11 March 2013

Visualized: Liverpool 3-2 Tottenham

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)

As always, match data from Stats Zone and Squawka.

From last week:
Same old, same old.

More shots, more shots on-target, more passes, more possession, and more chances created, but a demoralizing loss with a handful of defensive errors. Time after time after time.

Oh, wait. This time it happened to Liverpool's opponent. Well then.

I could get used to this.

Also like last week, Liverpool's early opener came from an accurate long pass out of defense, excellent work down Liverpool's left featuring Coutinho, and a sumptuous Suarez finish. And like last week, Suarez's converted at least 50% of his shots. Admittedly, he only took two, which tied his low for the season, set against Chelsea (where he scored Liverpool's lone goal). His increasing ruthlessness has been one of the biggest reasons for Liverpool's improvement – over the last 10 matches, his shooting accuracy is up to 65% and he's converted seven of his last eight clear cut chances. That, more than any other, I could get used to.

This was just the second match of the season where neither Suarez nor Gerrard created a chance. The other? The reverse fixture at White Hart Lane. And Suarez hadn't scored in his four previous matches against Tottenham. Incidentally, I agree that winning a penalty should count as a chance created, and an assist if it's converted. But Opta doesn't do that.

Liverpool's pass accuracy was its low for the season, by some distance, completing just 75.1% of its passes. The only other match where Liverpool failed to complete at least 80% was the 2-2 draw at Everton, with 76.8% accuracy. That match saw Liverpool's low for completed and attempted passes, the only other game where Liverpool failed to make at least 300 successful passes. The only starters to complete more than 80% of their passes were Downing, Gerrard, and Carragher. Insert something about England's inability to develop technical players here.

Spurs had the edge in passing, but the two sides were almost equal in the attacking third; Tottenham's advantage came in passing along the back, often denied easy outs by Liverpool's pressing. And Stewart Downing was perfect in the attacking third, with more passes than any other player while also creating two chances from crosses (of three crosses in total).

Dembele was still Tottenham's most prolific passer despite playing on the right, and also won six of nine dribbles, more than any other player (even more than Saint Gareth of Cardiff). He was heavily involved in the buildup to Tottenham's first, giving Enrique fits before Bale came on to deliver an inch-perfect cross. But almost 80% of his passes came in the first hour, before Joe Allen's entrance added an extra man in midfield and blunted Tottenham's control.

Much has been made of Villas-Boas' preference for high line defending, and while Tottenham caught Liverpool offside six times – double Liverpool's usual average for offsides – Liverpool's tackles and interceptions actually came higher up the pitch. Despite Tottenham's speed, Liverpool pressed effectively throughout the match, and that pressure was what forced Walker and Lloris into the mistakes for Liverpool's crucial equalizer.

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Agger and Allen's pressing forced Dembele backwards rather than allowing him to turn and continue Tottenham's attack. Allen continued charging forward to close down, cutting off Livermore as an outlet, while Suarez and Sturridge pressed the ball, intelligently blocking the angles to Dembele and Vertonghen.

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Which led Walker to choose what he believed was the safest option, or at least, the easiest. And he was wrong, because Downing recognized it immediately, sprinting full speed to put Lloris under pressure, forcing the second mistake to give him the opportunity at an equalizer.

Yes, Tottenham had to make two questionable decisions, two mistakes, for Liverpool to score from that position, a move that began in Liverpool's defensive third. But Rodgers will be immensely pleased with the decision-making, pressing, and group effort which led to those mistakes, especially from his substitute's work in blunting the dangerous Dembele, who had been the hub of much of Tottenham's good play.

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