17 September 2014

Visualized: Liverpool 2-1 Ludogorets

Previous Match Infographics: 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.

FYI: as usual, here's the formation diagram for thoroughness' sake.

Well, at least that was better. It wasn't great by any means, but better will do after last Saturday.

Liverpool were up against a deep, determined, and well-organized defense for the second time in four days. This time, Liverpool were better at involving the main attackers (which isn't all that surprising with Balotelli and Lallana getting more time together and with Sterling involved), Liverpool took better shots (16 of 23 in the danger zone!), Liverpool were more accurate with their shooting (although 30.4% accuracy still isn't great, and is still well below last season's mark), and – at least until the 91st minute – Liverpool were better at protecting themselves from mistakes on either counters or set plays, although Ludogorets had hit the post on a counter-attacking chance in the 72nd minute.

It took the side awhile to get going, failing to register a shot until the 21st minute. In contrast to Saturday, it was because they were overly frenetic rather than pushed backwards, probably for two reasons: the return to the Champions League coupled with that disastrous start against Villa. In addition, both Coutinho and Lallana were wasteful at times, and remained so until their respective exits.

But unlike against Villa, Liverpool didn't resort to more and more speculative shots from distance, sticking to the game plan despite numerous last-ditch blocks, clearances, and interceptions from Ludogorets' defenders. Rodgers' substitutions improved the side: Lucas added patience, protection, and safe passing in midfield; Borini brought more firepower up front, nearly scoring with his first touch. Liverpool switched to the diamond formation which had brought them the most success this season, the formation which had seen them score five of the six goals so far this season. And then Liverpool finally made the breakthrough in the 82nd minute, mainly thanks to Moreno's cross and Balotelli's strength, but from a move which started with Moreno's tackle in the penalty box and involved nine of the 11 Liverpool players the pitch, going from back to front and flank to flank in the space of 30 seconds.

That should have been game over. That is wasn't is almost unforgivable, only rescued by a defender's poor back pass, a third-string keeper's poor first touch, and Manquillo's intelligence in pressing what might have been a lost cause but wasn't thanks to his perseverance. And he was also clever enough to go down under was what admittedly slight contact, reminding me of the injury time penalty Gerrard "earned" against Atletico Madrid in this competition six years ago.

But let's focus on the goal Liverpool conceded. Yet another comedic calamity of errors which nearly cost the side two points.

We'll start with this series of tweets from Grantland's Mike L. Goodman, as he thoroughly sums up the catastrophe. Embedding them all here would take up way too much space, but I heavily encourage you to click on the link. I'll wait.

The first point needs emphasizing. We all love Liverpool's guns-blazing, take-no-prisoners attack. It was really fun last season, and we've really only seen it at full effect at Tottenham this season. But that Liverpool attacks with so many bodies forward after they finally got the goal, in stoppage time no less, is beyond comprehension.

You try to keep the ball in that position. You try to keep the ball in that position. You try to keep the ball in that position. There is no discussion about that. I imagine, I would hope, that Rodgers is still screaming about it.

Moreno's lapse in judgement is probably most egregious given that he's ostensibly a defender, even if in name only. But it's worth reiterating: there are four players ahead of the ball in that situation. Four! He's not the only culprit.

Still, from there, multiple bad things needed to happen for Ludogorets to score.

This happened less than a minute before Ludogorets' goal. The whole defensive line has pushed up with Liverpool in possession, but (an admittedly retreating) Gerrard is deeper than Lucas and Henderson, not quite between the center-backs but still another line of protection. And everyone's pretty much in position when Ludogorets clears out of defense.

Where's Gerrard on the goal?


Still, from there, multiple bad things needed to happen for Ludogorets to score.

Things like Lovren watching the ball rather than the player running in behind, subsequently a step behind Abalo when the throughball is played, unable to make the diving tackle. And things like Mignolet absolutely losing his mind and charging out, not only failing to reach the attacker but also blocking off Manquillo's attempted covering run. And then all Abalo had to do was slide into a empty net, even though he was off-balance and had been pushed outside the danger zone because of Lovren's attempted tackle. Liverpool wouldn't have been out of trouble by any means, but that shot's never getting past a goalkeeper on his line.

So yes, on the whole, Liverpool were better. Aside from Moreno's late brain cramp, Liverpool's fullbacks were arguably Liverpool's best players: Moreno the most creative, and with an assist; Manquillo again leading the side in both tackles and interceptions while still creating three chances of his own. Liverpool were better, more disciplined in attack, even if better and more disciplined are relative terms, and even though key players (read: Coutinho, Lallana) still disappointed. Balotelli frustrated at times, but his work rate was superlative, as was his goal, which should do his confidence a world of good.

But Liverpool were also very, very lucky. And, yet again, Liverpool made a preventable mistake which ended in a goal conceded. They weren't wholly punished for it this time. But, as happened against Aston Villa, they will be punished more often than not if those mistakes keep occurring.

It's not as if defensive mistakes are a new phenomenon, or that one defender has been responsible for the majority. Liverpool has been prone to defensive mistakes for more than a year now. But last season's side was good enough in attack to make up for most of them.

This side isn't. Not yet, at least.


John Galt said...

Manquillo didn't have a great night in terms of possession but his right side is loaded with tackles and interceptions. I know they aren't all attributable to him but he's a monster in defense. I wonder what BassTunedRed's crossed blocked tally is up to?

Anonymous said...

Both of our new fullbacks have been positive additions to the team. I believe the entire defence will function better as a unit as the season goes on.

If they keep on performing well, chances will be limited for Johnson, Flanagan and Enrique except for injuries and for giving the duo some rest.