Running game(r)

It’s no secret that I’m a Roberto Firmino fan. I tend to think anyone that has watched Liverpool for the past five years should be, as well, if they know what it is they’re actually looking at. One of the things that Bob does for us is cover a lot more space than a typical striker so that play is linked more easily; the role commonly known as a “false 9.” This isn’t unique to Bob, as both Mo Salah and Sadio Mané also perform this action on the regular. As Jürgen Klopp noted after the Porto game, in many ways “Mo is not an attacker in our system”, as crazy as that sounds. It’s also no secret that Diogo Jota isn’t as good as Bob is in that false 9 role, so as much as I appreciate his significant contributions to our offense, I’m left feeling that our overall performance is often a little lacking with the Portuguese player on the pitch. But one thing I’ve noticed in the last couple games that Diogo has played is that he’s running a lot more. Just like his fellow forwards, he’s showing up box-to-box to dig the ball out and keep the game moving. It’s a more comprehensive knowledge and execution of the game, which should be no surprise from an expert FIFA player. Diogo’s celebration after his first goal was a reference to the fact that he was playing in a FIFA ’22 world qualifier this morning and had to drop out in round 4 in order to make it to Anfield on time for, y’know, the actual football game taking place.

And just because I’m a Bob fan doesn’t mean that I’m not a Diogo fan, especially in a game against a club like Southampton, led by the “Alpine Klopp” (Ralph Hasenhüttl) who likes to approach games in the same way that our actual Klopp does: intense and moving forward. In other words, Southampton likes to run with and past people, which is the greatest invitation the Reds can possibly receive. Instead of grinding away in the opponent’s end, trying to break down a stacked box, we get to run in open spaces because that’s what the Saints are doing. It’s a genuine game of football, rather than a training exercise… even if this one did kind of turn into a training exercise in the second half when we had a chokehold on it and were effectively burning clock for the last half hour. That situation was made possible by the opening brace by Diogo, both of which were created by open, flying football; one off a perfect cutback by Andy Robertson and the other by an equally perfect cross from Mo, both for tap-ins. You know how you set up the perfect scoring play in FIFA, with the opponent’s players looking as ephemeral as the photons that give them life? Yeah. Like that. After that, it was a matter of piling on and keeping the game under control. Credit to the Saints, though, as they didn’t stop running. It’s nice having at least one non-top 6 side in the league that when they state: “This is our style of football and we’re just going to keep playing it.”, said style isn’t a bus-parking nightmare that makes people wonder why they’re watching. It often leads to video game scores (the line “9-0” comes to mind…) but it’s always entertaining. But credit to Liverpool, as well since, for the second week in a row, we took on a solid, Premier League opponent and largely walked them.

Liverpool 4 – 0 Southampton

I say “largely” because Southampton did have chances, despite Caley’s diagram mostly dismissing that possibility. They weren’t big chances, but they were chances. One of them came within the first 30 seconds, as they sprinted down their left side and ended up with a corner. Alisson Becker was also called upon to make a couple nice plays, including one in the first four minutes where he sprinted to the top of the box to deal with James Ward-Prowse and the another when Adam Armstrong went charging in right before the half and only a strong bottom hand from Alisson kept it out. He’s now tied with Édouard Mendy and Ederson with 7 clean sheets in 13 games. I also say “largely” because Soton kind of played into our hands to some degree. They went away from the 3-4-3 on offense/4-4-2 on defense that they’ve been using for most of the season in favor of a 5-3-2; perhaps thinking that the extra width in the back would help them deal with the Reds’ marauding wingers and fullbacks. Uh, no. Hassenhüttl, to his credit, recognized that that was probably not the best idea and switched back to their usual approach at halftime.

Liverpool’s usual approach, in turn has begun to incorporate a lot more one-touch passing, which added to the whole “game on the run” feeling and which sometimes goes awry, but also results in quicker motion up the field and an increase in chances. When Ian Crocker pointed out that Mo had scored 7 goals in 8 matches against Southampton for Liverpool, he also added: “Nothing personal. He does that to everybody.” And that’s been the theme of this season so far, even a point off the top spot. Mo is still the top scorer in the PL with 11, but Diogo and Sadio are now second and third, respectively. Read that again: The top three scorers in the Premier League are all Liverpool players. Mo is also the top assister in the PL with 8, while Trent is second with 7. Those achievements for the Egyptian King tend to follow from 80% pass accuracy in 13 games and 70% shot accuracy. But the star up front for the first half was Diogo:

You can add 70% pass accuracy (23/33) to his name, as well. Wonder if he matches those stats with himself on FIFA? But that’s about producing when given the opportunity. Someone else had a bit of a fire lit under him this week, as well.

This may have been Robbo’s best game this season. There was some weird dissension floating around Twitter about whether he or Kostas Tsimikas should be in the starting slot, given the latter’s excellent play this season and Robbo seemingly fading from some of the fatigue of the summer’s efforts and some injury issues. Much as I love Kostas and his accurate corners, that’s not going to happen. Andy was a terror on the left side today, easily trading balls with Sadio to keep Soton running in circles. He also delivered a perfect free kick onto Sadio’s head for what should’ve been the second goal if the latter wasn’t a couple inches offside (Fair call this time (i.e. no armpit hair), despite breaching my proposed rules change for offside.) He’s also moved ahead of Trent in total PL assists by defenders, with 41, albeit in 57 more games. Trent, of course, got his 40th today by delivering to Virgil Van Dijk:

Watch him defennnnnd and we watch him scorrrre!

That was his first goal since the opening weekend of last season. I don’t cite Virg’s performance very often because it’s all kind of expected. He’s still the best CB in the world and it shows every time he’s on the pitch and every time our opponents try to avoid him, which is almost every game. Among those “best ofs” in the PL this season is Virg with the most completed passes with 994. Sure, our system means a lot of moving the ball around to set up chances, but it’s still somewhat remarkable to see a CB sitting atop the list of mostly midfielders (including Captain Jordan Henderson, who’s eighth with 200(!) fewer.)

What all of this superlative play adds up to is having scored 39 goals in 13 games, i.e. 3 per game, which is insane. It’s also the highest total Liverpool have ever had in the top division at this stage of a campaign. We have more total xG this season than Tottenham and Arsenal combined. This is the eighth time in the PL era that we’ve scored 4 goals in consecutive matches, but it’s also the only season where we’ve done it twice. Yes, we’re still a point off the top with Chelsea having a game in hand, but this squad is doing something special and doing so as we head into the busiest period of the year. Word on the street is that Bob, Curtis Jones, and Joe Gomez are all expected back soon, as well, and that Harvey Elliott may be available before the end of December. Firing on all cylinders? Burying people in goals? Sounds like the perfect time to make the walk across Stanley Park, so that’s what we’re going to do on Wednesday. I want this one like few in recent memory and it has nothing to do with who their manager is.

And now some really important words from our captain:

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