Previous Match Infographics: Aston Villa (a), Stoke (h)
As always, match data from Stats Zone and Squawka.
To preempt any comments: if it were up to me, yes, Agger would be credited with an assist. But Opta – via StatsZone, Squawka, and Who Scored – decided that Agger's header leading to Sturridge's goal was an attempted shot rather than a flick-on, and called it a blocked shot, giving Agger neither a chance created nor assist. Statistics! Anyway.
Yesterday saw the second-fewest Liverpool completed passes in a league match under Brendan Rodgers. Only the 2-2 draw at Everton had fewer, as Liverpool completed just 241 of 314. Yesterday's 76.25% pass accuracy was the third-lowest of Rodgers' tenure: only 3-2 Tottenham (75.1%) and 1-3 Southampton (74.5%) were lower last season. Liverpool also completed fewer final third passes than yesterday's 62 of 100 in just two matches: 2-2 at Arsenal and 1-3 at Southampton. Losing the passing and possession battle but winning the war should be just fine with everyone after the opposite happened so often in 2012-13, especially when facing opponents like yesterday's.
For the second time this season, if not the third, Liverpool won the match thanks to its defense after Sturridge provided the lone goal. That Liverpool made nearly twice as many successful tackles as United goes a long way in explaining how Liverpool kept a clean sheet, but these two chalkboards also help demonstrate just how thoroughly Liverpool were able to frustrate United.
Just six of 32 United crosses found a target, with only one – from a corner – leading to a chance. Just seven of 22 United dribbles beat a Liverpool defender, including only two of 14 in the final third. Liverpool attempted 40 clearances, including 15 headed clearances, and all were successful. Liverpool protected its box brilliantly, and that's not an adverb I use lightly.
Liverpool's average positions (from Who Scored) in the last three matches shows how much deeper the center-backs played yesterday.
That Agger's average position was deeper than Skrtel's yesterday suggests that the Dane knew he might have to cover in behind had van Persie or Welbeck able to outpace Skrtel. Thankfully, neither were able, which is a credit to Martin after how long he's been out of favor.
Liverpool's defending was especially impressive down its right flank.
Just one of United's successful dribbles came down that side, when Evra sprinted past Coutinho in the 76th minute, eventually leading to Nani's shot on goal. Just one open play cross found a target from that flank, Cleverley in injury time, with Liverpool successfully clearing the second ball, and it was the deepest cross that United attempted in the match. The other 11 crosses from that side of the pitch were either blocked, successfully cleared, or went out for a goal kick.
Liverpool only won 12 of 31 aerial duels in total, but prevailed in nine of the 14 which took place in Liverpool's half. The only aerial duel that United won in Liverpool's box was Chicharito in injury time, beating Enrique to the aforementioned Cleverley cross, which Liverpool subsequently successfully cleaned up. The other four duels which United won in Liverpool's half took place in non-threatening areas of the pitch.
As said after the Villa victory, it's as encouraging to see Liverpool grind out a defensive victory as seeing them coast through a high-scoring romp against sub-standard opponents. That Liverpool all-too-often conceded even when dominant, tossing away two or even three points, was one of last season's worst facets. It was especially disheartening in the matches against sides ahead of Liverpool in the table: four points to Manchester City, two points to Arsenal, two points to Everton, and three, if not six, points to Manchester United. So to do the same to United this season, even if Moyes' tactics marginally helped Liverpool accomplish the feat, is a massive confidence boost.
It's still incredibly early in the season, but we've seen this embryonic trend take place in all three of this season's league fixtures. That bodes quite well.