Previous Match Infographics: Leicester (h), Swansea (h), 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.
Liverpool have held its opponents to five or fewer shots six times since Rodgers became manager: three times in 2012-13 (5-0 Norwich, 0-2 West Brom, 5-0 Swansea), once in 2013-14 (4-0 Fulham), and now twice in 2014-15 (the other was 0-1 Villa). Previously, Liverpool had either won at a canter or lost pathetically.
But yesterday was different. Yesterday, Liverpool scored early and kept shooting (except for that embarrassing 15-minute spell just after Bridcutt's red card), but never found the needed second to blow the game open.
Liverpool at least continued to shut down Sunderland. Admittedly, Sunderland are not good up front – they only took seven shots in the reserve fixture – but this Liverpool side hasn't been good at limiting shots or goals very often either, allowing 16, 11, and 16 in the previous three games against Burnley, Swansea, and Leicester. Saturday saw a second successive clean sheet away from home – the first time that's happened since Southampton and United last March. Liverpool have committed just one Opta-defined defensive error in the last five matches: Sakho's giveaway leading to Bony's chance against Swansea. By hook, by crook, and by crossbar, Liverpool held on when Sunderland's threatening spell finally happened.
But there are still obvious issues at the other end of the pitch. Yet again, I can't help but talk about Liverpool's shooting. 21 shots, but just four on-target. 19%. No player with more than one shot on-target. And 19% is only the fifth-worst of the season, behind Villa (5.6%), Palace (8.3%), Sunderland at home (13.3%), and Stoke (18.8%).
Liverpool's lowest shot accuracy in a match last season? 20%, at Aston Villa, when Liverpool took just five shots. Liverpool were only under 30% three other times: the 4-1 win over West Ham, the 3-1 win over Cardiff, and the 1-1 draw at West Brom, which was arguably Liverpool's worst performance of the season.
It's even worse than 2012-13, when Liverpool shot worse than 20% in just three matches: 0-3 at West Brom, 2-2 against City, and 1-0 against Stoke – three of the first seven matches of the campaign.
Shot accuracy obviously isn't the end-all, be-all – Liverpool shot better than 45% in losses at West Ham, Newcastle, and United this season – but it is, by far, the biggest difference between this season and last. But that's what happens when you go from Suarez and Sturridge to Sterling, Balotelli, Lambert, and Borini.
At least Liverpool were in position to take 21 shots, just the fourth time that's happened this season, and the first time it's happened away from home (24 v Everton, 27 v Arsenal, and 21 v Swansea).
Liverpool's striker created the most chances in the side, for only the third time this season (Sterling was joint-top with three against Leicester, and led the side with four at United), and that's despite going off in the 67th minute. Borini did not do anywhere near enough in front of goal, spurning his one opportunity when put through by Can, but at least he was creative. And his assist for Markovic's goal was his first assist for Liverpool.
As against Swansea, Lucas and Henderson looked a much more viable (and mobile!) midfield than any other pairing we've seen this season.
Sunderland saw a lot of the ball, but their possession was mainly limited to the four defenders; Vergini, O'Shea, Brown, and van Aanholt were responsible for 55% of Sunderland's completed passes. Nine of Liverpool's 26 successful tackles came in Sunderland's half, which is both the most and highest percentage away from home this season.
Six corners and five free kicks in Liverpool's half led to just two Sunderland shots: Larsson's easy long-range effort held by Mignolet (Sunderland's only shot on-target), and Gomez's swiftly blocked effort in second half injury time.
Despite the narrow scoreline, Liverpool did a lot of good things. No mistakes, clean sheet, an above average amount of shots. Limiting the amount of opposition opportunities and, aside from that 15-minute stretch after the red card, dictating play and setting the tempo. And all of that happened away from home, probably the best away performance since the 3-0 win at Tottenham. Of course, the only other alternatives are the 3-1 win at Leicester, where Leicester were simply terrible, and the 0-3 loss at United. Yeah, it hasn't been a good season away from Anfield.
So that's progress. But until Liverpool are able to consistently convert opportunities when they actually create opportunities, the matches will remain frustrating and frightening at best, and infuriating, regrettable and costly at worst.