19 November 2012

Visualized: Liverpool 3-0 Wigan

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

As always, match data from Stats Zone and Squawka.

Only the 2-2 draw at Everton saw fewer passes attempted and completed; Liverpool had less possession against just Everton and Manchester City, another 2-2 draw. City currently top the table, Everton are in fifth. Wigan are 16th.

And yet Liverpool won 3-0.

Liverpool won because a Wigan mistake, combined with Sterling's pace and intelligence, allowed them to take a much needed lead. Liverpool won because Suarez converted both of his shots of target. Liverpool won because another Liverpool player besides Suarez scored for the first time in nearly a month. Liverpool won because of a surprisingly strong left flank, using Enrique in an advanced position; despite having the second-lowest pass completion percentage of any outfield player, he also created the most chances – four; only Suarez, Gerrard, and Sterling have created more in a single match this season. Few players are capable of making that bull run then flawless throughball to set up Suarez's second. Liverpool won because of a determined defense, which allowed just two shots in the penalty box, neither closer than 12 yards out, neither on target.

And Liverpool won because of Brendan Rodgers' 36th minute tactical change, removing Suso for Henderson, shifting the shape of the Liverpool midfield.

Liverpool were better by almost every metric after the alteration.

Most importantly, the change allowed Liverpool to press higher up the pitch, unsettling Wigan before they had the chance to settle into controlled possession – something that multiple sides have done to Liverpool this season (most notably Everton). Just six of Liverpool's 19 tackles came when defending its final third, seven of the 17 interceptions. Comparatively, eight of Wigan's 16 tackles and 10 of its 22 interceptions were in their own final third. In addition, Henderson also gave much more help to Liverpool's other two midfielders, who had struggled to impose themselves to that point.

The passing chalkboards for Gerrard and Allen helps demonstrate how Henderson's presence freed both of them from shackles.

Gerrard had more license to roam, allowed to play closer to goal and take up wider positions without exposing Liverpool's tender underbelly – which has been exposed far too often this season. Allen could concentrate on starting Liverpool's attacks without being the sole focus of Wigan's own determined pressing from Maloney, DiSanto, and Kone.

This isn't to A) blame Suso or B) canonize Rodgers.

The former, despite being almost wholly uninvolved in the passing game, had been Liverpool's most threatening player to that point, with two excellent chances to score the opener. I do hope that Rodgers has a long conversation with Suso at some point this week, explaining the reasons for the change. Suso has never appeared to lack in confidence, but he is just 18 years old, and it can be mortifying to be hauled off so early without an injury.

The latter, until Saturday, has determinedly stuck with two holding midfielders no matter the opposition – to the detriment of Liverpool's attack – ever since Arsenal opened up Liverpool on multiple occasions more than two months ago. And has rarely given Henderson the chance to demonstrate what qualities he brings to the side so far this season.

Regardless, credit where due. Rodgers saw what was lacking and had the audacity to make the substitution so early in the game, not waiting until halftime to shuffle the pack, trusting the side would be smart enough to shift gears without needing the halftime team talk to explain the new system. I'm sure he also remembered the stomach punches that were Gera and Cabaye's goals right before the interval in earlier league matches, goals which knocked Liverpool off its stride and led to either a debilitating loss or regrettable draw.

We saw similarly strong in-game changes against both Everton and Chelsea, changes which helped Liverpool preserve and earn draws in matches they almost certainly would have lost last season. That, as much as a three-goal clean sheet at Anfield, a venue where Liverpool have desperately underwhelmed during this calendar year, is cause for optimism.


Edward said...

Beautiful sights, those graphics. Thanks, Nate.

Seth said...

Very good analysis on the tactical substitution. It was maybe the most confusing moment of any liverpool match for me so far, and you're analysis helps. To be honest though, I still don't fully comprehend it.

At the point when Suso was subbed off, it was confusing as he seemed to me our best player. I also didn't "feel" he was causing the midfield to be overrun. And I see here how the stats improved, but I still don't "remember" the midfield improving when watching the game.

That said, something improved for sure. And I'm glad for the switch.

I think you're definitely right that something about Henderson on improved the other two players in the triangle...but I'm still not sure how it made us attack or link better. Did Henderson come on and take Allen's role -- I don't remember that? Or did him coming on change all 3 roles altogether? Or was it happenstance, Wigan's gift being the trigger point. I almost want to ask myself, what if Henderson had come on for Gerrard (better or worse?).

At any rate, something very interesting happened, and I think it speaks to the transformational promise of having Lucas back. If Henderson can come on and make us better at defense & attack at the same time, than surely Lucas can enhance the midfield to an even greater extent -- if healthy.

For what its worth, I also feel like Suso, central rather than wide, is better. Tough to fit all these exciting players in.