Previous Match Infographics: Southampton (a), Swansea (h), Fulham (a), 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.
To head off any comments: yes, I agree that Sturridge should have gotten an assist, even if it was (rightly) classified was a off-target shot rather than a pass, but neither StatsZone nor Squawka counted it as such (although WhoScored did) so it's not included on the above graphic.
The last time Liverpool kept consecutive clean sheets away from home was last May: a 0-0 at Reading followed by the 6-0 demolition at Newcastle. That was the only time it happened last season. You have to go back to 2006-07 to find the last time Liverpool both scored at least three and conceded none in consecutive away matches: 4-0 at Wigan and 3-0 at Charlton in December 2006. Doing it at Southampton and Manchester United seems a bit more impressive.
Aside from the hahaha-let's-point-at-United narratives, the primary plot line seems Rodgers' persistence with the diamond formation which led to a 3-0 win two weeks ago at Southampton. There, Southampton saw much, much more of the ball, and Liverpool rode its luck to a certain extent, but cluttering the middle of the pitch nullified Lambert, Lallana, and Rodriguez for long stretches – players, like Suarez and Sturridge, who interchange at will but often do their best work when either deployed through the middle or cutting inside from the flanks.
Yesterday, the diamond was vastly more effective. There seems two reasons for that. First, and probably foremost, United were not good. Yes, Moyes' tactics are prehistoric and its become a team of individuals rather than a cohesive unit. However, some credit where due: Liverpool were excellent inside its own half, especially those who could be exposed by the diamond: the two wide midfielders, and the two fullbacks.
Conceding space out wide at the expense of midfield solidity seemed dangerous with Rafael and Evra bombing forward and Mata and Januzaj one-on-one against Liverpool's fullbacks. But aside from a couple of chances from Rafael, none of those players were threats.
Zonal Marking covered this well in his match analysis. At times with Liverpool in possession, Henderson and Allen were basically free players, with neither Mata nor Januzaj particularly interested in tracking back, and neither Fellaini nor Carrick particularly comfortable leaving the middle of the pitch, especially considering the damage that Suarez, Sturridge, and Sterling can cause if given space in that area.
And when Liverpool were without possession, each dropped back to defend, whether adding cover on the flanks or coming inside to support Gerrard (who was also excellent). Allen's contribution was especially impressive in his own half. With Flanagan on a yellow card from the 30th minute, the fullback needed protection. And Allen was often there to supply it. He and Flanagan made the most tackles in yesterday's match.
But Allen also cleverly picked his spots going forward, his late burst into the box responsible for Liverpool's second penalty, also contributing a shot on target and creating a chance. Meanwhile, Henderson created more chances than any other Liverpool player, played more passes than any other Liverpool player, and had more touches of the ball than any other Liverpool player. His effort going forward meant Evra often couldn't, also dragging Carrick out of possession when shifting about in United's half.
Moyes' tactics – if there were tactics (*rimshot*) – couldn't take advantage of the diamond's aforementioned weaknesses. Liverpool's wide midfielders and fullbacks marshaled the flanks well. United, averaging 28 crosses per match (by far the most in the division), attempted just 20, and completed just five. Liverpool had to contest just one aerial duel in its own box: van Persie's 75th minute off-balance header, awkwardly put wide. Liverpool's pressing, not for the first time, disjointed opposition attacks at the base, winning 12 tackles in United's half (Suarez and Flanagan 3; Allen 2; Henderson, Johnson, Skrtel, Sterling 1).
And while neither Sturridge nor Suarez were at the peak of their powers, marking them was again akin to marking fog. Both can show up anywhere, everywhere in the final third.
Compare that to United's broken strike "partnership": Rooney forced to come deep to receive the ball, van Persie scattershot and often nonexistent. Liverpool prioritizing possession at the expense of counter-attacking opportunities somewhat limited each's preferred playing style – although Sturridge failed to hit the target with two early chances from quick trademark throughballs – but each still had the required impact: both winning a penalty (and Sturridge providing the cross for the penalty Suarez won), Suarez tallying the final goal with United stretched and Liverpool rampant thanks to the man advantage.