27 November 2014

Visualized: Liverpool 2-2 Ludogorets

Previous Match Infographics: Crystal Palace (a), Chelsea (h), 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.

As it's a holiday here in the US – and I've got a mountain of cooking to do – and I'm all out of rants after yesterday's match review, this will be shorter than usual. Unsurprisingly, in the cold light of a new day, I'm far less angry than I was at full time, but there are still a few things that merit mentioning. And, unsurprisingly, they're things we've mentioned before.

Rodgers took a lot of heat for his post-match comments, including from me, but he had a point. A draw is little different from a win for Liverpool's chances of qualification. Despite conceding twice, Liverpool were more resilient than we've seen in the four previous losses. Playing for the counter-attack in a difficult away venue makes sense; Ludogorets had already beaten Basel at home, and gave Madrid a fright after scoring first. If you're playing for the counter, starting Gerrard further forward makes sense, especially given how he's played in a deeper role this season and regardless of how baffling it was that he stayed on for the full 90 minutes. I'm still very angry about the lack of in-game changes, but that's been a constant critique of Rodgers since he became Liverpool manager.

Liverpool were out-shot 11 times in the league last season, which is actually more than I expected before looking up the numbers. Liverpool have already been out-shot in seven of the 17 matches in the Premier League and Champions League this season. And five of those seven matches were the last five matches Liverpool have played. Four losses, one draw, and zero wins. That's probably not coincidence.

The amount of opposition shots is similar in the two seasons – 12.6 allowed last season, 12.4 allowed this season – but Liverpool are averaging nearly four fewer shots per match. That's four fewer opportunities for a side that's already weakened up front.

I understand that Liverpool weren't going to get a ton of shots when sitting deep and playing for the counter-attack after scoring the second. And given where Liverpool are at this moment in time, playing for the counter-attack and shelling is understandable, even if Liverpool are fairly awful at shelling. Liverpool played for the counter and were out-shot but still won in matches against Villa (a), Sunderland (a), Southampton (a), Tottenham (h), and City (h) last season. But it's symptomatic of an ongoing problem, most noticeably during this recent winless streak. Liverpool do not shoot enough to score enough to compensate for an error-prone defense that's bad at defending set plays.

So what did Liverpool do well? Liverpool actually took three whole shots inside the six-yard box, resulting in two goals. That's more six-yard box shots than Liverpool took in the previous six matches in the Premiership and Champions League combined (one against Palace and one against Hull, none in the two matches against Real or against Chelsea and Newcastle). Six matches, you may remember, that Liverpool failed to win. For the first 60 minutes, Liverpool pressed well, making seven of their nine tackles in Ludogorets' half during that span (Gerrard and Sterling two; Lucas, Allen, and Lambert one). Lambert scored for the second-straight game – the first time any Liverpool player has done so this season – and did well as a target-man, evidenced by the amount of passes attempted and completed despite Liverpool playing for the counter-attack for long stretches and his involvement in the above passing network. Kolo Toure was better than Lovren has been (quelle surprise), and even though Lucas committed too many fouls (the referee did not help) and remains worse in a two-man midfield than when he's the sole defensive midfielder, Liverpool seemed more secure than when Gerrard's played there. Despite the shot disparity and despite the horrific two goals conceded, Liverpool did fairly well limiting dangerous chances from open play. Six of Ludogorets' 18 shots came in the dangerous zone, but only the opening goal – from yet another Mignolet error – and Dani Abalo's wild, not-even-close volley came from open play.

But, yet again, both of the opposition goals came from clear-cut chances: one from an individual error, one from a set play. Liverpool's opponents averaged 1.37 clear-cut chances in the league last season; it's up to 1.91 this season. Even worse, Liverpool averaged just over three of their own clear-cut chances last season, and are averaging just 1.08 this season – although both of Liverpool's goals also came from clear-cut chances, another marginal improvement.

But, yet again, there's still too much "same shit, different day" despite the marginal improvement in performance and result. Because of set play failures, because of individual errors, because of the inability to create clear chances or take a reasonable amount of shots. Improvement will only come incrementally, and this may well be a start, but I'm getting really sick of "same shit, different day."

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