15 September 2012

Liverpool 1-1 Sunderland

Goals:
Fletcher 29'
Suarez 71'

It could have been worse, it should have been better, it was still way too similar to past failings. And it's getting harder and harder to find new ways to write the same exact damn thing every damn time.

You've seen it all before. Rodgers threw a few curveballs with his tactics and selection – Suarez started on the flank for the first time in his Liverpool career, Gerrard played in a much deeper midfield role with Shelvey further forward, Sterling started on the right even though Borini played as the central striker – but it was still same old, same old. Liverpool created a handful of chances, but suffered from poor finishing and a lack of movement. Borini had the two best, intercepting a soft back header and a first-time blast from the top of the box, but shot too close to Mignolet both times. And then, just when Liverpool edged closer to making the breakthrough, Sunderland sucker-punched.

It's no coincidence that Fletcher's goal came at almost the same point of the match as Podolski's did in the previous fixture. Liverpool are too easily torn asunder by counter-attacks, in midfield, on the flanks, and in central defense. At least there was no single scapegoat this time. Liverpool were caught flat-footed after Atkinson played advantage following Gerrard's foul, Gardner beat both Suarez and Johnson when ambling down the flank, Reina missed the low cross, and Fletcher embarrassed Skrtel, getting behind him far too easily to pounce in the six-yard box. It was Sunderland's first shot of the match.

Liverpool struggled its way to halftime, then found increasingly hilarious ways to not score after the restart. It wouldn't be a typical, soul-killing Liverpool match without hitting the woodwork; Johnson cannoned a blast off the crossbar, Gerrard caromed off the outside of the post on an opportunity he'd bury 11 times out of 10 three years ago.

But then Liverpool's savior finally struck. No, not that savior. Well, yes, that savior, but because of a different savior.

For long stretches, Sterling was the only Liverpool player holding up his end of the bargain: running at defenders, eager to take players on, trying to make a difference. He's 17, starting his third Premier League match, and was the only player who didn't disappoint. Finally, one of those crosses after a yet another clever run found its mark, with a generous assist from walking calamity Titus Bramble, blocking Suarez's shot straight back to Suarez. I'm tempted to say he couldn't miss from three yards out, but we all know better. Regardless, after 341 minutes of league action, Liverpool's first goal from open play. It was Liverpool's 19th shot of the match.

But Liverpool couldn't find a second, losing steam after the exertions leading to the equalizer. The lone substitution, Downing for the again-disappointing Borini in the 65th, added little, although that substitution allowed Suarez to move into a central position. Shelvey struck a fierce left-footed effort after running across the top of the box in the 80th minute, but again shot too close to Mignolet. Otherwise, Liverpool couldn't penetrate Sunderland's penalty box, packed with six or seven defenders, and the home side actually had the better efforts in the dying seconds, but McClean and Colback's crosses were wayward, Saha's shot from distance high and wide.

So sure, it could have been worse. We've become accustomed to stronger stomach punches. Sterling impressed, and Johnson saved Liverpool with three or four recovery tackles, even if he didn't do enough to stop Sunderland's goal and shot wastefully far too often. Joe Allen seemed slightly off-color, and that's after completing 103 of 113 passes. Shelvey had impressive moments and reckless moments in an attacking role, while Kelly defended well. Liverpool did dominate for long stretches, and were blessedly patient in their build-up leading to the equalizer, as is the plan, rather than frantically hoofing and hoping. Rodgers' system is taking hold. But, once again, Liverpool's most important players were its biggest disappointments. Moving Gerrard into a deeper role didn't improve his performance and didn't improve Liverpool's midfield balance; Joe Allen still had to try to do the work of two men. Suarez failed to make any impact in a wide role and was again profligate until his point-blank goal, his only shot on target of six in total. Borini was even less influential in his preferred striker position.

Once again, the stats tell a totally different story than the scoreline. Sunderland had 34% possession, attempted and completed 300 fewer passes, and took just one shot from inside the penalty area, its only shot on target. And they scored with that one shot on goal.

Liverpool controlled the ball, created twice as many chances, took three times as many shots (seven on target to Sunderland's one), and attempted and completed twice as many passes in the attacking third and in total. And still drew.

In some ways, that's progress. If not for one mistake, Liverpool wins 1-0. If not for the woodwork or poor finishing, Liverpool wins 3-0. It was an improvement on Liverpool's last away match, and on most of Liverpool's away performances last season.

In other ways, it's massively disappointing, because we've seen similar far too often since the beginning of last season. It can't stay like this forever, can it?

8 comments:

psm said...

Sorry I have been an avid follower of your blog for at least 2 years and I at times have been a bit lazy too write a response despite your fantastic work. However on this occasion I have to say "your wrong". You have not described the game, you have described numbers (statistics). We have a new manager with a good long term plan. But you talk as if he was the manager for 50 plus games. It was a great performance & they were unlucky. In fact they played like they were at home. If Rafa was still here they may just have won but you would come away thinking "wheres the entertainment". I am a realist. I expect LFC to finish between 8th & 10th. Once I can see the progress I have no issues.

Peppersauce

nate said...

Appreciate the kind words about my past work, but I (obviously) disagree with your assertion about the above.

I'm pretty sure I both described the match and listed what I thought were pertinent statistics. It is possible to do both. I never said I blamed Rodgers for the outcome. I never even hinted that I don't expect Liverpool to improve as his system and ideas take hold. Saying that his tactical curveballs, especially in the front-three organization, didn't quite work is nowhere near blaming him for the result, especially since almost everyone's been clamoring for him to play Suarez wide and Borini central.

I actually flat out said that there was progress yesterday. Liverpool's patient build-up and continuing to work within Rodgers' system to get the equalizer was clear progress.

Nonetheless, regardless of my faith in Rodgers and hope for improvement, the match itself and those listed statistics reinforced the notion that Liverpool still suffers from many of the same issues as last season.

Liverpool may have been the better side for long stretches if not the entire match, but it was not a great performance in my opinion. How many times were Liverpool the better side last season, with more possession, "dominating" the opposition only to come away with a draw or loss because they couldn't put the ball in the net. And how often does Liverpool need to be unlucky before it becomes more than luck?

Also, the shot at Liverpool's most successful manager since the 1980s seems somewhat unnecessary.

UnG said...

Nate,

Great analysis as per usual. I just finished watching the match and I don't disagree with anything you said, except you might have been a little harsh on Borini. He is beginning to put himself in the right situations and once he gets to know his teammates, I think the goals will come.

Your comments do make me wonder. If LFC bring in a new manager, overhaul the philosophy, yet still have trouble converting, when does one point at the players (and I'm really talking about Suarez here) and say, "he's is about as creative as they get, but he just can't finish."? I'm not advocating anything here, more just thinking (typing) out loud.

Ivy said...

The problem with Suarez is that he's not an out and out striker. He's a poacher. He puts himself in the right places to clean up spilled balls, errant passes, poor clearances. Sure, once in a while he hits a wonder strike that drops your jaw, and he's creative on the ball and in space, but he functions MUCH better when there is another threat in the box. Borini will improve with exposure and time, but he's not a big enough distraction for defenses yet to create the environment where Suarez thrives. /2cents.

Stephen said...

Gerrard continues to be ordinary. We are playing a VERY young side and, for us to win, he must live up to his wages. He thankfully didn't have a fatal error yesterday but cannot create or score like he used to.

Anonymous said...

Gerrard will retire after next season. His injuries mounted over the last 3 seasons. After his groin surgery he has lost pace dramatically and his overall game looks like that of a 38 y/o. Sadly, we aren't in the running for any world class midfielders. Gaston Ramierez or Sygfulsons sp? the guy who went to Tottenham, would have been great replacements for Gerrard and are young but we let them both go to other teams in Southhampton and are competition in Tottenham.

Who watched Being Liverpoool on Fox last night? I came away thinking Brendan would be a great Assistant Coach but he never a head manager of a world class team. Plus, his house is HUGE! Love that the world is going broke and the EPL is just fine lol

Ryan said...

Suarez is a true enigma. He is at the same time our best threat for goal and the reason we are struggling to score despite so much possession. As others have said, he is not a pure play off the shoulder striker. He is a playmaker, but his decision making lately has been very bad. Several times in the match he received the ball in the box, drew 2 or three defenders to him and had Borini and Shelvey making good runs, but he decided to take on defenders and was dispossessed. I love his brash attitude toward the game, but he simply has to create more goals. He also gets impatient and drops to deep to pick up the ball sometimes, which leaves us very light upfront.

We are passing the ball around nicely, but our buildup play is simply too slow and allows the other team to keep their formation. On the reverse, we see how a quick counter can rip our defense apart at will. The only time we are really dangerous is when we win the ball back in the opposition third.

jonnySingapore said...

3 summers of transfers since Rafa and still the same striker problems.

For Rodgers to decide it was our playing style that is the real problem and not goal scorers is just being blinded by an ideology.

As for the tv program, we really need to know what happened last January and why we didn't get another striker eg Jelavic. What was Comolli playing at, saying our squad was fine.

There's a second reason we didn't win against a pretty ordinary Sunderland (Sunderland have spent continuously for a few seasons now) is because we just made pot shots from outside the box - where the averages are slightly above zero.

So where is this 'patience', where is the coaching in the last 20 yards? Sterling's cross for the goal seemed to be the only real attack on the penalty area in the whole game and Sunderland just went to pieces on it.

Whatever Rodgers is obsessed by, it isn't scoring or working the penalty box. Look at Ferguson, it's the one thing that characterizes his game, work the penalty box from all sides, penetrate and get a short pass/cross in or play for the penalty.

It's astonishing that there seems to be zero work on the last 20 yards. Johnsons's shot off the crossbar wasn't good, it was a waste, just like last season and this season so far.

Rodgers will not achieve anything more than Swansea last season (he has a poor away record too, like Hodgson) - and he will change the entire team to do it too.

In 2 seasons Rafa's boys will be moved on, too old to be given a contract extension.

Mediocrity here we come.