Normally, Soccernet's graphics are infuriating, often incorrect or unhelpful. But comparing the average position of Liverpool's starting XI in Saturday's match to last March's 3-0 win is a perfect encapsulation of the tactical differences between last season's team and the current version.
Click on the image to see it full-size, where the player numbers are actually legible. The underlined players are the outfield starters.
That graphic can be summed up in two words: deeper and narrower.
It's especially evident in the positions of the back four and the "wingers." The center backs are slightly further back; the difference explained by Agger and Skrtel's style of play. The fullbacks are massively further back; last March, both Johnson and Insua spent more time in the opposition half than their own. Cole and Kuyt – ostensibly the wide-men in Saturday's formation – are nowhere near the touchline, compared to Babel and Maxi last year, where I wrote that Liverpool's formation could have been written as 4-2-4, and where the wingers were actually supplemented by attacking fullbacks, especially on the right flank. And yes, Benitez actually used a 4-4-2 in that 3-0 win last March.
Comparing the holding midfielders, Poulsen's basically atop Skrtel as a third center-back, whereas Mascherano's position is close to where Gerrard was on Saturday. Torres is almost 20 yards deeper, just outside the center circle, needing to retreat in an attempt to link with the midfield. Last season, Liverpool had seven starters who spent more time in the Sunderland's half of the field. This season, Liverpool had four. Barely.
All in all, it makes for depressing viewing and confirms lingering suspicions. Hodgson's happier with a deeper defensive line and keeping a narrow, compact shape. Saturday's match was the worst example, but the graphics from the other five matches aren't very different (here's the fixture list; you can go from there to check if you're so inclined). Despite complaints over the previous manager's conservative strategy, these are far more defensive tactics. And so far, it simply hasn't worked in the league. Liverpool's had a very tough stretch of matches to start the season, but six points from six matches is unacceptable, no matter the opposition or off-field problems.