30 April 2012

Better Performance, Worse Results

Saturday's match was pretty much all the proof we need. It really is all about finishing.

Liverpool have played "better" than they did against Norwich in numerous matches. And it's usually, somehow, led to worse results. Suarez tallied three world-class goals – and that term isn't used lightly – three superlative finishes, each more impressive than the last. Two will probably show up on the end-of-season Top 10 goals list. And that's the sole difference between the comfortable three points and yet another frustrating draw.

Otherwise, it was a fairly pedestrian performance from Liverpool, one which wasn't wholly unexpected given where we are in the season and what's come before. And admittedly, Norwich's poor defending played a role in two of the three goals, if not all three. But aside from those three spectacular strikes, Liverpool were typically profligate: a couple misses from Suarez, Shelvey's header off the bar and bobbled point-blank strike, Downing's right-footed shot smartly saved (not to mention the numerous blind alleys he ran directly down).

As always, statistics provide just a small snapshot, but here's a brief comparison with ten of Liverpool's most disappointing matches where they've played "better" but taken fewer points.

Fewer shots in nine of the ten – on target, off target, and blocked – and less possession in six of the ten. The differences in chances created – yes, that statistic again – is the most conspicuous. That statistic seemingly defined last summer's transfer business; we all remember the ubiquitous chart showing Adam, Downing, and Henderson in the top 10 for Premier League chances created. Well, this is where it's gotten us. And where it's gotten the architect of last summer's transfer business.

According to StatsZone, the source of all of these statistics, Liverpool have created 443 chances this season, an average of just under 13 per match. And have scored just 43 league goals. Which is the fewest in a season since 1776 or something. Liverpool created just eight chances against Norwich and scored three goals. None of those chances were clear-cut, by any definition. The team created fewer chances in just four league matches this season – 0-4 at Spurs, 2-1 at Chelsea, 1-2 at United, and 0-2 at Newcastle. And yet, Liverpool still won handily on Saturday against a side they frustratingly drew with at Anfield.

Yes, Liverpool have had other problems, repeatedly discussed at length here, there, and everywhere. Inconsistent performances, inconsistent tactics, questionable purchases, key players missing for long stretches. Everyone has their favorite scapegoat. Football is rarely explained by a singular success or failing.

Incidentally, Liverpool used a range of different formations and personnel in the above matches. 4-4-2 with Suarez and Carroll, 4-4-2 with Suarez and Kuyt, 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3, even 3-4-2-1. Carroll/Adam/Downing/Henderson have played well/poorly in wins, draws, and losses. Some matches saw egregiously unlucky own goals, egregiously stupid defensive mistakes, and/or penalties not given. Every attacker in Liverpool's line-up has missed chances in multiple matches, often by hitting the five-inch-wide frame of the goal. But when just one player's finishing is clinical – and Suarez was supremely clinical against Norwich – the rest of the attacking statistics don't really matter.

As wonderful as Suarez's match-winning display was, his time at Liverpool shows that we can't depend on it. He's a genius, but – like the rest of the side – an inconsistent genius, made more inconsistent by the audacious tricks he often attempts. He's had more and better opportunities in multiple matches and failed to take them. Against Norwich, his two easiest chances were the two chances spurned: his mis-kick of Downing's cross blocked in the six-yard-box and his chip over the keeper and bar after nutmegging yet another defender. There's a chance this display could prompt a run of form similar to his seemingly ever-present impact when playing for Uruguay, but chances are he remains frustratingly erratic. Similarly, his most-frequent strike partner has been better coming deep to win headers, setting up others rather than seizing on chances of his own. But again, everyone – everyone, everyone, everyone – is guilty of Liverpool's most despicable crime.

This is news to absolutely no one who's watched more than half-an-hour of any Liverpool match this season. I would like nothing more than for the Suarez-Carroll partnership to be dependably prolific, but on eight months of evidence (12 if you go back to last season), it's not happening. That doesn't mean Liverpool should sell either (I've made, and will continue to make Carroll excuses due to his age and Liverpool's set-up for the foreseeable future). But it should ensure that Liverpool's most important business this summer is to find a striker capable of consistently finishing all those created chances.

1 comment :

Waiting For Sterling said...

It seems like if theres anything we learned from that stats it's that we don't just need chance creators. We also need chance convertors. I say we go out and find players that have a high percentage of that.