Previous Match Infographics: Manchester City (h), Arsenal (h), Manchester United (h), Norwich (a), Stoke (h), Reading (h), Everton (a), Newcastle (h), Chelsea (a), Wigan (h), Swansea (a), Tottenham (a), Southampton (h), West Ham (a), Aston Villa (h), Fulham (h)
As always, match data from Stats Zone and Squawka.
There were an awful lot of similarities with the previous match against Stoke. Fewer passes, both attempted and completed, than is usual for Liverpool, while Stoke attempt and complete about half of Liverpool's reduced total. Lots and lots of Liverpool possession, and Liverpool taking more shots and creating more chances.
The main difference? In the match at Anfield, Stoke put just two of its six shots on target, both well saved by Reina. Yesterday, Stoke put five of ten shots on target, three in the back of net. The front four players took a combined six shots: five were on target, three resulted in goals; the off-target shots came from the fullbacks and one of the holding midfielders. At the same time, Johnson, Agger, Skrtel, and Wisdom defended excellently in October, albeit with Crouch playing as a lone striker and Walters on the flank. Conversely, Enrique, Agger, Skrtel, and Johnson defended quite poorly yesterday. Liverpool made fewer tackles in the October meeting (12 to yesterday's 17), but almost twice as many interceptions (17 to yesterday's nine).
Like Şahin in the reverse fixture, Shelvey simply wasn't good enough in the attacking midfield role. Şahin was out-matched physically, not used to English football, let alone Stoke's patented brand of rugby. Shelvey was just a non-factor. One 30-yard shot on target that trickled to Begovic just before halftime, and one chance created through 90 minutes isn't good enough. 74% pass accuracy isn't good enough – the worst of any outfield Liverpool player – especially when that total drops to 60% in the final third. It's a lot easier to criticize with the benefit of hindsight, but all five of Henderson's final third passes were completed, creating two chances in just over 30 minutes. And no, not all of them went backwards or sideways. In addition, Henderson also made two tackles; only Lucas and Enrique made more for Liverpool. I realize he played in a different, deeper role after coming on, and he still has multiple faults in his game – who doesn't in this squad? – but his work rate and ability in possession could have improved Liverpool's ball retention at the business end of the pitch, something dreadfully needed yesterday.
The best visualization of Liverpool's sterility after Stoke's third goal comes in StatsZone's chances created chalkboard. Liverpool created 10 chances before the 49th minute: nine of those chances were passes into the penalty box. The team created half that total in the subsequent 40-or-so minutes, but all five led to hopeful chances outside the box, which Liverpool rarely score from, and of which only Gerrard's 87th minute blast actually tested Begovic. Similarly, nine of Liverpool's 11 shots before the 49th minute came inside the box, but five of the six shots after were from outside the box. After scoring three for the first time in 44 matches, two goals to the "good", Stoke were more than willing to camp out in its own area and let Liverpool frustrate themselves to death. Which Liverpool proceeded to do.
As always with Stoke, much of the match was decided in the air. Surprisingly, Liverpool actually won two more aerial duels than Stoke. But look where they took place. Just eight of 50 aerial duels were in Stoke's half. Kenwyne Jones' aerial presence led to all three Stoke goals: forcing Agger into the awkward header that set up Walters for the first, scoring with a header for the second, and winning the flick-on for the third. As noted in yesterday's review, Jones won 19 of his 32 contested headers, 79% of Stoke's successful aerial duels, and one of the 13 he didn't win somehow led to Stoke's equalizer.
Despite missing the target with six of his seven shots, and only completing one successful dribble of seven he attempted, it's hard to fault Suarez for yesterday's result. He was one of the few who never stopped running, never stopped trying to find the break-through. Unlike some of his attacking cohorts. And, incidentally, finally won a penalty. 40 successful out of 48 attempted was the most passes he's played in a single game, with better accuracy than his average so far this season (83.3% compared to 75.8%). The last time Liverpool faced Stoke, he completed 27 of 36 passes, which is almost exactly his average for the season, while taking three fewer shots – all off-target or blocked – and creating one less chance than he did yesterday. Suarez and Gerrard were responsible for 71% of Liverpool's shots; two defenders each took one, as did Shelvey, Sterling, and Suso. Insert usual *as Gerrard and Suarez go, so go Liverpool, because no one else steps up on a consistent basis* line here. Man, I'm sick of writing that line.