17 October 2011

Chalkboard Miscellany v United

Instead of an in-depth look at a single facet, I thought I'd post multiple chalkboards from Saturday's match, highlighting a couple of predominant themes.


That Zonal Marking mentions this in his weekly league-wide roundup demonstrates how glaring a stat it was. 22 attempted crosses, two successful. Liverpool attempted more crosses in only one other match: 26 against Stoke (seven successful, 19 unsuccessful). Interestingly, it's the exact same total as against Everton, where Liverpool were away from home playing in a different formation with Carroll included. It was an odd strategy to maintain on Saturday with Suarez as a lone striker, matched up against Rio Ferdinand, and demonstrates the necessity of attacking variation. Also, it's worth nothing that Downing accounts for both of Liverpool's successful crosses against United, creating chances for Kuyt and Henderson in the final ten minutes.

United's impotent wingers

United hurt their own cause by leaving Nani on the bench, but Manchester's wingers were utterly silent on Saturday. Park and Young attempted 33 passes combined, fewer than Kuyt (44 of 56) and Downing (35 of 42) completed on their own.

It's hard to overemphasize each's excellent performance on Saturday, primarily in shutting down the opposition. Kelly was more reserved in going forward on the right, using less of the touchline than his counterpart, but both were extremely effective. Enrique, at £6m, is looking like Liverpool's best bit of summer business, and has been the best left back in the league through these eight matches.

Charlie Adam

On the whole, Adam was much-improved. A more-thorough stat line reads: 31/41 passing (75.6%); 31/39 in open play; 3/4 tackles; 1/1 aerial; 1/1 take-on; 4 interceptions; 3 FKs won, 0 conceded. This is what his StatsZone dashboard looks like, with all incidents on one chalkboard.

The defensive statistics are probably more important than the above passing chalkboards. It's the second-most amount of tackles he's made in a Liverpool match (behind five at Arsenal) and the most interceptions. That he won three free kicks without conceding any fouls is also an impressive and heartening change. And that's with Lucas having a sub-par match as the primary holding midfielder.

What the above passing chalkboard shows is Adam in a freer role at its fullest. Relieved of more responsibilities in a midfield with both Gerrard and Lucas (and then Gerrard and Henderson), Adam had his best game for the club. Which is unsurprisingly no coincidence. His other excellent game came at Arsenal, the other match where Liverpool played five in midfield (4-2-3-1). The extra body in midfield meant Adam could actually be free in the free role he's been playing. If he could only do better with his final ball.

Defensive chalkboards

Only the match at Arsenal saw Liverpool attempt more tackles than against United. And no match saw more Liverpool interceptions; again, at Arsenal is the closest comparison, with 17 to 19 against United. Seven of those 19 on Saturday came in United's half – three of which were by Adam.

Relatedly, Liverpool also attempted fewer clearances than in any other match save Stoke. Despite the deep back line, the four defenders were rarely under copious pressure and mainly cleared without hoofing. And that was without Agger and Johnson, Liverpool's two best ball-playing defenders.

On the whole, Liverpool bolstered the defense by subtracting from attack, mainly by creating better balance in midfield. For the second time, Liverpool changed the formation against one of the historic "big four." Unlike against Arsenal, Liverpool weren't able to take advantage of tiring legs, especially without the advantage of an opposition red card. The return of Gerrard and five in midfield made Liverpool more secure, but Liverpool also created fewer chances than usual against United at Anfield and needed a United set play mistake to score. Unfortunately, despite that bolstering of defense, Liverpool still committed enough sloppy errors – one, in fact – to be punished.

Evolutionary progress was also going to be a slow process, and after eight games, Liverpool are still finding the balance between attack and defense, between 4-2-2-2 and 4-5-1. Once they do – and find a way to cut out those defensive errors – Liverpool will be difficult opposition for any side.

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