29 April 2013

Visualized: Liverpool 6-0 Newcastle

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), Southampton (a), Aston Villa (a), West Ham (h), Reading (a), Chelsea (h)

As always, match data from Stats Zone and Squawka.

5-2 Norwich (a), 2-2 Everton (a), 3-2 West Ham (a), 4-0 Fulham (h), 1-3 Stoke (a), 3-0 QPR (a), 3-0 Sunderland (h), 2-2 Arsenal (a), 4-0 Wigan (a), 3-2 Tottenham (h), and 6-0 Newcastle (a).

8 wins, 2 draws, and 1 loss, and an average of 3.27 goals scored per game, when Liverpool strikes in the first quarter of the match. If Liverpool score before 23 minutes are off the clock, Liverpool almost always score more, and Liverpool almost always get a decent result. As usual, Stoke remain something of an exception which proves the rule.

Incidentally, eight of those matches (5W-2D-1L) came away from Anfield.

It helps when it's one of those matches where Liverpool are surprisingly ruthless in front of goal. Between them, Henderson, Agger, and Borini took four shots. And scored four goals. Liverpool didn't put a single second half shot off-target; three goals, two on-target shots saved (one onto the woodwork), and three shots blocked.

Liverpool's 56.25% shooting accuracy is its second best total of the season, only the second match where Liverpool put more than 50% of its shots on goal. Of course, the one better match, where Liverpool's shooting accuracy was 61.11%, was the 1-3 loss at Southampton, which somewhat ruins the argument. Regardless, here's a (rather large, which is why it isn't embedded) table of Liverpool's shots per match this season for comparison. In 14 wins, Liverpool's average shooting accuracy is 35.15%. It's 29.90% in both the 12 draws and the nine losses.

Admittedly, Newcastle's defense made it easier for Liverpool to get those shots. As mentioned in the match review, three of Liverpool's goals came from a blown offside trap, while one started from a giveaway in Newcastle's half when Coutinho and Henderson hassled Ben Arfa off the ball. Newcastle only made nine interceptions, vastly below average for a Liverpool opponent this season (compare that to Chelsea's performance last week, or Reading's the week before), and almost the same number of fouls (14) as successful tackles (15). Debuchy's sending off was no surprise, but that Tiote or someone else didn't walk earlier was.

Meanwhile, Lucas' defense was outstanding. His nine tackles were a high for a Liverpool player this season, and the most he's won in a single game since 2008-09 (and probably his career, although that's as far back as EPL Index's stats go). He also completed 90% of his passes, his highest percentage since the 4-0 win at Wigan, and only Agger made more interceptions on Saturday. It was a vast improvement, in all regards, on his output against Chelsea, Reading, West Ham, and Villa, and a good sign that slowly but surely he's returning to his pre-injury form.

Special mention goes out to Henderson as well, full of running and incredibly efficient when on the left; with Perch and Tiote unable or unwilling to hold their position and Debuchy looking to get forward, Newcastle gave him space and he willingly took it, playing a crucial role in three of the first four goals. All while responsible for marking Debuchy, who subsequently had the second-worst passing accuracy of Newcastle's outfield starters and created zero chances. Then he was dominant on the ball in central midfield after Gerrard went off, a spell highlighted by his outstanding free kick goal. He averaged almost two passes per minute during the 20 minutes he played in the middle, at a time where Liverpool were happy to mercifully kill the game.

Finally, there were just four matches where Liverpool have had less possession this season: 2-2 against City, 2-2 at Everton, 2-2 at Arsenal, and 3-2 against Tottenham. Those, along with the two victories against Wigan, are the only matches where Liverpool has had less than 50% possession. But because of Liverpool's early goal(s), and the way Liverpool – especially Lucas, but team-wide – defended, possession was almost immaterial.

I'm tempted to ascribe some of the lack of possession to Suarez's absence, with Liverpool ostensibly more direct – most evident in the second, fourth, and fifth goals – but, overall, Saturday was incredibly similar to last month's 4-0 win at Wigan. Who, probably not coincidentally, is one of Newcastle's direct challengers in the upcoming relegation scramble.

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