If nothing else, Liverpool’s 3-1 defeat of Manchester City at Anfield on Sunday demonstrated one key feature of their remarkable, unbeaten start to the 2019/20 season: an ability to pick their moments.
The defending champions settled first at Anfield, winning two corner kicks within the first five minutes. Yet, it was Jurgen Klopp’s “mentality monsters” that scored first to seize the initiative. City tried to regroup only for Mo Salah to make it 2-0 just seven minutes later.
If there is one way to win a high profile clash against a top team it’s to score early and score often. Two early goals here put the Reds in firm control, and when Pep Guardiola sent his team out to seek a reversal after the break, Sadio Mane added a third within seven minutes of the restart. The goals couldn’t have come at a better time.
By the end, Liverpool attempted 12 shots, five on target, and three finding the net. City had more shots – 18 in total – but only three were on target. In essence, the ruthless finishing that had been missing from several Liverpool’s performances this season reappeared at just the right time.
There’s a similar theme concerning the goals they’ve conceded this season. Bernardo Silva scored City’s consolation to give City late, faint hope and deny Liverpool a clean sheet. It’s a running trend this season – the Reds have just two clean sheets so far, none at Anfield, and that’s something that’s been of some concern to many Liverpool fans.
Yet, take a quick glance at the goals Liverpool have conceded this season and they seem to have picked the right moments to concede as well. Just like City did, Norwich, Arsenal, Southampton, and Chelsea have all scored against Liverpool this season. Just like City, those goals have all arrived late – the earliest was Teemu Pukki’s 64th minute goal at Anfield – and proved mere consolations to teams that had already conceded four, three, two and two goals respectively.
They did trail in four games – falling behind to Manchester United, Newcastle, Spurs and Aston Villa. But even those goals were conceded at convenient times, early in games – the latest was Marcus Rashford’s 36th minute opener at Old Trafford – giving Liverpool plenty of time to find a way back.
That’s something they’ve proved quite adept at doing; no team has won more points from a losing position this season. Even when Leicester City tested their resolve with a late 80th minute equaliser, the European champions found a way, winning with a James Milner penalty deep into added time.
|Premier League 2019/20|
|week||conceded||mins trailed||mins level after scoring|
|1||Norwich (h)||4 –||1||64th||0||0|
|2||Soton (a)||2 –||1||83rd||0||0|
|3||Arsenal (h)||3 –||1||85th||0||0|
|4||Burnley (a)||3 –||0||0||0|
|5||Newcastle (h)||3 –||1||7th||21||12|
|6||Chelsea (a)||2 –||1||71st||0||0|
|7||Sheff. United (a)||1 –||0||0||0|
|8||Leicester (h)||2 –||1||80th||0||15|
|9||Man Utd (a)||1 –||1||36th||49||12|
|10||Spurs (h)||2 –||1||1st||51||23|
|11||Aston Villa (a)||2 –||1||21st||66||7|
|12||Man City (h)||3 –||1||78th||0||0|
Scoring at the right times – when it most hurts opponents – and conceding at the right times – when it does the least damage to themselves – has been a trait of this Liverpool side and has played a huge part in building the 8 point gap that now separates them from second place Leicester City.
Of the 1142 minutes of football Liverpool have played this season, they’ve only been behind for a total of 187 minutes. Moreover, Liverpool have only been on level terms after scoring in a match for a total of 69 minutes – the only time that period of parity wasn’t ended by another Liverpool goal was at Old Trafford, where the referee’s final whistle brought an end to the 12 minutes that followed Adam Lallana’s late equaliser. Essentially, despite keeping just two clean sheets, a Liverpool goal has almost always guaranteed victory this season.
And then there are all those goals from midfield. For context, consider this: Of the 89 Premier League goals Liverpool scored last season, midfield players contributed 16 goals. That includes 6 goals from Xerdan Shaqiri – who sometimes played as a forward. Take those out and Liverpool’s midfielders contributed 11% of their Premier League goals last season.
|Premier League 2018/19|
This season started very much in the same fashion: In the first six games, midfielders contributed zero – 0% – of Liverpool’s 17 goals.
|Premier League 2019/20|
Since then though, in the last six Premier League games, it’s been a vastly different story. Liverpool have scored 11 goals in those six games and, of that total, no less than five goals – yes, 45% – have been scored by midfielders! They’ve been really important goals too: Gini Wijnaldum and Milner scored winners against Sheffield United and Leicester respectively; Lallana’s equaliser saved a point at Old Trafford; Jordan Henderson scored the leveller against Spurs; and Fabinho opened the floodgates against Manchester City.
If we include the Cup competitions – where Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been in especially fine fettle – it’s an even more impressive contribution: Of the 11 goals scored in the last three Cup games, six have come from midfielders.
|Premier League 2019/20|
It’s not just important that midfielders are contributing goals though. Again, it’s about the timing – contributing at just the right time. Liverpool’s strikers – Shaqiri apart – contributed 69% of the 89 goals scored last season, and 71% of the 17 goals scored in the first six games of this season.
That number, over the last six games, has fallen to 45% – five of 11 goals – so its particularly convenient that, at a time when the strikers haven’t exactly been at their ruthless best, the midfielders have stepped up impressively.
As with scoring and conceding goals, it’s the kind of perfect timing that’s kept Klopp’s title chasers well ahead of the pack.