11 November 2013

Visualized: Liverpool 4-0 Fulham

Previous Match Infographics: Arsenal (a), West Brom (h), Newcastle (a), 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.

As mentioned in the match review, it was a match for high-water marks. The most passes attempted and completed, both in total and in the attacking third, under Rodgers. The third highest passing accuracy – 89.6% – bettered in just the two matches against Norwich (90.1% and 90.3%), and the second highest possession average, behind the 1-3 loss against Villa. The second-most shots Liverpool have taken, behind only 35 in the 5-0 win against Swansea. The second-fewest shots allowed, again behind the 5-0 win against Swansea, but it was also the only match where Liverpool's allowed just one shot on target. And it was from outside the box, easily saved by Mignolet with the Belgian barely having to put down his martini and get out of his lawn chair.

Oof. Liverpool are responsible for two of those six: Saturday against Fulham, and last season against Swansea.

Pretty much everything went Liverpool's way, but two facets stood out. First, the importance of an early goal. Liverpool have played 49 league matches since Rodgers took over. When Liverpool score first, Liverpool's record is 21W-3D-2L. It's 2W-12D-9L when Liverpool don't score first, whether conceding an opener or playing out a 0-0 draw (there have been five of those). And if Liverpool's opener comes in the first half, their record is 20W-3D-1L, with the lone loss at Stoke after Gerrard's 2nd minute penalty.

All four of Liverpool's open play shots before the first goal came from outside the box, demonstrating that Fulham's game plan at least kinda sorta worked, for a little while. That deep defense at least forced Liverpool into shooting from marginal positions; after all, only one of Liverpool's 32 shots came from inside the six-yard box. Too bad Fulham's set play defense foiled that strategy. Agger's 1st-minute chance came from a corner, then came Liverpool's opener from a free kick, swiftly followed by a second from a corner. Those goals opened up the game, opened up just enough space for Suarez to conjure a third ten minutes later and a fourth soon after halftime. From 4.4 minutes per shot before the opener to 1.63 shots per minute between Liverpool's first goal and Liverpool's fourth.

Set plays broke the dam wide open. Compare Saturday with Liverpool's 2-2 draw at Newcastle. Liverpool wasted four free headers on set plays – Suarez, Skrtel, Sakho and Toure – between the 20th and 33rd minutes. Had Liverpool taken one of those four chances, especially if it was one of the two which occurred before Cabaye's opener, that match would have played out in a very different manner, a manner which probably wouldn't have led to two points dropped.

The second stand-out was Liverpool's right flank. Johnson and Henderson overwhelmed Richardson and Kacaniklic (then Kasami after halftime). Liverpool heavily targeted that flank, with 47% of its attacks on that third of the pitch, compared to 30% centrally and 23% down the left (via Who Scored). Liverpool often tilt to that side, whether Johnson's playing or not, but Saturday saw the highest discrepancy of the season so far. Johnson to Henderson and Henderson to Johnson were Liverpool's most-frequent pass combinations by some distance; Johnson attempted and completed more passes than any fullback in a single match under Rodgers. 10 of Fulham's 14 unsuccessful tackles were on the right half of the attacking third, and 16 of Liverpool's 24 created chances were from that side of the pitch, although that total includes three corners and the free kick leading to Fulham's own goal.

Cissokho's anonymity widened that gap, but it's comforting to see Enrique complete more passes in 30 minutes than the Frenchman did in 60. For all his faults, he'll ensure that Liverpool aren't always so one-sided. Not that it matters much when Liverpool's one side is so potent, against a side that's almost wholly impotent.

Johnson makes a massive difference to Liverpool's attacking prowess, especially in matches where Liverpool pour forward at will, but credit to Henderson as well, arguably the man of the match while playing on the right of a 4-2-2-2, with his second-highest passing total under Rodgers despite starting out wide, creating more chances than any player but Suarez, tallying a wonderful assist for Liverpool's third, and pressing Richardson into the mistake that led to Liverpool's fourth.

Liverpool's formation was most easily described as 4-2-2-2, but Henderson and Coutinho are hardly wide players. Both cut inside early and often, allowing Liverpool to overwhelm Fulham's midfield, retain near-constant possession, and make space for the fullback(s) bombing forward. They dragged defenders out of position, creating room for the more-than-mobile Suarez and Sturridge to operate. It might not be the formation of choice when Liverpool faces stronger opposition, but it worked incredibly well against Saturday's opposition.

But yes, Fulham made it fairly easy for Liverpool, barely attacking when the score was level, easily breached on two set plays, then sitting back in half-hearted damage control once Liverpool assumed an unassailable lead. None of Fulham's tackles and just one of their interceptions – barely – came in Liverpool's half, allowing Mignolet to complete 16 of 18 passes. Not every side can press like Southampton, Swansea, or Arsenal, but Fulham didn't even try. Liverpool still have a fair few flaws, but cutting open a packed parked bus defense usually hasn't been one of them since Sturridge and Coutinho signed.

Meanwhile, eight of Liverpool's 25 tackles – including one from Henderson which led to the fourth goal – and four of Liverpool's 13 interceptions came in Fulham's half, many of them on that crucial right flank. Pressing makes a massive difference, whether it's early in the match when the scores are level or when you're already three up in the 54th minute. This Liverpool front six, to a man, can be very, very good at it.

1 comment :

McrRed said...

great analysis....
hearing enrique might be out for an op...that's a blow for us.