07 November 2011

Speed Kills

Against Swansea, Liverpool started on top, couldn't take advantage of the early dominance, and finished with a draw. Against Norwich, Liverpool started on top, couldn't take advantage of the early dominance, and finished with a draw. Against Stoke, Liverpool started on top, couldn't take advantage of the early dominance, and lost. Against Sunderland, Liverpool started on top, couldn't take advantage of the early dominance, and finished with a draw.

Against West Brom, Liverpool started on top, got the early goal, and saw out the win. Against Wolves, Liverpool started on top, got the early goal, and saw out the win. Against Bolton, Liverpool started on top, got the early goal, and saw out the win.

Sensing a trend?

Each half hour is successively worse, whether in successful passes, attempted passes, passing percentage, or types of passes. The first 30 minutes sees more short passes, more sustained build-up, and many more completions in Swansea's half. The second 30 minutes sees longer passes, quicker build-up from defense out to the flanks, and far less activity in front of Swansea's penalty area. The final 30 minutes continues the regression, with a much more scattered chalkboard and almost 60 fewer passes than in the first half an hour. The passing percentage went from 83.5% from 1-30' to 80.7% from 31-60 to 76.5% from 61-90'.

And 'chances created,' that ubiquitous, quasi-abstract stat, follows the same trend. Liverpool created 15 chances against Swansea, fewer than against West Brom, Norwich, Stoke, and Bolton, but more than in better performances against United, Everton, Wolves, and Arsenal. Almost half of those chances came in the first 30 minutes.

The best chances were those in the first 30 minutes. Carroll's thwack off the crossbar most notably, but Agger's attempts from Adam's corners, Lucas' free header hitting Suarez, and Suarez's shot saved by a sprawling Vorm were also close calls. Comparatively, the second half saw a smattering of blocked shots and Vorm's two late late saves, the one on Johnson's effort more impressive than that on Suarez's.

Unsurprisingly, given how closely the statistics are related, the number of Liverpool shots parallels chances created. 11 in the first 30 minutes (one on target, seven off, three blocked), five between 31-60' (two on target, two off, one blocked), and nine in the final half an hour (two on target, three off, four blocked). That the amount blocked came mostly in the final half hour shows both Liverpool's desperation and Swansea's deep defense, happy to close down the box and settle for the draw.

We're only 11 games into the campaign, but banging the same worn drum is already tiresome in the extreme. Liverpool needs to take its chances when it's on top, and it's almost always on top in the first half.

Patience surely plays a part as well. Liverpool have scored second-half goals in just four of its 11 league matches: against Bolton, United, Everton, and Arsenal. They won three of the four. Two of those four came against 10 men, finally breaking down a resilient, defensive side, both away from Anfield. Which were two of Liverpool's best performances of the season. But those are the exceptions rather than the rule in this short season so far.

We've seen complaints about the formation, complaints about using new signings at the expense of last season's pleasant surprises, and complaints about the defense. All three pale in comparison to Liverpool's attackers – from the sublime Suarez to the disappointing Downing and in-between – not doing their jobs. Having kept a clean sheet in the last two games, the defense (and Lucas) has done its job. Having created eight chances on Saturday (four from set plays and four from open play) – five more than any other player and the most in any LFC match this season – Adam's doing his job. Reina certainly did his job against Swansea, the biggest reason Liverpool left with at least a solitary point. Liverpool certainly weren't anywhere near their best against Swansea, in almost every area of the pitch, but still had the chances to win the game.

Many have understandable doubts about this lopsided quasi 4-4-2 Dalglish prefers, including yours truly, but had Liverpool taken just a few of these frequently-mentioned chances, we'd be joyous, complimenting this strange hybrid formation as after West Brom. And Liverpool would be somewhere in the region of six to nine points better.

But when the first half onslaught fails, the team obviously tightens up, especially in front of its baying home crowd – as against Swansea, Norwich, and Sunderland. Confidence crashes, frustration mounts, and every player becomes noticeably more nervous. Which leads to more ambitious passes, less completed passes, and all the other 'bad' shown in the above chalkboards. And it's tangible for the opposition, leading to fight-backs like Swansea's, like Sunderland's, like Norwich's, and like Wolves almost succeeded in doing.

Take just one more scoring opportunity per game, and Liverpool's not in this situation, and the sky stops falling. It's become a boring mantra. Confidence and converting chances. Confidence and converting chances. Confidence and converting chances. Shantih shantih shantih.


Tom Foolery said...

Shantih, indeed. What more can you say? How many times can we go through this? Why can't we put the ball in the net? Was Andy really worth 35 million?

It really has become a viscous circle this season, one problem exacerbates another, and around and around we go.

Great post, though. The numbers and pictures really drive home the points we already know, deep in our cold, dark, lifeless, hearts.

Peter Elwood said...


I remember countless Liverpool supporter's finding themselves helplessly upset with Rafa in the post-Alonso era because we played a 4-5-1 with mascherano and lucas and it was exceedingly defensive and often we didn't even create chances to score.

WIth this in mind do you think that a 4-5-1 is simply more effective than the 4-4-2 in modern football, or do you think that it depends on the squad? And what aspects do you think the 4-5-1 would improve in contrast to the Dalglish's pass and move 4-4-2 that we were excited about a month ago?