14 April 2015

Visualized: Liverpool 2-0 Newcastle

Previous Match Infographics: Blackburn (a) [FA]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.)

This infographic does not adequately explain how bad Newcastle were. My memory clearly isn't perfect, but I'm struggling to think of less impressive opponents this season. Maybe Hull, who didn't even try to attack but still came away with a point at Anfield back in October. Maybe Leicester, who did little right, outshooting Liverpool but only scoring because a rebound led to an off-target shot which ricocheted off the post and then off Mignolet's back, before gift-wrapping Liverpool three goals in a 3-1 win on Leicester's ground in December.

This infographic does adequately explain a couple of things, though. 1) Liverpool's continuing issues, writing about which has become rote, primarily Liverpool's inability to consistently put shots on-target or to score goals. 2) Just as against Blackburn, Liverpool's inability to limit the opposition's chances, despite playing opposition as bad as Newcastle were.

It seems the height of hubris to write, but any good chances for that Newcastle side was too many chances. And yet Liverpool required a marvelous save from Mignolet when Perez found space for a header and for Lee Mason to unbelievably ignore the clearest of penalties from Dejan Lovren, not to mention a handful of half chances for the away side. Despite out-possessing Newcastle 62.1-37.9%, Liverpool only outshot Newcastle 14-10. The penalty was an individual mistake (and had it been given, it'd have been Lovren's seventh defensive error of the season, tying him for the most in the league with QPR's Rob Green). As was Perez's header to a lesser extent, getting behind Can and in front of Johnson far too easily. Late runs into the box allowed Abeid two dangerous first half chances, midfielders late to track, center-backs late to step up. And then there was the 10-minute spell of pressure to start the half, even if it resulted in only a couple of speculative shots.

Maybe I'm being too harsh. It was just the third time Liverpool have played four-at-the-back in 2015, after the second half at Arsenal and the FA Cup tie at Blackburn. It was the first time we've seen that back four, the first time Emre Can has played in a center-back pairing, Johnson making his first league start since December 14, and Dejan Lovren continuing to be Dejan Lovren. Liverpool have played two opponents far less talented than they are, and yes, Liverpool have kept clean sheets in both matches, but you can't help think that opponents better than Blackburn and Newcastle will ruthlessly dismantle a four-man Liverpool defense.

Liverpool had an awful Newcastle by the throat in the first 30 minutes, yet should have gone into halftime either level or behind. It took until the 70th minute to seal the match, which seems around 40-50 minutes longer than it should have.

And that's because Liverpool remain about as toothless as a homeless meth addict.

Sterling's goal was fantastic: an incredible cross-field assist from Henderson, Sterling doing what he does best in cutting inside from the left and side-footing past the keeper. Allen's goal was surprisingly well-taken, if resulting from a defensive error, an unfortunate ricochet off Williamson.

In between (and after), Liverpool wasted multiple opportunities. And it was more the final pass or poor touch or failed run than off-target shooting; Liverpool's 42.9% shooting accuracy is one of the better this season, even if the other on-target shots (Coutinho and Moreno from narrow angles, Coutinho and Sterling from distance) were fairly simple saves. But Sterling's missed sitter, Lovren and Sterling's missed set play chances, Borini's heavy touch when through on goal, Sterling not continuing his run for Coutinho's center across the six-yard box all stick out in the memory, and there are certainly other moments I'm missing.

But again, maybe this is too harsh. Here we are, a 2-0 win, the 13th clean sheet of the league campaign, four points off fourth, and I've done nothing but complain. Liverpool had an unfamiliar back four and no recognized striker. The average age of the starting XI was just 23.9, and that includes 30-year-old Glen Johnson and 28-year-old Lucas; otherwise the oldest outfield player was 25-year-old Dejan Lovren.

When Liverpool took shots, they took them from good positions. 11 of Liverpool's 14 shots came inside the box, the second-highest proportion of inside-the-box shots this season. Only the 2-0 win at Villa, another comprehensive if less-than-impressive victory against fairly dismal opposition, featured higher (10 of 12 shots inside the box).

Coutinho was surprisingly influential as a false nine – the first time he's played there for Liverpool and, to my limited-outside-Liverpool knowledge, in his career – finding space between Newcastle's lines, able to create for runners (Sterling, Henderson, Ibe, Borini) in behind. Despite playing in such an advanced position, only Lucas and Moreno completed more passes. No one took more shots, only Henderson created more chances. It won't work against every opponent, but it was a clever tactic against Newcastle, confusing a makeshift defense, drawing the center-backs out of position, creating space for other attackers. Space in attack has been at a premium for this Liverpool side throughout the season.

Finally, an amusing statistic, if incidental to the result. Yesterday's match saw Newcastle's sixth red card in their last six matches against Liverpool. The only game which hasn't featured a Newcastle dismissal since Rodgers became manager was the reverse fixture, Liverpool's pathetic 0-1 loss in November. Sissoko yesterday, Shola Ameobi and Dummett in May 2014, Yanga-Mbiwa in October 2013, Debuchy in April 2013, and Coloccini in November 2012. Six red cards, six different players.

Never stop being you, Newcastle.

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