01 December 2014

Visualized: Liverpool 1-0 Stoke

Previous Match Infographics: 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.

Stoke may not be Tony Pulis' mouth-breathing monsters anymore, but they still know how to ugly up any match.

Liverpool's 77.9% passing accuracy was a rounding error away from being its lowest of the season, 0.00002% better than that against QPR. Liverpool's 338 completed passes were the second-lowest mark in the league this season, ahead of only the 281 completed at Tottenham, a match where Liverpool solely played for the counter after taking an early lead.

And Liverpool's attacking third passing was even worse. 90 completed, 153 attempted, 58.8% successful. Which is the lowest accuracy of the season, and the sixth lowest in the league since Brendan Rodgers became manager

But at least it got better.

Liverpool weren't great by any stretch, Liverpool still struggled to hit the target, Liverpool still allowed the opposition a handful of threatening chances, but Liverpool actually looked like a football team for the first time in a long time in the second half.

Each of the four attacks between the 61st and 68th minutes featured competent interplay between Liverpool attackers that resulted in a dangerous shot from inside the box; even if none resulted in a goal, they were the exact moves which Liverpool had been lacking during this winless streak.

And Liverpool didn't allow Stoke a single shot during that spell, from Bojan hitting the woodwork then ballooning the rebound in the 60th minute until Adam's swiftly blocked effort from distance in the 80th.

It wasn't pretty and it certainly wasn't easy, but it got better as the match went on and Liverpool got a result, and after the last month, that's all you can ask for.

Saturday was the first time since the 0-0 against Hull on October 25 (and just the fifth time in 13 matches) where Liverpool didn't have at least one defensive error which led to either a shot or goal.

Liverpool took more shots than their opponents for the first time since the Hull match, out-shot by an 89-42 margin in the five Premier League and Champions League games during that stretch.

Liverpool's pressing was more effective (as was Stoke's), with five of 21 tackles and three of 13 interceptions in the opposition half.

Unlike in both of last season's meetings, Liverpool won more than half of its aerial duels (25 of 48, compared to 14 of 38 and 15 of 38 in 2013-14).

And that Liverpool were able to hold on to the clean sheet and victory during those frightening final minutes will be as much of a confidence boost as the result itself.

Since Stoke were promoted in 2008, the matches at Anfield have ended 0-0, 4-0, 2-0, 0-0, 0-0, 1-0, and 1-0; the 4-0 win in 2009 – the season where Liverpool began its torturous decline – was an aberration, the exception that proves the rule. Sure, Stoke failed to score in all of them, but Liverpool also failed to score in three of the seven, and this Liverpool attack has probably been worse than all of the others. No matter how good Liverpool have been or how bad Stoke have been, these matches have almost always been closely contested and fairly ugly.

Given the dearth of confidence and competence over the last month, rebuilding both was always going to be a slow process. This wasn't a dramatic step, but it was a first step. That Liverpool grew into the game, improved over the course of the game, won it late on, and kept a clean sheet are actually promising signs, and promising signs have been very few and far between this over the last few months.

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