Previous Match Infographics: Real Madrid (a), 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.
Same shit, different day, huh?
Well, let's talk about the few positives first. The positives besides the fact that Liverpool played fairly badly and still should have taken a point if not for Anthony Taylor swallowing his whistle in the 88th minute.
Liverpool played 24 passes prior to goal, over the space of 65 seconds. Every player except Balotelli touched the ball at least once. For 55 of those seconds, Liverpool had possession in unthreatening positions, forced to pass and poke and prod, mainly in their own half, trying to find a hole in Chelsea's organization, or to create one by pulling players out of position.
And Liverpool succeeded before Liverpool could do something stupid. Fabregas came to join Oscar and Costa in pressing Lovren, Gerrard, and Henderson, and Gerrard and Henderson exploited the space that Fabregas left: a quick pass to Henderson on the flank before Fabregas could recover, quickly to Sterling in the space Fabregas had vacated to press, quickly to Can who was in space when Matic chased over toward Sterling. Sure, Can was lucky that his shot deflected off of Terry, but this seems one of those times where you make your own luck.
Liverpool's longest passing move leading to a goal prior to that was the first against West Brom, with 12 passes before scoring. The second against West Brom and consolation against West Ham both had 11 passes in the sequence. But the majority of Liverpool's goals this season – not that there have been very many – have seen five or fewer passes, a remnant of last season's quick-strike attack but without last season's prolific scorers. The goal was proof that Liverpool actually can play out from the back at times, even with Lovren, Mignolet, and Skrtel heavily involved. Of course, subsequent turnovers leading to dangerous Chelsea chances in similar situations proves that they can't do it often enough.
Raheem Sterling was more influential when deployed on the left, finally, more involved in Liverpool's overall passing game (compare Saturday's output to his 25 passes attempted, 16 completed, supremely isolated performance at Newcastle) and able to assist Liverpool's goal by cutting inside into space on his stronger foot before finding a charging-forward Emre Can. That he only created the one chance and only took two shots disappoints, but also demonstrates how strong Ivanovic et al were in marking him and Liverpool in general. Both Coutinho and Lallana are more two-footed than Sterling, so hopefully Sterling will continue to be deployed on that flank with one of the aforementioned two on the right if Liverpool continue with some variant of the 4-3-3.
Liverpool also at least did well against Fabregas, who, along with Costa and Agüero, are on the early shortlist for player of the season. Fabregas has nine assists so far this season, had averaged 3.13 key passes per match, but had no assists and no key passes yesterday. Fabregas had averaged 75 successful passes per match, but completed 36 passes yesterday; 74 passes received per match, but 25 passes received yesterday. Yes, part of that was due to the way Chelsea played – only the 6-3 win at Everton saw them with less possession, attempting fewer passes – and yes, Liverpool still lost, but that was at least one thing that Liverpool's midfield – specifically Henderson and Can; Allen and Coutinho to a lesser extent – did well on Saturday.
Of course, there are those pesky negatives.
• Liverpool still concede sloppy goals, both from open play and from set plays.
Liverpool hadn't actually conceded a set play goal since Real Madrid's third at Anfield two and a half weeks ago. From Madrid's third to Chelsea's opener, slightly more than three and a half matches, Liverpool had successfully defended 12 free kicks in their own half and 18 corners, allowing just three chances directly from those set plays (in addition to the four shots that Madrid took from direct free kicks at the Bernabeu).
But then Saturday happened: Costa won the first header over Lovren, and Liverpool's quasi-zonal marking failed to win the second ball, allowing Terry, Matic, and Cahill touches inside their own six-yard box. Mignolet made the first save but couldn't stop the second.
The open play goal was almost as frustrating. Chelsea have what appears to be harmless possession inside their own half, but Liverpool are rent asunder by Willian's long cross-field pass to Azpilicueta, with Glen Johnson very out-of-position, leaving Coutinho one-on-one against Chelsea's left back. Touches from Mignolet and Moreno, the latter caught ball-watching rather than marking either Oscar or Costa at the back post (preferably Costa, as Lovren had decided to kind-of-but-not-quite follow Oscar), and the ball falls perfectly for an open Costa, one of the two most-potent strikers in the league.
But Liverpool had other problems than those two sequences. 12 of Chelsea 15 shots came from inside the box, an egregious proportion (for comparison, just five of Liverpool's 12 were inside the area). Nine of Chelsea's 11 key passes came from inside Liverpool's penalty box or just outside it centrally – high value chances – highlighting the need for an out-and-out defensive midfielder, at least in matches such as this. This video of Gerrard as "defensive midfielder" makes for difficult viewing. Liverpool added four more defensive errors leading to opposition shots to the season's tally – we're up to 16 for the season – this time from Lovren (twice), Gerrard, and Coutinho. Thankfully, none actually led to a goal. It could actually be worse; only four of Liverpool's 16 errors have led to a goal. Compare that to Everton, who have the second-most defensive errors with 13. Six of those errors have resulted in an opposition goal.
• And at the same time, Liverpool are still fairly impotent in attack.
Liverpool's strikers remain responsible for just one league goal this season: Sturridge's winner at Southampton in the first match. This chart remains terrifying:
I think I'll have to stretch a digression on Mario Balotelli into a longer post later this week, but here's a quick preview. He's getting worse, it's getting worse.
That GIF starts with Liverpool's last win, at QPR. He had seven shots in that match. Since then, he's taken two, two, two, and one in his subsequent four starts. So much for Mario Balotelli, Shot Monster. Admittedly, Madrid and Chelsea are difficult opponents and it's not as if Liverpool are creating enough for him, but repeatedly held to those low margins and playing that deep against the likes of Hull and Newcastle astounds.
Liverpool are also still having an amazing proportion of their shots blocked. Chelsea blocked seven of Liverpool's 12 on Saturday, including four of Liverpool's five after they took the lead. Through 11 league matches, Liverpool have had 51 of 162 shots blocked, 31.5%. Last season, only 19.8% of Liverpool's shots were blocked. But that's what happens when the opposition knows how impotent you are and is willing to have well-organized defenders sit deep. Only Sterling, Coutinho, and Lallana have shown any capability of creating space to shoot, with the latter two not doing it often (or not getting the chance to). Balotelli, Borini, and Lambert simply cannot create the space that Suarez and Sturridge reveled in last season.
The passing network shows just how deep all of Liverpool's starting attackers were forced despite Liverpool's near monopoly on possession, and how isolated Liverpool's three attacking substitutes were.
• Liverpool's supposedly deeper squad hasn't led to substitutes having any sort of impact on the game. Allen created two chances – the only Liverpool player to create more than one – but Borini was limited to one off-target shot in injury time, a ballooned header from Moreno's cross, while Lambert created a single chance, a layoff for Gerrard's shot from distance in the 88th minute. You may remember that was the shot which should have given Liverpool the chance for a draw, clearly blocked by Cahill's arm.