29 September 2014

Visualized: Liverpool 1-1 Everton

Previous Match Infographics: West Ham (a), Ludogorets (h), Aston Villa (h), 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.

So close, yet still so far.

Compare it to Villa or West Ham, or Ludogorets or Boro, and Liverpool were vastly better. In all areas.

In contrast to Villa and West Ham, Liverpool started exceptionally well, only denied a goal in the first 11 minutes by both Tim Howard and Martin Atkinson. Liverpool created more chances, better chances, and took more shots. The link-up play in attack was much improved, with Henderson, Coutinho, Lallana, and Sterling involved in almost all of Liverpool's most prolific passing combinations. Liverpool allowed Everton just two Danger Zone chances: the threatening header that Lukaku barely made contact with in the 66th minute and Barry's near post flick from a free kick after Everton had already equalized. Otherwise, the away side took just one more shot inside the box, which was blocked, and eight speculative shots from outside the box. Liverpool avoided the individual errors that either cost or nearly cost points in all the aforementioned fixtures.

And yet Liverpool still dropped two points because football is not fair and life is not fair.

Mario Balotelli took 10 of Liverpool's 24 shots. Which is both a good and bad thing. But mostly bad, as eight of the 10 were off-target, and eight of the 10 came from outside the box. He took five of the six shots in "Out Box Left" on the above chart, Sterling's blocked effort which should have been a handball and penalty the only exception. Liverpool took 39 shots in that zone through all of last season, resulting in four goals (three from Suarez, one from Sturridge).

A couple of those shots actually came on the end of good build-up play. Which, coincidentally, were his two Danger Zone shots: sustained possession ending with a blocked effort from Sterling's centered pass, and the counter-attack and cross where he hit the bar in the 67th. Two were from direct free kicks – one into the wall, one saved by Howard – in the first 10 minutes before Gerrard rightfully pulled rank. The other six… eh, not so much.

• In the 25th minute, from outside the box, with two teammates in the box and three just outside, hitting an offside Moreno with his wild effort.

• In the 38th minute, a wormburning roller from 25 yards out not even close to goal with six (!!!) teammates ahead of him.

• In the 40th minute, a shot from nearly 35 yards, deflected out for a corner.

• In the 43rd minute, another attempted curler from outside the box on the left, straight at Tim Howard and easily caught, with five players ahead of him and three in the box.

• In the 59th minute, scrambling to pick up a loose ball, his shot from 25 yards hitting Henderson, who was attempting to recycle possession. And yes, there were four Liverpool players ahead of him, along with Moreno level and wide open on the left flank.

• In the 80th minute, wonderfully controlling Mignolet's goal kick before volleying narrowly wide, the best of his efforts from distance. This was Liverpool's last shot of the match.

That's the perfect cross-sports comparison. He is an excellent player who will win you games, but you're probably not winning anything of note if he's your main or only attacking option.

There is some value in long-range shots and shot monsters with no conscience, and we knew this was the case with Balotelli long before Saturday's match. I recommend scrolling through this long conversion on Twitter yesterday, where this article from Colin Trainor was also mentioned. Liverpool would be struggling for shots in general without Balotelli's efforts, and speculative long range chances still have a chance of going is, as Phil Jagielka cruelly demonstrated.

Nonetheless, let me reiterate. Balotelli took 10 shots, and did not create a single chance. He took 10 shots, the same number of passes he completed. That's less than ideal.

Luis Suarez took 10 shots in just two matches after Rodgers became manager: against Fulham last season, where he scored twice, and against Reading in 2012-13, a match where his accuracy was even worse than Balotelli's on Saturday but Liverpool still narrowly won 1-0 because Reading didn't have Phil Jagielka. Both Gerrard and Coutinho have attempted nine in a match during that time frame (the latter in the same Fulham match where Suarez attempted 10, the former in that match against Chelsea last season that we won't discuss any further); Sturridge's high so far is eight, in the 5-0 win against Swansea in 2012-13. In every single match mentioned above, the individual player took a lower percentage of Liverpool's total shots than Balotelli did on Saturday.

Regardless, finally, Liverpool got its goal, from a set play. The first set play goal of the season. The first direct free kick scored since Gerrard's at Sunderland on March 26, 14 league matches ago. Liverpool won eight games thanks to set play goals last season: 1-0 United (h), 1-0 Fulham (h), 2-0 Norwich (h), 2-0 West Ham (h), 1-0 Hull (h), 1-0 Everton (h), 2-0 Arsenal (h), and 2-1 Newcastle (h). And the goal came from a free kick that Balotelli won.

And then – unsurprisingly, considering the goals that Liverpool conceded late against both Ludogorets and Middlesbrough – Liverpool reverted into a defensive shell, a tactic which brought them victory in the first three matches to start last season, but rarely since then.

In a just universe, Liverpool's defensive shelling would have worked.

The one chance that Everton created inside the box in the final 20 minutes was from a free kick conceded by Moreno after Everton had equalized. Before that, for more than 20 minutes, all Everton could create despite near total possession was three shots outside the box: McCarthy, Eto'o, and McGeady, all well off-target. Liverpool's packed defense shoved Everton out wide in the attacking, denying passes into the box and centrally in front of the box.

But then that goal happened. Everton allowed to build inside its own half, under some pressure from Lallana but with everyone else dropping back, a long ball to the right back near the corner flag, an overhit cross picked up by McGeady, McGeady's cross headed out of the box, but WHAM, Jagielka from nearly 30 yards out. Maybe Lovren could and should have directed his header elsewhere rather than out centrally where it could be picked up, maybe Moreno should have blocked Browning's initial cross, but otherwise Liverpool did little wrong on that sequence. And they were punished all the same.

If Liverpool play like this in every match, it sure seems as if they'll win far more than they lose or draw, especially once Sturridge and Allen return to the XI. But the frightening thing is that we used similar "ifs" to justify results from 2009-10 through 2012-13, and I suspect you remember how that went.

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