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As always, match data from Stats Zone and Squawka.
Same old, same old.
More shots, more shots on-target, more passes, more possession, and more chances created, but a demoralizing loss with a handful of defensive errors. Time after time after time.
Oh, wait. This time it happened to Liverpool's opponent. Well then.
Granted, much of Wigan's advantage in passing and possession was down to Liverpool's three-goal halftime lead, adding the fourth soon after the interval. Liverpool had no need to stay on the front foot; they intermittently pressed to ensure Wigan never built up sustained, threatening attacks, but rarely strung passes together in attack, looking to quickly release Suarez on the counter when reclaiming possession and see out the victory with a minimum of fuss.
When the game was still in the balance, Liverpool had more of the ball than Wigan, controlling the tempo and tenor in the first half, with slightly more passes and possession than their opponents, especially in the attacking third. The discrepancy in the second half makes the game as a whole look more unbalanced, but it's worth noting that Wigan similarly out-passed and out-passed Liverpool in the reverse fixture, a match that Liverpool didn't seal until scoring three in the second half.
Nonetheless, Saturday saw Liverpool take its fewest shots of the season. The only other match where Liverpool had fewer than 13 was when the side attempted nine at Chelsea. The side had been averaging just under 20 per match prior to Saturday's game.
Liverpool needed just six shots to score four goals against Wigan, adding two more attempts in the final ten minutes, one by Gerrard volleyed well over, the other by Henderson blocked on the line. Compare that to the last league match. Sure, Liverpool scored five against a thoroughly beaten opponent and everyone went home happy, but Liverpool needed 33 to get those five, taking 16 before scoring the opening goal. Otherwise known as twice as many shots as Liverpool took in the entire match on Saturday.
The quality of the chances created admittedly has something to do with it. Three of the four goals came from clear-cut chances, set up by phenomenal play from the chance creator. Still, Liverpool have created three or more clear-cut chances in 11 previous matches this season (via @DanKennett), yet still found a way to lose three and draw two of those matches, held scoreless despite those clear-cut chances in both matches against West Brom as well as Swansea away.
Regardless of the quality of chances, it's safe to assume that matches where Liverpool score on 50% of its shots won't come around very often. Liverpool's previous best was five goals on 16 shots at Norwich; the average number of shots needed to score a goal through the first 27 league matches was 11 shots per goal. It's just as safe to assume that matches where all of Suarez's shots are on target will be almost as infrequent. The only other time it happened this season was in the match at Chelsea, scoring once and putting one other shot on target, and that was also the only match this season where he's taken just two shots.
Three of Liverpool's four goals started in their own defensive third, while the build-up leading to Suarez's direct free kick began with a Gerrard free kick just inside Liverpool's half. All three from open play featured mazy dribbles past Wigan defenders, the first two from Coutinho, the final from Johnson. Each of the three, from start to finish, took no more than 30 seconds.
Coutinho was a revelation, especially in the first 30 minutes. This post on RAWK excellently highlights how he has improved Liverpool's shape in attack. And his threat was also shown in where the majority of Wigan's tackles and interceptions took place. According to WhoScored, 38% of Liverpool's attacks came down the left flank, compared to 35% in the middle and 27% down the right. It's also evident in the goal events: the two that Coutinho assisted down Liverpool's left, one from a central free kick (which came from build-up down the left between Coutinho, Enrique, Lucas, and Gerrard prior to Suarez being fouled), and one from the right created by Johnson.
Meanwhile, Reina was just as crucial at the other end of the pitch with his six saves, which tied his previous high for the season. But that previous high was in the 3-0 win at QPR, with all six fairly routine saves on shots from outside the box. Just two, maybe three of his saves on Saturday were routine, while stops on Boyce and Di Santo were out-and-out remarkable. Not to mention his distribution – often one of his key attributes – leading to the "second assist" for Downing's opener, a perfectly placed long pass to Coutinho to catch Wigan completely off-guard after Liverpool seemingly passed back and forth harmlessly in its own half. That's the Pepe Reina we know and love.
Reina's heroics may have been the main reason Liverpool kept a clean sheet, but the Reds also did well to negate Wigan's most potent threats. Shaun Maloney, ostensibly a forward, attempted 50 passes, but only ten came in the attacking third. Beausejour is frequently key to the Latics' attacks, their top chance creator by some distance. He created three yesterday, but all were within an eight-minute span from the 28th to 36th, that crucial time where Reina kept it at 2-0 before Liverpool scored the game-killing third. Otherwise, Liverpool denied the Chilean time and space in open play, holding him well below his usual number of passes and seeing him withdrawn just after the hour. In fact, Wigan had such little joy down the left that both Di Santo and Beausejour were replaced by the 62nd minute, with Maloney shifting over to that flank (which is where both of his shots came from). In related news, Glen Johnson led Liverpool in interceptions with four, two more than the next closest Liverpool player.