after this), with six in the final third. Both full-backs are incredibly far forward (Clyne's basically in the penalty box). Again, you're two goals up with just 15 minutes to play. Why.

So when Origi cheaply loses possession, basically passing straight to Wilshere, we've got a problem. Everyone's on the back foot.

Hey, Dejan. Maybe watch Callum Wilson. Also, why is Milner running in-field?

And Liverpool still *nearly* dealt with it. Lucas is on the ground because he's slipped after missing an interception by inches. Similar goes for Henderson, directly in front of Fraser. If Wilson's pass is any closer to either of those players, Liverpool almost certainly deals with the situation, and there's a good chance (at least a far better chance) that Liverpool holds onto the victory.

From there, the still all-too-familiar collapse, nerves and tilt and failure, while Bournemouth recovered belief. Failing to deal with the second phase after a half-cleared set play for the third, similar after a long throw coupled with Karius' error for the fourth – both boned-headed concessions we've seen before, in this season and last.

Liverpool have gotten to where they are this season with full-throttle go-for-the-throat football, but there's a time and place for everything. In retrospect, the time before Bournemouth's second was a time for safety. They don't do it often, but Klopp's Liverpool can do safety.

Also, this is important.

Every single one of Bournemouth's big chances came from something Liverpool did or didn't do. Wilson's penalty. Afobe out-muscling Lovren in an aerial duel from a bouncing ball hoofed out by Boruc, then dancing around Lucas before being denied by Karius from point-blank range. Ake's first rebound when Karius' spilled Cook's shot followed by the winning goal.

That's why Bournemouth took 12 shots despite just five key passes while Liverpool had 10 shots from nine key passes. The opposition doesn't need your help, Liverpool.

So, yeah, all the "THE SKY IS FALLING" is understandable. The hand-wringing over Liverpool's defense without Matip and Liverpool's attack without Coutinho is understandable. The fears about Karius' goal-keeping are understandable (I'll make excuses here: he made two good saves, was probably unsighted for Bournemouth's second, and Cook's blast which led to Ake's rebound was both hard-hit and moving).

But even after all the complaining above, I'll still plead for a bit of calm. Even if they've happened too often under Klopp, games like this do happen. Bournemouth does deserve more than a bit of credit. If Milner's corner goes two centimeters further in the 73rd minute, it's 4-1, game over. Origi was a foot away from scoring a Liverpool winner just before Ake scored Bournemouth's. It's the first time this season Liverpool took fewer points from the same fixture than they did last season. It's Liverpool's second loss of the season after a 15-match unbeaten streak. Liverpool still have more points from 14 games than they did in 2013-14.

I didn't enjoy the comparison, but it was pointed out to me last night that this looked an awful lot like what Liverpool did to Borussia Dortmund at Anfield last season. Dortmund turned out okay.

Sure, there are more than a few signs that should cause worry. But, so far this season, Liverpool have exceeded expectations. And so far this season, Liverpool have learned from every set back.

04 December 2016

Liverpool 3-4 Bournemouth

Mané 20'
Origi 22'
Wilson 56' [pen]
Can 64'
Fraser 76'
Cook 79'
Ake 90+3'

Beyond embarrassing.

The easy way out – and I'm incredibly tempted to take it – is blame everything on Matip's absence. Two consecutive clean sheets in the league, just nine goals conceded in his 11 starts, 10W-3D in his 13 starts in all competitions, and then this happens. Liverpool have now conceded nine goals in the three league games where he hasn't played.

But that's still no excuse. Not with 2-0 and 3-1 leads. Not even with Coutinho and Sturridge also missing and Mané forced off through injury in the 69th minute and Lallana only fit enough to come off the bench and any other excuse you can possibly come up with.

That was an utter, complete, full team collapse in the second half.

Matip's absence didn't lead to a complete lack of control in the second half or Liverpool's inability to create chances or take shots, whether playing for possession or the counter-attack. Matip's absence didn't lead to Lovren's weak clearing header and Milner's foul for a penalty. It didn't lead to Origi's giveaway or Bournemouth's impressive counter for the second, Fraser's cross and Cook's control and finish for the third, or Karius spilling for Ake's fourth. Liverpool's defense is without a doubt worse without him, especially when defending set plays – hello second and third goals conceded – but Liverpool should still be able to protect a two-goal lead.

And, unlike in almost every other game this season but all too much like too many games last season, Liverpool couldn't and Liverpool didn't.

The first half was good enough. Liverpool pressed well, Liverpool played out from the back well, Liverpool kept possession well. Liverpool didn't create as much as we're used to, but Liverpool still created two big chances and took two chances when they presented themselves, through the pace of Mané and Origi and with a bit of help from Boruc, stuck in no man's land when Can's ball over the top found Mané for the first, beaten by Origi when he came storming out for the second.

That should have been enough. Liverpool should have continued to control proceedings, preventing counters. If not, at least keep it tight and soak up pressure and potentially extend the lead on counter-attacks.

To be fair, Bournemouth had other ideas.

We were warned. Bournemouth is a well-managed, talented side which – most importantly – will never give up. They will attack, they will have spells of dominance. They had those against Arsenal last week as well, but couldn't take their chances. That certainly wasn't an issue today, with eight shots on-target from 12 in total leading to four goals.

Bournemouth deserve praise as much as Liverpool deserve blame. Bournemouth didn't give up at any point. To resort to banal cliché, Bournemouth simply wanted it more. Bournemouth's expected goal difference was the best any opponent's had against Liverpool this season. They did well to limit Liverpool in the first half despite the scoreline, their subs made a massive difference – especially compared to Liverpool's inability to change things thanks to an under-strength bench – and switching the back four at 1-3 (Ake moving to left-back, Smith to right-back) made a massive difference. I was especially impressed with Ryan Fraser, only coming on due to injury to Junior Stanislaus, who won the first penalty, scored Bournemouth's second, and played the assist for the third.

But I can't help but focus on blaming Liverpool. Liverpool made a 22-year-old substitute winger look like the second coming of Lionel Messi. Liverpool responded to the stuttering second half start and conceding a penalty with a lovely goal from Emre Can after good work from Mané and then Liverpool proceeded to throw it all away again rather than shutting up shop.

Maybe Liverpool simply can't shut up shop. That's why Liverpool attack attack attack, determined to simply score more than their opponents. But I still don't think that's entirely the case. We've seen clean sheets without Matip before, if not in the league this season. We've seen Klopp's Liverpool throttle the life out of a team trying to respond – see Dortmund and more than a few others last season. We've seen Liverpool do this, but we've seen Liverpool not do this more often.

Today, nerves and errors multiplied exponentially. Today, the set play demons came back, the goalkeeper howlers came back, the clear "holy hell we're boned get me out of here" came back and permeated throughout the side. Today, all the evil returned with a vengeance. It's not the first time that's happened and while we can always hope, it probably won't be the last.

Every single one of us would've bit your hand off for third place and 30 points from 14 games at the start of the season. Liverpool have issues at the moment: in defense, in confidence, with injuries, but Liverpool are still better than this and games like this happen far less often than they did last season.

It's next to impossible to do after a performance like that, but – just like after Burnley – Liverpool have to pick themselves up, learn from today's multiple failures, and move forward. Injuries be damned, increasingly busy festive season be damned. There's no other option.

03 December 2016

Liverpool at Bournemouth 12.04.16

8:30am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
2-1 Liverpool (a) 04.17.16
1-0 Liverpool (h; League Cup) 10.28.15
1-0 Liverpool (h) 08.17.15
3-1 Liverpool (a; League Cup) 12.17.14

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-0 Leeds (h); 2-0 Sunderland (h); 0-0 Southampton (a)
Bournemouth: 1-3 Arsenal (a); 1-0 Stoke (a); 1-2 Sunderland (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Mané 6; Coutinho, Firmino, Milner 5; Lallana 3; Can, Lovren 2; Henderson, Matip, Origi, WIjnaldum 1
Bournemouth: Wilson 4; Stanislas 3; Gosling, King 2; Ake, S Cook, Daniels, A Smith 1

Referee: Bobby Madley

Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Matip Lovren Milner
Wijnaldum Henderson Can
Mané Origi Firmino

Do Liverpool risk either or both of the two crucial players who've been injured but returned to training this week?

Whether Firmino or Lallana make the XI is even more important given Coutinho's lengthy absence. But I'm not sure if that makes Liverpool more or less likely to play it safe, as they've become that much more crucial over the next couple of months, not just for tomorrow's match.

So, the line-up guess is completely predicated on their inclusion. Maybe both play and either Firmino starts on the left with Origi central or Origi drops to the bench with Wijnaldum wide left, as he was against Leeds. We're definitely going to see Wijnaldum in Coutinho's position at times over the next six weeks. If neither play, it's a bit trickier: maybe Milner shifts into midfield with Moreno at left-back, maybe Ejaria or Woodburn or even Moreno is used in attack, maybe Stewart comes into midfield. The cupboard's beginning to look a bit threadbare, as Daniel Sturridge remains absent with a lingering calf problem.

My best guess is Firmino, who missed less time with a less serious injury, plays but Lallana's protected. But, as usual, it's no more than a guess, and both starting is probably just as likely.

Regardless of who plays, Bournemouth presents a more than viable threat, even if they sit 12th with half as many points as Liverpool, even if they've won just once in their last five matches.

Bournemouth have been a bit of everything so far this season. They've lost three of their last four, the lone win a narrow 1-0 over Stoke. They're one of just two sides to score six in a Premier League match this season, along with Liverpool. They conceded three against United and Arsenal and four against Manchester City but also held both Everton and Tottenham scoreless. The last loss, at Arsenal, was a lot closer than the scoreline suggests, Bournemouth missing multiple chances at both 1-1 and 2-1 before Alexis secured the victory in injury time.

Most dangerous is Bournemouth's ability on counter-attack. They've multiple attackers who can cause Liverpool problems, from top scorer Callum Wilson to Stanislas, King, Afobe, Gradel, and some dude named Jordon Ibe on the flanks to even Jack Wilshere, who's increasingly not too far off from actually looking like Jack Wilshere.

For better or for worse, Bournemouth probably won't play like Southampton or Sunderland. Bournemouth's games, even the low-scoring ones, have been much more open. They'll challenge Liverpool. Liverpool will probably have a bit more defending to do than in other recent games, and I'm curious (read: nervous, terrified, not excited) to see how they cope. And that challenge might but won't necessarily make it easier for Liverpool to find space to play in attack.

Surman and Lewis Cook are the only Bournemouth players assuredly out, but Stanislas, Daniels, and Boruc are all slight doubts. My best guess at an XI is Federici; Francis, Cook, Ake, B Smith; Gosling, Arter; King, Wilshere, Stanislas; Wilson. Brad Smith, despite his Liverpool past, is most likely to drop out if Charlie Francis is anywhere near fit, his start against Arsenal his only appearance so far this season. Afobe, Ibe, Gradel, and Adam Smith – usually a right-back but started as a right-winger against Arsenal – are other options in attack.

Each of Liverpool's matches against Bournemouth last season were tight games. Tight games which Liverpool held on to win, but tight games none the less: 1-0 at home under Rodgers, 1-0 in the league cup in one of Klopp's early matches, and 2-1 at Bournemouth with the much-changed Liverpool side we saw with the focus on the Europa League.

And that could and probably should be the story of tomorrow's match. Bournemouth will make Liverpool work for it. Eddie Howe's an excellent manager and they've got some talented players. But if Liverpool do what Liverpool should – as they've usually done this season, no matter the strength of the XI – Liverpool's class should win out.

28 November 2016

Liverpool v Leeds 10.25.16

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

Last four head-to-head:
1-0 Liverpool (a; League Cup) 09.22.09
2-2 (a) 02.29.04
3-1 Liverpool (h) 10.25.03
3-1 Liverpool (h) 03.23.03

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-0 Sunderland (h); 0-0 Southampton (a); 6-1 Watford (h)
Leeds: 2-1 Rotherham (a); 0-2 Newcastle (h); 3-2 Norwich (a)

Previous rounds:
Liverpool: 2-1 Tottenham (h); 3-0 Derby (a); 5-0 Burton Albion (a)
Leeds: 2-2 Norwich aet [3-2 pens] (h); 1-0 Blackburn (h); 1-0 Luton (a); 2-2 Fleetwood aet [5-4 pens] (a)

Goalscorers (all):
Liverpool: Coutinho, Firmino, Mané 6; Milner 5; Sturridge 4; Lallana, Origi 3; Can, Lovren 2; Henderson, Klavan, Matip, Wijnaldum 1
Leeds: Wood 12; Antonsson 3; Bartley, Doukara, Hernandez 2; Denton, Jansson, Phillips, Sacko, Vieira 1

Referee: Andre Marriner

Guess at a line-up:
Alexander-Arnold Lucas Klavan Moreno
Grujic Stewart Wijnaldum
Mané Origi Ejaria

It's been a long time since Liverpool faced Leeds, a fixture that used to be a serious rivalry, whether in the 70s, 80s, 90s, or very early 2000s. Leeds, mismanaged to near oblivion, have been bad for far too long, and I'm surprisingly pleased to see them at least getting closer to where they should be.

Pity this meeting couldn't happen under more favorable circumstances.

Coutinho's gonna be out for a while. Ugh. And this match comes too soon for Sturridge, Lallana, or Firmino to recover from their minor injuries.

So tomorrow's XI will probably look a lot like that which faced Tottenham in the last round: a seriously young lineup with 11 changes from Liverpool's previous league outing. 10 of those 11 are available – only Sturridge will be missing from that side – and I wouldn't be surprised to see them all. None of those kids – Alexander-Arnold, Grujic, Stewart, Ejaria, or Woodburn – were involved in today's u-23 match.

Who replaces Sturridge? I think it'll be Mané, with Klopp willing to risk one more senior player, but that could be dangerous given Liverpool's casualty list. Maybe it'll be Woodburn, who made his first appearance on Saturday. Maybe Ojo, who's been in training for two weeks now but is yet to even see the bench for the first team. Maybe Wijnaldum moves into attack with Henderson or Can keeping their place in midfield.

Liverpool *could* pick a stronger XI, with Henderson or Can or Matip or Lovren featuring as well. Klopp has often picked stronger-than-expected sides in cup matches. But the Tottenham game seems a more likely precedent. Liverpool have much, much bigger fish to fry this season and the squad's starting to look a little thin, especially in attack.

Currently fifth in the Championship, Leeds have lost just once in the last eight matches, against league-leading Newcastle. They don't score much – almost wholly reliant on Chris Wood – but they don't concede much either, allowing more than two goals in just two matches this season, and not since the end of August. They've a more than competent manager in Garry Monk, who lost all five of his matches against Liverpool while managing Swansea but gave Liverpool serious problems in four of them. They'll play 4-2-3-1, and they'll come at Liverpool, and it'll be up to Liverpool to deal and respond.

Chris Wood is the clear threat. Just 24 and a New Zealand international, playing well for his country each time I've seen him, he's scored 12 goals in all competitions this season. He had 13 in 37 appearances last season. He's a prototypical Championship striker: incredibly strong but skillful enough and quick enough to cause Premier League defenses problems, and very good from open play.

Otherwise, there's little I'm capable of telling you about their side. Rob Green will be in goal; he's often good for a laugh. Kyle Bartley, formerly of Swansea, will anchor their defense. Two former Premier League players, Liam Bridgett and Pablo Hernandez, will miss the match through injury. They've twice needed penalties to advance in this competition, but both of those saw a fairly heavily changed XI. Maybe it's hubris, but I doubt they'll do that when facing Liverpool, and my best guess is an XI similar to that they've used in the last few fixtures: Green; Ayling, Bartley, Jansson, Taylor; Phillips, O'Kane; Sacko, Roofe, Doukara; Wood.

As with every domestic cup match, it's icing on the cake for most fans. A chance to progress further as long as it's not at the expense of more important matters. A chance to see players we haven't seen enough of, especially the kids we've got such high hopes for.

It's up to those players to take their chance.

Visualized: Liverpool 2-0 Sunderland

Previous Match Infographics: Southampton (a), Watford (h), Crystal Palace (a), West Brom (h), United (h), Swansea (a), Hull (h), Chelsea (a), Leicester (h), Tottenham (a), Burnley (a), Arsenal (a)

All match data from Stats Zone and Who Scored.

First and foremost, despite the struggles and frustrations, Liverpool won. Liverpool eventually scored and Liverpool kept their third league clean sheet (the first time they've done it in consecutive matches since December 2015) and Liverpool remain unbeaten over the last 11 league matches with eight wins and three draws.

Still, I can't also help but focus on the fact that this was a very disappointing performance from Liverpool's front three. That's going to happen, no matter how potent they've looked so far this season, and especially when the side's forced to shuffle due to Coutinho's injury a third of the way through the match.

27 Liverpool shots, but just eight from Firmino, Mané, Origi, and Coutinho. Just four shots on-target from the four, although one was Liverpool's notable and necessary game-winner. 19 chances created in total, but just four from Firmino, Mané, Origi, and Coutinho, and not a single clear-cut chance until Milner's injury time penalty won by Mané's pace.

Emre Can leading the team in shots taken, and Can and Henderson creating vastly more chances than the rest of the side is not ideal. Henderson and Can created 10 of Liverpool's 19 chances, more than half between just the two of them, and more than twice as many as Firmino, Mané, Origi, and Coutinho combined. Liverpool's four defenders took the same amount of shots as Firmino, Mané, Origi, and Coutinho, and created one more chance.

Only the 5-1 victory over Hull saw Liverpool attempt more passes into the penalty area in a match this season. Liverpool completed 55% that day – just below Liverpool's 56% average going into Saturday's match – but only 43% on Saturday. Only the match against Manchester United, against Mourinho's better parked and more talented double-decker bus, saw Liverpool complete a lower percentage of its passes into the box. Not one pass came from wide areas (and Liverpool's crossing wasn't good either), while Firmino (1/7), Henderson (3/10), and Can (6/14) were all notably profligate in this regard.

Still, Liverpool kept trying, rather than simply resorting to even more speculative shots from distance, ramping up the shot total in the second half, finally forcing Sunderland to start blocking shots – its first not until the 57th minute – rather than watching Liverpool miss its more tentative and tenuous efforts.

All that lead to an Expected Goals chart which looks like this:

Low value shots abound, against a defense designed to not give a single inch, needing a supremely unlikely strike to secure the victory.

That Expected Goals chart looks a bit familiar.

The Burnley loss from three months ago remains the closest comparison to Saturday's match. A similar discrepancy in passes, possession, and shot totals between the sides. Disappointing shot accuracy and a failure to create clear-cut chances, with Liverpool also missing a crucial attacker.

This time, Liverpool won. Because of Origi's solitary magic, because of Liverpool's patience and perseverance in pushing for the goal, because of Karius' save in the 20th minute and Karius' smother in the 68th, because Lovren, Matip, and Henderson refused to allow counter-attacks, because Liverpool didn't do anything dumb at the back, because Liverpool didn't give Sunderland the chances they gave Burnley.

Liverpool have allowed just nine shots in the last two matches combined, with just one shot on-target. That's after allowing 14 shots on-target (from 18 in total) in the two matches before, against Crystal Palace and Watford. It's not as if Sunderland or Southampton tried to attack often, but Liverpool also didn't let them, and Liverpool are impressively top of all five big European league in opposition shots allowed.

Because, three months later, while they're not perfect and they've a long way to go before being perfect, Liverpool are a lot better than they were in late August.

And that's really all that matters.

Despite the disappointing facets and performances, Liverpool won. Liverpool won a fixture they drew last season, now +11 points on last season's comparable fixtures, Liverpool won the type of match that they lost just three months earlier. Liverpool pushed and prodded and kept to its plan, even if that plan was partly thrown out of the window due to Coutinho's injury, Klopp cajoled and cheered on the touchline, the crowd got into it, and Liverpool made the breakthrough.

Heads down, get to work, and Liverpool did what Liverpool needed to do.

By hook and by crook, Liverpool took all three points to keep pace with Chelsea and Manchester City, despite all the difficulties, in a match they could have easily drawn or lost, and probably would have done so just a few months before. There's still clearly room for improvement, and improvement will assuredly be needed, especially if Coutinho's out for multiple months.

But rather than a lament or regret, it's yet another notch on the post, and another needed step forward.

26 November 2016

Liverpool 2-0 Sunderland

Origi 75'
Milner 90+1' [pen]

This team does not ever stop. And there's one man responsible for that.

Let's go back a little bit. We're just past the hour mark. It's 0-0. Again.

Liverpool are dismal in front of goal for the second-straight match, dominating tenor, tempo, and possession but held scoreless, flailing against a double-parked double-decker bus. It's even worse than at Southampton, a better side and away from Anfield, with Liverpool not only erratic with their shooting but misplaying multiple passes when in the final third. And Liverpool are without their best player, Coutinho stretchered off after half an hour with what looked to be a metatarsal injury or ankle fracture or something really, really bad.

And Liverpool's just misplayed another final third pass, well overhit by Henderson – who absolutely was not the only guilty party – when trying to find some way through nine defenders. You can hear the frustration around Anfield. You can hear audible groans. You can hear the inescapable increasing doubt, the belief that 'damn, it really is gonna be another 0-0.'

Jürgen Klopp isn't having any of it.

And Anfield becomes a cauldron of noise until Liverpool finally, somehow, superlatively make the breakthrough. What could have been – and, in previous seasons, what would have been – ever-building frustration and the game tepidly ebbing away becomes a deserved and needed 2-0 win to return Liverpool to the top of the table, at least for the time-being.

Liverpool still required a moment of magic, when Divock Origi – who came on in place of Coutinho – blasted past Pickford from no angle, an unconscionable finish from wide left after Liverpool again pressed and scrambled and pushed but were continually denied, blocked off, and forced to start again.

Sunderland did Sunderland, Moyes did Moyes. 27 Liverpool shots, and not one clear-cut chance until Milner's penalty in injury time to seal the game, with Mané sprung on the counter-attack by Origi and taken down by Ndong. Denayer had man-marked Coutinho wherever he went while the Brazilian was on the pitch, and afterwards, sat in the middle of three midfielders who sat in front of four deep defenders. Anichebe, ostensibly a burly striker you hit long balls towards, mainly played a second left-back. Sunderland set up to bend but not break, and Sunderland could well have achieved that if not for Origi's witchcraft.

To be fair, Liverpool do have history scoring from that angle against Sunderland in front of the Kop.

As if we needed more evidence that this is a different Liverpool team than in seasons past, look no further than Liverpool's manager today. That's the passion Liverpool, and Anfield, have too often lacked. He's creating an actual, honest-to-goodness team and this team is a machine and this machine does not will not can not break down often. This machine needs every cog to function, and that includes the crowd. This machine will need to perform at similar, if not better, levels as more and more sides decide that this is the only way they might be able to stop Liverpool.

The headlines and the credit will mainly go to Klopp and Origi, but spare a thought for Loris Karius. Today also could have gone as bad days have gone in the past if not for two crucial saves, on Pienaar in the 17th and Watmore in the 68th, as Liverpool's defensive organization went to all sorts of hell but Karius made the necessary stop, quick off his line in both situations. It goes without saying that going down 0-1, whether in the first or second half, before Liverpool made it 1-0 could have made today very Burnley.

That Liverpool again struggled in the final third is assuredly not a good thing. Nor is Coutinho's injury, which at least appears to be less debilitating than it initially appeared. Liverpool need to put more of its shots on-target, Liverpool needs to be smarter and simply better in the final third.

But Liverpool again demonstrated why they remain apparent top-four and title contenders. As in past matches, they controlled possession and limited opposition chances, but today they truly did it through little more than sheer perseverance and self-belief.

25 November 2016

Liverpool v Sunderland 11.26.16

10am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
2-2 (h) 02.06.16
1-0 Liverpool (a) 12.30.15
1-0 Liverpool (a) 01.10.15
0-0 (h) 12.06.14

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-0 Southampton (a); 6-1 Watford (h); 4-2 Palace (a)
Sunderland: 3-0 Hull (h); 2-1 Bournemouth (a); 1-4 Arsenal (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Mané 6; Coutinho, Firmino 5; Milner 4; Lallana 3; Can, Lovren 2; Henderson, Matip, WIjnaldum 1
Sunderland: Defoe 7; Anichebe 3; van Aanholt 2

Referee: Anthony Taylor

Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Matip Lovren Milner
Wijnaldum Henderson Can
Mané Firmino Coutinho

Each week it feels as if it's getting easier to predict Liverpool's XI, but each week, Liverpool deploy a different XI, having gone 40 league games without starting the same lineup in consecutive matches. The last time it happened was in Klopp's first and second matches.

Tomorrow should see that streak broken. Adam Lallana's still out and as far as we know, there aren't any new injuries.

However, there is one potential alteration: Coutinho dropping into midfield, with Sturridge (or, less likely, Origi) starting in place of Wijnaldum or Can. Given Liverpool's expected dominance of possession, neither Can nor Wijnaldum really impressing against Southampton, and Sturridge seemingly more than due for multiple goals, it's worth considering.

But I don't really expect it to happen. Klopp likes the system he's settled upon. Liverpool have been good in the system he's settled upon. Liverpool will probably keep doing Liverpool.

Meanwhile, Sunderland. It's a bit early for their it-happens-every-season miraculous escape from relegation, but they've started on that path. Winless in their first ten games – eight losses and two draws – they've earned consecutive victories, albeit over Bournemouth and Hull. And they've done it despite having a player sent off in each of those matches. They're still mired among the dross in the relegation zone, but they're no longer propping up the table, and are just three points from safety.

Bringing Victor Anichebe into the starting XI has been the catalyst. All three of his goals came in those two wins, three of the five goals that Sunderland scored in those two wins. Ostensibly playing on the left but often the second striker along with Defoe, he's added a much needed goal threat. Defoe had responsible for pretty much every other goal Sunderland had scored this season (yes, van Aanholt has two, but that's it).

Injuries have played a large part in Sunderland's woes, and they'll be missing more than a few likely starters tomorrow. Djilobodji's suspended after being sent off against Hull. McNair, Borini, Cattermole are assuredly out, while Kirchhoff, Larsson, Rodwell, and Denayer are doubtful.

The starting XI will look something like Pickford; Jones, Kone, O'Shea, van Aanholt; Ndong, Kirchhoff; Watmore, Januzaj, Anichebe; Defoe. One of the doubtful midfielders – Kirchhoff, Rodwell, Denayer – probably has to start, although Pienaar (also recently back from injury) could be an option. Khazri and Gooch are options on the flanks, but Anichebe's certain to start and Watmore's work-rate will probably see him chosen on the other side.

These are the matches where Liverpool should roll. See: 4-1 Leicester, 5-1 Hull, 6-1 Watford. Even 2-1 West Brom, another home match, and one where Liverpool should have won by far more than they did. Other than 0-0 against Manchester United, flailing against Mourinho's parked bus after an international break, Liverpool have been really, really, really, really good at Anfield. Liverpool have utterly steam-rolled the lesser lights of the league. Liverpool have done exactly what Liverpool have needed to do in these fixtures, fixtures where Liverpool have failed before.

But Liverpool also haven't had the best time in this fixture lately, with draws in each of the last two meetings at Anfield: 0-0 in 2014-15 and 2-2 last season, with Liverpool letting a two-goal lead slip in the final 10 minutes. Sure, it's a different Liverpool and a different Sunderland, but the law of averages and my undying pessimism suggests that Liverpool are due for a fall at Anfield. Anichebe's on a scoring streak, Defoe is always a threat on the counter, and even if we've been pleasantly surprised so far this season, Liverpool can always Liverpool. The bad Liverpool, not the good Liverpool.

It's up to Liverpool to ensure that doesn't happen. This *should* be in the style of Liverpool's other big home wins; Sunderland were bottom of the goals scored table until last weekend, which was also the first league match where they kept a clean sheet. They've conceded three to Everton and Palace, and four to Arsenal, and those matches were all at the Stadium of Light. But Sunderland have been marginally better, at least defensively, away from home. They've the same record – 1W-1D-4L – but have conceded five fewer goals on their travels. That's Moyes. Playing for the 0-0.

Liverpool can't just turn up expecting par for the course. This is the start of an "easy" stretch, facing Sunderland (18th), Bournemouth (10th), West Ham (17th), and Boro (15th), and Liverpool need to make it count, especially since their top-four rivals all have at least one difficult fixture, if not more.

Thankfully, Liverpool 'just turning up' has become much, much less of a concern since Jürgen Klopp became manager.

21 November 2016

Visualized: Liverpool 0-0 Southampton

Previous Match Infographics: Watford (h), Crystal Palace (a), West Brom (h), United (h), Swansea (a), Hull (h), Chelsea (a), Leicester (h), Tottenham (a), Burnley (a), Arsenal (a)

All match data from Stats Zone and Who Scored.

Blame international breaks.

For the second time running, Liverpool stuttered after international fixtures, missing at least one key starter and with others obviously fatigued. So Liverpool, as they did against Manchester United, were as patient as possible – a patience they notably lacked in the loss at Burnley – slowly upping the tempo in an attempt to put their superlative fitness to use and win the narrow, difficult contest in the second half.

And for the second-straight time, it didn't quite work. But the signs were there.

Liverpool's attack clearly better in the second half, with Southampton pushed deeper and deeper, reliant on clearances and tackles where they were able to intercept in the first half. Liverpool increasingly dominating possession, with Southampton far less able to get out of their own half or even recover the ball.

But as against United, despite Liverpool's second half improvement, Liverpool just couldn't do enough to eke the victory. In that match last month, Liverpool had a couple of decent chances, through Can and Coutinho, but United had the best of the match, the only clear-cut chance, missed by Ibrahimovic. Liverpool were definitely better, in all phases, at Southampton, seemingly further proof of this side's continual improvement. And it's not as if United are that much stronger than Southampton, at least in this season's performances and results so far.

Unsurprisingly, it comes down to putting the damned ball in the damned net. We've seen this side score 30 goals through 12 matches and can still rightfully complain about missed opportunities for more. Admittedly, maybe it's only "rightfully" in my mind.

Liverpool's 13.3% shot accuracy is the joint-third worst since Klopp became manager. The two worse performances? 8.7% (two of 23) in a 0-2 loss at West Ham and 10.0% (one of 10) in a 0-2 loss at Newcastle. Two gut punch losses, because Liverpool completely failed at the back while struggling up front.

The match where Liverpool hit exactly the same amount – two on-target from 15 in total – last season? Against Southampton, albeit at home, in a 1-1 draw. Incidentally, Southampton's back four that day was Cedric, Fonte, van Dijk, and Bertrand, the same four players who started on Saturday. That's probably not coincidence.

Last season, Liverpool averaged 32.3% shot accuracy in the Premier League. It was 32.9% in 2014-15. Prior to Saturday's match, Liverpool had averaged 40.9%, an even higher mark than 2013-14's high water mark. As you may have guessed from Liverpool's goals tally, shot accuracy hasn't often been a problem this season. I doubt it'll be a problem in most of Liverpool's matches this season. But matches like Saturday's still happen.

Saturday was also the first time this season that Liverpool had created at least one clear-cut chance but failed to score. The two previous matches where Liverpool failed to score – at Burnley and against United – Liverpool failed to create a clear-cut chance. They created at least two in every other fixture and scored at least one. Prior to this match, Liverpool had converted 15 of 28 clear-cut chances (53.6%). Creating two on Saturday, they missed both.

It is both obvious and cliché in extremis, but you've just got to take your chances in matches like these.

Still, Liverpool's shooting could have been worse. Liverpool's shooting could have been Southampton's.

Parked bus or not, playing for 0-0 or not, Liverpool's defense held Southampton to that. As irrelevant an attack as they've had in the last four years.

This was the 12th match of the campaign, and it was the third time Liverpool's held an opponent to three or fewer shots. Hull took two, Burnley took three. I hesitate to remind – although I doubt I need to remind – that both of those sides scored at least once.

It's also the third time that Liverpool's league opponent has failed to put a single shot on-target since Klopp became manager. The other two? A 1-0 win against Swansea almost exactly a year ago and the 4-0 win against Everton last April. Both at Anfield. That Swansea match is a decent parallel to Saturday's: a fatigued Liverpool side missing a couple of key players, which won for the first time after a midweek Europa League match. Liverpool were the "better" side against a parked bus defense, starting slowly but improving bit by bit as the match went on, but still needed a soft penalty (only given by the linesman, not the referee) to get the win, putting just two shots on-target in the match.

Fine margins, etc. As there were when Ibrahimovic missed his clear-cut chance against Liverpool a month ago, or when van Hoorn missed his at the death in Liverpool's 2-1 win at Swansea. Football, eh?

So, yeah, this result's a bit disappointing. That Liverpool performance needed just one goal, whether it's Mané in the 28th minute, Firmino in the 66th, or Clyne in the 80th. Then we're again gloating about Liverpool's ability to win ugly and another weekend spent atop the table and up the Reds up the Reds up the Reds.

But Liverpool did exactly what they needed to in defense. Liverpool controlled proceedings. Liverpool improved as the match went on. Liverpool created chances, including two outstanding opportunities. All after an international break, with many fatigued and a crucial attacker absent. Against a side that's been one of the better defenses in the league in the last couple of seasons and on a ground where they conceded three and lost just eight months ago.

This ain't a set back. I'm taking it as further proof that we're watching a potentially very good Liverpool team, even if it's one that still has even more improving to do.