26 August 2014

Visualized: Liverpool 1-3 Manchester City

Previous Match Infographics: Southampton (h)

As always, match data from Stats Zone, except shot location from Squawka and average player position from ESPN FC.

As usual when there's no match review, here's my formation diagram from last night.

The short version: City's fullbacks were more involved than Liverpool's, both in defense and attack, and simply played better, stretching Liverpool's defense on both flanks. City's attack was impressively fluid: the front five rotated at will, creating questions over who was marking whom, disrupting Liverpool's newly-remodeled defense. Most importantly, City's finishing was impeccable, converting three from just nine shots.

This new visual, a match-long GIF of each player's average position at a certain point in the match, from Colin Trainor and Constantinos Chappas of StatsBomb, demonstrates just how well City's front five worked together.

Go click the link and watch it all the way through. I'm not rude enough to repost their work here. I'll wait.

Silva's everywhere, literally everywhere, sometimes stretching play wide and combining with his fullback, sometimes a supplemental central midfielder. Both Silva and Nasri drift from flank to flank. Dzeko's often deeper than two or three other City attackers, linking playing in and around the center circle. Toure gets forward as well, as Toure does, but still has the engine to get back when needed in defense.

Unsurprisingly, Zonal Marking also touched upon City's fluidity in attack, focusing on Silva's ability to find space in Liverpool's half. The Spaniard was ostensibly playing the same position as Coutinho, starting on the left but coming inside early, often, and deep to dictate the attacks. Both drifted laterally all over the pitch, neither actually created a chance, but one player filled the role far better than the other. Seeing Silva work was one of my least favorite things while re-watching the match a second time, far more noticeable on second viewing, but Nasri was just as influential filling a similar role on the "opposite" flank, albeit with fewer defensive responsibilities.

That GIF from Statsbomb also demonstrates just how high each side's fullbacks played, as does Liverpool's average position in the above passing network. All four fullbacks' average position for the match was in the opposition's half. That's to be expected from City at home, but it was dangerous, almost to the point of arrogance, from Liverpool, putting a lot of pressure on the midfielders and center-backs. Especially when one of those fullbacks is a 22-year-old Spaniard making his debut, and the other is Glen Johnson. But that's Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool, at least last season's Liverpool. At the defending league champions? No matter. We're going to attack. And, yes, Liverpool paid for it. But at least they had the confidence to go for it. However, I suspect Manquillo will be more defensive-minded when he starts, as will Flanagan in his appearances.

Manchester City took two fewer shots than Liverpool. Liverpool had five Danger Zone shots, City had two. But City finished their chances. Meanwhile, Liverpool put just three of 11 shots on target, 27.3%, a worse average than in 35 of last season's 38 matches.

There are two excellent follows on Twitter, Michael Caley and Stephen McCarthy, who have been doing stellar work with "Expected Goals" – the probability of a shot from a certain location in a certain situation ending up as a goal. Respectively, they had City's Expected Goals at 1.1 and 1.2. And City scored 3.

Both had Liverpool's Expected Goals around one (1.4 from Caley, 0.9 from McCarthy), and Liverpool scored one, even if it was an own goal from a chance that Lambert should have buried, well-saved by Hart. City's finishing is that good. Even if breakdowns from Liverpool helped City score their first and second goals.

City's second goal was the epitome of patient probing and movement in a fluid attack, picking and poking through close spaces until the defense made a mistake and then WHAM, in behind, in the back of the net.

You can watch Liverpool's offside line fall apart in stages in the 10 seconds leading up to City's game-winning second.

All good here. All four have stepped up together, after all dropped deeper to track Jovetic's attempted run. If the ball's played through here, Zabaleta's offside and Dzeko's covered.

Deeper, but still good, with Lovren and Moreno leading the way backwards when Zabaleta looks at a run in behind, and both Skrtel and Johnson follow along. Zabaleta and Dzeko are still covered. However, Jovetic has found space behind Gerrard, who's ball-watching. This isn't why Liverpool conceded, but it did not help.

Uh oh. And now we have a problem. Lovren and Moreno both step forward, with the dual purpose of playing Zabaleta offside and trying to close down Jovetic's angle and ability to run at the defense. Because of that space that Jovetic found away from Gerrard. But Skrtel and Johnson have not stepped up. They're still closely marking Dzeko, a player who'll never run off the shoulder of the last defender. And now both Nasri and Zabaleta are onside (Nasri might have been anyway), and now Skrtel's too far from his center-back partner and goes to close down Nasri, and Johnson has to stay on Dzeko, and Jovetic's run into the box is completely, totally, wholly unmarked. Fantastic. Capped off by Johnson trying to block the shot on the line, arguably getting in Mignolet's way.

It has to be one or the other. It can't be both. When it's both, this happens, although few teams are as good as City at punishing these mistakes. These things can happen when bedding in new defenders. But the defenders will have to learn quickly how Rodgers wants them to defend, because the new-look Tottenham, next week's opponents, appear similarly capable of capitalizing on defensive mistakes.

Finally, a word about Dejan Lovren, who had a hand in all three goals conceded, after he was the standout defender against Southampton. Fault for the first lies primarily with Moreno, who waited for Lovren's marginally-soft header to come to him, allowing Jovetic to sneak in (with Moreno rightfully credited with a defensive error). Which is a pity, because otherwise, Moreno had a decent debut. That Lovren was confident enough to play a header there is both a good and bad thing, and I'm leaning more towards good. Yes, it's dangerous, but if it comes off, Liverpool are in possession and Moreno has clear vision up the field to spring the break. That's how Rodgers wants his defenders to play, rather than aimlessly getting rid and inviting the opposition to come again. As for the third, he was out-paced by Agüero, who got on the end of a perfectly-weighted pass from Navas. Credit where due to City, and Lovren isn't the first, and won't be the last, to be beaten by Agüero in such a manner.

Long story short, I'm not as THE SKY IS FALLING as some seem to be. Losing sucks, but a better, more cohesive Liverpool lost this fixture last season to an arguably marginally weaker City. Liverpool only allowed City nine shots on their own ground. They conceded two goals you'd hope they won't concede again as long as this revamped defense gels. They had City on the back foot for 30-40 minutes in the first half, by far the better side until conceding that first sloppy goal. 1-3 is harsh on Liverpool's overall performance, but also demonstrates just how potent City currently are.

For better or worse, Liverpool are in transition, and it'll be a while until they're at their best in either defense or attack. It's an unlucky quirk of the fixture calendar that the most difficult match of the season came in the second match, with new players needing to be bedded in, and with Lallana, Balotelli, and Markovic either unavailable or not fully fit.

I am certain Liverpool will be better at both ends, and I'd have been a lot more confident about this fixture in two months' time. Unfortunately, another of the more difficult matches is just five days away, and I'll be far less forgiving if similar happens at White Hart Lane.


Vicky Agastya said...

Mignolet's distribution is 15/15?!?! It is 100%??!!??!! WOW. Hoping the improvement is not a fluke.
And thanks for the detailed breakdown of the goal konceded. It was interesting to read.
Do you think our team kan kome back from a goal (or two) down and win a match against decent opposition?? When was the last time that happened??

Schoffle said...


I watched that 2nd goal last night in slow motion a couple of times and what I noticed is that Gerrard did not lose track of Jovetic.

Gerrard attempted to press City by stepping up to Silva, he was a bit slow to get there and Silva was able to quickly get off a pass to Jovetic who quickly flicked the ball before Hedo closed in. Then Jovetic was allowed into the area unmarked. While I am unsure who's responsibility he was at that point it sure looked like Hedo basically closed him down on the Silva pass and then simply let him go after the flick.

Anonymous said...

Great stuff. Finally someone saying what I'm thinking rather than getting their heads spun around over losing to the champions away.

Do you feel like the 2nd goal was partly on Skrtel and Johnson for staying welded to Dzeko rather than stepping up with Lovren? All comes back to communication, obviously, but seems indicative of the difference between how the holdovers play and how the people Rodgers has brought do. Makes me wonder if he shouldn't just go Manquillo-Lovren-Sakho-Moreno and have all "his guys" playing his way.