19 January 2015

Visualized: Liverpool 2-0 Aston Villa

Previous Match Infographics: Sunderland (a), 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.

Compare Liverpool's basic statistics from Saturday's match to the reverse fixture at Anfield in September.

From that, it's hard to tell which one Liverpool won 2-0 and which one Liverpool lost 0-1. That's what's possible when you don't concede a stupid early goal. Or any stupid goal, for that matter.

Yes, it's yet another example that passing and possession aren't worth a bucket of warm spit if you can't put the ball in the net. But Liverpool's newfound resilience at the other end – clearly aided by Villa's profligacy – is just as important.

Take your chances and don't do anything dumb in defense. Football really is a simple game.

Liverpool limited Villa's chances on the counter, despite the majority of Villa's tackles and interceptions taking place in the middle third of the pitch. Most impressive was how quiet Agbonlahor was, up against Can and Markovic: two players "out of position," new to the Premier League, and 21 and 20 years old respectively. In Agbonlahor's previous four matches against Rodgers' Liverpool, he'd tallied a goal and three assists, averaging 2.25 shots and 1.25 key passes per game. No shots, no key passes yesterday.

There was absolutely no messing about in Liverpool's defense. I don't have all the stats (partly because I'm too lazy to collect them all, partly because they don't go back that far) but I suspect 20 passes is the fewest Skrtel's ever attempted for Liverpool when completing 90 minutes. Rather than passing amongst themselves (or heaven forbid, to Mignolet), Liverpool's defenders immediately got the ball to Lucas, Henderson or Markovic.

Liverpool survived nine corners and seven free kicks in their own half (although only one of those free kicks was in Liverpool's defensive third). I'm knocking on wood as hard as I can while writing this, but Liverpool have conceded just one set play goal in the league since the 1-3 loss at Palace in late November, when Debuchy scored from a free kick on December 21 (although, yes, Liverpool conceded a set play goal in both the Champions League and FA Cup since then).

Liverpool took eight of 12 shots – 66.7% – in the danger zone. Four of those eight Danger Zone shots were on-target, two resulted in goals. And Liverpool didn't take a single shot from outside the box until Lucas' in the 78th: the shot which earned Liverpool the corner that led to the second goal. They may not have created a lot of chances, but the ones they did were good chances.

Both of Liverpool's goals came from quick moves starting in Villa's half: nice interplay and a perfect cross following a throw-in, a short burst after winning possession thanks to Delph's sloppy pass. Unlike in the reverse fixture, Liverpool did not allow Villa the chance to organize their defense on both occasions, and twice took advantage of that disorganization.

Aside from Villa's response between the 60th and 75th minutes, where only Mignolet, Skrtel, Sakho, Henderson, and Villa's wastefulness prevented an equalizer, it was a textbook away performance. Control the tempo, contain the home side, counter when possible, convert your chances.

Yes, it came against a very bad team and could have easily finished 2-1 or 1-1, but it came all the same. It came against a side Liverpool's struggled against in previous meetings, and it's the first time Liverpool's beaten Villa by more than a goal since December 2011 (2W-2D-2L during that stretch prior to Saturday's win). And it came away from Anfield, just the third time this season that Liverpool's won by more than a goal on the road this season (3-0 at Tottenham, 3-1 at Leicester).

Once again – as said after matches against Arsenal, Burnley, Swansea, and Sunderland – that's progress. Now, with Chelsea (twice), West Ham, Everton, and Tottenham to come over the next month, we'll get to see just how much progress Liverpool have actually made.

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