27 December 2014

Visualized: Liverpool 1-0 Burnley

Previous Match Infographics: Arsenal (h), Manchester United (a), Basel (h), Sunderland (h), Leicester (a), Stoke (h), Ludogorets (a), 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.

(Nota Bene: Here's the formation diagram usually included in match reviews.)

Aside from Liverpool's general insipidness and frequently awful play, that was just how Rodgers' drew it up. Somehow keep a clean sheet, then a sucker punch counter-attack featuring Coutinho's guile and Sterling's speed.

It was like Hull (h) and Sunderland (h), except that Liverpool actually scored from its solitary moment of class.

It was like Stoke (h), a narrow win thanks to a second half goal, with Liverpool disjointed, subpar, and second-best for long stretches, except Liverpool got that second half goal with 30 minutes left to play, not needing a late flurry and able to ride the match out fairly easily.

It was like Newcastle (a), except for that Liverpool goal, and also keeping the opposition from getting one of their own.

It was like QPR (a) and Leicester (a) in that Liverpool didn't impress in the slightest against not-very-good opponents, but still won because of the opposition's failings. Unlike in the QPR match, Liverpool didn't fall apart at the end, requiring the late flurry. Unlike Leicester, Burnley couldn't take advantage of Liverpool's worst defensive mistake, Ings' shot ricocheting off the post and away instead of in off the keeper's back, And at the same time, QPR and Leicester's defenses are much, much worse than Burnley's.

It was a bit like Palace (a), except Burnley couldn't put a single shot on target, let alone five. Which was incredibly helpful so thank you very much, Burnley.

Yes, we've seen this movie before. At least parts of it. And Liverpool played different styles and formations in each of those matches. 4-1-2-3 against Sunderland, Leicester, and Hull. 4-2-3-1 against Stoke, Newcastle, and QPR. 4-4-2 diamond at Palace.

So maybe it's not the formation that's the problem.

After seemingly turning the corner in regards to shot disparity in the last three matches (four if you count Bournemouth), Liverpool once again registered fewer shots than their opponents. Yesterday's 10 was the second-lowest total of the season, behind the six at Newcastle. Meanwhile, Burnley were allowed 16. But none were on target (thanks again, Burnley!), and unlike against United and Arsenal, only six of those 16 were in the box, just four of those 16 in the Danger Zone (six-yard box and center of the 18-yard box). If you're gonna allow too many shots, it's slightly better if they're not high value shots.

But at the same time, only four of Liverpool's ten came inside the box, only two in the Danger Zone. Yikes.

Liverpool's last eight goals – every goal since Can against Chelsea – have come in the Danger Zone. 42 of Liverpool's 110 shots in those six matches have come in the Danger Zone – 38%, which is the exact same proportion as last season. But last season Liverpool had Suarez and Sturridge, able to score from almost any position on the pitch. Without those players, Liverpool are much more reliant on high value shots, and Liverpool aren't getting enough high value shots.

But some of that seemed tactical. It helps explain why only four players registered shots: the three attackers and one of the two wing-backs. Away from home, Liverpool went back to playing for the counter, especially for the first hour, often with seven or eight or more players in their own half. That seems to be asking for trouble given that a) Liverpool have been pretty terrible on the counter this season and b) Liverpool frequently give away cheap goals when the opposition has the opportunity to attack at will. It's probably not coincidence that Liverpool have been pretty terrible away from home this season. I thought we were passed this since the switch to 3-4-2-1. Liverpool did not play this way in away matches at United or Bournemouth.

Yesterday also saw Liverpool's lowest passing percentage of the season – 77.8% – slightly behind Stoke (h) and QPR (a). For once, it wasn't because of inept passing in the final third. That wasn't great – 67%, a touch below average – but it wasn't West Ham (a), Newcastle (a), Palace (a), or Stoke (h) either. Liverpool's failures were primarily in midfield and defense. Lucas (-4.9%), Gerrard (-2.8%), Henderson (-11.5%), Markovic (-5.1%), Sakho (-7.3%), Skrtel (-5.4%), and Toure (-24%) were all well below their season-long passing accuracies. And it's no coincidence that the vast majority of Burnley's tackles and interceptions came in the middle third of the pitch.

It's news to no one that taking the game to Liverpool and that pressing Liverpool often leads to rewards. Liverpool survived yesterday, Liverpool survived against QPR and Leicester – primarily due to those teams' failings – but West Ham, Newcastle, and Palace (among others) still loom large in the memory. Again, that the majority of those aforementioned games came away from Anfield suggests that Liverpool's tactics on the road also have something to do with Liverpool's issues.

But that middle third pressure meant Burnley ran out of gas in the last half an hour, and Liverpool took advantage with a moment of brilliance from Sterling and Coutinho (notably, his first Premiership assist of the season, but to be fair, he only had one at this point last season and finished the season with seven).

To be honest, that's acceptable given where Liverpool are at the moment. The underlying stats still aren't great, the tactics have often disappointed, but the recent results have been even worse. This is the first time that Liverpool have won 1-0 away from home, a single goal and clean sheet, since beating Villa in August 2013. 55 league matches ago. It's more valuable that Liverpool are able to grind out a win, even if they were helped by the opposition's failings, rather than playing well in a draw (Arsenal) or loss (United).

But the majority of the division is better than Burnley is, and they'll be much more likely to take advantage if Liverpool play like this.

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