05 November 2014

Visualized: Liverpool 0-1 Real Madrid

Previous Match Infographics: Newcastle (a), Hull (h), 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.

(As usual when there's no match review, here's the formation diagram for thoroughness' sake.)

The Great Selection Debate of 2014.

Yes, statistically, that was about as severe a 1-0 whipping as it gets. But you may have noticed that Liverpool aren't in a very good place right now. Which is why a 1-0 loss at Real Madrid doesn't feel especially bad, especially given the starting XI that Brendan Rodgers decided to name.

Aside from the 1-1 draw against Everton, Liverpool have been bad, simply bad, since Sturridge was injured. The systems haven't worked, key players have underperformed, and Liverpool's defense has been leakier than a roof made of swiss cheese.

The so-called first XI lost at home to the same side 0-3, and were down by that scoreline after 41 minutes. Real did little more than show up in the second half, and Liverpool still couldn't score a lone consolation.

Credit where due. For all of Rodgers' perceived inflexibility, rightly and wrongly, he was pragmatic enough to make dramatic alterations yesterday, alternations which almost (but obviously still didn't) earned a point.

I very much remember Sam Allardyce gloating after West Ham's victory over Liverpool six weeks ago.

Rodgers has been resilient to change this season, to put it nicely. A continued insistence on a lone striker, usually in a 4-2-3-1, a continued reliance on Gerrard and Sterling despite underwhelming performances from both, a baffling faith in Dejan Lovren despite woeful form, Glen Johnson still getting games, etc. Yes, Liverpool don't have a plethora of options with injuries to Sturridge and Sakho, in addition to the other absentees earlier in the campaign, but attempting to cram square pegs into round holes again and again and again has been frustrating to say the least.

All that changed yesterday. An away match against Real Madrid is a hell of a time to do so, but Rodgers had little to lose given Liverpool's form and Real's strength, especially considering the massive fixture on the weekend. Yesterday's match had little bearing on Liverpool's ability to qualify from the group; that'll be decided against Basel and Ludogorets.

We'll see if it was a one-off. I'd expect most of those left on the bench to come back into the side against Chelsea, but Toure and Can, at the very least, made strong cases for their continued involvement.

That said, despite Liverpool's improvement in defense, Liverpool could again have lost by multiple goals if not for Simon Mignolet. Mignolet's eight saves yesterday tied the most he's made in a match for Liverpool, set in the 3-3 draw at Everton almost a year ago. His previous high for the season was four, in six matches this season. Incidentally, Liverpool kept a clean sheet in none.

The previous four sides to visit to Bernabeu lost 5-1, 5-1, 5-0, and 3-1, and the 3-1 was the mighty Barcelona. Yesterday was always going to be some form of damage limitation. And it nearly worked, if not for a moment of brilliance from Marcelo and Benzema. Toure bears little blame for the goal; he had a split second to guess whether Benzema would try to run across him or veer to the far post, and chose wrong, with Marcelo's cross pin-point perfect. It happens.

The 27 shots that Real Madrid took were the most Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool have allowed in a single match. Only twice has Liverpool's opponent taken 20 shots or more against Rodgers' Liverpool: Sunderland's 23 last season, when Liverpool went 2-0 up in the first half then defensively shelled, and City's 20 last season, where they comprehensively outplayed Liverpool in a 2-1 win after Liverpool took an early lead. But this is a very different Liverpool than last season's Liverpool. Or even 2012-13 Liverpool. And Real Madrid are the best side that Liverpool has faced since Rodgers became manager.

27 shots. And they scored just once. There's no such thing as a moral victory, but that's almost a moral victory.

Sure, it would have been nice had Liverpool been able to go toe-to-toe with Real on their own ground, to take no prisoners. It would have been nice had Liverpool been able to create more than four shots when playing such a deep, defensive performance.

But that's not where Liverpool are at the moment.

Borini held play up well but can't create chances on his own; Lallana and Markovic had flashes in attack but rarely troubled Real on the counter. That Alberto Moreno was the only player to take multiple shots and to both take a shot and create a chance says a lot. Liverpool's attack probably would have been slightly more threatening in the same system with Coutinho and Sterling instead of Lallana and Markovic, and maybe even Balotelli instead of Borini. But then again, they've not set the world afire lately, and there is the small matter of Chelsea on Saturday. And it's worth noting that Liverpool failed to create a chance or even take a shot after Sterling, Gerrard, and Coutinho came on, although Real did sit a bit deeper when Liverpool kinda sorta tried to find an equalizer in the final 20-25 minutes.

Liverpool played a similar style in those famous 0-0 draws at Juventus and Chelsea in the quarter- and semi-finals of the 2004-05 Champions League. Except Liverpool's center-back pairing then was Hyypia and Carragher, and now it's Toure and Skrtel (or Lovren). This is not a new phenomenon, even if Liverpool attempted to do similar yesterday with a surprising XI.

Through Mignolet and Toure, through Lucas and Can, through Manquillo and Moreno, through the crossbar and Real Madrid's below-average-for-them 33.3% shot accuracy, Liverpool's defense looked better than it has since drawing Everton. Finally.

Now, Liverpool have to build upon that, whether it's with the same personnel or some regular starters coming back into the side, whether it remains a more-defensive-but-not-that-defensive system. Chelsea, even at Anfield, are likely to come at Liverpool with a similar fury. Unlike last season, this side has to become more secure before figuring out the goal-scoring woes. But, yes, Liverpool assuredly still have to figure out the goal-scoring woes.


Vicky Agastya said...

That Shots, Assists, CC chart of Real Madrid makes me want to look at Real Madrid's chart every game.
I'm entering the zone where one overlooks team loyalties and just enjoys the brilliance of other teams.

TomW said...

I was one of the minority that actually agreed with the wholesale changes made by Rodgers for this game. Simply because the vast majority of the 'first team' didn't deserve to start after the last few performances.

Hopefully, (surely?) we will not see Johnson start for us again in anything other than the League Cup. And if Toure gets dropped after that performance then what message does that send out? Lets have a settled back 4 for a change. With Coutinho, Stirling and soon Sturidge back in the mix, we may start performing once again.

Anonymous said...

Sure 27 shots, but 12!! (44%) were blocked. Kolo blocked 6!!, Skrtel 3, Lucas 2, Manquillo 1. I don ‘t know why WhoScored tried to take away Kolo’s and Lucas’ blocked shots with their stats #’s. FourFourTwo Stats Zone got it right. Both those programs are pulling their stats from the same source, Opta, so it’s a mystery.

4 shots were from direct kicks. Anytime Real gets a DK within 35 yards, either Ronaldo or Bale are going to get a probably dangerous shot on goal. 3 of those DK shots required decent saves from Migs.

“Only” 11 “unblocked” shots from open play. 6 on target 5 off target. Considering Real controlled 60% of possession and 60% of territory, and considering that their offensive players are some of the best, this in itself would be considered a competent defensive performance. Only allowing a single goal, none from Ronaldo, is not too shabby either. Migs did his part with some great saves, of course. Bale could have scored on the shot that hit the post. But, then again, a fairly large percentage of big chances are not converted into goals.

Compare this to the Barca game at Madrid two weeks ago. Madrid carved out from open play 10 unblocked shots, 5 on target 5 off target. And Barca controlled 60% of the possession and 60% of the territory. With Masch and Pique as CB's and Busquets at DM.

Kolo could not have done much about the goal. Yes he was marking Benz and “lost” him. But, Benz knew where the ball was going to be played by Marcello, and the instant that Marcello hit the pass, Benz went from half speed to a dead on sprint. And just got to the ball at the back post for the goal. Even if Kolo would have known where the ball was going to be played, and sprinted on Marcello’s touch, I’m not sure he cuts it out. The pass was just too good, perfectly placed, at speed and arrived on Benz’s toe just as he reached the ball from a dead on sprint. Manquillo also tried his best to get to Marcello to block the pass, but came up just short of getting there. Credit Real for a nice goal.

Kolo also had 6 blocks, 6 clearances, 4 ball recoveries, 34/39 passing (87%), 2/2 take ons, 1/1 tackles, and was positionally astute for the entire game. Plus that over the top ball to Benz’s chest would have been a likely goal had Kolo not taken the ball off his toe in mid air and sent it on top of the goal over the left post. Kolo had a very decent game. I know in my little mind, if it had been Lovren, Real has 2 more goals. The way he so easily gets pulled out of position. The way he will be 3 yards away from an attacker in a shooting position and just watch, seeming to not fully comprehend that the guy is shooting and might score. The way players can run in behind him and get a free run at goal. He can play great for 85 minutes and run up some impressive stats for the WhoScored boys, but in those other 5 minutes he’s going to gift a goal to an average team and 2 to a great team like Real. Hopefully, he can get it together and concentrate for the full 90 and understand his role positionally, and contest every shot at our goal when he’s 3 yards away from the shooter. He’s got the physical skills to do it.