02 February 2015

Visualized: Liverpool 2-0 West Ham

Previous Match Infographics: Chelsea (a) [League Cup], Chelsea (h) [League Cup], Villa (a), 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.

Liverpool's shooting accuracy still leaves something to be desired, but otherwise the side was surprisingly competent in pretty much every regard.

Liverpool dominated possession, passing, and tempo, but Liverpool were also fairly direct, with little fiddling around at the back between the three defenders and goalkeeper. Only Villa (h) and Hull (h) had less possession than West Ham did on Saturday, only Villa (h) completed fewer passes against Liverpool. The difference being that Liverpool failed to score in those matches. This and the 2-2 draw against Arsenal are the only league matches where Liverpool has had more than 60% possession since the switch to 3-4-2-1.

Liverpool made West Ham look like the team who played 120 minutes on Tuesday, although injuries to Collins, Carroll, and Reid – with West Ham already missing Diafra Sakho, Jenkinson, Kouyate, and Tomkins – certainly helped. Still, that's impressive conditioning and impressive control from the home side. Unlike in the reverse fixture, Liverpool coped well with West Ham's early pressure and overloads down Liverpool's right, and (eventually) took advantage after weathering the early "storm."

Liverpool limited West Ham's chances, both from open play and set plays – despite seven corners and five free kicks in Liverpool's half. Only Chelsea have scored more goals from set plays than West Ham this season. Yes, Liverpool conceded from corners at Ludogorets and Wimbledon, and from a free kick at Chelsea, but Arsenal's first goal on December 21 is still the only set play goal Liverpool's conceded in the league since the loss at Palace at the end of November. One goal in 11 matches is a pretty good record, especially for this side.

Aside from set plays, West Ham's main threat came down Liverpool's right – something Chelsea attempted to exploit in the League Cup, and something we'll probably see a lot more of. Unlike Chelsea, it was through long balls to Carroll, Valencia, and Nolan. But Rodgers responded, unexpectedly switching Can and Skrtel, which blunted that threat. Both Markovic and Lallana tracked back reasonably well, especially when Downing got forward down the left. Downing, who led the reverse fixture in key passes and tallied an assist, created just one chance yesterday: an off-target Carroll header from a corner.

Liverpool took 21 shots but only 10 were from key passes. Prior to Saturday's match, Liverpool were averaging 15.6 shots per match and 12.0 key passes per match. That's something we saw a lot more last season, whether due to Suarez and Sturridge's freelancing or Liverpool's pressing directly leading to chances or a surplus of attackers allowing Liverpool to pick up possession from ricochets and half-clearances, but I doubt it's that noteworthy or will be much of a trend going forward – especially since both of Liverpool's goals came from key passes – but I still thought it interesting, mainly because it was so unfamiliar.

Also interesting but slightly more noteworthy: both of Liverpool's goals started from throw-ins on the right flank. The first passed along the back then quickly down the left, Sterling doing well to control Moreno's cross; the second featuring Coutinho running through West Ham's midfield before setting up Sturridge.

Once Sturridge came on, West Ham were done. Liverpool immediately became more threatening on the break, Liverpool got the game-killing second through Coutinho and Sturridge, Liverpool couldn't have been more comfortable for the final 10 minutes.

This is a match-up that's troubled Liverpool previously, a style of play that's troubled Liverpool previously, seen in both the hard-fought 2-1 win at West Ham last season (thanks to two penalties) and the 1-3 loss at West Ham this season. West Ham made it easier for Liverpool than expected – because of absences, because of injuries, because Allardyce decided to shift Downing deeper and use Nolan at the tip of the diamond to play even more direct, long ball football – but it's still a reassuring performance and result.

Both of which were very much needed prior to the much more difficult fixture list over the next month.

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