Previous Match Infographics: Stoke (h)
As always, match data from Stats Zone and Squawka.
Quick update on the two new additions to the infographic for this season. If a number is in gold on the shot location and chance creation location charts, a goal came from that location.
The attacking stats, at least in shots and chances created, are the most one-sided in favor of Liverpool's opponent that I've seen in the slightly-more-a-season of doing these match infographics, and by some distance.
Liverpool took fewer than 10 shots in only one match last season: nine at Chelsea in November's 1-1 draw, with Chelsea taking 15. Liverpool hit the target with just one of Saturday's five shots – 20%; they managed a lesser percentage of shots on target in just three matches last season: 0-3 at West Brom, 2-2 against City, and 0-0 against Stoke. But Liverpool scored with that lone shot on target. And Liverpool won.
Every outfield Villa player except Fabian Delph either created a chance or took a shot, including the three substitutes. But only three of Villa's 17 shots were on-target: one was Tonev's long-range chance that was easily smothered, the other two fantastic saves from Mignolet on shots from Villa's most dangerous player. Nine were off-target, five were blocked, and all five of Villa's blocked shots came from outside the box. In fact, 12 of Aston Villa's 17 shots came from outside the box, which is an apt demonstration of how well Liverpool defended on the whole, forcing Villa to resort to low-percentage efforts. Liverpool's defensive shell worked more often than not, and the few times that it didn't, Villa missed their chances or Mignolet came up with the trump card.
Just a glance at Liverpool's passes from the first to the second half is enough to show how the match seesawed after the restart. There wasn't as much discrepancy in Villa's half to half totals, but, unsurprisingly, more of Villa's passes came in dangerous positions in the second half. Liverpool had much, more defending to do in the final 45 minutes, pushed deeper and deeper into its own half – as if we were watching Hodgson's sides at their best (gasp shock horror) – but they mostly succeeded. And when they didn't succeed, there was Simon Mignolet.
Especially impressive was how quiet Liverpool kept Christian Benteke given his start to the season – again, aside from the two dynamic saves from Liverpool's keeper.
Liverpool actually won the majority of Saturday's aerial duels, albeit by a small majority (16 of the 30 contested), but that certainly wasn't the case when Villa beat Liverpool 1-3 at Anfield, when they won 16 of 26, with Benteke responsible for 10 of those aerial wins. And of the duels inside their own half on Saturday, Liverpool won 12 of 18 – 66.7%. Maybe Liverpool aren't as bad in the air as we feared.
Benteke only won five of his 12 aerial duels on Saturday, a far cry from 12 of 22 against Chelsea and 14 of 23 against Arsenal. Agger won 3 of 5, Toure 2 of 3, but most pleasantly surprising was Glen Johnson, who won 6 of 10. Benteke drifted onto the fullback to excellent effect against both Arsenal and Chelsea, but Johnson did a vastly better job nullifying that strategy on Saturday.
By conceding possession in the second half, Liverpool coaxed Villa away from doing what they do best: the long ball counter-attack, forcing them to cut through a packed defense, a thankless chore that Liverpool are all too familiar with. It was admittedly a dangerous strategy; had Mignolet not denied Benteke's 86th minute strike, had Agbonlahor not fired wide when Liverpool failed to clear in the 75th, had Villa taken one of there other numerous lesser chances, we're criticizing Liverpool's failings and Rodgers' surprisingly defensive tactics.
We're not criticizing Liverpool's failings or Rodgers' tactics today.