Previous Match Infographics: Burnley (a), 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.)
I love it when a plan comes to fruition.
One swallow certainly doesn't make a summer, and Liverpool fans have more than a little experience with false dawns and turning points that weren't actually turning points, but I'd like to give Brendan Rodgers some credit after that.
People were rightfully questioning almost every move he made earlier this season. Liverpool were bad. Very bad. From early September through November, with few signs of positivity even when Liverpool won. But the switch to 3-4-2-1 was a surprise gamble that's slowly paying off. Not many managers would have the gumption to change formations, especially to that formation rarely seen in England, and especially when Liverpool are playing two matches a week, with much less training time than the side had last season.
Sure, some of Rodgers' choices have been forced. Do we see Can and Sakho at center-back if Johnson and Lovren don't get injured? Do we see Sterling up front if Balotelli isn't injured, then suspended (as was Borini)?
But that's football, I guess. Better to be lucky than good, even better to be lucky and good.
We'd already seen signs of progress. Liverpool had been better in pretty much every regard since the switch to 3-4-2-1, even if results didn't immediately follow. The only match where Liverpool didn't improve was the match at Burnley, which Liverpool still won. And I'll note that Burnley side came back from a 2-0 deficit to draw at Manchester City two days later, making Liverpool's result look a bit more impressive even if the performance certainly wasn't.
But yesterday was the first time that everything clicked. Yesterday was the first time since Sturridge's injury that this season's Liverpool actually resembled last season's Liverpool.
Despite conceding possession to Swansea, Liverpool never conceded the initiative. Swansea had the ball, but had few dangerous attacks.
Liverpool pressed, hassled, and harried Swansea. Liverpool's top four tacklers were the two wide attackers and the two wing-backs.
Liverpool successfully played a high defensive line, and Liverpool coped with Bony far better than they did in last season's 4-3. With Can and Sakho, Liverpool had two defenders capable of playing out from the back. Yes, Sakho made two mistakes in quick succession – one costly, one not – but the one which led to the goal wasn't a mistake like those hands-over-face ones we've seen earlier this season; he won a contentious aerial duel but couldn't direct the header out, with Sigurðsson smart enough to gamble by running into space and getting rewarded for it. And Sakho also started the opening goal with a perfect long pass to Moreno and did this. Capable of great and terrible, Mamadou Sakho is large, Mamadou Sakho contains multitudes. Which is better than being capable of just terrible (*glares at unnamed defender*).
And Liverpool were dangerous on the counter, for only the third or fourth time this season; Coutinho, Lallana, and Sterling linking up better than they ever had. Funny how that works with increased time together. All three attackers took at least four shots, all three put at least 40% of their shots on target, with two of Sterling's three off-target shots hitting the woodwork.
Two of Liverpool's goals came from quick attacks starting in their own half, one came from Lallana's pressing (albeit coupled with Fabianski's horrendous mistake), and one came from a set play. That sounds an awful lot like how last season's goals came. And Liverpool's best counter didn't even lead to a goal. Had that gone in, we could end the goal of the season contest now.
Yesterday saw Liverpool's highest shot accuracy of the season: 52.4%, 11 of 21. Liverpool scored four goals for the first time this season. I suspect those two stats are related. 10 of Liverpool's shots came in the Danger Zone, 16 of Liverpool's shots came down the center of the pitch. That's the result of good build-up play and good decisions from the attackers.
As against United and Arsenal, Liverpool still allowed Swansea too many Danger Zone shots, seven of their 11 in the six-yard box or center of the 18-yard box. But the only two on-target aside from Sigurðsson's too-easy goal were easily handled: tame headers from Dyer and Bony. Aside from that goal, none of Swansea's chances were especially high-value, even if the location was dangerous.
The goals are finally starting to come, the mistakes are lessening in defense, the team is actually starting to look like a team. Yes, it's just one match, but it bodes better than anything we've seen so far this season. Now Liverpool have to do the same at Anfield in three days time, against the bottom side in the division. Two swallows are a step closer to signifying the summer.
Goodbye and good riddance, 2014. Hello, 2015.