Previous Match Infographics: Cardiff (a), Manchester United (a), Southampton (a), Swansea (h), Fulham (a), Arsenal (h), West Brom (a), Everton (h), Aston Villa (h), Stoke (a), Hull (h), Chelsea (a), Manchester City (a), Cardiff (h), Tottenham (a), West Ham (h), Norwich (h), Hull City (a), Everton (a), Fulham (h), Arsenal (a), West Brom (h), Newcastle (a), Crystal Palace (h), Sunderland (a), Southampton (h), Swansea (a), Manchester United (h), Aston Villa (a), Stoke (h)
As always, match data from Stats Zone and Squawka.
FYI: For formality's sake, here's the formation diagram usually included in match reviews.
Just enough firepower to avoid what happened at West Brom, just enough defense and decent tactics to avoid what happened at Hull. It wasn't comfortable by any means, but it's a win, and yes, that's all that matters.
Last week, against a five-man defense, we lauded Liverpool's attack, and – more specifically – Liverpool's shot selection. Nine of Liverpool's 19 efforts, including all six goals, came from prime positions. Yesterday? Just four of Liverpool's 21 shots, with none of them ending up in the net. That's 19%. The only match with a smaller percentage? Liverpool's 1-3 loss at Hull, with just one of nine shots coming from either the six-yard box or the middle of the 18-yard box. Coincidentally, Hull also played five at the back, and Liverpool's only goal that day came from a Gerrard free kick. But even though Liverpool conceded one unnecessary goal yesterday, they didn't make the copious mistakes which plagued that 1-3 loss back in December.
In the six previous matches during this winning streak, Liverpool's percentage of shots from prime positions was 54.5%, 38.1%, 38.1%, 42.7%, 47.1%, and 47.4%. The season-long average prior to yesterday's match was 39.8% of all shots from either the six-yard box or the middle of 18-yard box. Sunderland's defense gave Liverpool very little, but it was also disappointing to see players settle for long-range efforts rather than patiently wait for the gaps to appear, which is what led to Liverpool's first and fourth goals last Saturday.
Liverpool didn't take a shot from inside the box until the second half, Liverpool's ninth attempt of the match. Those first eight in the first half? Six off-target, one blocked, and Gerrard's wonderful free kick. One of eight attempts on-target. Yikes. And Rodgers clearly wasn't happy with it, as Liverpool made much more effort to get into the box in the second half, with nine of 13 second-half shots coming from inside the area.
To a certain extent, it was just 'one those matches.' Both Suarez and Sturridge had multiple efforts that they'd usually put on frame, if not score from. But it also aptly demonstrates the differences between Sunderland's five at the back and Cardiff's.
For all intents and purposes, Sunderland were a "broken team," with eight defenders and three attackers. Cardiff's midfield, with just one holding midfielder, linked play far better; Mutch, getting forward from midfield, was involved in all three goals. Neither Bridcutt nor Cattermole, regardless of the latter's awkwardly shinned strike off the woodwork in the 71st minute, will ever play that way. Sunderland, away from home, were much more determined to park the bus.
And it worked, for a while, to a certain extent. Liverpool had acres of space and hours of time to build play through midfield, but struggled to make any headway at all in the final third – compare the attacking third passes in the last two matches – and all too often settled for shots from distance. The "easier" option. Thanks to Gerrard's free kick and Sturridge's deflected effort – a bit of quality and a bit of luck – it didn't work well enough, but still worked better than most have fared against Liverpool's attack, especially at Anfield. Credit to Poyet, as that's the first time Sunderland had ever played with five at the back under his tenure, and in doing so, defended far better than Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side on Saturday. And gave his team a much better chance of getting something from the game in the dying stages.
Not for the first time this season, Liverpool are in debt to their ability on attacking set plays. Gerrard's free kick was the fifth direct free kick scored this season: three for Suarez, two for Gerrard. Liverpool have now scored 21 goals from set plays this season: exactly a quarter of Liverpool's goals in total.
That's a fairly large amount, and they've often come at crucial times: three set play goals in the 3-3 draw at Everton, the opening goal against Chelsea (even if Liverpool went on to lose that match), the first goal in the mauling against Everton, the first two goals in the mauling against Arsenal. Nine of the 21 set play goals were the first goal scored in the match. 11 of them gave Liverpool a lead, while three were equalizers.
But what set plays giveth, set plays taketh away. Defending them remains a bit of a fright, with Flanagan caught ball-watching for Ki's consolation, and O'Shea with a free header in the 86th minute after evading Skrtel, fortunately steering it off-target. 10 of Liverpool's 39 goals conceded have been from set plays, almost exactly the same percentage as Liverpool have scored from set plays. And once again, we're pointing out individual defensive errors rather than looking at team-wide failure or lauding the opposition's play, even if Flanagan losing Ki doesn't go down as an official 'error leading to a goal' in Opta's statistics.
Finally, it was baffling to see Rodgers use only one substitution, even though Liverpool played four days earlier and have another match in four days' time. Rodgers and the technical staff are far, far, far, far, far more aware of the players' condition than we are, but it was still baffling, with everyone bar Suarez, Henderson, and Sterling (who came on in the 77th minute) seemingly fatigued over the final 15 minutes. Coutinho, Liverpool's man of the match yesterday, completed 90 minutes for just the 13th time in 23 starts this season. And that would explain both Liverpool's drop in tempo in final 30 minutes and Sunderland having the chance to get back into the game.
I'm both curious and nervous to see how the side copes and reacts against Tottenham.