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), Manchester United (a), Norwich (h), Arsenal (a), Manchester City (a), West Brom (h), Swansea (h), Wigan (a), Tottenham (h)
As always, match data from Stats Zone and Squawka.
How bad was Liverpool's passing yesterday? Compare the starters' season-long accuracy to yesterday's totals (season averages via WhoScored):
Every single player's accuracy was worse – whether marginally worse (Downing, Suarez) or dramatically, horrifically worse (Allen, Sturridge, Jones). Even the substitutes weren't exempt; it's hard to include Henderson as he only attempted six passes, but Lucas' accuracy was 5% lower (83.7% compared to his usual 88.7%).
Southampton's pressing – with 43% of their interceptions and 45% of their tackles in Liverpool's half – as well as Liverpool's unbalanced, overly attacking starting XI both were culprits, but it was also just one of those inconsistent days which have plagued the side all season long, with almost every player involved demonstrably off the pace from the opening whistle. See: Arsenal (h), Villa (h), Stoke (a), WBA (h), among more than a few others. Funny how it seems to frequently happen when Liverpool's confidence is high. Maybe "funny" isn't the right word.
Unsurprisingly, Lucas's entrance at halftime improved both Liverpool's possession and passing totals noticeably. But Liverpool's weren't able to convert that into a meaningful improvement in attack – just two additional shots in the second half, and the same amount of chances created.
Because Liverpool were terrible in the final third for all 90 minutes. They were marginally better in the second half, but there really was nowhere to go but up.
Liverpool's 57 completed passes in the final third were the second lowest total of the season, behind only the match at Arsenal, where Liverpool completed 54 but still scored two goals. And Liverpool only attempted 76 attacking third passes at Arsenal. Liverpool's 53.2% final third accuracy at Southampton was its lowest of the season by a healthy margin. The only match remotely close to that nadir was last week at Tottenham, completing 68 of 116 for 58.6% accuracy. And Liverpool scored three goals. The two matches in the last two weeks are the only two matches all season where Liverpool has been below 63% in the attacking third; the season-long attacking third accuracy is 72.9%.
Those matches at Arsenal and against Tottenham also differed in an even more important way. Two goals in both matches stemmed from an opposition mistake, even if Liverpool had work to do to get those goals. Southampton didn't make any of those mistakes on Saturday.
And at the same time, Southampton were excellent in the final third, dominant in the opening stages, taking an early two-goal lead, and then clinical on the break late in the second half to finally punish an overeager and overexposed opponent. Liverpool may have completed 47 more passes in total than Southampton, but Southampton completed 54 more than Liverpool in the attacking third. Subsequently, Southampton was able to create four more chances and take eight more shots, with 11 on target to Liverpool's five.
Which is a handy segue into Bass Tuned to Red's interesting metric for analyzing a team's efficiency in the final third: accurate final third passes divided by shots on target. Unsurprisingly, Southampton were more efficient than Liverpool yesterday. I implore you to check it out; it's excellent. But first, finish reading this.
The key to Southampton's advantage in attack was the clever movement of the front four. And all four players put shots on target, all four created at least one chance. You can't say either about Liverpool's supposedly impressive front four. Jay Rodriguez had the type of day that often sees Suarez single-handedly decimate sides: a goal and an assist, just two fewer shots than Liverpool took in total. Squawka's heat maps for Lambert, Rodriguez, Lallana, and Ramirez are exceptionally awe-inspiring.
That's the sort of interchanging movement which pulls defenders out of position, which opens up space to operate both for the player on the ball and his cohorts. The sort of interchanging movement we'd seen from Suarez, Sturridge, Downing, and Coutinho/Henderson in comprehensive wins over Wigan, Swansea, and Norwich. Which were wins defined by Liverpool's quick starts, torpedoing the opposition's game plan through non-stop early attack, reaping multiple goals.
From start to finish and from back to front, Liverpool were beaten at its own game on Saturday.