Sure, we've seen more thorough beat-downs. We've seen more comprehensive performances. But that was comfortable, despite being away from home, in the midst of a run about about a million games a month, and with five changes and a different formation from Wednesday's similarly heartening win at Burnley.
Liverpool monopolize the ball for the opening 25 minutes until scoring, a well-taken but fortunate goal with Salah just offside on the rebound to Firmino's shot from distance. Liverpool then slowly invite Bournemouth forward but remain untested, limiting shots and dealing with multiple Bournemouth corners.
Then Liverpool pull away in the second half. The all-important second comes within three minutes of the restart via Liverpool's press. Firmino robs Lerma and feeds Salah, staying on his feet despite a foul from Cook, bursting past Daniels to score an archetypal Salah goal. The game-killing third comes midway through the half, cross field from Firmino to Salah to Robertson to Fabinho to Robertson, a vicious cross towards Mané pinballed into the net by Cook. The fourth is just rude, with Salah twice dancing around Begovic after receiving Robertson's pass following an interception, waltzing towards goal as three Bournemouth players retreat to the goal line, unable to prevent the tap in.
It's a rolling tide for the first quarter of the game, then an older brother holding the younger at arm's length while intermittently counter-punching to remind each of their station for the other three-quarters. And it's not as if Bournemouth are a bad side, massively improving on last season's performances, in a dead heat with Everton and United as "best of the rest."
Mo Salah scores a hat-trick, now joint-top scorer in the league despite having a "bad" season so far. Keïta and Fabinho start together for the first time – with all four of Liverpool's summer signings in the XI – even if the former played on the left flank. Liverpool demonstrated their depth, with five changes from Wednesday's side which had seven changes from last Sunday's side. Liverpool were versatile, with Keïta on the left flank, Milner at right back, and Firmino and Salah more of a strike partnership in a 4-2-2-2 rather than the 4-2-3-1 we've seen more often. Mané returned from the cut on his foot, Lallana returned from whatever injury kept him out this time.
It was a team-wide performance, with no scapegoats in the slightest and headlined by Salah, who'll take a ton of confidence from this productivity. He's now scored 42 league goals for Liverpool in just 52 appearances, the most of any player under Klopp and faster to the mark than any other Liverpool player in the Premier League era. And at the other end of the pitch, Liverpool kept its tenth clean sheet in 16 Premier League games, conceding just once in the five games since that annoying 1-1 draw at Arsenal. Liverpool continue with its best start to a top-flight campaign in the club's history, now top of the table for at least a couple of hours.
It wasn't great, but that's what makes it good. We've still not hit the dizzying heights of last season, but it's all coming together in these last five matches. Diligent and mostly comfortable in three of the five, a tenacious comeback in the fourth, and that Merseyside Derby. Still unbeaten, still neck and neck with Manchester City. Right when the season starts to get serious.
Seven changes from the XI which started the Merseyside Derby, as well as a different formation. Sturridge and Origi both start up top – the latter making his first league start since August 2017. It's Keïta's first start in more than two months. There are rare appearances for Matip and Moreno. There's James Milner on the left flank. There's no Firmino, no Salah, and no Mané, the first time none have started a Liverpool match since the beginning of last season.
And then Joe Gomez has to go off before the match is a quarter gone, fracturing his left leg.
And there are no Liverpool shots, against the side who allows the most shots in the league, until the 29th minute. Despite more than 70% possession. Despite playing a side who'd failed to win their previous seven games, who sat just a point above the bottom of the table. An often-broken attack remains so, despite the change in personnel and formation.
It's not going well. It gets better, little by little. Liverpool at least start to register shots. And they're either putting them on target or seeing them blocked, which is better than the "miss, miss, block, miss, maybe on-target" we've become more accustomed to.
Of course, Liverpool are still living dangerously, with Barnes putting the ball in Liverpool's net from a Burnley free kick only to see it ruled out for offside. It takes just one moment, after all.
Which Burnley get, after a bit of a flurry from Liverpool. Van Dijk misses a couple of set play chances, blocked by Tarkowski and headed off-target, while Keïta thunders an effort that Hart saves onto the post. But Burnley somehow progress down the field, van Dijk has to clear a cross behind, and Burnley have a corner. Gudmundsson. Tarkowski over Alexander-Arnold, save. Barnes the rebound, save. Cork, goal. Even though Wood looked offside going for Tarkowski's shot. Even though it appeared that Barnes kicked the ball out of Alisson's hands. Even though Liverpool had dominated, had been the better side, etc etc.
But this is where Liverpool proved that Liverpool are actually good at the football. That Liverpool belong near the top of the table. That Liverpool rightly are one of the best sides in the league.
Because the best sides in the league score three times in half an hour after going behind. The best sides in the league win the difficult mid-week away games, despite missing players, despite almost wholly changing the team, despite going behind.
Eight minutes after Burnley scored, we're level. Seven minutes after that, we're ahead. And in the first minute of added time, we've got a game-sealing third.
Each goal was very "this is what Liverpool can do to you." The first, a 26-pass move, rope-a-dope before the knockout, and only Liverpool's second open play goal from outside the box this season. The second a set play. The third a lightning counter from goalkeeper to opposition goal with five touches in fewer than ten seconds.
And the last two goals saw the impact that substitutions can have.
Firmino's goal was Liverpool's 33rd by a substitute since Klopp became manager. It's the sixth already this season. Eight of those have been game-winning goals – including three this season – while five more were equalizers. And we can't downplay Salah's assist to Shaqiri, perfectly weighted into the Swiss' path with the outside of his left foot, without even thinking of trying to control Sturridge's chip.
Sure, we don't want to be bringing Salah and Firmino off the bench every match. And it's not as if substitute goals are a new feature under Klopp; Liverpool are on pace for more this season, but nothing's yet topped Klopp's first season when Liverpool substitutes scored 16 times. But it is more proof of Liverpool's strength in depth. In that 2015-16 season, the majority of Liverpool's sub goals were scored by Christian Benteke, while Origi was the only other player with more than one. This season, they've been scored by Sturridge (twice), Firmino (twice), Shaqiri, and Origi. Somewhat stronger attackers than those in Klopp's first season.
And Liverpool are – as we're well aware after the start to the season – stronger at the back as well. Good lord, Virgil van Dijk.
VVD tonight: 12/13 aerial duels 10 clearances 102 passes (most in team) 1 Big Chance created 3 shots, 1 on target COLOSSUS#LFC
But a few other players deserve a mention too. James Milner started on the left, ran his ass off, scored the vital equalizer from outside the box, then spent the next 30 minutes at left back. Naby Keïta massively improved the midfield, leading Liverpool in shots and putting four of those six shots on-target. Alisson made a massive save at 2-1, then started the counter-attack for Liverpool's third, and should have gotten credit for denying Tarkowski's 54th minute shot before Wood was offside but uncalled.
Liverpool are getting performances, consistent performances, from players who don't necessarily always get the headlines. They're getting performances from players signed in the last 12 months: van Dijk, Keïta, and Alisson. They're getting performances from players who aren't Salah, Firmino, and Mané.
And even when we're worried, when we're frustrated, Liverpool find a way to get three goals to beat a side that'd given them fits, has given them fits in the past. They're getting goals, and shots on-target, when those things have been hard to come by in previous matches this season.
They're getting wins, more and more, with more points earned at this stage of the season than in any previous campaign.
With Mané potentially absent, Sturridge or Origi in line for a start, and all the central midfielders in contention, 4-3-3 seems more likely. I'm dubious of completely changing the midfield, but Fabinho's struggled in 4-3-3 and Wijnaldum's played more minutes than any other midfielder so far. So, there's the above guess, along with the preferred back four but with Moreno for Robertson, although I wouldn't be surprised to see Lovren or Matip either. But that's almost certainly going to be wrong in some places.
I wouldn't be completely surprised to see something more a 4-4-2 than the 4-2-3-1 we've seen lately, with two from Sturridge, Firmino, Origi and possibly Salah up front, but I'm also skeptical. If Firmino plays with another striker, it'll probably be 4-2-3-1. Origi's goal on Sunday is a wonderful story, but I doubt it makes him more likely to start matches, at least at this point.
Meanwhile, Burnley. Yikes. Karma catches up with you eventually.
Burnley had been the wizards of the Premier League in the previous two seasons. Over-performing both xG and xG against. A supremely difficult side to play again, allowing a ton of shots but very few good shots, and conceding surprisingly few goals while scoring *just enough.*
That hasn't been the case this season. At all. Well, they're still over-performing xG both for and against, although not by a ton. They've just been bad at the football. Only Huddersfield, Palace, Newcastle, and Southampton have scored fewer goals. Only Fulham has conceded more goals. They're 19th place, a point ahead of Fulham. They haven't won in more than two months, with five losses and two draws since the end of September.
And the only real line-up change from last season is Joe Hart in goal, so make of that what you will.
Burnley can't even blame injuries or absentees, other than Hart starting ahead of Nick Pope. They've again had one of the more settled sides in the league. Sure, Defour, Brady, and Tarkowski are doubtful for tomorrow's match, but the latter seems likely to start anyway and Burnley have experienced replacements for the two others.
If both Brady and Defour miss out, it'll probably be Hart; Lowton, Tarkowski, Mee, Taylor; Lennon, Westwood, Cork, Gudmundsson; Hendrick; Wood. Either Vokes or Barnes could start ahead of Wood up front. Maybe Burnley go more 4-4-2 with one of them paired with Wood in place of Hendrick. If Defour's available, he'll replace Westwood. If Brady is, he could play on either flank.
For all of Burnley's struggles, I remain nervous. A midweek match, with key players likely absent for Liverpool. An opponent who's given them problems in the past, no matter current form; last season's 1-1 at Anfield, the 0-2 at Burnley in 2016-17, even last season's 2-1 win at Burnley, decided thanks to Ragnar Klavan's only league goal for Liverpool, scored in the 90th minute. Liverpool are coming off a massive, morale-boosting win, but one achieved via fluke rather than force. Liverpool still aren't in the best form either, especially going forward.
We're reaching the point of the season where it doesn't matter how wins are achieved, with this many matches in quick succession, with crucial players needing rest or recuperation. Which, to be fair, is how we've felt for almost the entire season so far – a record amount of points at this phase of the season for Liverpool, but earned without ever truly impressing. No matter. Just keep doing that. By any means necessary.
In case you were wondering how vital the press is to creating chances, yesterday was a good example.
It is no secret that Liverpool's attack has struggled lately, whether playing 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1. And that attack struggled some more against Everton, needing a hilariously – I mean HILARIOUSLY – flukey 96th minute winner.
But Liverpool also had five clear-cut chances, for the first time in the league since Opening Day. Liverpool should have scored long before Jordan Pickford wrote his name in Merseyside lore.
Two of those clear-cut chances came from scrambled set plays, both from Origi in the dying minutes, both from about a combined two yards out, the first off the cross bar, the second the winner. A third came from quick build-up, hoofed out from the back, Fabinho to Firmino to Mané in the 54th minute. But the other two came from possession regains in Everton's half by Liverpool's midfielders. The other two came from Liverpool's press.
12th minute. Wijnaldum tackles Andre Gomes, who's trying to carry the ball out of his defensive third. Robertson picks up, to Salah, to Mané, blazed over.
34th minute. Fabinho tackles Gueye inside Everton's half, playing the ball directly to Salah. Turn, passed wide to an open Shaqiri, the shot too close to Pickford.
Not coincidentally, those were Liverpool's first two clear-cut chances, taking the game to Everton early in the match, before the sides settled into a more familiar pattern, before both Liverpool and Everton began to tire.
Similar goes for Everton, though. They had two clear-cut chances of their own. A set play – where Mina should have been flagged for offside – and robbing Salah of possession in Liverpool's half, quickly transitioning to the move which saw Gomes' point blank shot saved then cleared off the line.
Transitions matter, deeply. And Liverpool have not been able to transition often enough and quickly enough in recent weeks, whether due to how the opposition are playing and how often Liverpool's front six choose when and where to press. Liverpool pressed more vigorously yesterday, especially in the first half, while Everton's style of play under Marco Silva also allowed Liverpool more opportunities to press.
And if for better finishing, this game would have been over long before Pickford had the opportunity to go Full English Goalkeeper in the 96th minute. So that's still an issue with the attack. Once again, Liverpool fail to put shots on target, with only three of 16 on goal – a horrific 19% shooting accuracy. It was Liverpool's second-lowest shot accuracy in the league so far this season, after only putting two of 11 shots on-target in the 1-0 win at Huddersfield in October.
Once again, I also remain worried about both Salah and Firmino in this 4-2-3-1 formation. Neither played badly; Firmino took three shots and set up Mané's 53rd minute clear-cut chance, Salah was Liverpool's most creative player with four key passes, two of them for clear-cut chances.
But Firmino was still nowhere near as involved as he's been in previous matches, dropping increasingly deep to pick up possession, with just 27 passes attempted, the vast majority around the center circle. And is the best use of Salah as Liverpool's most creative player rather than shot taker, shot scorer? Salah's lone shot was a 20-yard curler, receiving possession with his back to goal marked by a central defender, pushed wide of the post. So many long passes played towards him by midfielders and defenders, in the hopes of finding him before being too closely marked, with little success. It's one thing to use him as a central striker when Liverpool have already scored, when the game's stretched, when there are chances to counter. It seems another to use him as an orthodox front-man, back to goal and marked by at least one center-back rather than in space to run down the right flank. Salah attempted just one dribble yesterday, in the ninth minute, unsurprisingly unsuccessful.
But, to be fair, that's all a bit moot for at least two more days, when Liverpool travel to Burnley. It's the Merseyside Derby; who gives how it happens, as long as it's a good result after 90 minutes. I'd rather focus on the result. I'd rather focus on Jordan Pickford doing this in the 96th minute.
I cannot even. How are you even supposed to summarize that.
It's 0-0 for 95 minutes. It's a typical Merseyside Derby score line without being a typical Merseyside Derby. There are actual, honest-to-goodness chances. For both sides. There is actual, honest-to-goodness football. From both sides. Both sides press, both sides attack, both sides are denied goals only due to incredible defending or errant finishing. Four clear-cut chances from Liverpool, two from Everton. There are only a handful of vicious tackles, play acting, or any of the other ugly that's become all too typical in this fixture, although Everton had clearly retreated deeper and deeper in the second half, happy to maintain their point.
But it's still 0-0.
And then Liverpool have a free kick. It's unsurprisingly a scramble, seemingly ending with van Dijk's errant volley skyward rather than at goal. But it's one of those awkward, arcing efforts where the goalkeeper's not entirely sure whether he's going to need to tip it over. Jordan Pickford, with his wee little arms, goes to tip it over. And he completely fails, somehow pushing it onto the crossbar, deflecting directly to Divock Origi about a yard out from goal. Divock Origi, who has not played a league game for Liverpool since August 2017.
1-0. With the clock at 95:08.
I cannot even.
It's even better than a 4-0 riot. It's even better than Sadio Mané in the 94th minute at Goodison. It might even be better than McAllister's free kick from absolutely nowhere at the absolute death at their place, and that was more than 17 years ago. Just because of the comedy. The utter failure. The "why always us????". It could not be funnier. It could not be crueler. Supporting Everton must be the absolute worst. I'd feel bad except, well, you know.
So, yeah, we can analyze a bit, but where's the fun in that? Liverpool reverted to 4-2-3-1, the familiar iteration with Fabinho and Wijnaldum holding, Shaqiri on the right, Firmino in the hole but at least further forward than we've seen in more frustrated fixtures. Liverpool were better in attack, although it certainly helps that Everton wanted to press and attack more than other recent opponents. Liverpool still had problems in attack, at least in finishing. Mané firing over in the 12th minute, set up by Wijnaldum's final third regain and Salah's chip. Shaqiri in on goal later in the first half, set up by Fabinho's pressing tackle and Salah's through ball, the shot too close to Pickford. Mané in on goal in the second half, Fabinho again, this time flicking a long pass towards Firmino, chest control, through ball, shot pushed wide.
But at the same time, Liverpool were tested. Yerry Mina's set play header wide in the 4th minute, offside but uncalled. Alisson somehow denying Andre Gomes' header in the 21st, a point blank save then cleared off the line at the last possible second by Joe Gomez. Both sides looking to press, both sides sending their full-backs forward, both sides with spells of pressure and dominance with the ball trapped at the opponents end of the pitch meant we got a surprisingly open match, at least for the first half. It was more familiar in the second half, with Everton dropping increasingly deep, Everton increasingly happy to ugly the match, Liverpool increasingly frustrated and tired, but Richarlison remained a threat on the counter, supported by Sigurðsson and two attacking full-backs.
Klopp threw all but the kitchen sink at proceedings, bringing on Keïta for Shaqiri for increased dynamism in midfield and Sturridge for Salah for a more orthodox striker, then went with the kitchen sink in Origi for Firmino. Everton were happier to hold what they had, Lookman for Walcott – for increased counter-attacking pace – the only substitution that mattered until time-wasting changes at the very end. And despite Liverpool's efforts, because of Everton's efforts, this still looked likely to end in frustration, as in both Merseyside Derbies last season.
Then that moment happened. Jordan Pickford happened. Divock Origi happened, karmic payback for the career changing injury he suffered against Everton two and a half years ago.
Liverpool happened to Everton, as Liverpool seems to always happen to Everton.
The little brother just cannot get a break against the bigger. And I cannot stop laughing.
Guess at a line-up: Alisson Trent A-A Gomez van Dijk Robertson Fabinho Wijnaldum Shaqiri Firmino Mané Salah
Is the Merseyside Derby more or less fun when Everton is actually decent?
It's been a while since we were nervous going into this match. Even when Liverpool are off-form, Everton usually aren't much better. And Everton always come into the match with a massive inferiority complex. Sometimes it leads to last season's league meetings, a dire 0-0 at Goodison, an unfortunate and almost unfair 1-1 at Anfield. Slow, slow deaths rather than fire and fury.
But Everton have a new, more progressive manager. Everton are in good form. Everton press, Everton attack, Everton actually score. And Liverpool – despite still unbeaten in the league, despite still second in the league and actually almost keeping pace with Manchester City – are doing those things intermittently, are doing those things less than in the last season or two.
Everton are more free-flowing compared to previous iterations. Liverpool are grittier, uglier. Does this change the way either side almost always approaches the Merseyside Derby?
Wednesday's match at Paris St-Germain was something of an advertisement for this season's 4-2-3-1 formation. Or, at least, an explanation why Liverpool have been using that rather than the 4-3-3. If the attack's going to struggle, if chances are fewer and farther between, it makes sense to get more attackers who can create and shoot and score on the pitch. So it seems as if Liverpool will do so again.
That Henderson is suspended after last week's red card seemingly makes that more likely. Fabinho hasn't looked great as the holding midfielder in a three-man unit. Wijnaldum can play there, but hasn't so far this season. Chances are we see those two as a pairing, but Wijnaldum-Milner-Keïta isn't completely out of the question if Klopp decides to stick with the 4-3-3. That should, at least, be a more dynamic unit than that deployed in France. And even in the 4-2-3-1, Fabinho or Keïta seems a valid question now that the latter is fit, with Wijnaldum capable of playing in a more reserved role and Keïta more likely than any other Liverpool midfield to break lines and add to the attack.
Just do more of the attack, Liverpool. Fix the attack, Liverpool. The defense is doing more than fine at the other end of the pitch.
Meanwhile, Everton. The first of the rest outside the top five, a point ahead of Manchester United. Marco Silva's got Everton doing well enough at the sharp end of the piych – 10th in the league in xG, sixth in shots taken, doing more through volume rather than precision – but they're much better in defense, fourth in shots allowed, eighth in xG allowed, and fifth in goals allowed. Much better defensively, I'll add, under Marco Silva than "defensive manager" Sam Allardyce.
Everton's defense starts in midfield. It starts with Idrissa Gueye, superlative at closing angles and taking the ball away from the opposition. That sort of one-man midfield wall makes me nervous given Liverpool struggles progressing from midfield to attack when in possession. Gueye's the sort of midfield who'll cut out all those entry passes to Salah and Firmino when Liverpool try to advance into dangerous attacking positions.
Get around Gueye and that's a defense that can be gotten at, whether it's Andre Gomes' lack of extra protection or Coleman and Digne's attacking from fullback or Keane's ability to commit errors at unwelcome times or Yerry Mina still acclimatizing to Everton and to England. It's getting around Gueye that's harder than it seems.
The XI seems likely to be Pickford; Coleman, Keane, Mina, Digne; Gomes, Gueye; Walcott, Sigurðsson, Bernard; Richarlison. That's the side used against both Chelsea and Cardiff in the last two matches. Ten of those 11 started the three previous matches as well, with only Zouma preferred to Yerry Mina. Everton have no real injuries and a fairly settled XI. Maybe Lookman replaces Walcott or Bernard, or Tosun or Calvert-Lewin start up top with Richarlison on the flanks, but that's about it. I find it hard to believe they'll change tack that much going into this.
As crucial as Gueye is to Everton's defense, Sigurðsson and Richarlison are to Everton's attack. Richarlison on fast breaks, Richardlison on the end of crosses and through balls. Sigurðsson from distance, Sigurðsson from set plays, whether the corner cross in or direct free kicks. Six goals each, through just 13 matches. Everton's top scorer last season was Wayne Rooney, who scored all of ten goals through the entire campaign.
Everton are dangerous opponents. Everton are an honest-to-goodness decent side. But, then again, I'm yet to be convinced that form actually matters in this match. Everton haven't won a derby since 2010, when Roy Hodgson was Liverpool's manager. Everton haven't won at Anfield since 1999, when Trent Alexander-Arnold was 11 months old. Until proven otherwise, Everton need to demonstrate they can do more than ugly up these matches. Everton still need to prove that they can compete. However, this is the Everton side best-placed to compete in a very long time.
"Professional performance" is an overused cliché. It's a nice way to say that the team didn't play especially well but still won. We've said it already more than a few times this season.
This was yet another professional performance.
Liverpool may have only taken 10 shots – with the first not coming until the 39th minute – but put seven of those ten on-target and scored with three. Six of those ten shots came from the Danger Zone in the center of the penalty box, three of those ten were clear-cut chances.
If you're not going to be prolific – or can't be prolific (*waves at Watford's eight-man defense and Liverpool's 4-2-3-1 formation*) – be ruthless.
Meanwhile, Watford took just five shots. Three of those five came in the final eight minutes, after Liverpool already had a two-goal lead and following Henderson's dismissal. Eight of Liverpool's 13 league matches have seen their opponents take eight or fewer shots. Five have seen six or fewer: 4-1 West Ham, 1-0 Brighton, 0-0 City, 4-1 Cardiff, and 3-0 Watford. This was the first away from Anfield.
We know Liverpool's defense is good. Sure, Watford had two clear-cut chances: Pereyra immediately after Liverpool's first shot, denied by Alisson, and Cathcart's late corner header off-target. But Watford, like nearly all who've come before, were mostly strangled. And Watford were shut out, just like seven other league sides so far this season.
As Andrew Beasley noted in today's Echo column, Liverpool have never conceded fewer than five goals through the first 13 league matches. It is literally the best defensive record in the club's top-flight history, at least so far. Liverpool have kept eight clean sheets, and conceded once in five games. It's now been 16 games since Liverpool last conceded twice in a league match, going back to the 2-2 draw at West Brom in April.
You ain't gonna lose many matches if you only concede once, if at all.
Meanwhile, Liverpool have now won five matches this season by a three-or-more goal margin. This was the first to take place away from Anfield. The last time Liverpool won by three or more away from home was the 5-0 Champions League win at Porto back in February; the last in the league was at Huddersfield at the end of January.
A result away from home, an improvement on previous away results against similar competition. Or the same competition. Remember last season's helter skelter, deeply annoying 3-3? That was a different Liverpool.
And it did not matter that Liverpool had not played in two weeks, with Liverpool again getting a good result after an international break.
To be fair, this hasn't been much of an issue since Klopp became manager. Nine wins, four draws, and just one loss in the last four seasons following internationals, with that one loss coming at Manchester City last season, highlighted by Sadio Mané's red card. But there has been at least one frustrating goalless draw in each of the previous three seasons. One of those ugly, ground-out wastes of 90 minutes.
We almost had one of those last month at Huddersfield, if not for Salah's early goal. It felt like we might have had that on Saturday, at least for the first 65 minutes. And then Liverpool had their moment, a flowing move down the left, the front three in flight, Firmino to Mane to Salah. Salah scored, for the ninth time this season, then Trent scored, and then Bobby finished it off.
We've almost had set-backs, multiple times so far this short season. But we haven't. By hook or crook or luck, Liverpool have usually done enough, especially in defense but also in attack.
And that's what makes this yet another professional performance, in a season already fairly full of them.