28 April 2014

Visualized: Liverpool 0-2 Chelsea

Previous Match Infographics: Norwich (a), Manchester City (h), West Ham (a), Tottenham (h), Sunderland (h), Cardiff (a), Manchester United (a), 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.

"Defensive football is, as the great Italian theorist Gianni Brera put it, 'the right of the weak.'" - Jonathan Wilson

It's infuriating. It's a bit embarrassing for the second-most expensively assembled side in the league. I very much never want to watch a Liverpool side play that way week in and out. But football is about getting the result, by any means necessary, and Mourinho's concentrated evil got that result.

It may have been under a different manager, but that's exactly how Chelsea won a Champions League as well. Good football is good, glory is great, but the result is what matters.

Yesterday saw Liverpool's biggest possession disparity of the season, the biggest disparity in passes attempted, the second-biggest disparity in passes completed (behind 3-2 at Fulham), and the fourth-biggest shot disparity (behind 3-1 Cardiff, 4-1 West Ham, and 4-0 Fulham, all at Anfield).

Liverpool had 74.1% possession, completed 383 more passes, and took 15 more shots. And Liverpool lost 0-2, its first two-goal loss at Anfield since suffering the same scoreline against West Brom more than 14 months ago.

But we learned long ago (read: 2011-12 and 2012-13) that winning passing, possession, and shot totals don't equal winning the game.

First and foremost was where those Liverpool shots took place. I'm gonna blow it up in a bigger graphic, because the compressed Stats Zone or Squawka chalkboard doesn't seem weighty enough.

Yikes. 21 of 26 shots came from outside the box. That's remarkable, and not in a good way. I am not clever enough with statistics to figure out "Expected Goals" but I imagine Liverpool's were pretty low yesterday. But, to be fair, Liverpool's been well out-performing Expected Goals all season long. Regression to the mean, and all that.

Not only was the shot location bad, the shooting accuracy was bad too. Liverpool's first shot on target came in the 52nd minute, the 11th shot taken. Eight of 26 on target, 30.77% shooting accuracy. Which, devoid of context, isn't awful, but still below Liverpool's 40.1% for the season. And the sixth-lowest accuracy of the season, behind Villa (a), Newcastle (a), West Ham (h), Cardiff (h), and West Brom (a). Where Liverpool won three and drew two, scoring at least once in all five.

Nine of Liverpool's 26 shots came from Steven Gerrard, which is the most shots he's taken in a match this season, by far. His previous high was six in the 5-1 win against Norwich. The only other match where he took more than three was at Manchester United, attempting five, three of which were penalties.

I'm not going to excoriate Gerrard for slipping. Shit happens, and often at the most inopportune time. It's horrific luck, made even more horrific by the fact it's Gerrard, the symbol of Liverpool, the captain who's given all he can to this title run, deservedly mentioned as one of the best midfielders in the league this season. And against Chelsea, of all teams. I can't help but mention the 2005 Carling Cup Final. The worst luck.

But yesterday was a return to the (sometimes) bad old days of one-man Liverpool. If not Gerrard than no one; he'll do it himself. Nine shots. Nine! Eight from outside the box. He'd taken 51 in his previous 31 appearances this season, and that includes free kicks and penalties. And Gerrard also attempted 27 more passes than the next closest player.

Give Gerrard the ball and hope he can do something. Stand off and let him go to work. Frustrated outside Chelsea's box? Gerrard will let fly. We'd seen next to none of that this season, not even in the other matches where Liverpool had to overhaul a deficit. He was absolutely dying to make amends for the mistake that gave Chelsea the lead, but his single-minded second half play was almost (but obviously not quite) as costly as the mistake.

Obviously, Gerrard wasn't the only culprit. Suarez – just named the PFA Player of the Year – was denied absolutely any space to operate, attempting just two take-ons. He's averaging 7.25 per match this season. Sterling and Coutinho saw a lot of the ball, but couldn't play the killer ball, forced to pass pass pass outside Chelsea's box. Sturridge, sadly, clearly wasn't fit. Liverpool's attackers all got into positions to create something at least once, even if it was a marginal chance, but couldn't convert, and were mostly marked into oblivion by four defenders, three holding midfielders, and two wingers who spent more time in their own half than Liverpool's.

Still, it's infuriating that Liverpool repeatedly and increasingly tried to force shots from distance rather than shake and bake through a packed defense with patient build-up, which we'd seen time and time again this season. It's not as if Chelsea are the first side to park the bus against Liverpool this season, even if they were the best.

Plan A was shots from distance. Plan B was crosses. And in case you hadn't noticed, Liverpool is not a team that thrives on crosses.

"You went full Moyes, man. Never go full Moyes."

42 crosses is, by far, Liverpool's high for the season. They'd averaged 17 per match through the first 35 games this season, the fewest in the league. And only eight were successful, just three actually leading to a chance.

All of this led to just the third time Liverpool were held scoreless this season, after the 0-1 loss to Southampton in September and the 0-2 loss at Arsenal in November. It's been nearly six months, and 28 matches, since that last happened.

It's hard to avoid the conclusion that Liverpool panicked, for the first time in a long time. That it had to happen at least once seems inevitable in retrospect, and it's absolutely amazing that it hadn't happened sooner, but they still picked a bad time to do so.

Credit where due, as painful as it is. Chelsea's gonna Chelsea, and Chelsea Chelsea'd really, really well.


Biggestfandownunder said...

Great Wilson quote. Says it all really.

I'm of a slightly different persuasion to your theory that we panicked and did a Moyes, though.

I think we tried everything, and with effectively six defenders and thee DMS, shooting from distance and crossing were weapons we had to try given that we tried everything else. There was some enterprising build up play, we tried to pull them out, we tried to take players on, but there were nine very good defenders against us,.

That slip was the clincher. I thought we played tactful attacking football until then, and while they looked threatening at set pieces and long throws, we were looking threatening in a variety of ways, too. That slip meant they could park the bus, and meant me had to try every option. Credit to our players for being willing to use every means available even if towards the end we admittedly tried too many long range shots and crosses.

Marque Pierre Sondergaard said...

Funny how hope is so much more painful than just plain and simple being no good.

Vercingetora said...

I agree with biggest fan's comment. I didn't see many situations where we shot in frustration or passed up better opportunities. We took what Chelsea gave us: outside the box and on the flanks.

Credit Chelsea for defending really, really well and choosing the tactic necessary to blunt Liverpool's attack. If Mourinho wasn't such a jerk, I'd credit him by name.

The match was lost on an unfortunate error by Gerrard. Stuff happens and luck is part of the game.

Anonymous said...

I disagree our plan B of long range shots was ineffective. Stevie took 8 long range shots in the second half and without a deflection none of them troubled Schwarzer. We will struggle in the champions league against well drilled defensive teams. As Mourinho said winning 1-0 is the easiest thing to do in football - I hate it but winning is needed to win trophies (or are we Arsenal now - content with Champions league football and no trophies).

Anonymous said...

For anyone who thinks liverpool didn't resort to long ball tactics - watch Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher discuss it on Sky - I thought exactly the same as Gary (though I hate him) and Jamie (love him).