See our previous scout report for context.
What Happened Last Time?
Liverpool won 2-0, had 77% possession and 27 shots on goal. But that really doesn’t tell the whole story of the game. Sure, Liverpool dominated, but Sunderland defended diligently in an organised fashion and really frustrated the hosts. The Lads made 21 tackles and a mammoth 48 clearances, while only seven of Liverpool’s shots were on target; the often overworked Jordan Pickford made just five saves, to put the game into context. Jason Denayer, in particular, did a superb job in marking Phillipe Coutinho out of the game before the Brazilian was forced off with an injury. And if anything, Sunderland created the better chances, with Steven Pienaar and Duncan Watmore wasting great openings.
But Sunderland could only hold out until the 75th minute, when Divock Origi scored what has been described as either a world class goal or a fluke. You can make your own mind up on that. James Milner added a stoppage time penalty to seal the win after a Didier Ndong foul, but it was an encouraging performance despite leaving empty handed.
What Has Happened Since Then?
Since the last encounter between the two sides, Liverpool have won four, drawn one and lost one, scoring 14 goals and conceding seven as they try to keep pace with Chelsea at the top of the table. Since capitulating at Bournemouth and looking shaky against West Ham, Jurgen Klopp appears to have sorted his side out again - evidenced by a four game winning run that includes victories over Everton and Manchester City.
Chelsea’s 13 game winning run has seen them take a six point lead into the New Year, but Liverpool should arguably be closer. Nonetheless, they’re in a fantastic position to have a real go at the title, and they couldn’t have asked for a more welcoming fixture as they look to continue that assault on the top.
So, has anything changed for Liverpool?
In terms of their tactical approach to games, nothing has really changed about Liverpool. And why should it have? Their fluid 4-3-3, for the most part, has worked a treat.
It all starts from the front for Liverpool, with their energetic press looking to push teams back and prevent them from playing out from their own goal. Klopp has continued to select Roberto Firmino in the striker position, resisting any temptation to go with Divock Origi or Daniel Sturridge. While the Brazilian has been in great attacking form, with six goals and three assists to his name, his defensive work has also seen him earn the plaudits. And that’s really been the case for any combination of Liverpool’s attackers: they’re dynamic; incredibly gifted in attack, but also dilligent and hardworking in defence, executing Klopp’s gegenpress to perfection.
In terms of attacking, Firmino’s selection mainly allows others to move into the space that his movement creates. Of course, he’ll sometimes look to go in behind like most strikers, but his main style of play is to drop deeper and drag the opposition’s defence out of position, therefore creating space for the likes of Sadio Mane and Adam Lallana. Liverpool’s front four of Firmino, Mane, Lallana and (the injured) Phillipe Coutinho have combined for 26 goals and 19 assists - their fluid attacking movement is a big reason for this. You’d expect them to have a field day in that respect after watching Sunderland’s defending against Burnley on Saturday.
But with Jordan Henderson set to miss out through injury, Klopp may be tempted to recall Origi and shift Lallana back to a more central position. That really shouldn’t be a problem for them though. Origi has shown that he is more than capable of slotting into this Liverpool side and could even play off the left, allowing Firmino to stay central.
Ordinarily, Henderson would sit deep and dictate the play, flanked by the powerful and energetic duo of Emre Can and Georginio Wijnaldum. This time around, we’d expect Can to play as the deepest of the midfield trio. His 79.9% pass accuracy is significantly worse than Lallana (85.9%), Henderson (87%) and Wijnaldum (88%), but it really shouldn’t make a difference here.
Strengths (Then And Now)
Last time around, we found that Liverpool’s strengths were in keeping the ball (58.2% possession), pass accuracy (83%) shots attempted (18.8 per game), shots on target (7.3 per game) and tackling (19.3 per game).
And nothing has really changed. They’re now seeing 58.5% of the ball and pass with 83.1% accuracy. They’ve also seen a slight increase in tackles per game, now making 19.5.
Their attempts on goal have fallen to 17.4 per game, while they now hit the target 6.1 times per game, but both statistics represent the second best in the league (behind Tottenham). They’ve scored 16 times (including against Sunderland) since then, so it really hasn’t affected their potency in front of goal. In fact, they now score every 7.2 shots, compared to every 7.5 last time around. They’ve also improved their goal per shots on target ratio from every 2.9 to 2.5. And Liverpool still remain the best defensive team in terms of shots allowed per game, with just 7.7
Weaknesses (Then And Now)
We also found that Liverpool had conceded more goals than any other title contender. Since the teams last met, they’ve conceded seven more, taking their total to 21 - now joint worst with Manchester City. Their performances against Bournemouth and West Ham show that they they’re still capable of conceding silly goals, but they’ve allowed just one goal in their last four games, suggesting that they’ve turned a corner.
They also rank as the fourth worst team in terms of winning aerial duels, with just 15.1 per game. Neither Simon Mignolet or Loris Karius have looked comfortable in goal, but Sunderland really lack the height to trouble Liverpool in their own box or in their defensive third. We might win some headers if they decide to play long though. Actually, after Saturday’s debacle, you best just forget that thought.
Only Spurs make fewer interceptions than Liverpool, who make just 10.9 per game. Of course, this is largely negated by their tackling prowess and the fact that they tend to dominate the ball, but we needed something to fill some space. Just give us this one - please.
But really, we’re clutching at straws here. Liverpool are a bloody good team.
Key Player - Adam Lallana
Lallana has been in superb form since Klopp arrived at Liverpool. Sure, he was a good player beforehand, but the arrival of the German has really seen Lallana improve his game and he will surely be in contention for Player of the Year awards come May.
The former Southampton captain’s versatility has been vital to Liverpool this season: equally capable of playing in a midfield trio or as part of Klopp’s attacking trio, Lallana has registered an outstanding seven goals and seven assists. Not bad from just nine shots on target. Four goals and two assists in his last five games mean that the absence of Coutinho hasn’t been felt as badly as it may have been, and you wouldn’t bet against him adding to that total against Sunderland.
- Liverpool are undefeated in their last nine matches against Sunderland;
- Sunderland have lost their last three home league meetings against Liverpool;
- Liverpool have won their last two visits to Sunderland by one goal to nil, with a new signing scoring both time;
- David Moyes has won just one of his last 16 Premier League games against Liverpool;
- Each of Liverpool’s last five Premier League goals against Sunderland have come in the second half;
- A. Beachball once scored for Sunderland against Liverpool.