12 May 2014

Visualized: Liverpool 2-1 Newcastle

Previous Match Infographics: Palace (a), Chelsea (h), 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.

It's been a long season. Yesterday, Liverpool showed signs of just how long, how draining, it has been. It was a match that looked very much like an end-of-season contest, even if Liverpool still ostensibly had something to play for. At least, until word trickled in about the score at the City of Manchester Stadium.

Suarez and Sturridge have played together in 38 matches for Liverpool: 24 this season, 14 last season. This is the first time they've played together and neither created a single chance. Some matches, Sturridge had been a substitute. Some matches, only one player created a chance: sometimes Sturridge, more often Suarez. But this is the first time both failed to do so.

Newcastle did well to deny both players space in the final third, especially Suarez. And Newcastle did well to get men behind the ball, blocking five of the seven Liverpool shots from outside the box. 13 of 19 of Newcastle's tackles and 13 of 16 Newcastle's interceptions came in their own defense third. But there were also signs that both just looked off-form: Suarez successful with just two of eight dribbles, Sturridge missing a golden chance that he'd bury nine times out of ten in the 41st minute, both players attempting and completing fewer passes than they've averaged this season.

Like Chelsea, like Crystal Palace, Newcastle had 10 players behind the ball at most times, evident in the average position diagram from WhoScored:

Liverpool averaged 55.9% possession in this season's 38 matches. In the last three matches, they've averaged 69% possession. Chelsea, Palace, and Newcastle were happy to stand off, take away space, take away the counter, and make Liverpool slice, dice, shake, and bake their way through. One win, one draw, and one loss, although, yes, it should have been two wins and a loss at the least. Regardless, Liverpool haven't looked anywhere near their best over the last 270 minutes. This is something that Liverpool's going to see an awful lot next season. And it's something that Liverpool will have to cope with far better than they did in the final three matches.

When Newcastle attacked, it came down the flanks, targeting Liverpool's fullbacks. Both have been weak points this season, and both spent much of their time in the opposition half trying to break through the bus. Almost all of Liverpool's tackles and interceptions came on the flanks. We're starting to see transfer rumors already, and they're not about fullbacks, but I'm convinced that this position, both left and right back, is the most important purchase this summer.

But once again, Liverpool were saved by set plays. Yesterday's two free kicks were Liverpool's 25th and 26th set play goals of the season: 13 free kicks, 12 corners, and a lone throw-in. That's six more than the next closest side, Manchester City, and 11 more than the side after that, Chelsea. The league average was 11.25. Liverpool scored from 11 set plays in 2012-13, 14 in 2011-12, 11 in 2010-11, and 14 in 2009-10. The most scored in a single season since 2009-10 – prior to this season's Liverpool, of course – was Manchester United's 22 last season.

Most of the credit to for that goes to Liverpool's captain. Gerrard contributed 13 assists this season, the highest total in the league. I only have data going back to 2008-09, but it's at least his highest assist total since that season, and I'd be willing to bet it's the highest of his career. 11 of those assists came on set plays: corners against Sunderland (a), Fulham (h), Arsenal (h). City (h). and Palace (a); free kicks against West Brom (h), Everton (a), West Ham (h), Arsenal (h), and the two yesterday. His two open play assists came home and away against Fulham. So Liverpool won eight and drew two when Gerrard tallied an assist. I don't know how his delivery has become so phenomenal this season, but long may it continue.

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