Considering the week Liverpool has had, just talking about VAR should make everyone vomit. We saw it again early in the game with what looked to be an incorrect call about Fabinho being inside the box. But once we look past that and look into the game itself, it was a very good picture of what Liverpool is now while trying to compete in four competitions. They are not team that is going to constantly destroy teams like they did the last two years. This is a team that will be just good enough – that is itself a challenge when playing in four competitions. And we saw that in this game.
When we look at the expected goals (xG) for the game, Liverpool won 2.5-1.5. Penalties are usually calculated at 0.8 so when we remove that call it the xG 2.5-0.7 in open play. This means that a 2-1 score line seems about right, though it tends to slightly flatter Sheffield. Having Alisson in the back is helpful because he controls the box with his mastery. Looking at his stats, he really did not do much that can be measured. But because of his control, he helped anticipate and stop potential problems before they became issues.
One area to keep in mind with Virgil Van Dijk missing and Joel Matip off and on with injuries is the absence of a tall heading presence. Liverpool won only 19/59 (32.2%) of aerial duals during this match. Losing 40 is a rough outing. To be fair, Sheffield is a good aerial team, but last year Liverpool won 60% of their headers in the first outing against Sheffield, and 68.2% in their second. This is a far cry from their success in this game.
Let’s look at who were the standouts in the game today.
Since he was about 15 years old, I have been a huge fan of Trent’s. So watching him struggle this year has been difficult for me to watch. This performance, though, was more like what we have seen the past couple of years. He was the best playmaker on the field all game long.
Trent led the team in almost all the creative categories. He led the team with five shot creating attempts, three key passes, 17 passes into the final third, 19 progressive passes, and four passes into the penalty area. That translates to that he was vital in all areas of the field. The passes into the penalty area tell us that he was incisive with his passing into the box. The progressive passes combined with passes into the final third tell us that he was instrumental in getting Liverpool into dangerous areas. And finally with five shot creating attempts, he was involved in getting shots on net – which is the only way you can score of course.
In addition, Trent completed 1/1 dribbles, he was 50% successful on pressures and pitched in with two blocked passes. He tends to be the Chandler Bing of this team: when he is on, he is the best player on the field… and when he is off, he is really off. In this game, he was the world class right back LFC counted on last year and the year before that. Even though he did not register the one official assist Liverpool had, he was the thrust for so much happening in the game. The entire game came down the right side with TAA having to do much of that work and doing it well.
The captain was everywhere in this game. Playing in a two-man midfield – which has not been his strong suit in years past – he played very well helping down the right side. He had 107 touches in the game, second most behind only TAA.
Many people (myself included, unfortunately) have called Henderson a sideways passer. “He does not move the ball forward, all he does is pass it back and forth.” I still believe that was the case for some time, but he is not that guy anymore. Henderson was second on the team with 15 progressive passes. He was second on the team with 10 passes into the final third and he was second on the team with three passes into the penalty area. Basically, they used Trent and Henderson down the right side and banged and banged and banged until they scored.
While finding an opponent’s weakness is one thing (Klopp must have seen the right side be Sheffield United’s weakness), having the ability to expose it is something else. And this tag team duo was fantastic. Henderson completed 81% (17/21) long passes, he moved the ball down the field and he kept play going if that’s what was needed. When Henderson is playing like this, the thought of having him and Thiago in a two-man midfield is so exciting. Those two will not miss a single pass and will find holes in other team’s defenses everywhere.
In some circles of Liverpool fandom, a few supporters are frustrated with Firmino. To me, these are people who are unable to see beyond the only stats they follow (goals and assists) and do not recognize the underlying numbers and how important he is. I wanted to isolate him especially this week because finally opened his scoring this season.
It is not because Firmino has been bad. On the contrary, he is the system. As we look at all the numbers, we see again that he was the main cog in the machine this weekend. He was 34/35 (97.1%) passing, which is excellent, and also completed one dribble. Bobby also converted 1/3 shots on target. He was active along that same right-hand channel, but in natural Firmino style he kept popping up all over the pitch. As you can see from his passing map, his pass “start points” are all over the field. Some of his passes are from the left, some from the middle, and some from the right – he was everywhere. Bobby both receives the ball everywhere on the field and sends it back everywhere. I am glad he got the goal, so some supporters might back off a bit. Bobby was everywhere.
A somewhat resurgent West Ham is next on the schedule. If the way Liverpool have played in the league (barring the Aston Villa nightmare) and the Champions League are any indication, look less for a 4-0 drubbing like we’ve seen numerous times but more of a 2-0 game where nothing much happens until Liverpool score and then they just slowly kill the game away. Until next time, stay nerdy y’all.