27 December 2013

Visualized: Liverpool 1-2 Manchester City

Previous Match Infographics: Cardiff (h), Tottenham (a), West Ham (h), Norwich (h), Hull City (a), Everton (a), Fulham (h), 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.

Small consolation, but no side has given City a tougher game on their ground so far this season.

Only United and Tottenham took more shots; they lost 4-1 and 6-0 respectively. Only Arsenal and Everton had a higher shot conversion rate than Liverpool did; they lost 6-3 and 3-1 respectively. Only Tottenham and Swansea completed more passes than Liverpool did; Swansea lost 3-0. Only Swansea had a higher pass accuracy. Tottenham, Swansea, and United all had more possession than Liverpool, but all three were allowed that possession after City had put the game out of reach.

City had converted 23.6% of their shots in the first eight home matches, scoring once every 4.22 shots. City scored on just two of 20 shots yesterday, a 10% conversion rate. Only Hull had limited City to "just" two goals at home so far this season.

Sure, it makes no difference in the standings – City has won all three points on offer in their nine home matches this season, no matter how well or poorly the opposition has played – but it is a sign that Liverpool really can be one of the better sides in the league, and are deservedly in the discussion for the top four places.

City and Liverpool's passing totals may have been fairly similar, but who made those passes seems telling. Liverpool's top two passers? Sakho and Lucas, a center-back and the defensive midfielder. City's top two passers? David Silva and Yaya Toure. Much more of City's passes came in the opposition half, most notably down Liverpool's left. All five of City's midfielders attempted at least 50 passes, including the two wide players. Compare how involved Nasri and Navas were to Coutinho and Sterling. It's not a pretty comparison, nor does it speak well to how Liverpool's fullbacks defended.

And credit to City for how well they defended Luis Suarez. The last side to hold Suarez to "just" five shots was Hull – that horrible, horrible match. Arsenal, Everton, and Palace are the only sides to hold up under that total, and he scored against both Everton and Palace regardless. He'd been averaging 6.4 shots per game before yesterday's match, 7.4 in the five matches following Sturridge's injury.

That's not to say they rendered Suarez's invisible. He was at the hub of all of Liverpool's best moves, providing the pass to release Sterling that set up Liverpool's goal, the pass which should have released Sterling if not for an incorrect offside flag, the cross which Sterling should have buried in the 73rd, and leading the intricate attack which led to a glorious chance in the 40th minute. His four chances created were above his season-long average of 3.2, if only slightly. He realized he'd have to be more creator than scorer because of City's attentions and adjusted his game, only slipping back into selfish mode in the 51st minute, blasting at Hart from an acute angle with three players in a better position.

But mistakes are costly, and mistakes led to both of Liverpool's goals yesterday – even if only Mignolet's failed save statistically counts as a "defensive error." No side has made more defensive errors than Liverpool this season (via Squawka), at least one in every match. Liverpool have been lucky that only two have been punished, both by Mignolet, in the 3-1 win against Sunderland and yesterday's loss. But that doesn't count Skrtel's mistakes, either when defending Kompany on yesterday's set play goal or in his positioning on City's breakaway goal, or Cissokho's gaffes in those dangerous first 10-15 minutes, or Sakho's errant passing giveaways. It has been a team-wide problem, no matter formation or personnel. Liverpool have coped better in some matches than others, but it's been a constant problem.

Given how well Liverpool have done in attack, even considering that Liverpool only scored once yesterday, fixing the defense – especially on set plays – seems to be the only thing holding Liverpool back from being a truly great team.


Vercingetora said...

Nate, I usually agree with everything you write but having watched the match again, I think you were too hard on Skrtel. He was right on the mark on the first goal (both giving and receiving fouls) but the ball was perfectly placed and Kompany had the advantage. On the second goal, I think he made the best possible choice choosing the first attacker as Sakho was beaten by both. Reasonable people can disagree but regardless, Skrtel made some great tackles throughout the match including some that thwarted shots on goal.

Vercingetora said...

Correction: I should have said sliding blocks rather than tackles, but you get my drift...

Marlon said...

Why wasn't Sakho marking Kompany on those set plays. He's our strongest defender and seems to be the best in the air. Joleon Lescott wasn't causing any trouble. Didn't quite understand this defensive choice.