13 February 2014

Visualized: Liverpool 3-2 Fulham

Previous Match Infographics: Arsenal (h), West Brom (a), Everton (h), Aston Villa (h), Stoke (a), Hull (h), Chelsea (a), Manchester City (a), 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.

FYI: Here's the formation diagram usually included in match reviews, for thoroughness' sake.

The last time Liverpool scored an injury time winner? April 10, 2012: Andy Carroll at Blackburn. Yesterday's was the first of Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool tenure. Yes, Gerrard tallied a penalty to win 3-2 against Tottenham last March, but that was in the 82nd minute. Yes, Liverpool scored in the dying seconds against Chelsea last season and Everton this season to earn draws. But this was the first injury time winner in a very, very long time. And it could hardly have come at a better time.

It was in this fixture last season that Liverpool last came back from a deficit to win, going down 1-0 to Berbatov's 33rd minute strike before Sturridge's hat-trick. The last time Liverpool came back from two separate deficits to win? A 3-2 win at Bolton in August 2009, again overhauling an 0-1 and 1-2 deficit to get all three points thanks to Gerrard's late goal. That was 54 months ago. That was 175 league matches ago. That was a lifetime ago.

Luis Suarez is human after all. He put his first two shots on target yesterday, then failed to do so with the next six. He hasn't scored since his nail-in-the-coffin goal against Everton, 310 minutes ago. That's an epoch for Suarez. It's only his second-longest league drought since Rodgers became manager, failing to score in 479 minutes of league football between November 17 and December 22nd last season. And it's not for lack of trying.

Suarez has taken 16 shots since his last goal. Only 4 have been on-target: two yesterday, one against both Arsenal and West Brom. 25% shooting accuracy. After the Everton match, his accuracy for the season was 51.0%. I guess some regression was inevitable. Still, his range hasn't been far off: woodwork blasts against both Arsenal and Fulham, a handful of shots only narrowly off-target. And he's tallied assists against both West Brom and Arsenal, for Sturridge and Sterling, unselfish when his own shooting wasn't coming off. Yesterday saw Suarez as selfishly wasteful and frustrated as we've seen in a while, trying to single-handedly force something, with at least two shots coming when other players were in better positions.

But then there's Daniel Sturridge to pick up the slack. Sturridge has scored in all eight matches since returning from injury.

John Aldridge scored in 10 consecutive league matches between May and October 1987, spanning the two seasons, but Sturridge's eight in all competitions ties Aldridge in 1988-89 and Dick Forshaw, who did it in 1924. That's some heady company. Since joining the club, Sturridge has scored 30 goals and tallied seven assists in 37 matches. His record is 26 goals and six assists in 32 league matches. He's 24. Liverpool paid Chelsea £12m for him. Over the same span, Chelsea's strike force – Torres, Ba, and Eto'o – have scored 28 goals in all competitions, and just 10 in the league. It might be Liverpool's best transfer business in decades, and yes, I'm well aware than Suarez is now worth 3-5 times what Liverpool paid for him.

One disconcerting feature yesterday was that Liverpool failed to create a single chance from set plays. The only marginally threatening dead ball situation came from Suarez's direct free kick in the 51st minute, whistling wide of the far post – a shot from a speculative position at best – despite five corners and three free kicks in the attacking third. Liverpool have created 42 set play chances this season, and that doesn't include the direct free kicks that have ended in the back of the net. The only other matches where Liverpool failed to create a set play chance were at Stoke (scored five anyway), at Tottenham (scored five anyway), at Hull (Gerrard scored from a direct free kick), at Arsenal (Arsenal controlled all facets of the game), and at Villa (where Liverpool took just five shots). Funny how those were all away from Anfield. Set plays have often either sent Liverpool on their way (see: 5-1 Arsenal), or rescued Liverpool from what might have been a bad situation (see: 3-3 Everton). They certainly could have used them yesterday, as Liverpool still displayed the frightening tendencies we've seen away from Anfield with this XI, especially in the first 30 minutes.

Yes, Liverpool completed 399 more passes than Fulham. That's the biggest gap since beating Norwich 5-0 13 months ago, the second-biggest gap of Rodgers' tenure. Only 3-1 v Cardiff and 4-0 v Fulham (this season, and 5-2 at Norwich last season come close. Lewis Holtby completed more passes than any other Fulham player: 32. Every Liverpool outfield starter completed more than that. That hasn't happened under Rodgers' tenure either. But we've long since learned that passing and possession frequently don't necessarily lead to Liverpool best performances or results. See: Everton (h) and Arsenal (h), as you may remember, among others.

175 completed passes, 227 attempted, came in the attacking third. Liverpool have surpassed that total just three times under Rodgers: in the reverse fixture, utterly demolishing Fulham at Anfield; this season's 2-2 draw at Newcastle, with Newcastle down a man for more than half the match; and in the 1-3 loss to Aston Villa last season. Yesterday's match reminded me much more of the latter two rather than the first. It's absolutely progress that those two matches ended 1-3 and 2-2, while yesterday's ended 3-2.

But the pattern of play wasn't surprising, especially after Fulham got an early goal. Fulham were always going to defend deep – even if it wasn't as deep as against United, when they were away from home – and Liverpool were always going to monopolize possession. And the pattern was made even more dramatic by needing to chase the game. Needlessly needing to chase the game.

Yet again, I can't avoid mentioning, defensive errors. Yes, again. Liverpool have now committed 31 defensive errors this season – an average of 1.15 per match – with eight errors leading to goals. Arsenal have committed 26 defensive errors, Norwich 22; no other side has more than 20. 14 different players have committed at least one error: Mignolet (5); Gerrard (4); Toure, Skrtel, Henderson (3); Agger, Enrique, Sakho, Sturridge (2); Luis Alberto, Johnson, Suarez, Moses, and Lucas (1). Flanagan and Cissokho are the only defenders yet to commit at least one.

Those errors have cost Liverpool five points. From a draw to a loss at City, and leading to draws rather than wins against Villa and West Brom. Five points. I hesitate to remind that Liverpool are currently four points behind the league leaders. And it's "just" five points; errors against Sunderland, Stoke, and Fulham didn't ultimately change the result thanks to Liverpool's firepower in attack.

Almost regardless of where Liverpool finish this season – hate to be the bearer of bad news, guys, but I still don't think the title's happening – I'm fairly certain we're going to look back and rue those mistakes, wondering what might have been if not for injuries, idiocy, and a lack of defensive depth.


Ana and Jonny said...

But how many crosses did we make?

Anonymous said...

3/23 in the crosses Jonny. Not quite Davey Moysie levels yet. Not one Prem team completes even a half decent % of crosses. They're almost useless.

We have to stop gifting goals to opposing teams. We had to overcome 2 pre Valentine's day gifts at Craven Cotttage. Kolo's unglorious OG and then Richardson's here you go on a gold platter after Skrtel and Flanno took each other out, demolition derby style. Come on Flanno, call Skrts off, you had a bead on the ball and had the play in front of you.

We have to start finding a way to keep clean sheets away from home. DAgger can help with this hopefully. He and Skrts have a long history and have been exquisite combination at times.

No surprise we are a long shot for the title. 3 teams are ahead of us with deeper squads. We do have a close knit squad that will help and also City, Chelsea and Spurs at Anfield. United at OT is not so tough either, maybe. Not like prior years at all. The look of horror on Davey's face tells the tale. We also have 2 strikers on fire. Need to be able to shut teams down away, though to have a real chance.

kennv said...

Ironically, the lack of depth in defense -full back version- have not been the source of those errors. Where the team had defensive depth -centre backs - has been a major source instead and it looks like errors are linked with playing time.