10 December 2012

Visualized: Liverpool 3-2 West Ham

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

As always, match data from Stats Zone and Squawka.

Liverpool's passing totals have become incredibly consistent in the last four matches: attempting 533 against Swansea, 556 against Spurs, 555 against Southampton, and 535 against West Ham. This obviously means little in terms of results, winning twice, drawing once, and losing once, but the similarity amuses, and demonstrates that Rodgers' side is at least becoming consistent in one regard, no matter the opposition's playing style.

In other "hey look, Rodgers' philosophy is bearing fruit" news, all three of Liverpool's goals stemmed from long passing movements begun in its own half. There were five passes leading up to Johnson's firecracker, eight prior to Cole's equalizer, and twelve before the decisive own goal. Compare that to the goals that West Ham scored: a penalty after Liverpool failed to fully clear Jarvis' cross and an own goal coming on another Jarvis cross after a free kick.

Liverpool made its fewest interceptions in a match this season – just eight. It's hard to intercept a ball when it's constantly in the air. 44 of West Ham's 308 attempted passes were long passes; only three Liverpool opponents attempted more proportionally: Stoke, Sunderland, and Newcastle. Coincidentally, those four teams attempted the fewest total passes against Liverpool. And Liverpool drew all three of those earlier matches, so, hey, progress! Despite conceding twice – more than against any of those other opponents – Liverpool are doing better against direct sides. Both of West Ham's "direct" goals were just as lucky as good, despite the pressure they put Liverpool under in the final 25 minutes of the first half.

Mohamed Diame's passing totals demonstrate that you don't necessarily have to spend a lot of time on the ball to boss the midfield. Which is handy given the manager he plays for, as Sam Allardyce's sides normally don't spend much time on the ball. He used possession well, rarely giving the ball away and at the base of most West Ham attacks, but just 20 passes in 71 minutes is a surprisingly low total.

Even Diame's tackling and interceptions stats weren't exemplary: four interceptions, three of four tackles successful. One notable chalkboard was his take-ons, winning 4/5, equalling Glen Johnson for most in the match. All four came in the first half: three eventually led to West Ham chances, the fourth to a free kick. At the same time, something that doesn't show up in the statistics was how well he hassled and harried Liverpool's midfield, cutting off passing lanes and pressuring Allen, Lucas, and Gerrard with non-stop running, if fewer tackles and interceptions than expected. It was reminiscent of how Abou Diaby ran the midfield when Liverpool lost 0-2 to Arsenal, but Diaby also attempted three times as many passes as Diame. It's absolutely no coincidence that Liverpool's second and third goals came after his departure, and the incredibly busy goal events chart shows that passes leading to both goals went through areas where you imagine Diame would be playing.

The slim margin of victory aptly demonstrates one of football's maxims: there really isn't one "correct" style of play. All that's required is self-belief and playing your style well, whether it's route 1 or short passing possession. Liverpool, with time, are becoming more adapt at Rodgers' playing style, despite the absence of its talisman yesterday. Liverpool are still prone to defensive lapses when confronted with physical, direct, counter-attacking sides, and Liverpool's shooting remains far, far too wasteful – seen in eight of nine shots from the starting front three either off-target or blocked – but there's still evidence of slow, steady progress. Which really is all we could hope for this season.

And, obviously, a little bit of luck, whether in a contentious penalty decision or fortuitous own goal, certainly doesn't hurt.


Anonymous said...

I didn't count, but WHU must have made 15 passes in the lead-up to the shot that won the penalty.

vinnie said...

luck includes injuries too, we were doing very very well until Enrique was stretched off; subsequently, the tide changed back when Diame was stretched off