02 March 2015

Visualized: Liverpool 2-1 Manchester City

Previous Match Infographics: 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.

When looking at the stats, two things stood out in yesterday's match: Manchester City's inability to get shots (or put them on target) and Liverpool's sudden proficiency from outside the box shots.

As said in yesterday's match review, City's eight shots were their lowest total in a league match this season. But more than that, City suffered from Liverpool's frequent problem: there may have been fewer chances than usual, but City simply didn't take the ones they had. Agüero hitting the post in the 13th minute. The same player's clear-cut chance header just after halftime. Silva and Agüero's mishit efforts at the end of the match. Take just one of those opportunities, and we're left with a very different feeling about yesterday's contest.

Still, limiting the defending champions to just eight shots, just three in the Danger Zone, just three after Liverpool took the lead for a second time in a match that City desperately needed points from, is impressive. Manchester City are the division's top scorers, and average 16.6 shots per game, nearly a full shot more than the next-closest side.

Liverpool are averaging fewer shots conceded since switching to three-at-the-back, but it's not a drastic amount. 11.3 before the switch, 10.75 after. And similar goes for inside the box shots and Danger Zone shots. 5.9 shots allowed inside the box per match before, 5.6 since. 3.7 Danger Zone allowed before, 3.9 since. Incidentally, all of those numbers are higher than what Manchester City were allowed yesterday.

My suspicion is shots against the 3-4-2-1 are more difficult shots because they're more contested shots with more defenders in the area, which is borne out by the fact that Liverpool are blocking a higher percentage of opposition shots (25.9% before, 27.1% since), and that the opposition's shot accuracy is drastically lower since the switch. It was 34.1% before Liverpool switched to three at the back. It's 27.1% since.

Regardless, there's only one stat that matters here. Liverpool allowed 1.27 goals per game before the switch to three-at-the-back, and are allowing 0.92 since. And, I guess, that Liverpool took 1.4 points per game before the switch, and have averaged 2.25 points per game since.

As for Liverpool's goals yesterday. Since Rodgers became manager, Liverpool have scored more than one open play goal from outside the box in just three other league matches, all in 2012-13. Suarez's hat-trick at Norwich, Henderson and Gerrard against Norwich, and Sturridge and Gerrard at Manchester City. If you also include set play goals, there are two more matches from last season: two from Suarez at Norwich, and Coutinho and Henderson against Tottenham.

That's either four or six matches, depending on your definition, out of 103 matches in total.

It doesn't happen often.

Before yesterday, Liverpool had scored just four league goals from outside the box this season: open play strikes from Can, Lallana (the ricochet from Fabianski's attempted clearance), and Coutinho, plus a direct free kick from Gerrard. By themselves, Suarez and Sturridge accounted for 11 outside-the-box goals last season, with Gerrard (2), Coutinho (2), Henderson (2), Moses, and Sterling chipping in eight more.

So it's about time that happened.

Without those unlikely goals from Coutinho and Henderson, without Manchester City's wastefulness at the other end, this is a very different result, no matter how influential Coutinho was (very), no matter how impressive Allen was (very), no matter how hard Liverpool worked in the second half (very). But those are the fine margins you operate with in the Premier League, especially when you're facing the defending champions. Given the improvement we've seen over the last few months, Liverpool were due to profit from those fine margins, that sort of luck having deserted them in contests against United, Arsenal, Chelsea (League Cup), among others.

Take your chances, however unlikely they may be, and – by hook or by crook – stop the opposition from taking theirs. It's a simple game, football.

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