27 April 2015

Visualized: Liverpool 0-0 West Brom

Previous Match Infographics: Newcastle (h), Blackburn [FA Cup] (a), Arsenal (a), Manchester United (h). 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.

No matter the formation, no matter the striker(s), Liverpool still struggles to score. This is news to no one.

Liverpool struggles to score when opponents press them, disjointing the defense and midfield, cutting off supply to the front players. Liverpool struggles to score when limited to the counter-attack, unable to play at a quick enough pace before defenders get into position. And Liverpool struggles to score when defenses sit deep, denying time, space, and ways into the penalty area.

The first half on Saturday was like nothing I'd ever seen before, Liverpool's worst troubles against a deep defense magnified to the nth degree. Liverpool had 79% possession – the highest in a single half since Rodgers became manager – but that possession only led to eight shots. All eight shots came from outside the box. All eight shots were either off-target or blocked. It was as if West Brom had built a wall around the 18-yard box, and all Liverpool had to break it down were squeaky plastic mallets.

Coutinho was the worst offender, with eight of his nine shots – the most he's taken in a match since joining Liverpool – coming from outside the box. One on-target, three off-target, four blocked.

Yikes. There had to be some regression to the mean after those goals against Bolton, Southampton, and Manchester City. But that total was also understandable since no one else seemed up to the task. All five of Balotelli's shots (four from outside the box) were either off-target or blocked. And Raheem Sterling failed to take a single shot, despite playing wide-left for the majority of the match, the place where he's ostensibly best able to take on his defender, cut inside, and shoot. Incidentally, Sterling was successful with just two of his eight attempted dribbles, well below his 52% success rate. Five different attackers, if you include the two substitutes. Only six shots, from just two players. None were on-target. Sigh.

In total, 15 of Liverpool's 22 shots came from outside the box. So at least Liverpool were "better" in the second half, I guess, "unlucky" not to score in either the 56th or 63rd minute.

But 15 is the most outside-the-box shots that Liverpool have taken in a match this season, and 68.2% is the highest proportion of outside-the-box shots in a match this season, slightly more than the 8 of 12 against Southampton or the 4 of 6 at Newcastle.

Liverpool have taken 22 or more shots and failed to score just four times since Rodgers became manager: against West Brom and at Reading in 2012-13, against Chelsea in that soul-killing loss last season, and Saturday's match. Four times in 109 matches.

Unsurprisingly, Saturday saw Liverpool's worst shooting accuracy in those four matches. 28% against West Brom in 2012-13 (seven of 25), 39.3% at Reading (11 of 28), 30.8% against Chelsea (eight of 26), and 22.7% yesterday (five of 22).

And you know what's really sad? 22.7% isn't anywhere near Liverpool's worst shooting accuracy in a match this season. There was the 5.6% against Villa, the 8.3% at Palace, the 18.8% against Stoke, the 13.3% against Sunderland, the 19% against Leicester, the 14.3% against United, and the 15.4% at Arsenal. Seven matches worse than yesterday's abomination. One win, two draws, and four losses, including the two losses which doomed Liverpool's hopes for fourth.

Liverpool's worst shooting accuracy in a match last season was 20%, when they took just five shots at Villa, putting the lone shot on-target in the net. A match that Liverpool won, I'll add. And that was the only match where Liverpool shot worse than 25%.

I cannot sigh hard enough.

West Brom barely tried to attack until the final few minutes but had just one fewer shot on-target than Liverpool. West Brom barely tried to attack until the final few minutes and still had almost the same Expected Goals total as Liverpool.

West Brom's 115 completed passes were also the fewest by an opponent since Rodgers became Liverpool manager. The previous low was Aston Villa's 146 in 2012-13, a match that Villa won 1-3. Liverpool's opponents have been held to fewer than 200 completed passes ten times in the last three seasons: four this season, four last season, and four in 2012-13. Liverpool's record in those matches in 4W-2D-4L, with three of those four wins coming in 2013-14, mainly thanks to goals from some guy named Luis Suarez.

Liverpool completed 64 more final third passes than West Brom completed passes in total. Liverpool took slightly more than twice as many shots, Liverpool created three times as many chances. And both sides finished with the same amount of goals. None.

Aside from that special Suarez season, Liverpool have struggled against deep defenses. This isn't an entirely new phenomenon. Allardyce, Paul Lambert, and Steve Bruce have all taken points off of Liverpool in a similar manner, but none has been a bigger bane than Tony Pulis.

That's amazing. And that's against three different Tony Pulis clubs under four different Liverpool managers.

So, yes, some of Liverpool's struggles were assuredly Pulis-related, not for the first time and probably not for the last. But it's not as if Liverpool's impotence was a new feature either.

We know what this team's issues are. They've been the same issues all season long.

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