It may have been two weeks ago now, but I can’t help thinking about the opening twenty minutes of the Reds’ monumental 5-1 victory over the then league leaders, Arsenal. It’s hard to recall a better twenty minutes that Liverpool have ever produced, to be honest.
As I had a spare couple of hours, I thought I’d pull together a few stats and graphics from that fantastic opening period.
The main thing to note is how few passes it took for Liverpool to put four goals past their illustrious guests. Just fifty-one successful Reds passes occurred in the first twenty minutes of the match, meaning that Brendan Rodgers’ men scored a goal every thirteen accurate passes on average; phenomenal!
I recently produced my first passing network diagram for Liverpool’s 3-2 win at Fulham (as you can see here), and so I thought I’d do the same for the opening period of this game.
The location of the players is based on their average position in this period, with the size of the circle representing how many passes they made, and the width of the lines denotes how many passes were exchanged.
I think the main thing you can notice is how uninvolved Mignolet was early on, with all of the defenders far closer to the midfield than the ‘keeper than they were for the match as a whole. Flanagan was also higher up the pitch than Cissokho on average, which isn’t usually the case.
I have also been compiling pass combination heat maps for every match this season (which you can view here), so I thought I’d make a special one for this article, featuring only the passes in the opening twenty minutes.
It’s no surprise to see that Sturridge and Suárez received more passes (fifteen) than the back four combined (fourteen) considering how much attacking the Reds did in this period, and it’s amusing to note that Martin Skrtel scored as many goals as he completed passes in this section of the match!
The efficiency here is bewildering: Suárez made just one pass to Sterling, and Coutinho fed one to Sturridge and both ended up as assists. The number of chances that Liverpool created (eight) means that a goal scoring opportunity was fashioned every 6.4 passes (whilst Arsenal failed to create anything at all in this spell).
There was also a great pass wide in the box which reached Flanagan, whose shot lead to the corner for the second goal. The Reds demonstrated fabulous creativity against what was the league’s second best defence.
The speed with which Liverpool countered was the key for the third and fourth goals. Look at the image below, which shows where Sterling was (bottom of the picture) when the Reds regained possession ahead of his goal.
The young winger is barely level with the edge of the centre circle within Liverpool’s half, yet just six seconds later he had sprinted approximately fifty-five metres to tap in near the goal line. People like Alan Hansen often say pace is the hardest thing to defend against, and Liverpool have an abundance of it in the likes of Raheem Sterling.
That the rest of the match was something of a damp squib doesn’t matter a jot; Liverpool demonstrated that they belong at the top end of the Premier League in just twenty minutes against the leaders. Whether they match this performance again any time soon or not, this one will not be forgotten for a very long time indeed.