Nerdy by Nature – WE ARE BACK, BABY!

Welcome to the 2020-21 season!  What an offseason of <checks notes> THREE whole weeks we had!  Did you go spend time with your family? Do all the other things you should do? I hope so, so we can now get back to it!

Liverpool started out with a win and yes, they’re now on pace for a +38 GD and 114 points.  But despite the good result, what a crazy game it was.

Despite the score, Liverpool dominated the game.  Unfortunately, a few defensive mistakes completely undid all of the good work up front.  On the expected goals (xG) score sheet, Liverpool won the match handily by a margin of 3.30.6.  That is a drubbing.  Last year, games with similar xG produced different results:  I am reminded of that Leicester game where the xG were 3.1–0.2 in Liverpool’s favor, and we produced a 4-0 win.  A drubbing.  So why did the match vs Leeds not feel like a drubbing?  Let’s get nerdy and dig deeper…

The first thing that stood out was possession.  In a very rare occurrence, especially at Anfield, the opponent had an (ever-so-slight) advantage in possession, holding the ball 52% of the time compared to Liverpool’s 48%.  That is not common at all at Anfield, and Klopp even commented after the game how we have not before seen this Liverpool squad be out-possessed at home.  Liverpool struggled to keep the ball like they usually do.  Now, some of that is absolutely down to Leeds’ style.  They are a high-energy, continuous movement and pressing team.  Liverpool pressed the ball 179 times, which is a large number for Liverpool.  Leeds pressed 209 times!  While Leeds were not able to press at the same level of success as Liverpool, it is not often someone presses more often than the home team at Anfield – and shows Leeds’ willingness and ability to take the game to their opponents.  Leeds will cause people problems all year long.  Marcelo Bielsa has made a career of taking teams with lesser talent and overachieving, and I expect he will do that with this club as well.

Heat map of the match:  Liverpool (left) and Leeds (right)

While possession is important, if the possession isn’t in valuable places, it shouldn’t lead to Liverpool giving up three goals.  When we look at the heat maps, we see this:  Leeds spent most of time with the ball in their own box and in their own zone, while Liverpool spent most of their time in Leeds’ half.  So possession was roughly equal, and most of Leeds’ possession was in their own zone, how were they able to score three?

Individual Errors

Below are some diagrams of the lead up to all three of Leeds goals.

On the first goal, a long pass took advantage of the gap between our fullbacks and midfield.  Once Harrison got the ball, he dribbled past Trent Alexander-Arnold and then Joe Gomez.  Neither of the Reds defenders had a great game defensively.

We all know on the second goal that Virgil Van Dijk, in a very rare moment of humanity, committed a massive error: he basically gave the ball to Bamford in the box.  It was a free pass and a goal – from the diagram you can see Bamford is the only one to touch the ball.  Collected it, slotted it, goal for the bad guys.

On the third goal, the green “+” in the diagram below indicates a ball recovery.  Leeds dispossessed us and took advantage of a gap (where Andy Robertson should have been) and then found Klich running through another gap for an easy goal.  Another individual mistake.

And the xG against Alisson backs this up.  Based on the post shot xG – which indicates how many goals a normal regular goalie would have given up based on the shots he saw – his xG against was 0.6.  This is not a game where Alisson made huge blunders, which can only mean he was left hung out to dry on more than one occasion.

At least that is most of the bad news.  Individual errors can be sorted and fixed.  The one thing I worry about is that two of the goals came down the wings where other teams are taking advantage of the gap between midfield and the fullbacks.  With our fullbacks usually positioned high up the field, this is a place Fabinho usually closes down fairly well.  And while Fab was on the field for one of the goals, it is something I believe (hope) will be not be a long-term issue with Fabinho starting regularly.

Player Highlights

Usually, I start with who played well and then go to the stragglers but today I flipped the script and have discussed all the issues Liverpool had.  Now, I examine at the guys who performed well in a thrilling win.

Man of the MatchMohamed Salah – a lot of internet fools (haters!) are saying that he is only MOTM because he scored two penalties.  First off, I do not mind that criticism – Mo is the penalty taker and scoring them should be automatic when given.  But this dude was all over the field: Salah touched the ball 80 times, which is a large number for a winger.  He is on the outside of play and yet still was so critical, completing more touches than anyone on the pitch else besides Leeds defender Stuart Dallas.  Essentially, Liverpool’s offense went through Salah.  In addition, he was 9/13 on dribbles.  You would expect Salah to easily dribble past players on a newly-promoted team, and that’s exactly what he did.  He also pressed 23 times – the third highest on the team behind Georginio Wijnaldum and Naby Keita, the guys in the midfield engine who are primarily supposed to do that.  Mo also chipped in with three tackles, again leading the team.  Oh… and he scored a hat trick.  For the internet fools who thought he had a bad game, you may need to check out a different sport.  He was my MOTM even without the penalties.

Sadio Mane – Sadio did what he always does.  He is everywhere, moving the ball down the field with ease, frightening people constantly with his pace, and… then he either he hits a worldie or misses an easy sitter.  Unfortunately for Mane and us, he missed an easy one, but was otherwise excellent.  Mane had four key passes (defined as passes that lead directly to a shot) which led the team.  He also was 87% accurate in his passing – he kept the play moving and did not have any real mistakes with the ball.  Mane added 4/5 successful dribbles – he was a constant threat on the left side.  The interesting thing is that Mane played in a lot of the places Firmino plays, dropping back and supporting the play, which allowed him to take advantage of his playmaking ability.

Naby Keita – get used to him being on this list.  I am a massive fan of his, and games like this are why.  He was the most prolific presser in the team, pressing 24 times and successfully pressing 11 times.  A 46% success rate is fantastic when pressing that often.  In addition to that, Keita added three interceptions (led the team), two blocks (tied for lead) and one tackle. One of the reasons I love Keita is because I feel like he is both a DM and AM at the same time.  He did a fantastic job in Fabinho’s absence helping Jordan Henderson shield the defense from the middle.  I think a part of why Leeds went down the wings is because of how good Keita and Wijnaldum were in the middle pressing and cleaning things up.  Keep in mind Keita completed all of this in only 57 minutes on the pitch before he was subbed off.

Curtis Jones – “The Scouser in My Column.” To be honest, I do not have many stats of his to discuss – I mainly want the search clicks.  Jones had a very good game in limited action.  I may just include him every week because he’s a Scouser, and my goodness we love when a Scouser comes good!

Let me know what you think!  Our title defense (Ed.: Or is it a title attack?) is officially on!