Could Liverpool keep up last season's insane scoring pace? Almost. And "almost" was pretty damned good considering last season's ferocious nonsense.
So, yeah, Liverpool scored 20 fewer goals than in 2017-18, playing three fewer games. But Liverpool scored more in the Premier League this season, with 89 goals compared to last season's 84.
And Liverpool's scoring – in the league, in Europe – was still extraordinarily good.
The difference in scoring between this season and last is the Champions League. 47 goals in 2017-18, 24 goals in 2018-19. Liverpool scored 24 goals in just four CL matches last season: 7-0 Maribor, 7-0 Spartak, 5-0 Porto, 5-2 Roma.
But Liverpool won the Champions League this season, after falling at the last hurdle last season. Because goals scored – while incredibly, incredibly fun – aren't the end all, be all. You need to be decent at the other end of the pitch as well.
Liverpool were more than decent at the other end of the pitch.
We know the attack wobbled at times. Early in the season, adapting to 4-2-3-1 and Salah as a striker, and in late January-February, those in-the-end-costly 1-1 and 0-0 draws. But the defense rarely did.
And, for what it's worth, xG tracks quite closely in attack all season long. And xG allowed stayed surprisingly consistently all season long.
That mid-season rise in goals allowed, to barely above a goal-per-game average for a couple of games, is so noticeable because this defense was historically great for the vast majority of the season.
Incidentally, it remains hilarious that Liverpool almost won the league in 2013-14 with that many goals conceded.
2018-19 saw Liverpool's best defense in at least 13 seasons. Because, unsurprisingly, I have caveats for the above chart. Well, really, just one caveat.
That caveat is that it could be longer since.
2018-19 saw the fewest Liverpool goals in a league campaign since 1978-79, when Liverpool won the league conceding a hilariously low 16 goals in 42 games. Otherwise known as "40 years ago." 2005-06 was close, and damned good, and maybe better because Liverpool conceded fewer in all competitions while playing that many damned games, but I'll also remind that 2005-06 saw Liverpool start the Champions League at the first qualifying round, conceding three in six games against the likes of TNS, FBK Kaunas, and CSKA Sofia. Without those games, Liverpool's average that season is 0.732, barely worse than this season's. For what it's worth.
Anyway. Recent history.
Liverpool actually allowed more shots in the Premier League in 2018-19 compared to 2017-18 – 307 this season to 283 last season. Liverpool allowed 310 in 2016-17. So, par for the recent course, I guess.
But Liverpool allowed 53 clear-cut chances in the league last season, with 25 scored. An average of 1.4 per game, with nearly half going in and only 36% of those on-target saved. They allowed 54 in 2016-17, with 26 scored – 1.4 per game and 37% saved. Liverpool allowed 39 clear-cut chances this season – down to 1.02 per game – with only 11 scored and 56% of those on-target saved by Alisson.
Yes, there are a few concerns. 12 of Liverpool's 38 goals conceded – 31.6% – came from set plays. Which is a vastly higher proportion than recent seasons. And 12 conceded from set plays is almost exactly in line with recent seasons; Liverpool conceded 13 in both 2016-17 and 2017-18. But when the goals conceded total drops precipitously, it's slightly surprising when the amount of set plays goals conceded remains the same. At the same time, Liverpool can still be picked apart on the counter, even if far less often, with fast break goals given up against PSG, Wolves, and Fulham. We still got a handful of notable defensive errors, even from Alisson and van Dijk.
But at this point, it's nit-picking.
The opposition's scoring less, and a lot has to do with the opposition finding it harder to get good chances in good locations, which had very much been a problem in past seasons. The opposition doesn't get many shots, but those that they do are good chances in good positions. Not so much this season. But at the other end of the pitch, Liverpool are getting more and more in those good positions.
More Danger Zone goals in each of Klopp's seasons, with an absolute mountain in this one, both in proportion and total. Far fewer from outside the box, especially this season (how's Barcelona, Phil?). And the opposite is mostly the case for the opposition. Fewer Danger Zone goals, because fewer Danger Zone chances. Outside the box goals remained fairly consistent, because they aren't many and even the likes of Karius and Mignolet usually saved those. And there are more wide box goals because there were more wide box shots. That's what Liverpool usually gave the opposition, when they gave them anything.
In case you wanted more statistical validation, I got Liverpool's xG per shot this season as 0.137 versus 0.119 last season, with xG per shot allowed at 0.096 this season compared to 0.114 last season. And I love statistical validation because it makes me feel smart.
And, also, Liverpool's opponent didn't score a single penalty all season long. I can't remember that ever happening before. With only Mahrez missing from the spot. So they're not only talented and resilient and well-coached, they're clever and lucky. It's a very good combination.
This Liverpool attack and this Liverpool defense were a pretty good combination.
A few other assorted notes:
• I complained about how many late goals Liverpool conceded last season – both right before halftime and in the final few minutes. There were a lot fewer this season, even when considering how many fewer goals were conceded in total. And Liverpool could not stop scoring in those final few minutes. 32 goals between the 76th and 90th minutes, nine more than any other 15-minute block. Seven of those 32 came in the 90th minute or added time. And 20 of those 32 came with Liverpool behind, level, or only ahead by one goal, crucial late goals to win or cement the game, or at least take a point.
• This is the first season that I can remember when Liverpool almost had as many left-footed goals as right-footed goals. There's Salah, of course, but also a surprising six from Mané and a handful from Shaqiri and Sturridge. And also a higher proportion of headed goals than usual too, with another surprising return from Mané, as well as van Dijk et al. Of course, you're gonna score headed goals with Robertson and Alexander-Arnold crossing the ball.
• Not a ton of prolific assist-scorer combinations this season. Firmino to Salah, Salah to Firmino, and Mane to Salah last season all dwarfed this season's combinations. But I guess that's not surprising when Robertson and Alexander-Arnold are tops in assists, and not only do they rarely if ever score themselves, they spread the wealth; Alexander-Arnold set up nine different scorers, Robertson eight.
It is more than fitting that we end this campaign with a defensive masterclass.
2016-17, 2017-18, Liverpool sides defined by the heights hit in attack. Salah, Mané, Firmino just tearing' shit up. Liverpool sides that were tremendously fun. But Liverpool sides which won fuck all.
That ain't this Liverpool side.
It has been a long process getting Liverpool's defense to the level where an early goal can mean 88 minutes of defensive shell and that defensive shell actually holding firm for said minutes.
Yes, yes, Premier League only, because that's what I've got on-hand, but the Champions League has seen similar. The shots allowed this season have been vastly less threatening, the opposition are putting fewer on-target, and Liverpool's goalkeeper has saved more of them. This shouldn't be news to anyone who's seen Liverpool this season and last.
There's Virgil van Dijk. Alisson Becker. But, again, team. Joël Matip starting the season as fourth choice but finishing with an admittedly half-fit Harry Kane in his pocket. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson, in attack but also at the back. Fabinho. Gomez for the first half of the season, Lovren when fit and needed.
On Saturday, there's Van Dijk's last man tackle on Son's break in the 75th minute. Alexander-Arnold's crucial block on Dele Alli in the 54th minute. Alisson's eight saves, all of them after the 65th minute. Liverpool may well not win without those moments. There are a lot of defensive moments like that we can point to all season long, whether Napoli in the group stage or Barcelona a few weeks ago or etc etc etc.
There have been multiple reasons for the defensive improvement. Here's one.
Otherwise known as the guy who made eight saves between the Tottenham's first substitution and Liverpool's second goal.
And while we've seen the most statistical improvement in the Premier League, Liverpool's defense has been better in the Champions League this season as well. A bit. Just nowhere near as much compared to the league improvement.
I'm more than willing to credit that to the opposition. Liverpool's run last year was easier, even if easier is very much a relative term. The group included a side which ended up seventh in La Liga, a side which finished third in Russia, and the second-placed Slovenian side; the knockout rounds had Manchester City, but also Porto (1st in Portugal) and Roma (3rd in Italy). We had Liverpool's goal-average insanely boosted by 7-0 wins over Spartak and Maribor, but there were more impressive five-goal performances against Roma and Porto.
This year, we had the mega-rich runaway Paris St-Germain, Italy's second best side in Napoli, and Serbian Champions Red Star Belgrade in the group; the German winners, Spanish winners, and Portuguese runners-up in the knockout rounds. No European fixture is truly easy, etc, but that's an awful lot of league winners that Liverpool had to beat to lift this trophy for the sixth time.
There isn't a ton to analyze from Saturday's match because of Liverpool's early penalty. It truly defined the game, and led Liverpool to play quite a bit differently than I expect they would have without scoring in the first few minutes. Had Liverpool's attack played like *that* in a match that stayed 0-0, who knows.
But that penalty also led to a match which demonstrated just how far Liverpool have come at the back. And that's more than good enough for me.
So Saturday was and wasn't in keeping with a lot of what we'd already seen this season. Sure, that was Liverpool's least possession and lowest passing accuracy in a match this season. We saw few dangerous opportunities on the break, no shots or key passes from Mané, probably not helped by a disjointed and not match-fit Firmino. We got far more shots from distance, in proportion and in total, than is usual this season.
It was also very hot, very humid, and there had been three weeks since either team played a competitive fixture, and it showed.
But we got a fairly lucky Liverpool goal and a Liverpool set play goal. An early goal and a late goal. And some very good defending in between. Yep, this season's Liverpool does that.
Liverpool scored first and shut up shop. Tottenham couldn't break through until making substitutions, starting by sacrificing midfield for attack with Moura for Winks, with just six shots for the opening 65 minutes then ten in the final 25, including all eight on target.
But Liverpool had already made its substitutions. Klopp, more proactive than usual in the heat and after a three-week layoff, brought on Origi for the counter that was always coming and Milner for fresh legs and pressing and midfield compactness and experience.
And, yes, Tottenham could have equalized with better finishing or worse goal-keeping. Lucas Moura did have a clear-cut chance, put off-target rather than needing to be saved. We've seen shots from where Eriksen's free kick was taken beat previous Liverpool goalkeepers. Tottenham are a good side and Pochettino's no fool. But Liverpool were prepared for what was coming, planned accordingly, and saw everything out. Unlike the meeting at Anfield two months ago, where Liverpool were pushed back and back and back by Tottenham's changes and were lucky to stay at 1-1 and somehow even got 2-1 at the death. It is good to be lucky, better to be good, and best to be lucky and good.
This Liverpool side did it. Thankfully, because I don't know if I could have taken another "so close, yet so far" moment.
This was Liverpool's fourth final. Losses in the League Cup and Europa League in Klopp's first season, the loss in last season's Champions League. They'd yet to lose in a two-legged European tie, whether 2015-16, 2017-18, or 2018-19. This was the first time that Liverpool had been favored in a final. And Liverpool were coming off a league campaign where they'd scored the third-most points in Premier League history and only finished second. And had three weeks to think about it. Liverpool were in dangerous of becoming 1970s Netherlands at best – bridesmaids rather than brides, remembered for fun sides and beautiful football and not winning with it. And that's seemingly a best case scenario.
But that did not happen.
This Liverpool side deserved far, far more than nearly. This Liverpool side is far, far better than nearly. Promised finally fulfilled. And you can't help feeling that it's only just begun.
It was a game governed and decided by a contentious second-minute penalty. It was a game played in 90º heat. It was a game played 20 days since these sides last played a competitive fixture, because sure let's wait until June. Incidentally, this is the first time that Liverpool have ever played a competitive match in June.
And I do not care, because Liverpool just won the Champions League, for the sixth time in the club's history.
I almost feel bad for Tottenham. We're less than 27 seconds in. Liverpool are in a dangerous position, a chip over Tottenham's back line finding Mané with a modicum of space in the penalty box, albeit wide and deep. So Mané goes for the cross, as Sissoko – who's marking him – has his arm raised, ostensibly directing a team mate. And Mane's cross is off both chest and arm and the arm's in an unnatural position and sure it's a penalty who knows what a penalty is anymore.
Salah scores and it's 1-0 before we've even drawn breath. And from there, Liverpool play accordingly, especially given circumstances with weather and potential fatigue and the fact it's between two sides who know each other as well as two sides can. Liverpool went full Tony Pulis: soak up pressure, look long. This Liverpool, Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool, went full Pulis in a Champions League final.
It worked because Virgil van Dijk and Joël Matip were absolute mountains, especially Joel Matip – who had Kane lurking around him more often than not, even if it was a half-fit Harry Kane.
It worked because Alexander-Arnold and Robertson know how to defend as well as attack. Today's tempo and tenor restricted both in the opposition half, but both did as needed at the other end.
It worked because Alisson made eight saves – all in the final 20 minutes – even if most were routine and all were expected.
It worked because Tottenham's substitutions and alterations didn't affect the match as they did in the previous meeting at Anfield, with Klopp acting first and practically: Origi for Firmino and Milner for Wijnaldum. Meanwhile, Lucas Moura, Dier (because of injury to Sissoko), and Llorente did little to change proceedings. Well, the game became more open as Tottenham threw more and more forward, but Liverpool like it when the game becomes even more.
It worked because a set play finally came off, albeit not until three minutes from time. Van Dijk's shot's blocked, the ball's not fully cleared, and it falls to Origi. Divock Origi, on the left side of the box. Divock Origi, smashing the ball across and past Lloris with his left foot. Divock Origi, who scored with all three of his Champions League shots this season: the first goal in the semi-final second leg, the fourth goal in the semi-final second leg, and the game-killer in the final.
Again, I can't even.
"I can't even" an awful lot with this team. It worked because this team is a damned team. It is a fully oiled, fully organized all consuming machine: from a defense unrecognizable to that of a year or two ago, a still unheralded and underrated midfield that almost always does what's asked of it, that front three, and a surprisingly deep bench when almost everyone's available.
It is a team that nearly broke records in the Premier League if not for one of the most expensive and dominant sides ever. And it is a team that finally won a European final after harshly falling at the previous two hurdles. It deserves this. Every single one of them deserve this. And the more that's to come.
So, Cann Tables. Seasons on the X-Axis, points on the Y-Axis. A way to look at the actual points gaps season by season. Liverpool's points total was really good in 2018-19, especially compared to the rest of the league save one side, compared to the previous couple of seasons, compared to Liverpool over the past two decades and more. I, unsurprisingly, wondered how much.
The above shows the last 24 seasons, the Premier League's history minus the first three seasons, when there were 22 sides in the division.
And it looks as if the league is getting more spread out.
4th place has remained fairly consistent – you need right around 70 points for an almost-assured Champions League place, as it's seemingly always been. But City are putting up record points over the last two seasons, with Liverpool hot on their heels in this one; it's gonna take more to win the league these days. The range between 5th and 17th is getting steadily wider – better sides at the top, fewer truly terrible sides at the bottom. But there has usually been at least one or two hilariously bad relegated teams over the last few seasons – no one to the level of Derby's record low in 2007-08, but consistently one if not two sides below 30 points over the last five-to-ten seasons.
And then there's Liverpool, bouncing their way across the upper echelons of the division. Peaks and valleys.
We're all well aware that Liverpool finished with the highest points total for a second-place side in 2018-19. That Liverpool finished with the third highest Premier League points total ever, behind only City in this season and the last.
What else, what else…
• It's the largest gap between a second and third placed side: 25 points. The previous high was 19 in 2011-12, when the Manchester sides finished even on goal difference with Arsenal leading the trailing pack far behind.
• It is just the fifth time in the last 24 years that the title has been decided by a point or less: 1997-98 and 1998-99, Arsenal over United and United over Arsenal; Chelsea over United in 2009-10; and City over United on goal difference in 2010-11. The gap between 1st and 2nd has been reasonably substantial since: 11 points in 2012-13, two points in 2013-14 (sigh), eight points in 2014-15, ten points in 2015-16, seven points in 2016-17, and 19 points (!!!) in 2017-18.
• Liverpool's average points totals from the last 24 seasons is exactly 69 points. The average points total for 4th place over the last 24 seasons is 68.96. I'm just saying.
• Maybe most meaningfully, this was Liverpool's third largest season-to-season improvement, 22 points better than last season, behind only the 24 gained from 2004-05 to 2005-06 in Benitez' first and second seasons and the 23 in 2012-13, Rodgers' first and second seasons. Incidentally, Liverpool regressed by 14 points in 2006-07 and 22 points in 2014-15.
More like "potentially" most meaningfully, I guess. Because consistency. Consistency is the next step. That and Manchester City.
In a lot of ways, this was very much an end-of-season affair, at least once news of City's goals filtered through. Both sides were below average in shots and Expected Goals. There were a couple of goals from the home side, early and late, to keep the process moving, but nothing truly special.
We've been here before. So let's just go over a few notes we've hit before.
Liverpool is good at crossing and gets a lot of goals from it.
That's 40 goals from crosses – out of 113 in total. Here's a spreadsheet with greater detail.
Liverpool gets a lot of those crosses and assists from its fullbacks. 30 of them, in fact. Well, 30 if we count two Alexander-Arnold non-assists that should have counted as actual assists. Trent Alexander-Arnold – all of 20 years old – set the record for assists from a defender in the Premier League. Andy Robertson merely tied it.
Notice how many of the assists came in the second half of the season.
Liverpool also got a late goal to settle any lingering nerves. Yes, from a cross and full-back assist.
Seven of those 32 goals after the 75th minute were equalizers, with one leveling matters and 11 more with just a one-goal lead, all but making a win certain.
And Liverpool won at Anfield. Again. Unbeaten in the league this season on their own ground, as they were last season. The only loss at Anfield this season came in the League Cup, a 1-2 defeat thanks to Hazard's late goal with a very much changed Liverpool XI.
That's a lot of days.
So, yeah, it's a perfectly fine – and almost perfectly fitting way – to end the league campaign. Except for Liverpool's final standing in the league table.
The campaign did not end the way we'd hoped, but it ended as well as Liverpool could manage. And better than we'd any right to expect. Liverpool did what Liverpool needed to do, again. We saw Liverpool win, again. And hopefully not for the last time this season. Because there are still some important matters to come.
That was a wild 20 minutes, huh? Minutes which didn't have an awful lot to do with this match.
Liverpool ending the season with the title was always unlikely, even going into the final day with a chance. And then Liverpool took the lead here with City at Brighton still level, a near-carbon copy of Wijnaldum's first goal against Barcelona on Tuesday. This time, Alexander-Arnold controls the cross-field pass rather than needing to win it back via press, beats his defender and whips in a low cross, one which is deflected but deflected right to Liverpool's late runner into the box. Sadio Mané this time, his 21st of the league campaign.
And then Brighton scored, or so Anfield thought, the stadium slowly erupting into delirium while the television commentators tried to confusedly explain. And then Brighton did score. Which, holy hell this might actually happen.
Reader, it did not.
City scored right away in riposte. And then again. And then twice more in the second half for good measure. As the Liverpool match went to *whatever*.
City have been doing this for months, but there's still the insanity of the run-in. Phil Foden's first and only league goal in a scrappy 1-0 over Tottenham a month ago. City the worse side at United four days later until all of a sudden they weren't. Agüero's winner at Burnley barely two centimeters over the line two weeks ago, then Kompany's hapax legomenon against Leicester last week. And now responding immediately to conceding on the final day with your rivals already ahead. Responding with fury, with fire and blood.
Manchester City won 14 straight to take the title by a single point. They last dropped points on January 29. I mean, fuck, what are you gonna do? They *sigh* *deep breaths* deserve it. Or bought it. Whichever. Both.
So, yeah, once City scored, this very much became a last-day game. And one coming five days after beating Barcelona 4-0, somehow overhauling an 0-3 by force of will. The team could feel it because the crowd knew it and the team could feel it because their legs felt like lead weights.
So the final 50 minutes were kind of crap. Klopp's hollering, both before and after the interval. At least Liverpool are keeping possession, if sloppy in the final third, until they aren't, with all seven of Wolves' shots between the 36th and 73rd minutes.
But Liverpool did enough, and Alisson came through when needed, denying two clear-cut chances from Jota, to keep Liverpool in front and a 21st clean sheet, winning the Premier League Golden Gloves in his first season in England.
And we finally got another Liverpool goal ten minutes from time, a goal which saw Mané go level with Salah (and Aubameyang) for the Golden Boot and Alexander-Arnold set the record for assists from a Premier League defender. You know the routine: Alexander-Arnold cross, Mané header at the back post after the cross just eludes Salah. A second goal, in the final 15 minutes to thankfully put the match to bed. We've seen a few like them before.
2-0, we're done here, everybody clap and smile and maybe have a sneaky sob.
So we've got Salah, Mané, Alexander-Arnold, Alisson, and Virgil van Dijk – PFA Player of the Year and now Premier League Player of the Year – deservedly earning individual accolades. And we've got Liverpool on 97 points, having lost just one league match all season. A total that's 22 points and two places better than last season's, while still maintaining the remarkable run in Europe.
No side's ever taken 97 points and not won the league. No side's ever gotten to 90 and not won. The gap between Liverpool in second and Tottenham in third is 25 points, bigger than the gap between seventh-place Wolves and relegated Cardiff.
It's not fair. But life ain't either. Plus, let's be honest, it's very on brand.
We'll do more season review stuff in the coming weeks, and we've still got a Champions League Final to look forward to. At the moment, and even believing that's there was damned little chance going into the day, it's hard to encapsulate the contest or the campaign. It's sad now but it was good. Damned good. Incredibly good. Probably the best Liverpool I've seen, regardless of the points tally or how the season ends. And that's still present tense. Because it ain't over yet.
"Football is a funny old game" doesn't come close to satisfying. Football is fucking hilarious sometimes.
Liverpool just beat Barcelona 4-0. In a Champions League semi-final. After losing 0-3 a week ago. Without Mohamed Salah or Roberto Firmino. Or Naby Keïta. With Andy Robertson going off through injury at half time, requiring 33-year-old James Milner to play nearly a full half there. Without Sadio Mané taking a single shot.
Divock Origi – with all of five starts going into this, sent out on loan last season, nearly sent out of loan or sold this January – scored the opening goal and winner. Gini Wijnaldum – with all of three goals going into this game, horrific as a #9 last week, coming off the bench only because Luis Suarez kicked Robertson out of the match – scored the second and third.
You cannot make this stuff up sometimes.
True, a lot of what we saw is what we've seen Liverpool do well all season. The first goal's capitalizing on an opposition mistake. The second's pressing and full-back crosses. The third's a cross. The fourth's a set play.
That's what Liverpool does. That's what Liverpool wanted to do on Tuesday, what Liverpool needed to do on Tuesday. That's how Liverpool have won matches since August.
But as much as 0-3 in the last leg lied, 4-0 in this does.
Two-legged xG map for Liverpool - Barcelona
Both legs were the same story -- not complete dominance like the score suggested, but the home team was better and all the finishing went the same direction. Overall basically even, but that's not what made it a classic. pic.twitter.com/nDdg9BsPxi
Between 1-0 and 2-0, Barcelona had the better chances. Matip's last millisecond tackle on Messi in the 16th minute, denying a near-certain goal. Alisson saving Jordi Alba's clear-cut chance just before the interval and then Suarez's clear-cut chance in the 51st minute. The Brazilian stopped five Barcelona shots on-target; he made just two saves in the last leg.
That said, Barcelona took just eight shots on Tuesday. Lionel Messi took five of them, and created three chances for the others. Being a one-man team is incredibly difficult, even when you're the best player ever. There's precedent for Barcelona's collapse – you could see Roma on every Barca player's face after Wijnaldum's first goal – and it probably doesn't help that seven of Barcelona's starting XI is 30 or older – Messi, Suarez, Pique, Rakitic, Alba, Busquets, and Vidal. Incidentally, both of Liverpool's first two goals started from mistakes from one of those 30-year-olds: Jordi Alba, with a misplayed header to release Mané for the first, pressed out of possession by Alexander-Arnold for the second.
Take your damn chances and you'll probably win the damn game. Force the opposition into more mistakes than you make and you'll probably win the damn game.
Sometimes football's simple. And sometimes man plans and Liverpool laughs.
There's this season's Liverpool. The fucking mentality giants. The side with 30 goals in the final 15 minutes of matches, the most prolific 15-minute period for this side this season. Late winners against PSG, United, Palace, Fulham, Tottenham, Southampton, Newcastle, and now Barcelona – at least kinda sorta, if not technically. The side who's won eight straight in the league to keep pace with a City side that's won 12. The side who'll finish with the most league points in Liverpool history.
And there's Liverpool in Europe.
Liverpool are the only team to have beaten both Barcelona and Real Madrid by four goals in the 21st century.
Once again, we've got full-back assists, two from Alexander-Arnold to go level with Andy Robertson: 11 in the Premier League, 13 in all competitions.
2 - Liverpool are the first team in Premier League history to have at least two defenders provide 10+ assists each in a single campaign (Trent Alexander-Arnold 11 & Andy Robertson 11). Outlets. #NEWLIVpic.twitter.com/2NaayZJAen
Incidentally, ten of Alexander-Arnold's 13 assists have come in the last 14 matches, since his three against Watford at the end of February.
Once again, we've got goals from crosses: both assists from Alexander-Arnold as well as Shaqiri's free kick delivery for Origi's late winner.
We've got set play goals: Van Dijk's opener from a corner, the aforementioned winner from a free kick. Even Liverpool's second could have been classified as one, with just two passes following a throw-in. Those were Liverpool's 22nd and 23rd set play goals of the season;
And we've got late goals. Liverpool winning a match in the last 15 minutes. As against PSG, Everton, United, Palace, Fulham, Tottenham, and Southampton. Four of those have come in the last month and a half.
Once again, we've got Liverpool doing a lot of what Liverpool intended to do, and it's a reasonable amount of good, and it's enough to win. It's Liverpool's eighth league win in a row, to return to the top of the league at least until City host Leicester in a few hours.
But. There was a fair amount of NOT GOOD as well. Almost too much. Thankfully, only almost.
Liverpool conceded twice in a league match, for just the fourth time this season. 1-2 City. 4-3 Palace, 4-2 Burnley, and now this. Which, hey, just four times! But also, it's Newcastle, and three of the four have happened in the second half of the season, with two in the last two months. Against Burnley (15th place) and Newcastle (14th). Not ideal.
Liverpool were out-shot for first time in the league since the 1-1 West Ham draw in early February. This was just the fourth time in 37 league matches that's happened this season, along with this, the 1-2 loss at City, and the 1-0 win over Huddersfield (yeah, your guess is as good as mine).
Divock Origi's goal – in the 86th minute – was Liverpool's only shot after Rondon's equalizer. 40 minutes of action. A tie game, a game you need to win. One shot, from a set play. That's not usually a recipe for winning a match you've given up two equalizers in.
And said winner came from a free kick that Liverpool were fortunate to win, with Fabinho falling under little to no contact, even if he was arguably fouled a few steps before hurling himself to the carpet. And Origi's header went in off Lascelles, on-target but unlikely to beat Dubravaka without the redirection.
That free kick and winner weren't the only times that Liverpool were fortunate. Liverpool were incredibly lucky that Atsu scored in the 20th minute, preventing Alexander-Arnold's dismissal when he handled the earlier shot on the goal line. And that Perez hit the woodwork less than two minutes before Salah scored.
It wasn't the first time Liverpool have been lucky this season. It wasn't the first time that Liverpool have won ugly.
I do not care. By any means necessary.
Liverpool had not won a Premier League away game following a European away game under Jürgen Klopp since this most recent run.
Two losses – bad losses – following Europa League away matches in 2015-16, a late collapse and a thorough B-Team stomping. A draw and two losses following Champions League away matches last season. Three consecutive away league wins following three Champions League away matches this season, over these last two months of Liverpool madness.
It is May 6. There is one game left in Liverpool's league campaign, having already achieved the club's record points total. Liverpool were without Firmino, without Keïta, Salah going off through concussion. Liverpool's starting XI featured seven players who've already got more than 3000 minutes under their belts this season, with Henderson and Fabinho not far behind. I do not care that Liverpool did not dominate. I do not care that Liverpool needed to win ugly. All that matters is that Liverpool won. Again. Back over to you, City.
Liverpool got out-ruthlessed by a team that does what Liverpool does well, and often does it even better. And also has the greatest player of all time.
The game plan wasn't bad. The game plan was surprisingly and satisfyingly bold.
Do you. You're the first or second-best team in the first or second-best league in the world. You've lost just one domestic match all season. You're fighting for the title in your league against one of the most expensively assembled sides ever. You're good at the football. Do you.
And Liverpool tried.
Liverpool had Barcelona on the ropes at the Camp Nou for surprisingly long stretches, both in the first and second halves. You show up at Barcelona and look to take the game to them. You press, you possess. You control distinct periods of the match, especially the first 20 minutes of the first half and first 15 minutes of the second half.
But after Liverpool initially impress, Barcelona wins the ball in midfield, cross-field switch, cross-field switch, full-back cross, full-back assist, attacker goal from close range.
But Barcelona counter-attacks late in the match, 15 minutes remaining, hanging onto a one-goal lead, and gets an incredibly fortunate bounce of the ball. Not just once, but twice. First, Messi's through ball to Sergi Roberto not tackled by van Dijk, the pass squirming towards Luis Suarez. Then, Suarez' shot off the woodwork, falling directly to Messi.
But Barcelona adds gloss with a set play. Albeit a direct free kick, which Liverpool have scored one of this season and Lionel Messi's scored eight, but still. Set play goal with a lead.
All of this feels vaguely and unsettlingly familiar.
Barcelona put five of their 12 shots on-target, compared to four of 15 from Liverpool. Barcelona scored two of three clear-cut chances, with the other off the crossbar to set up their third goal. Liverpool failed to score any of their three: Mané off-target when Robertson's low cross bobbles in front of him not long after Suarez' goal, Milner shooting straight at Ter Stegen not long after halftime, and Salah off the post in the 84th minute, when an away goal would have at least given Liverpool hope.
The smallest margins are punished at this level vastly more than at lower. This is the semi-finals of the Champions League, and Liverpool are up against a side that's won this competition three times in the previous ten seasons and their league in eight of those ten. They have been here before, repeatedly. Liverpool are just beginning to reestablish themselves as regulars.
And also, shit happens. Especially when Lionel Messi is involved.
So, yeah, not great, and not entirely Liverpool's fault. Still, Klopp's two big line-up decisions did not work as hoped.
Bobby Firmino is as close to irreplaceable in this side as anyone. Yes, Van Dijk, Alisson, Salah, but his work rate as the spearpoint of the press, the ability to drop deep to link up play but also create chances in the final third and repeadtedly demonstrate those necessary predatory instincts.
Wijnaldum – and it's not entirely his fault – did few of those things. Here's Gini's 79 minutes of work:
No shots. No dribbles. No tackles. One key pass, an in-box layoff to Milner just after half time.
More specifically, here's Gini's 79 minutes of passing.
There are a reasonable amount of passes received both in the box and in the zone just outside. There are few passes played and no shots taken from said positions. Where did the ball go?
I am not entirely sure why Wijnaldum was preferred to Origi or Sturridge. Pressing? Hold-up and link play in the #9/#10 role? Would either have been more influential? Maybe not. But they've at least played the position before. They're at least attackers. Liverpool rarely thrives with just two attackers; even in matches won without one of the front three – which thankfully doesn't happen often – Liverpool's had that other in Origi, Sturridge, Shaqiri, Keïta, or even Lallana.
So who becomes the third shot-taker? James Milner. Which – and we all love Hamez Thrillner – is welp.
This was the one glaring example of Liverpool not doing Liverpool.
And while Joe Gomez is a better defender than Trent Alexander-Arnold, he also hadn't started a match in five months. It's Gomez who's caught two against one after Vidal's cross-field switch, trying to close down both Coutinho and Alba because Henderson's unable to get back in time, neither able to stop Alba's cross into Luis Suarez for the opener.
Gomez only created one chance: a cross for Mané in the 67th minute, headed off-target. Robertson, with 13 assists this season and an average of 1.3 key passes per 90 minutes, failed to create any. That has not happened often this season. Sure, Liverpool had chances to score – good chances, clear-cut chances, even if not as many as we'd like – but Liverpool's full-backs are usually far more involved in creating said chances. And often to Liverpool's benefit.
But it's not Klopp's fault that Keïta went off through injury in the 24th minute. Henderson helped in certain regard, especially in the right half-space; it was his cross for Mané's first-half clear-cut chance, and he increasingly combined well with Gomez until Semedo came on around the hour mark. But he does not break lines like Keïta, press like Keïta, tackle like Keïta, or get in the box like Keïta.
It's not Klopp's fault that Liverpool put so few shots on-target or failed to convert one of three clear-cut chances, which is an awful lot against Barcelona at the Camp Nou.
And it's not Klopp or Liverpool's fault that Lionel Messi is Lionel Messi, who's now scored 600 goals in 683 games for Barcelona. Which, holy crap.
But this tie ain't over. Roma came back from a three-goal deficit against Barca in the quarterfinals last season, albeit with an away goal going in. Liverpool have won 11 matches this season by a three-goal margin or more. Of course, Barcelona haven't lost by three yet this season, and have conceded three or more just twice: 3-4 Betis and 4-4 Villarreal, with both fixtures featuring a red card.
It ain't gonna be easy. And, honestly, it probably ain't gonna happen. But that doesn't mean it can't. And, often, that's all this Liverpool team needs.
That's what Liverpool can do against a deep but not particularly organized defense.
We complain about deep defenses all the time. Sometimes Liverpool finds a breakthrough because of the magic front three. As against Chelsea or, to a lesser extent, Fulham in the last month. Sometimes it's set plays, as at Cardiff last week. Sometimes it's luck, as with Origi against Everton.
And sometimes that deep defense just isn't good enough.
It's been awhile since we've seen those long poke, prod, and pass sequences leading to goals. We got three of them on Friday. Liverpool's second goal saw 22 passes over more than a minute, the third 12 passes, the fifth 20 passes. Liverpool pushed and pulled Huddersfield around before delivering a stiletto between shoulder blades time and time again.
It wasn't blitzkrieg. It wasn't set plays. It was jab, jab, jab, jab, uppercut. It's nice to be reminded that Liverpool can still do so when the opportunity presents.
Look at how damned open Liverpool players were for the final ball.
Mané probably shouldn't have that much space between center-backs. And maybe get closer to Andy Robertson.
Yep, he's between defenders caught on the back foot again. And maybe get closer to Jordan Henderson.
At least Durm's watching Salah, about to make a run behind in the top left corner, but maybe somebody tell Kongolo that he might need to help here.
Of course, an early goal helps. The last time Liverpool scored in the first minute of a match was in the 5-1 win over Arsenal back in 2013-14, Skrtel hammering in Gerrard's free kick after 50 seconds – another five-goal romp. Scoring after 15 seconds is the quickest that Liverpool have struck in a match since 1984. It's probably not the best way for the worst side in the division to begin a match at Anfield.
And none of this is to take away from Liverpool's overall quality. Both in general play – the complete control of proceedings, the comfort at the back, – and in all five goals, both in chance creation and conversion. And the creation came from more of the same notes we've hit in recent weeks.
Those crosses though; Liverpool have scored 32 goals from crosses by my count so far this season. Assists from fullbacks; 66 of Liverpool's 104 goals in all competitions have been assisted, and Robertson and Alexander-Arnold are responsible of 24 of those 66. 36%, more than a third. Woof. And assists from Jordan Henderson, who's now got four plus a goal in his last 400 minutes. And an opening goal from pressing, thanks to an opponent who actually allowed Liverpool to press in the final third early on.
It was exactly what Liverpool can do, and what Liverpool wanted to do, from the absolute start to finish. Complete control, thankfully reflected in the score line. Assists from Liverpool's top creators, goals from Liverpool's top scorers. Another clean sheet for van Dijk – the newly minted PFA Player of the Year – Alisson, et al, and Lovren coming back into the side without issue. Continued improvement from Naby Keïta – another goal, a better understanding of Liverpool's pressing timing and rhythm, and Liverpool's top tackler with Fabinho rested – and a well-rounded midfield with Keïta both destroying and running from further forward, Henderson in a more advanced role, Wijnaldum more than capable as the #6, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain returning after a year out.
It was as much as we could have hoped for, and almost as good as Liverpool can be, at this point of the season. With two league games left to play and a Champions League semi-final on Wednesday. Unfortunately, it may not be enough.