18 October 2010

On Liverpool Crosses

Yes, the usual Monday post where I complain about the result and Liverpool's current direction, often with accompanying graphics. One would assume I'd quickly run out of grievances, but it hasn't happened yet.

This week it's crosses. Click on the name of the opposition for the relevant Guardian Chalkboard. I figured it'd be better to bury the graphics behind links this time as there's 10 of them involved. This is long enough as it is, and they're not particularly attractive viewing.

Successful: 2
• Cole, Konchesky 1
Unsuccessful: 21
• Cole 6; Konchesky 4; Carragher, Gerrard 3; Meireles, Torres 2; Lucas 1

Successful: 8
• Johnson, Meireles 2; Kuyt, Maxi, Ngog, Torres 1
Unsuccessful: 26
• Johnson, Kuyt 8; Jovanovic 3; Ngog 2; Carragher, Cole, Gerrard, Meireles, Torres 1

Successful: 4
• Johnson, Kuyt 2
Unsuccessful: 16
• Kuyt 5; Johnson 4; Torres, Cole, Meireles 2; Agger 1

Manchester Utd
Successful: 1
• Johnson 1
Unsuccessful: 9
• Johnson, Meireles 2; Agger, Cole, Konchesky, Poulsen, Torres 1

Successful: 4
• Agger 2; Konchesky, Poulsen 1
Unsuccessful: 17
• Gerrard 5; Johnson, Jovanovic 4; Meireles 2; Konchesky, Poulsen 1

West Brom
Successful: 4
• Gerrard 2; Kuyt, Torres 1
Unsuccessful: 10
• Johnson 5; Gerrard 3; Torres 2

Manchester City
Successful: 1
• Agger 1
Unsuccessful: 11
• Gerrard 4; Johnson, Kuyt 2; Agger, Lucas, Ngog 1

Successful: 3
• Johnson, Mascherano, Torres 1
Unsuccessful: 7
• Johnson, Kuyt 2; Agger, Jovanovic, Ngog 1

144 crosses, 27 of them "successful," leading to exactly 2 goals. And honestly, one of those two shouldn't count; the Guardian classifies Mascherano's throughball to Ngog against Arsenal as a cross. I beg to disagree. It's a straight pass down the inside right channel on the ground after an Arsenal giveaway. Which would make the statistic 1 goal out of 143 attempts. That's .7%. Point. Seven. Percent. "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again" really is the maxim of the current regime.

[Update: I should have watched replays of all the goals before posting Guardian's chalkboards as fact. Gerrard's equalizer against Sunderland should have counted as a cross; I don't know why it isn't listed. Maybe because Torres' ball took a deflection, maybe because their stats are faulty. Liverpool charges down the field on the break, Torres beats his man on the right touchline, gets to the byline, and lofts a cutback that's deflected, only to see Gerrard compensate with an excellent header. So let's go back to the original statistic mentioned at the top of the last paragraph: 144 crosses, 2 goals. That's still just under 1.4%, which is still just shy of "absolutely terrible." I'm leaving the above paragraph as a reminder that I need to do my homework, and to warn that while the Guardian's chalkboards aren't always 100% accurate, they still paint a larger picture than we get anywhere else. Carry on.]

Unsurprisingly, the cross count is lower against United (who gave away the middle of the pitch by playing 4-4-2), City (where Liverpool were bossed from start to finish), and Arsenal (down to 10 men for the entire second half). These statistics have been especially bad in the last two matches, where Liverpool needed to chase the game after conceding twice, with more possession after going behind but still struggling to create goals. Despite that increased possession, Liverpool's lone riposte, the consolation against Blackpool, came from a set play. The team wasn't able to luck their way into a goal in such a manner yesterday, which isn't surprising when you compare Everton's center-backs to Blackpool's.

And for further comparison, here's a look at what were arguably Liverpool's worst two games last season: the 0-1 loss at Wigan and the 0-2 loss at Portsmouth.

Successful: 3
• Insua 2; Maxi 1
Unsuccessful: 10
• Mascherano 3; Insua 2; Babel, Gerrard, Kuyt, Maxi, Torres 1

Successful: 3
• Carragher, Dossena, Johnson 1
Unsuccessful: 10
• Gerrard, Johnson 2; Aurelio, Carragher, Dossena, Insua, Kuyt, Torres 1

The 13 crosses in each of those matches made up approximately 3% of Liverpool's total passes. 8% of Liverpool's total passes against Blackpool were crosses; it was 5% against Everton. Those numbers make a difference when the tactic isn't working, especially when it's the primary means of trying to create goals the few times the team enters the opposition's final third.

With "wingers" like Kuyt, Cole, and Maxi and "target men" like Torres, Liverpool simply isn't a team that thrives on crossing. They aren't especially good at making or converting them. Liverpool's best crosser of the ball last season – Emiliano Insua – isn't even on the team anymore. Benitez's system at least compensated for that, with Gerrard in support of Torres and players like Kuyt and Benayoun cutting in as "attacking midfielders" rather than wide-men. Johnson and Insua were the ones who created width and provided crosses, and it was reflected in their assist totals – last season, Insua had six and Johnson had five in all competitions; only Gerrard, Benayoun, and Aquilani (also shipped out) registered more. But, like with the deep backline and man-marking, the way Hodgson's set out his side just doesn't play to its talents. And as we've seen time and time again, there's no Plan B when Plan A inevitably fails. Crosses aren't working? Well, then hoof more of them into the box!

Which is why I'll continue to reiterate that Hodgson needs to go as soon as possible. As I wrote after the Blackpool match, when you make a bad decision, the best way to fix it is to cut your losses before reaching the point of no return.


Andy said...

One thing that I noticed with Cole's crosses in the derby was that he would run into all this space down the left with the ball, stop and then switch to his right foot and cross it in. It gave time for Everton's defenders to catch up.

And with the Reds playing such a deep back line and midfield it's basically a cross going to Torres, plus maybe one or two more Reds, in a sea of defenders.

These tactics are bullshit and it's setting us up to lose from the start

nate said...

And with the Reds playing such a deep back line and midfield it's basically a cross going to Torres, plus maybe one or two more Reds, in a sea of defenders.

This is an important point, one I absolutely should have mentioned, also brought up by James T of Unprofessional Foul (go read it if you don't already; link's on the sidebar) via Twitter. In addition to the problems listed above, Liverpool almost always doesn't have enough attackers in the box to capitalize on crosses.

It's especially pronounced without Kuyt in the line-up, but was a problem regardless. Gerrard did well to head in the aforementioned goal against Sunderland, but against Everton, he came deeper as the match went on, which eliminated him as a presence behind Torres up front, which is where he "thrived" in '08-09 (and to a much lesser extent last season). Almost every cross against Everton was in the direction of Torres, while surrounded by at least two defenders, without any charging midfielders around if the striker was fortunate enough to win a flick-on/knockdown. It's not a recipe for success. Just like most of Liverpool's tactics so far this season.

Matt said...

Not just the quality of the crosses themselves - and not just about the number of attackers available, but positioning. Torres inexplicably tucked in behind defenders countless times yesterday and crosses that did make it to his area were easily dealt with. I can only assume this is a tactical direction, because I have to expect an world-class striker will take up, you know, the appropriate position.