15 September 2014

Visualized: Liverpool 0-1 Aston Villa

Previous Match Infographics: Tottenham (a), Manchester City (a), Southampton (h)

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

Just to get you in the mood. Because once again, Liverpool versus Aston Villa is just a little bit of history repeating.

The closest comparison is the 1-3 loss to Villa in Rodgers' first season. Until Saturday, that was the most possession Liverpool have had in a single match since Rodgers became manager. The second half of that 1-3 loss saw the most possession Liverpool have had in a single half under Rodgers until the second half on Saturday. Liverpool dominated the shot totals, but put just 24% on target (well below its average for the season), finally scoring with its last effort thanks to a wicked, fortunate deflection. And that abysmal shot accuracy was still massively better than Liverpool on Saturday, where just one of 18 forced Brad Guzan into a save: a simple save, Sakho's header from a corner landing directly in his arms, in the 11th minute.

But there were also similarities to the reverse fixture last season: an early goal for the away side, then defensive shelling, with the hosts unable to make any breakthrough despite a massive shot dominance, mainly because those hosts were unable to put even a marginal proportion of their shots on target. Meanwhile, the away side took five shots, put just one on target, but scored from that one.

The away side has some sort of voodoo over the home side in this fixture. Since 2009-10, Liverpool have won one, drawn two, and lost three of the last six meetings with Aston Villa at Anfield. And at Villa Park, Liverpool have won four and lost just one. Which, I guess, bodes well for the return fixture in a few months.

Liverpool have now conceded the first goal in 25 of the 80 Premier League matches since Rodgers took over. They've won five, drawn eight, and lost 12 when that's happened. Incidentally, the only one of those five wins to come at Anfield was against Newcastle in the last match of last season. The others were at Cardiff, Fulham, Fulham, and (because of course) Aston Villa.

One shot on target out of 18 in total is 5.6% accuracy. The only other matches which came close to that mark since Rodgers became manager both happened in 2012-13: the 0-3 loss at West Brom to start the season, where Liverpool put just two of 16 on target (12.5%), and the 0-0 draw with Stoke, where Liverpool put two of 18 on target (11.1%). Since those matches, nearly two years ago, Liverpool haven't been below 20% accuracy in a match, a mark set at Aston Villa last season, when Liverpool took just five shots but scored with the lone shot on target.

It wasn't as if Liverpool took horrible shots yesterday. We've seen matches where Liverpool were much more desperate and much less judicious (cough Chelsea at Anfield cough), although the shot-by-shot section demonstrates how Liverpool unsurprisingly fired off more shots from distance as time ebbed away. Seven of the 18 efforts came from the danger zone, 10 of 18 from inside the box. Liverpool's shooting accuracy was just that bad. Markovic's two early efforts; Balotelli, Sakho, and Lovren's headers from corners; and Coutinho's shot off the post were all chances that could and probably should have at least hit the target, and on another day, maybe Liverpool would have eked a slightly undeserved draw.

But Michael Caley's Expected Goals map shows that Liverpool had lots of marginal chances, while Villa had the best two chances. And Villa took one of them. That's all they needed.

The major problem was Liverpool's inability to fully utilize its attackers despite that overwhelming dominance in possession. This is depressingly demonstrated by the passing network: thick black lines in midfield and defense, paltry thin lines amongst the front four, both before and after substitutions. Liverpool completed 652 passes in total, but only 139 in the attacking third: just 21.3%. Unsurprisingly, most of those came across the top of the box and on the flanks rather than into the penalty area, creating just one chance inside the area, completing just four passes into the area. That's horrific, and it's not as if Villa had to make multiple tackles or interceptions to prevent those passes, although 34 of their 42 clearances came inside the box.

Undoubtedly, part of that is due to starting three unfamiliar attackers: one making his full debut after missing preseason through injury, one making his first start after two substitute appearances, and one making his second start. All three joined Liverpool this summer. Some disjointed play was to be expected, especially given the troubles Liverpool have had with Saturday's opponents, who defend deep and in numbers, especially after scoring a goal that Liverpool probably should have prevented. But it shouldn't have been that disjointed.

At the very least, this has to be a two-fold learning experience (three-fold if you count again conceding a preventable set play goal): for the new players involved, gelling as an attacking unit, and for the team as a whole, again needing to find a way behind a parked bus. Because it won't be the last time those players have to play together and it won't be the last time that Liverpool see that strategy.

1 comment :

Ryan McKain said...

Nate, nice job as always. The passing network graph really proved the point - I'm glad you added those graphs this season.