13 September 2010

Why Were Liverpool So Bad Yesterday?

Unsurprisingly, there are innumerable facets of Liverpool's match yesterday that could be criticized. Torres' disjointed performance seems the most repeated talking point this morning, evidently because Jamie Redknapp said so. As if he's some paragon of knowledge. But how many times does the Spaniard have to pull Liverpool back from the brink by himself? And how many times has he done it in the past?

The midfield pairing was another, with marginally more basis in fact. But it's still a somewhat facile argument. It doesn't explain why the attacking players performed so bad, because how the attack performs isn't Lucas and Poulsen's brief. Lucas and Poulsen were Lucas and Poulsen yesterday. Exactly as advertised, if a little sloppier than usual from the Brazilian. Their job was to sit and hold, and both sat and held. Apologies in advance, but this post will be heavy on images from The Guardian's chalkboards: one, because they're one of the best visual uses of statistics and two, because Soccernet's diagrams for this match – especially the average position and heat map – were especially terrible. I'm fully aware these graphics aren't the end-all, be-all of analysis – and all of them focus on passing statistics – but they help illustrate the point.

As said, slightly sloppier than usual from Lucas – I remember those three of those four misplaced passes, and at least two of them led to Birmingham counters. But, as usual, neither were especially wasteful and neither were adventurous in the slightest. And while the pairing obviously hindered the attack, as (sadly) expected, it wasn't the main reason Liverpool failed to score.

That's down to two other facets: Birmingham's increasing willingness to pack the box when Liverpool got a few bodies forward, and the complete and utter inability to create a telling final ball.

I wasn't too upset with Jovanovic's contribution when watching the match, but, in my defense, I also don't expect miracles from him either: a new player, one who's a left-sided forward, not an out-and-out winger. Evidently my lying eyes deceived me. Because that graphic demonstrates the unmitigated disaster in the final third. Liverpool had the ball in some decent positions – and actually won the possession battle 56-44% despite being away from Anfield (according to Soccernet and Sky Sports, but not the BBC for some reason) – but could do absolutely nothing from them.

At the same time, I don't know if Gerrard simply had an off day, wishes he was back in central midfield, cannot play up front with Torres in Hodgson's system, or suffered because of Torres' struggles, but the pairing just did not work yesterday. And while Liverpool looked better after Meireles came on – again, no surprise given how unattacking the Lucas/Poulsen pairing is – Gerrard wasn't much more influential. But at least there were two "midfielders" looking to get forward – whether we're classifying Gerrard or Meireles as a support striker is incidental – although Liverpool were the only team trying to win the game at that point in the match.

Maxi Rodriguez, who I singled out in my match review, wasn't anywhere near as wasteful in the final third, but that's because he didn't even attempt the sort of passes Gerrard and Jovanovic tried.

One pass – one – went into the area. Two more went to the edge of the area. Otherwise, that's a graphic worthy of a right-sided central midfielder – as he was for Argentina at the World Cup – or right back. So much for providing more natural wing play than Kuyt.

Long story short, the attack was as woeful as possible yesterday, and it's been woeful almost all season long. I hate feeling like I'm throwing Hodgson under the bus before he's even fully unpacked – we simply have to support the manager, especially so soon into the season – but it's been a horrifying trend in almost every single game so far. And I've also included this or a similar disclaimer in far too many recent posts.

Hopefully, having Cole back from suspension and Meireles in the team will help remedy the situation, because the front four Liverpool played yesterday could hardly have been worse. I honestly don't know what remedies to suggest as far as different players, as it seems that the tactics are the issue. Would Babel or Pacheco, for argument's sake, really made that much of a difference given what we know about the two and how everyone else played yesterday? Liverpool, for right or wrong, are more focused on defending deep and keeping the shape, as Fulham were last season. Whether that changes as Cole and Meireles come in and as Hodgson settles remains to be seen.


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if it's accurate, and correct me if I'm wrong, but of late it seems that Reds have failed miserably in trying to register a string of 15passes or more successfully, right?

It's just sickening to watch Reds fail to even play any simple 1 touch football, and I long for the day when the ball was stroked around the pitch carefreely, albeit with getting closer towards the opponent's goal in mind.

There's simply not enough prodding being done by our midfielders, and it's as if everyone's waiting for someone else to do something. Ugh.

Birmingham were rock solid, and in the first half, they attacked intently.

As for Reds, I don't even know how to praise them, other than admiring the Captain for bleeding it out for the team, yet again, and this time literally.

The Romanians and Man Utd, back to back, I guess this weekend won't end well huh?

nate said...

No Liverpool didn't string long stretches of passes together. But the diagrams above show who was responsible for the most giveaways in the Birmingham half.

You would have seen similar passing charts from Lucas/Mascherano pairings in the previous two seasons. While that pairing also wasn't attacking enough to compensate for last year's struggles more often than not, games like, say, 4-1 at United proved it wasn't completely useless as long as others compensate. Others didn't compensate yesterday. And again, I think it's as much the manager's tactics as the players involved in a lot of ways.

Also, yes, Gerrard bled for the cause yesterday, and tried to lead from the front, but his passing graphic is also probably the most disappointing in the above post.

nate said...

Also, here's another image I should have included: the "clearances" from the centerbacks – http://i102.photobucket.com/albums/m102/ns0438a/hoofs.png

I'd be more helpful if I could add images to comments, but nonetheless. Let's all say it together. Hoof!

Successful: 2
Unsuccessful: 9

Successful: 8
Unsuccessful: 4

Now, this has more to do with bypassing an unattacking midfield and maintaining less possession than in the past, but still a noticeably bad performance (from one *cough* more than the other).