21 October 2013

Visualized: Liverpool 2-2 Newcastle

Previous Match Infographics: Crystal Palace (h), Sunderland (a), Southampton (h), Swansea (a), Manchester United (h), Aston Villa (a), Stoke (h)

As always, match data from Stats Zone and Squawka.

Liverpool put 30.4% of its shots on target against Newcastle, its second-worst accuracy of the season behind only the 1-0 win at Aston Villa, when Liverpool scored with its lone shot on target from just five in total. Prior to yesterday's match, Liverpool had averaged 44% shooting accuracy this season, and one goal for every 8.3 shots. After Newcastle, those numbers have now dropped to 41.2% shooting accuracy – still better than last season's total, mind – and one goal for every 8.8 shots.

And it wasn't for lack of trying. Liverpool took more shots than in any match save the first, at home against Stoke. For the first time this season, every single outfield Liverpool player, including the substitutes, either took a shot or created a chance.

But from Gerrard's penalty until six minutes after Luis Alberto came on for Sakho, every single one of Liverpool's five shots came from outside the box. One was on-target, four off-target. That was the time where Liverpool needed to pull away from the opposition, to kill off the hopes of their depleted opposition. Instead, they conceded a second, and summarily spent the rest of the match chasing a result.

Liverpool finally began working better opportunities after the change in formation and personnel – Sturridge's goal, Suarez's rocket off the crossbar, Sturridge's mishit shot from 10 yards out – but reverted to disappointing speculative efforts in the frantic final 10 minutes. Six shots, with only Suarez's free kick at the death on target, with five of six from outside the box, including the only two shots Newcastle managed to block all match.

Shooting from better positions doesn't guarantee goals, as the missed set play chances for Suarez, Skrtel, Sakho, and Toure in the first half sadly demonstrated. But it gives you a far, far better chances to score than hoping to pull a rabbit from a hat.

Still, it's not as if shooting from good positions was necessarily Liverpool's problem, at least until those final ten minutes. Nine of Liverpool's 23 shots came in the center of the 18-yard box, "Box Central" in the above shot location diagram. Eight of those nine were off-target, including those set play chances from Suarez, Skrtel, Sakho, and Toure, as well as Suarez's volley off the crossbar. Only Gerrard's penalty was on target from that zone. Had Liverpool taken one – just one! – of those eight excellent chances, Liverpool would have deservedly won despite underperforming for long stretches, despite the lingering questions about Liverpool's midfield and the 3-4-1-2 formation. Meanwhile, Liverpool took just one shot in the six-yard box. And scored from that one shot. If there's one thing a 10-man side needs to do, it's defend resiliently, defend deep. And despite allowing those aforementioned chances, despite the two magnificent moves which led to Liverpool's goals, Newcastle did that fairly well on Saturday.

It's these fine margins that often decide matches. Just like at the other end of the pitch. Only four of Newcastle's 14 shots were on target, only two of the 14 came from inside the box. Which, normally, is a recipe for success, will normally win you more matches than you lose or draw. But Cabaye hit a unstoppable, brilliant blast to score the first, aided by Liverpool's inability to close down Newcastle players in the middle of the pitch. Then, the seemingly unavoidable set-play malfunction: both Toure and Skrtel mistiming their leaps, both Sakho and Cissokho caught ball-watching at the back post. Soul killing.

Liverpool profited from these fine margins in its first four matches: Mignolet's saves against Stoke, Villa, and United, Sturridge's ability to take at least one of his few chances, Shelvey gifting Liverpool two goals in the draw at Swansea.

Liverpool weren't great by any means on Saturday, but Liverpool weren't terrible either. Yes, it was against 10 men for more than half of the match, but Liverpool created more chances, played more attacking third passes, and had a higher attacking third pass accuracy than in any other match this season. Two goals will defeat Newcastle in more matches than not this season, two goals will win Liverpool more matches than they'll lose or draw this season.

It was inevitable that those fine margins would eventually swing in the other direction.

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