12 November 2012

Visualized: Liverpool 1-1 Chelsea

Previous Match Infographics: Manchester City (h), Arsenal (h), Manchester United (h), Norwich (a), Stoke (h), Reading (h), Everton (a), Newcastle (h)

As always, match data from Stats Zone and Squawka.

Getting a bit rote by now. Oh look, Liverpool had more passes. Oh look, Liverpool out-possessed Chelsea, with 57% in total, the most for a side at Stamford Bridge since Arsenal in February 2010 (Chelsea won that match 2-0). Oh look, Liverpool drew again, for the sixth time in 11 matches.

What was unusual was that Chelsea took more shots than Liverpool, joining West Brom and Everton as the only sides to register more attempts than Liverpool through 11 matches. On average, Liverpool had taken 7.2 more shots than their opponents through the first 10 matches, with the average raised by egregious totals against Sunderland (draw), Stoke (draw), and Reading (narrow win). But, in a role reversal of sorts, Liverpool and Chelsea had the same number of shots on target – three – with each side scoring from a set play. It was Chelsea's profligacy in front of goal, especially in open play, whether Mata, Hazard, or Oscar, that kept Liverpool in the game in the first half.

Yesterday was the first time this season that Gerrard hasn't registered a shot or a chance created. He'd taken at least one shot in the first ten matches (26 in total), created at least one chance in every match but at Sunderland. In the run up, I'd written about how Gerrard would need to stay disciplined to prevent sloppy turnovers and chances for Chelsea to counter, which he did successfully, even if it compromised his attacking game. The only match where he passed with greater accuracy was against Manchester United, completing 52 of 55 passes, a match where he scored Liverpool's only goal and was far and away the star player (which was necessary after Shelvey's dismissal). It's not coincidence that his most-disciplined, most-diligent matches come against the best opposition; both Carling Cup semi-finals against Manchester City last season spring to mind immediately. Whether he does it against less-fancied opposition, rather than trying to force the game, remains the issue.

Both sides tallied their highest number of tackles so far this season. Liverpool made 27, Chelsea 29; each had averaged 15 tackles through the first ten matches. Only once had either side made more than 20 (Liverpool with 21 against Newcastle, Chelsea with 23 against Arsenal). Enrique was Liverpool's star player in this regard, with seven tackles, while Johnson had five. Ramires and Mikel were Chelsea's top tacklers: the former had six, the latter four (Ivanovic and Azpilcueta also had four). Which is an apt demonstration of each side's respective threat. Chelsea's came from Hazard and Mata on the flanks, having cut inside to great effect all season long. Liverpool's came from Suarez and Sterling running through the middle. Despite Liverpool's wing-backs doing well against Chelsea's wingers, Hazard and Mata still created seven chances, the same total as the entire Liverpool team.

By all accounts, Liverpool were far better in the second half, changing back to its default shape, forcing Chelsea onto the back foot in the final minutes. Which is why it's slightly surprising to see Liverpool's second-half possession total drop so precipitously. Once again, possession doesn't equal potency, no matter Rodgers preferred system. As against Everton, as in Suarez's equalizer against Newcastle, sometimes Liverpool are better without the ball, allowed to utilize Suarez and Sterling's speed on the counter.

The half-by-half passing totals make for an interesting comparison:

Which led to the difference in Liverpool's shots in the first hour compared to the final 30 minutes:

This is not a criticism of Brendan Rodgers or his preferred playing style. It was the return to Rodgers' default formation which led to Liverpool's second half improvement. It is, however, recognition that sometimes it's better to be more direct, that – as we've painfully learned – passing and possession don't always translate into results. Which Rodgers has shown awareness of with the in-game tactical changes against Everton and Chelsea. Liverpool's lone substitution altered the game for the better, Chelsea's two second-half subs added nothing to the side. After early criticism that Rodgers is too formulaic, that he only has one way of playing, there has become a Plan B when Plan A isn't working.

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