clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Three Players to Watch: Matchday 12 vs. Liverpool

Will this be last chance saloon for Slav?

Liverpool FC v Cardiff City - Premier League Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Oh boy. Just when you thought last Monday’s loss to Huddersfield couldn’t have been rock bottom for Fulham and Slavisa Jokanovic, wait till you get to feast your eyes on this potential performance against one of the contenders for the Premier League title. And trust me when I say that Liverpool have no business taking their foot off the gas in this contest. They’re shocking loss to Red Star Belgrade should be enough fuel to the fire for Jurgen Klopp’s team to run rampant and the fact that Chelsea and Manchester City remain unbeaten in the league only strengthens that point.

When they are at their best, Liverpool continue to fire on all cylinders with a strong and consistent back four, something Fulham have been begging for mercy for, while also relying so much on the attacking trio of Mo Salah, Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino.

If there is one interesting point for Fulham to pay attention to, it is that Liverpool don’t press with the same type of voracity like it has done in seasons pass under the former Borussia Dortmund boss. According to understat, Liverpool have been secnd, second and fourth in each of their first three seasons under Klopp in passes allowed per defensive action. This season, they have fallen all the way down to 15th at 13.43 passes per defensive action. If anything, that is a higher rate than Fulham’s 12.28 and it is the first time under Klopp where that rate isn’t under 10 per defensive action.

If anything, Liverpool rely more so on a midfield block to be able to sniff out opposition buildup play. Whether that tactic is to do with the need to keep bodies fresh after the World Cup or during Champions League play is another subject entirely. The point is, Liverpool are not as “down your throat” in the way they approach every matchday. That isn’t to say that they’e worse as much as they just play differently now. With a defense that is only bettered by Manchester City, it’s okay to get away with playing less aggressively.

That means that Fulham have to revert back to their strength if they are to ever get away with anything out of this game. In otherwards, as they were advertised before this season ever started, Tom Cairney and Jean Michael Seri have to take charge of the midfield and lead this squad with their performances. Otherwise, this will be a miserable day at Anfield that deserves the noon kickoff that was given to us. Here’s hoping Slavisa Jokanovic can leave us with something to take pride in.

Until then, here are the danger men to look out for in today’s fixture.

Mo Salah

All data from whoscored.com

Did you really think I was going to profile anyone else up front? Okay sure, Mané’s six goals so far have been sensational and have kept the headlines of Salah “slumping” to a minimum. But if anything, the Egyptian sensation is still producing at his very best in his age-26 season at an astounding 4.10 shots, 2.29 key passes and 2.29 successful dribbles per contest. His 0.66 expected goals per 90 is a bit lower than the 0.77 rate he delivered last season, but that has more to do with a goal conversion rate that was cut in half more than anything else. Also, who on earth knows if anyone will ever be able to match the 32 goals Salah racked up like he did ever again. It will truly take something special to have that season replicated. But for now, let’s all enjoy what a special player Salah has been to Liverpool. One last thing to note is that his three assists have him on track to record over 10 assists or more for the third straight season in league play: a very underrated skill set that hasn’t been talked about enough.

James Milner

All data from whoscored.com

As I said before these profiles, I personally think Liverpool’s weakness is their midfield as they don’t necessarily rely on a creative force in that area. Sure, they can bring in Xherden Shaqiri and that argument is done and over with, but the Swiss International isn’t a guaranteed starter just yet. If anything, their biggest spark plug over there is the ageless wonder who should still be playing for England.

Simply put, Milner is 32 years old and is somehow getting better. Players his age will go and finish off the rest of his career in MLS, Asia, Australia or the Middle East. Mr. Milner would have none of that as he seeks another Premier League title. With two goals, two assists and a tackle rate still over 3.1 per contest and you’ve get a box-to-box midfielder that is somehow keeping Naby Keita, Liverpool’s top transfer this summer, on the bench. To say that he is one of the more confounding performer’s this season is a real understatement.

Virgil Van Dijk

All data from whoscored.com

Lastly, we take a look at Liverpool’s rock in defense. Before Virgil Van Dijk arrived, Klopp’s back four was a bunch of solid, but never world class pieces that could only take the Reds so far. This time, with so much youthful enthusiasm at fullback and with his center back partner in Joe Gomes, Van Dijk is the coup de gras to a rebuild of the back four that has taken time to gel. Now they are setting the world alight, along with goalkeeper Alisson and his ability to pass from the back. Boy will Aleksander Mitrovic have a real task on his hands beating this rock of a center back, but it will be one of his greatest achievements getting one past him today.