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), Stoke (a), QPR (a), Sunderland (h), Manchester United (a), Norwich (h), Arsenal (a), Manchester City (a), West Brom (h), Swansea (h), Wigan (a), Tottenham (h), Southampton (a), Aston Villa (a), West Ham (h)
As always, match data from Stats Zone and Squawka.
Tolstoy had the measure of it. Happy results are all alike. Every unhappy result is unhappy in its own way.
Sure, like last week when comparing Liverpool's 0-0 against West Ham to November's 0-0 against Stoke, there are some similarities between Sunday's match and Liverpool's three other scoreless draws. But on the whole, the last two results, while similar in scoreline, played out fairly differently.
Last week, Liverpool were disjointed in attack, with Suarez often stifled and with West Ham tackling everything that moved when Liverpool actually managed to not give the ball away in the final third.
On Saturday, Liverpool played one of its more cohesive away games this season, combining well from back to front despite a lower pass accuracy, creating far more chances, taking far more shots, and putting more of those shots on target. Liverpool looked much more fluent with Sturridge ostensibly on the right this week, provided better balance by Henderson on the left and Coutinho and Suarez's consistent movement through the middle. Liverpool were as potent after switching to 4-2-4, taking almost as many shots in the final 30 minutes as in the first 60 without resorting to more speculative efforts, but the mounting frustration was tangible, a clear feeling of "how the hell haven't we scored yet?" Yes, again. Meanwhile, Reading attacked somewhat similarly to West Ham, reliant on long balls and crosses, but made fewer than half the number of tackles, and took fewer shots and created fewer chances than West Ham despite more possession. On Saturday, Liverpool simply ran into a brick wall of a goalkeeper.
Liverpool have now played 210 consecutive minutes without scoring, have taken 55 shots (20 on target) and created 38 chances without scoring. The former is certainly the team's longest drought in the league this season, and it's safe to assume the subsequent statistics are as well.
Liverpool took more shots in the final five minutes of both halves than Reading took in total, and took the same number of shots in the last 10 minutes of the match as Reading did in the entire match. And put more of those shots on target as well. Fat lot of good it did them, although, again, almost all of the credit for that goes to Alex McCarthy.
Despite the decent overall play, Liverpool's pass accuracy against Reading was its fourth lowest of the season; only Everton (a), Tottenham (h), and Southampton (a) saw worse. Incidentally, two of those three worse performances have come in the last five matches.
It's easy to point to fatigue for Liverpool's woes in the last few matches. And I will, thank you, at least in part.
In the 28 matches through Liverpool's 4-0 win at Wigan, Liverpool averaged 526 attempted passes per match, completing 85.0% of them. It's a small sample size, but in the five matches since – Tottenham (h), Southampton (a), Villa (a), West Ham (h), and Reading (a) – Liverpool have averaged 494 attempted passes per match, completing 78.8% of them. Tottenham are currently 5th, but Southampton are 11th, West Ham 12th, Villa 17th, and Reading 20th. It's not as if Liverpool have faced a murderer's row over the last month.
It's similar for final third passes. Liverpool are averaging around 10 fewer final third passes per match in the last five games, completing 64.3% of them compared to 73.7% in the first 28 games. Fewer and less accurate final third passes are still leading to a similar amount of shots, but Liverpool has averaged 1.2 goals per game over the last five matches; it was 1.9 during the first 28, many of those games played without either Coutinho or Sturridge. Liverpool have averaged 1.6 points per game in last five matches, which is better than the 1.5 points per game average over the previous 28 matches, but remember, that includes the first five matches where Liverpool took just two points in total.
To use one player as an example. Yesterday, Liverpool attempted 19 tackles – again, below its season average – but only 11 were successful tackles. Lucas was responsible for five of the eight unsuccessful tackles, winning just two of his seven. And he also had his least accurate passing display of the season, completing just 74%; his average for the season was 88% going into Saturday's match.
Suarez was much improved compared to his performance against West Ham; it's certainly wasn't evident in scoring output, while he created fewer chances than usual as well, but putting five of his seven shots on target is an outstanding rate for him. But Gerrard and Johnson, among others, were almost as disappointing as Lucas. Liverpool's stars, the players that make Liverpool tick, simply haven't been at their best lately.
It has been a long season, a long season made even longer by a lack of squad depth, especially before the January transfer window. A long season nearing another disappointing end. It's sad to say, but a drop in form shouldn't be all that surprising.