27 October 2014

Visualized: Liverpool 0-0 Hull City

Previous Match Infographics: Real Madrid (h), QPR (a), West Brom (h), Basel (a), Everton (h), 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.

Since, for once, there's absolutely nothing to complain about defensively – Liverpool were about as unthreatened as possible, with Hull offering next to nothing from open play and allowed just one attacking set play – I guess we're back to complaining about the attack.

2013-14: Percentage of Liverpool shots blocked = 19.8% (129/651)
2014-15: Percentage of Liverpool shots blocked = 29.9% (43/144)

In Liverpool's four wins – against Southampton, Tottenham, West Brom, and QPR – Liverpool opponents blocked an average of 3.25 shots per match. In the other five draws and losses, Liverpool's opponents blocked an average of six shots per match.

We knew that teams would follow Chelsea's template from last season's 0-2 loss at Anfield, but Liverpool have become even less effective against packed defenses thanks to the personnel changes.

And, as against Chelsea, Liverpool are resorting to even more shots from distance. Liverpool took an awful lot of shots from distance last season, because Luis Suarez took an awful lot of shots from distance, but they're averaging even more this season. That 11 of Liverpool's 17 shots came outside the penalty area against Hull seems a recipe for disaster, even if Hull's über-defensive five-at-the-back is an exception rather than the rule.

2013-14: Percentage of Liverpool shots from outside box = 43.3% (282/651)
2014-15: Percentage of Liverpool shots from outside box = 47.9% (69/144)

2013-14: Liverpool outside box shot accuracy = 28.4% (80/282)
2014-15: Liverpool outside box shot accuracy = 20.3% (14/69)

2013-14: Percentage of Liverpool outside box shots blocked = 20.2% (57/282)
2014-15: Percentage of Liverpool outside box shots blocked = 40.6% (28/69)

True, the season's not even a quarter of the way finished, but these statistics are clearly trending the wrong way.

It's also not coincidence that Liverpool had just seven shots blocked in the first three matches – the three matches with Sturridge available – and an average of six shots blocked per match in the six matches since.

Michael Caley, of SB Nation and the Washington Post, helpfully provides a little insight as to why that's the chase.

It's news to no one that Liverpool's attack has become staid this season, especially without Sturridge. But attacking at a slower pace, allowing defenses already predisposed to sit deep to get into position, and then taking more shots from distance because you don't have the personnel or nous to get into the box all compound the problem.

2013-14: Successful dribbles per match = 12.4
2014-15: Successful dribbles per match = 10.2

2013-14: Successful Through Balls per match = 1.8
2014-15: Successful Through Balls per match = 1.1

Without Sturridge, there's no easy fix. But it's also no coincidence that Liverpool looked marginally more dangerous against Hull after A) Lambert joined Balotelli up front and B) Coutinho came on. Clearly not dangerous enough, and still attempting too many shots from distance, but at least better.

Balotelli, perpetually dropping deep, simply has to have a strike partner, even if neither Lambert nor Borini are anywhere near as dynamic as Sturridge. Coutinho, even if still finding his form and – like too many others – prone to speculative long-range shots, is Liverpool's best at through balls and one of Liverpool's best dribblers. He was at the heart of Liverpool's best moves late against Hull, he was at the heart of the two counter-attacking goals which won last week's match at QPR.

I suspect we've simply had a reprieve from complaining about the defense. Manquillo and Moreno improve the back four, and no one did anything stupid – and we've seen the side do stupid things against other impotent attacks – but Hull truly did not come to Anfield to attack.

However, yesterday's match exposed Liverpool's attacking flaws in great detail. Hull gave Liverpool similar problems last season, stifling a much better side in open play, only winning because of corner and direct free kick goals. Liverpool's inability to convert set plays even close to last season's rate is a totally different problem; last season was most definitely an outlier, but Liverpool regressing this much this fast remains surprising. And we'd also be complaining a lot less had Liverpool gotten at least one of two possible penalties on Saturday. But it's not as if these were new and different problems for this season's Liverpool: Villa, West Ham, Basel, etc all saw the same issues.

But yesterday's match at least also hinted at a possible band-aid solution after the substitutions. Now, Liverpool have to put those potential solutions into effect, at the very least improving enough to tread water until Liverpool's attacking talisman returns.


Anonymous said...

Great work as ever Nate. As we are now a quarter of the way into the season I started reflecting in the passing networks you have been doing and seeing if they could shed light on where the problems lie for Liverpool. I'd be interested in your analysis.

From looking at them all together, in the games where we have created the most chances and been better, the midfield tends to stay similar to the formation graphic e.g. Gerrard deeper than the other two midfielder in a three. When we don't play well, this seems more out of shape. The further out of shape, the worse we play. The higher and wider the outside attackers and the fullbacks play, similarly.

Seems the tighter our midfield gets, the worse we are, less pressing, less width, less pace/tempo, the deeper the striker drops. The deeper Gerrard goes, the better.

I'm sure there's more analytical analysis available, but that's what the overlays seem to suggest to me.

nate said...

Was planning on it, and it'll probably happen after Chelsea, so there are 11-15 passing networks (depending on whether I do league only or include CL) to choose from and so there's something to talk about during yet another international break. Animated GIF of all the networks, talking about similarities/differences, etc.

Anonymous said...

Look forward to it