Previous Match Infographics: Manchester United (h), Aston Villa (a), Stoke (h)
As always, match data from Stats Zone and Squawka.
It's no exaggeration to suggest that Coutinho's injury changed the game. Yes, Liverpool have developed a nasty habit of being pushed back in the second half no matter personnel or opposition. Yes, Liverpool have still failed to score after the 37th minute in any league match this season. Yes, Liverpool had gotten lucky with both of their goals. Still, his exit surely exacerbated the decline.
Liverpool created seven chances before the Brazilian went off in the 55th minute – including two outstanding opportunities in the 25th and 53rd minutes – and none after. The side took 10 shots prior but just two after, both speculative at best, despite having conceded an equalizer. Liverpool's passing accuracy before Coutinho's injury was 85% and 79% after, averaging almost five successful passes per minute until the 55th minute, but less than three per minute after.
The attacking third passes tell the biggest, saddest story.
Yikes. Just yikes.
Coutinho, back in his preferred position, had been far more involved to that point than he'd been when deployed on the left in the first three matches. Despite playing less than two-thirds of the match, he completed more passes than in any of the previous fixtures. Even though he didn't record any created chances, he had played a larger part in building up Liverpool's decent attacks than any player not named Jonjo Shelvey. His ball retention and eye for a pass was crucial in Liverpool marginally out-possessing Swansea in the first half, crucial to keeping the home side from breaking through Liverpool's unfamiliar defense.
But even with Coutinho on the pitch, Swansea saw too much of the ball. Swansea's deeper midfielders – Britton, as well as Shelvey in the first half then de Guzman in the second – had far too much time and space, best demonstrated by all the passes Swansea registered in the center of the pitch prior to their second goal. Britton's 94 passes were the second-most by an opposition player since I've begun these infographics, only surpassed by Aaron Ramsey in Liverpool's 2-2 draw at Arsenal last January, the match where Liverpool had the least amount of possession since Rodgers took over. Shelvey rarely had the opportunity to play a full 90 minutes in this position in the league at Liverpool, but he never came close to attempting or completing that many passes in a match while at the club. Press. Someone please press the ball in the middle third. Which sounds like something I was screaming at the television during the second half of the previous three fixtures as well.
Still, I'm certain that Liverpool wouldn't have been so overwhelmed had Coutinho been able to stay on, desperately needing the outlet and cool head that the Brazilian can provide, something Iago Aspas couldn't or didn't provide. This, even more than than spoiling Liverpool's three-match winning streak, is why I'm so disappointed in the two points dropped. It seemingly could have been avoided had Ashley Williams not been so typically cynically brutish, had Coutinho not fallen so awkwardly after the challenge.
While I'm obviously quite hesitant to criticize him, another reason for Liverpool's inability to keep possession was Simon Mignolet. The Belgian's first four matches – especially those against Stoke and Villa – have been fairly strong evidence that a goalkeeper's shot-saving abilities are far, far more important than his distribution. Mignolet's made more saves than any other keeper in the league, having faced more shots than any other keeper in the league. Mignolet attempted more passes against Swansea than in the first three matches, more passes than against both Stoke and Villa combined. And barely 50% of them found a Liverpool player.
That's 15 times that Mignolet failed to keep possession, many when hoofing a low percentage long ball. Admittedly, his task was made even harder by Swansea's pressing in Liverpool's half. This is a marginal criticism when Liverpool are otherwise able to retain possession effectively and when Liverpool win. But it's a bigger problem when the team can't keep the ball for love or money, on the back foot for almost all of the second half. Again.
Finally, I'm amazed that Liverpool recorded just three interceptions. Liverpool had averaged 12.3 in the first three matches this season, averaged 13.8 per match last season. The lowest total we've seen since Rodgers took over had been eight. Yes, one of the three yesterday was by Victor Moses, directly leading to Liverpool's second goal. Still. I have no explanation why the total was so dramatically decreased. Sure, Swansea kept the ball very well, passed very accurately. Liverpool deployed a makeshift defense, and both Gerrard and Lucas were scrambling after Swansea's midfielders, especially after de Guzman came on. Maybe it's no more than an outlier, but baffling nonetheless.