29 April 2015

Visualized: Liverpool 0-1 Hull City

Previous Match Infographics: West Brom (a), 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.

(Nota Bene: Here's the formation diagram usually included in match reviews.)

It was Saturday all over again, except Hull watched Liverpool on Saturday and figured out where the weaknesses were – Emre Can a right-back in name only and set plays (as usual) – and targeted those areas. And Hull scored.

And, once again, Liverpool did not.

I'd rather Brendan Rodgers had learned something from Saturday instead.

Emre Can, all of 21 years old, was signed as a midfielder. He's done best so far as a right-sided center-back in a back three. He's done well enough in midfield, as a right wing-back, and even when he played in a center-back pairing against Newcastle.

He is not, however, an orthodox right-back. Especially not when you seemingly ask him to come inside when Liverpool are in possession, playing almost as a third or fourth midfielder, leaving him well out of position when Hull counter-attacked.

Granted, Liverpool don't have a ton of options at the position with Johnson needed on the left because Moreno's injured, Manquillo and Enrique are wholly out of favor, and Flanagan's not ready to play, but that was one of the benefits of the 3-4-3: it helped hide Liverpool's current weakness at full-back rather than giving the opponent a clear area to exploit.

So it was unsurprising to see Hull target that area, especially early in the match, creating an outstanding chance in the sixth minute – Aluko's cross for N'Doye's eight-yard header straight at Mignolet – and concerted pressure just after half an hour, ultimately leading to the corner which led to the goal.

And it's no coincidence that Quinn and Brady was Hull's most frequent pass combination, by a vast margin.

If only that were Liverpool's only problem, Liverpool still might have had a chance. If only. But Liverpool also kept the same toothless formation from Saturday with Balotelli as a lone striker, and Liverpool rarely looked like scoring. Again.

This marks the second time that Liverpool have been held goalless in consecutive league matches this season, the other being 0-0 v Hull then 0-1 at Newcastle in late October/early November. Coincidentally, Liverpool played 4-3-3 with Balotelli up front in all four matches.

It's the first time that Liverpool have been held scoreless in both league matches against an opponent since the matches against West Brom in Rodgers' first season. That's the only other time it's happened under Rodgers. Even when beaten in both fixtures, Liverpool at least usually manages to tally a consolation at least once. And to be fair, it happened four times in 2011-12 – the season that's often felt most comparable to this, a season where Liverpool similarly struggled to score and did reasonably well in the cups – against Stoke, Tottenham, Swansea, and Fulham.

At least Liverpool put 75% of their shots on-target, I guess, the highest single-match shot accuracy since Rodgers became manager. Fat lot of good that it did. Coutinho's 20th minute set-play volley, and maybe Henderson's left-footed half volley were the only shots that truly tested Steve Harper.

Lost in my frequent complaints about Liverpool's usually horrific shooting is the fact that shooting accuracy clearly isn't the end-all, be-all. It is a fairly decent barometer. But you still have to take good shots. Liverpool did not. I've become far too reliant on Michael Caley's Expected Goals charts in these write-ups, but it's again useful. Despite Liverpool's high shooting accuracy, despite four on-target Danger Zone shots, Liverpool's expected return remains paltry. And Liverpool's actual return remains paltry.

To be fair, Liverpool painfully lost this fixture last season, taking just nine shots, scoring from Gerrard's free kick but conceding twice on the counter and once on an uncleared set play. And that was with Suarez as a lone striker, almost as isolated as Balotelli was yesterday. That was with Moses and Sterling as unable to do damage from the flanks as Sterling and Ibe were yesterday. That was with Gerrard and Henderson unable to add much to the attack from midfield; at least Coutinho and Henderson were Liverpool's best players yesterday, aside from maybe Mignolet.

We've often talked about learning from mistakes. That Liverpool has tried and failed in three out of four matches against Hull when playing with a lone striker against Steve Bruce's 3-5-2 is maddening. Last season's home win came solely because of two set play goals. Four matches against Hull's 3-5-2, Liverpool playing either 4-2-3-1 or 4-1-2-3, zero open play goals.

That Liverpool struck with the same formation and almost the same XI as Saturday's pathetic performance – Allen for Gerrard the sole change – is similarly maddening. The same formation and similar personnel, I'll add, which led to losses to Villa, Newcastle, Palace, etc. back in the dismal autumn stretch. I know Rodgers has always spoken about how 4-3-3 is his preferred formation, but the retreat away from the 3-4-3 which led to a 13-match unbeaten stretch – a formation that looked so promising that even the youth sides started using it – for what we've seen since makes little sense.

At this point, I can't help but don my tin foil conspiracy theory hat. Maybe Liverpool are just doing everything they can to avoid the Europa League now that fourth place is out the question? Maybe Rodgers is trying to prove to FSG that Balotelli needs to be sold, that Liverpool needs to spend heavily on the attack next summer?

It makes as much sense as anything else we've seen over the last two matches. I think I'm joking, but I'm not entirely sure.

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

Maybe Rodgers is trying to win but doesn't know how with the players he's signed as manager.