12 September 2011

Have I Mentioned That I Hate Stoke?

30 shots, six on target, six blocked, zero goals. 76% possession to the opposition's 24%. 400 more passes attempted than the opposition. Statistically, it seems impossible.

Obviously, it's not. Because it's happened twice in three years. The above stats are from when Liverpool met Stoke at Anfield in September 2008.

It's almost like looking in a mirror. A filthy, scratched, wicked witch's mirror mirror on the wall.

There are just two notable differences. First, the obvious – Stoke had one more shot in Saturday's meeting: the one on target, the one from the spot. The second is in the unsuccessful passes. Look at the amount of crosses attempted: 49 unsuccessful in '08-09 compared to 19 on Saturday. Saturday's unsuccessful passes were more of the hoofing variety. And that was without Carroll on the field for the majority of the match.

Unsuccessful passes are unsuccessful passes, but at least it's slightly more encouraging to see those unsuccessful passes in the final third rather than booted forward from Liverpool's own half. But that's a small quibble, one already known and overly analyzed.

Liverpool have taken 20+ shots and had more than 70% possession without scoring three times since 2007/08: these two matches against Stoke and the 0-2 loss at Middlesbrough in February 2009. Three out of 229 matches. Enough to suggest it's both a freak occurrence and a credit to Stoke's tactics, as they appear twice on the list of three.

And yet, some in the media seem to want to treat it as the beginning of the end. To wit:

...That may come as a relief to the 60-year-old but for his admirers there may remain concern over his loss of temper, the sense, even, that for the second time in two decades the task of managing Liverpool is proving too great a responsibilty for the club's greatest player.

Beyond the pale backhanded references to Hillsborough aside, it's still inane drivel. Tomkins already fisked this idiocy, as well as an even more moronic 'match report'; there's no point copying his superior work. But the similarities in these articles to the overblown response following "Rafa's Rant" can't be over-looked. So much for bias ending with with Benitez's beheading. As if that should be a surprise. Only lovable Roy earned multiple reprieves from the London mafia. By now, this criticism is a badge of honor.

Again, credit clearly has to go to Tony Pulis. He knows how he wants Stoke to set up, and that stifling set-up works against more than just Liverpool. Were it not for one defensive error from a flat-footed Carragher and a couple of contentious calls, the result could have been reversed. But that's football. It means little, yet at least such a dominating performance without reward came on the road rather than at Anfield. And this year's Liverpool could do much worse than further similarities with the '08-09 version.

Update: Seems fair to link an explanation from the writer of that quoted Hillsborough reference.

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