23 March 2015

Visualized: Liverpool 1-2 Manchester United

Previous Match Infographics: Swansea (a), Burnley (h), Manchester City (h). Besiktas (a), Southampton (a), Besiktas (h), Tottenham (h), Everton (a), West Ham (h), 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.

Don't take your chance(s), get punished. Do something stupid, get punished. I feel like I've written this before.

The stupidity need not be dwelt upon – congratulations on picking up what's almost certainly Liverpool's fastest red card, Stevie – but Liverpool's attack remains problematic.

Playing with ten men for the entire second half obviously exaggerated the issues, but yesterday was a low-water mark in a lot of areas.

Liverpool's seven shots were the fewest taken at Anfield since Rodgers became manager. The previous low was 10, set against Southampton (0-1 loss) and City (3-2 win) last season.

It was just the fourth time under Rodgers where Liverpool has only put a single shot on-target. The others were a 1-0 win at Villa last season, the 0-1 loss at home against Villa in September, and the 1-3 loss at Palace in November.

Liverpool have never been so thoroughly out-possessed at home under Rodgers. The previous low was 42.7% against Arsenal last season. where Liverpool scored early and often then sat back and waited for counter-attacks. The only other match that comes close was last season's win over United, another which featured an early Liverpool goal and then a defensive shell.

Manchester United won the tactical battle yesterday, at least in the all-important first half. United's pressing was fantastic, with 11 tackles and four interceptions in Liverpool's half, and Skrtel and Can well below their season average in both total passes and pass accuracy. Henderson completely nullified by Fellaini; Fellaini and Herrera's pressing on Allen and Henderson utterly disjointing Liverpool's midfield until the switch to the diamond, bringing Lallana deeper to add another outlet. Moreno, Coutinho, and Allen overwhelmed by Mata and Valencia early on, United's top two passers, Mata's runs inside and in behind baffling Liverpool's left back.

Compare Liverpool's defensive actions on the left and right flanks. Liverpool's left is almost bare. That's a bad thing, and it's not coincidence that both of United's goals came from that side, even if the build-up came from elsewhere. Both of United's goals (and the tackles/interceptions chalkboard) highlighted one thing van Gaal's side did very well: overload Liverpool's right, then quickly switch flanks to an open Mata, having gotten away from one or more of Liverpool's defenders through clever and varied movement.

Where Liverpool and United attacked from, via WhoScored

Considering United's set-up and strengths, I'm surprised that Liverpool didn't stick with the diamond midfield which changed the game against Swansea.

I'm also not sure what the fix is in attack. Sturridge remains far from his best, but in creating that chance for Lallana and scoring a difficult goal, it's hard to complain too much about his performance. He's often better when playing with a second striker, but Balotelli, Lambert, and Borini simply haven't proven to be useful partners.

Sterling's inability to influence the game from wing-back was one of Liverpool's biggest attacking issues against both United and Swansea. Yesterday was the first time that Sterling failed to take a shot or create a chance when starting since last season's 3-0 win at Old Trafford a year ago, where he played 72 minutes at the point of the diamond before going off. The only other match that happened was last season's 1-2 loss at Chelsea, and yesterday was the first time it'd happened when Sterling played the full 90 minutes. Sure, we can expect more from him, especially considering his very public contract negotiations, but Sterling's also become a victim of his own versatility, Liverpool's weakness at wing-back (especially with both Markovic and Ibe out), and Liverpool's relative surplus of attacking midfielders.

Yes, it's probably a different match if Lallana takes his chance in the 35th. It's certainly a different match if Gerrard manages to stay on the pitch for more than 48 seconds. But Liverpool weren't good enough regardless, especially in the first half. That Liverpool played so poorly, had a man sent off, and still were in contention for a draw until the final whistle is the slightest of silver linings. Managing just six shots, it's not as if United put Liverpool to the sword, but Manchester United had a better game plan, Manchester United were better organized, and Manchester United were all-around better.

And that's not an easy sentence to write.


Marque Pierre Sondergaard said...

Not an easy sentence to write. Not an easy sentence to read... [sigh]

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't be surprised if it was the fastest red card in the history of the world. I'm going to ask Mel Brooks. He'll know.

United always felt like they had an extra guy whenever the ball was anywhere near the midfield. We never got close to their guys and never effectively contested the ball. It was very annoying watching a 3 on 3 or a 4 on 4, and we always let United's off-ball guys move/waltz into space, so that their guy with the ball had 2 easy passing options. Then we would try to press the new guy with the ball and let the other 2 guys without it move/waltz into space.

All week in the build up to the game, Van Gaal talked about teaching his guys in practice to maintain their composure and keep their heads in all situations. Never react. Always think first. Who knew we should have been doing the same? That should be a given, really, with a team as "smart" as ours. At least the fans grabbed hold of Mario when Smalling worked him up. You should always wait for the right moment in a game to dish out some retribution. Wait for that 50/50 ball and put your entire body into the challenge. But still make it a "legal" challenge. Never take a card. Certainly never a red. Make the other guys eyes water. But never try to intentionally injure another player. Bad Karma, that.

It's a long haul and a very iffy proposition to a top 4 finish now. Could certainly use the CL dough to be able to make the best summer moves to significantly improve the squad. The attraction of CL helps to attract players and keep existing players in certain circumstances, of course.

Need those 3 points at the Emirates.

Onward and hopefully upward.