14 January 2013

Visualized: Liverpool 1-2 United

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), West Ham (a), Aston Villa (h), Fulham (h), Stoke (a), QPR (a), Sunderland (h)

As always, match data from Stats Zone and Squawka.

As the possession stats suggest, it really was a game of two halves. Although, as we've painfully learned time and time again, possession stats certainly don't equate to winning performances. So does the shot chart. Just one, Suarez's wild effort following a throw-in, came in the first half. Wisdom added a second prior to United's eventual game winner. And then Liverpool took 11 shots, including Sturridge's goal, after United's second, while the home side managed just three more efforts.

Cleverley and Carrick, two of the three United players to attempt more passes than their Liverpool counterparts, made 64% of their passes in the first half, 44 and 46 respectively. Carrick's drop-off was especially noticeable, with Suarez and Sturridge taking turns dropping deep when United were in possession, giving the midfielder none of the time he had when Allen was the most advanced midfielder. In addition, Suarez playing between the lines forced United's midfielders to pick him up, allowing Gerrard much more freedom to operate. That was the main difference in his night and day performances in the two halves, and it was no coincidence that his interception of a Cleverley pass to Carrick led to Liverpool's goal (as well as actually getting a Liverpool shot on target).

Also, once again, the Reina Passing Theory™ holds true. Reina completed 15 of his 24 passes; 10 were long passes. Liverpool's record when he completes fewer than 20 passes is now 1W-3D-6L and 6W-1D-1L when he completes 20 or more.

Liverpool made 11 more successful tackles than United, but that was partly because United were successful on only 15 of 25 attempted tackles. Lucas, despite going off at halftime, made four of those tackles, surpassed by only Glen Johnson. Taking off Lucas was a surprising decision, despite being on a yellow card. Gerrard hadn't made a single tackle or interception, Allen had made two tackles but no interceptions. It was a surprising decision that worked surprisingly well, although I'm still not sure what it means going forward.

Pity no one made a tackle during the extended stretch leading to the opener. That Kagawa, Cleverley, Carrick, Welbeck, and Evra were able to string so many passes in front of Liverpool's box is criminal. I implore you to go back and watch the sequence (unless you treasure your sanity); watch Downing, Gerrard, Allen, and Wisdom stand off as United players knock the ball back and forth. All four are on the back foot, sucked out of position – mainly by Kagawa's excellent movement – as Evra drifts into space, unable to cut out the cross which travels between five Liverpool players before reaching van Persie. That sort of timidity, which seems to be a reoccurring trend in big games (at least until the opposition score), is primarily what made the first half so infuriating.

However, where United's defense was successful was in stopping Liverpool's take-ons and clearing Liverpool's crosses. Just four of Liverpool's 21 dribbles were successful, none of Liverpool's 11 crosses found a target (nine from open play). Meanwhile, four of United's 15 crosses were met by a United player, including Evra's low cross for the opening goal and van Persie's free kick which led to Vidic's deflected second.


Anonymous said...

based on this can someone please tell me what Wellbeck done to get Man of the Match !?

djmaxwell said...

Great analysis, as usual. Please expand on the Reina Passing Theory™ and maybe give an explanation of why it is so.

Anonymous said...

When Reina's pass completion is low, this is indicative of high pressing working well. Defenders can't find a pass to midfield and therefore pass back to Reina, who often do not have an open player to pass to and must therefore clear, safety first. Basically, high pressing backs the team into a corner and by being forced to clear the ball, Reina's pass completion drops. At the moment, Liverpool are vulnerable to high pressing which disrupts their ability to build from the back, and consequently, cannot control the game. Until Liverpool finds a way past this, more teams will target this obvious weakness. High pressing can be countered by players, the midfield trio in Liverpool's case, moving either back or forward dragging their markers with them and therefore creating space for players to run and receive the ball. For example, Gerrard (DLP) moving up and Henderson (AMC) dropping back, or Gerrard moving up and Lucas running across to receive the ball from one of the FB. Basically, more movement from midfield, quicker ball our of defence. Easier said than done.

nate said...

Yep, Anonymous pretty much answers the Reina Passing Theory question. It's just something I've noticed in the course of doing these infographics.

When Reina has time to complete short passes, to start the attack by laying off to Skrtel, Agger, Lucas, etc, Liverpool usually have a better chance of winning. The likes of QPR, Sunderland, Fulham – and earlier in the season, Norwich and Southampton – have put 10 men behind the ball in order to close down lanes for Liverpool's attack, which ends up allowing Reina, the center-backs, and the deeper midfielders all the time in the world to complete passes. If Liverpool can break down the determined defense, Liverpool will win those matches. But when opponents press Liverpool's centerbacks and deep-lying midfielders, Reina usually has to hoof clear and Liverpool often lose possession. See: Stoke, Villa, and most of the top-half-of-the-table teams, among others.

It's more coincidence than axiom – obviously, there are other variables involved – but it's always better for Liverpool to do the pressing than be pressed by their opponents.

purify said...

Lucas was the right player to sub because he was playing poorly and has neither the form nor fitness to be his old self yet. Adding Sturridge up top and switching to 4-2-3-1 meant Luis was no longer isolated up front, Carrick and Cleverly had to think about what was behind them and couldn't push forward as much, and the match turned decisively to LFC's advantage.

This is the challenge for Rodgers right now: his style of play is not working in midfield, the players don't understand it well enough to play it under pressure, and we don't have the skill to play out of the back as much as he wants. So he can adapt and win, or keep pushing for 10th place until May...