28 May 2015

Liverpool Goals Scored and Conceded 2014-15

Here are similar images from 2011-12, 2012-13, and 2013-14.

And here's a quick comparison to Rodgers' two other seasons.

Hey, at least Liverpool are conceding less. Right? Nowhere near less enough to make up for the massive loss of goals – exactly half of last season's goals per game average – but it's something, I guess. Any port in a storm, etc.

This is news to no one, but Liverpool scored a hell of a lot less goals than usual.

1.28 goals per game is Liverpool's worst average in all competitions the last 20 years; the next closest was 1.37gpg in 2004-05. This season's 1.37 goals per game in the Premier League is the joint third-worst, behind 2011-12 (1.24) and 1999-00 (1.34).

This was a historically bad season in front of goal. Again, I doubt that's news to anyone. This is what happens when you lose Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge (especially Suarez), who scored 52 league goals by themselves in 2013-14, the same total that Liverpool put up in the league this season.

The two things that Liverpool were arguably best at last season – scoring early and scoring from set plays – completely deserted them this season.

Last season: 62 first half goals. This season: 28 first half goals.

Last season: 26 set play goals (with 11 penalties). This season: 13 set play goals (with seven penalties).

There's regression to the mean and there's "oh shit, we've driven straight off the cliff." This is what happens when you lose Luis Suarez (and Daniel Sturridge) and fail to replace him.

Some small signs of positivity? Liverpool scored more as the game went on, the highest total in the last 15 minutes, and 18 different players scored this season, which the most in a single season in quite some time. That's about it.

Despite the overall reduction in goals conceded, that 29% of the opposition's goals came inside the six-yard box is unforgivable. Liverpool may have conceded fewer, but the goals they conceded were mainly close range, clustered centrally within 12 yards from goal. Last season (the first time I started tracking location in-depth), it was 21.8% inside the six-yard box. Which was almost identical to the 20.9% that Liverpool scored in the six-yard box. Well, Liverpool were especially terrible in the six-yard box this season, with only 18.9% of their goals (14 in total) in that area.

Meanwhile, 16.2% of Liverpool's goals came from outside the box, again a decline from last season's 19.1%. And that's despite Liverpool taking more shots from outside the box (admittedly, league only) than any other Premier League side.

As said a few times this season, this was the first time since 2004-05 that Liverpool's top scorer in the league failed to hit double figures. Baros had nine that season (13 in all competitions, as did Gerrard and Luis Garcia), Gerrard had nine this season (13 in competitions). And those are the only times that's happened since World War II.

Long story short: Buy goals this summer. Buy lots of them, buy them now.

26 May 2015

On Steven Gerrard

How are you supposed to adequately or appropriately sum up 17 years of Steven Gerrard?

The above graphic seems a decent start, if I may say so myself. Third-most in all-time Liverpool appearances, behind only Ian Callaghan and Jamie Carragher. The fifth-most goals, the highest total for a Liverpool midfielder. Ian Rush is the only other player to appear on both Top-10 lists. Liverpool's top scorer in Europe. Almost twice as many second half goals as first half goals, as the late stages of a match have always seemed and usually been Gerrard Time. 11 trophies won, basically every possible club trophy except the great, elusive league championship. Scoring in every major cup final: the UEFA Cup (2001), the League Cup (2003), the Champions League (2005), and the FA Cup (2006), all matches that Liverpool won. And he did it with Living-On-Fumes-Of-Past-Glories Liverpool, not the We-Run-This-Country-And-Continent Liverpool of the 1970s and 1980s.

But that's still nowhere near sufficient. It's hard to diagram Olympiakos and AC Milan and West Ham, among multiple others, that perpetual feeling – even in his dotage – that Gerrard can and Gerrard did and Gerrard will save Liverpool. I know you remember Olympiakos and AC Milan and West Ham. I also suspect you still remember Charlton in 2002-03, the Watford League Cup semifinals in 2004-05, Aston Villa in 2007-08, Boro in 2008-09, game-winning hat-tricks against Napoli and Everton, and other matches too numerous to list here and even some that I've forgotten. But all of a sudden, I'll remember them, you'll remember then, for no real reason except that it happened and we'll forever treasure it. Even in his last match, the worst match of his Liverpool tenure, he's the only Liverpool player who scores, a disturbingly similar goal to his first for the club. A goal which took place 5651 days ago. Gerrard scored three of the last four Liverpool goals in this hellish campaign, and finished as Liverpool's top scorer.

At the same time, there's the seven red cards, more than twice as many as the next closest Liverpool player since 1990-91, and probably even farther back. I'm sure you still remember his most recent, an archetypal blood-and-thunder-and-blood-so-much-blood performance rather than brains-and-guile performance in the match which was the beginning of the end in Liverpool's fight for fourth. There are the multiple matches where he again attempted to put Liverpool upon his broad shoulders, but ultimately failed, to the detriment of both team and player, the inevitable conflict that results from a superlative individual in what is most definitely a team sport. There are the multiple managers – five, all five, not to mention all those poor saps in charge of England – who could never quite figure out how to fully harness him, how to build their teams around him. There's the fact that his best two seasons (arguably, of course) came with him as a right winger and attacking #10 rather than his "preferred" central midfield position. There's the end of last season and then this one, there's that last futile title chase falling just short and the chaos that followed, and there's that slip.

Gerrard was somehow both talisman and, at times, millstone. This is the dichotomy that is Steven Gerrard, that has been Steven Gerrard for 17 seasons. As Brian Phillips wrote, far better than I could, he is as Liverpool as Liverpool gets, becoming a microcosm of the club itself at a time when the club had little other tangible identity. That Liverpool which won everything in sight? Gone, pushed into the second tier of England and Europe, at best, mainly due to the increasing influence of finances and an ownership and management unable to keep pace. A Liverpool which increasingly carries itself like every other football (and sports) "franchise" – that dirty word – despite the best efforts of the local community. So, for better or worse, better and worse, Steven Gerrard stepped into the breach: a symbol, the personification, of the club itself.

How do you eulogize the once-in-a-lifetime, born-and-bred force of nature who somehow became akin to the furniture, as much an indelible part of Liverpool as the Kop, while fans often focused on sexier signings like Fernando Torres and Luis Suarez? He was, simply put, taken for granted for more than a decade, both at his peak and in the past few seasons. Liverpool need to win? Gerrard will win it. Liverpool aren't good enough? Gerrard will try to make them good enough. And often fail, but not for lack of effort. But sometimes he wouldn't, and it'd be wonderful, it'd be euphoric, it'd be Olympiakos and AC Milan and West Ham. And it'd remind you that you are watching greatness. Incomparable, singular, flawed, once-in-a-lifetime, born-and-bred greatness.

You can't drive a flatbed truck around Merseyside and collect homegrown kids who come to the club at age 9 and become club captain, England captain, club legend. You know how many other Merseyside-born players featured this season? Two. 33-year-old Rickie Lambert – a lovely story but otherwise the less said the better – and Jordan Rossiter, in one League Cup match, the most recent to be stuck with the perpetual Gerrard comparisons.

We can hope there's another in the pipeline, and there's always one a generation who gets the "Next Steven Gerrard" label, as Rossiter has. But they haven't become Steven Gerrard, and chances are, they won't. We shall never see his like again. And now his watch is over.

I still haven't come to terms with Liverpool starting a season without Steven Gerrard, and I don't know that I'll be able to until August 8. And even then, it'll still take some getting used to. I started watching Liverpool in 2002, and next season will be the first where there's no player from the side started watching. Time makes fools of us all.

It is truly the end of an era, and, given this season's results, I can't help but feel that it's further foreboding for a frightening future.

25 May 2015

Visualized: Liverpool 1-6 Stoke

Previous Match Infographics: Crystal Palace (h), Chelsea (a), QPR (h), Hull City (a), 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.

Good riddance, 2014-15.

You'll forgive me if I don't write a bunch of words you've already read to go along with this graphic. Liverpool can't defend, especially in a four at the back; Liverpool can't score no matter who's playing, etc. Liverpool took just two danger zone shots, Liverpool had three defensive errors lead to a goal for the first time this season. Liverpool don't know its best personnel, Liverpool don't know its best formation. Yadda yadda yadda. Yesterday saw all of Liverpool's recurring problems, writ large over all four walls and the ceiling in frantic permanent marker. Which seems a fitting final nail for the season. This graphic is here for thoroughness' sake and little more. Again, good riddance, 2014-15.

Also, you'll get a lot of other content from me over the next few weeks, both wrapping up the campaign and on Gerrard's career. As if that's any consolation.

This stupid season.

24 May 2015

Liverpool 1-6 Stoke

Diouf 22' 26'
Walters 30'
Adam 42'
Nzonzi 45'
Gerrard 72'
Crouch 80'

You always want to peak late, so it's good to see Liverpool hit the apex of embarrassment in the last match of the season. It's a fitting way to end this dismal campaign. Nice job, guys.

Liverpool's worst league loss since 1963. The first time Liverpool have conceded five goals in a single half since 1957. The first time Stoke have scored five or more goals in the Premier League. Gerrard's last match for Liverpool and it's the worst loss of Gerrard's career.

That's impressive.

There's no point in reviewing that shit show. It was a marvelous microcosm of Liverpool's season to forget. An unfamiliar formation with no recognized striker, without wide players who'd be able to get behind Liverpool's "false nine," or whatever Rodgers was attempting. Raheem Sterling left on the bench, and not used as a substitute, after this week's drama. An attack with no idea how to attack, a defense with no idea how to defend. Emre Can at right back again, the side where Stoke's first three goals came from. Six horrific goals conceded, all from open play (surprisingly), all in different manners, from tap-in rebounds to missed assignments to long range beauties to unmarked free headers.

It is fitting that Gerrard got Liverpool's second half consolation, rolling back the years by charging behind Stoke's (admittedly flat-footed) back line for Lambert's flick-on, the lone bright spot in the tire fire that is Liverpool. That is always Liverpool. That has been Liverpool for the majority of Gerrard's golden career. And then Liverpool went and conceded again, to another ex-Liverpool player.

Two months ago, I thought it impossible that Brendan Rodgers would lose his job, no matter how badly this season went. Well, since losing to Aston Villa at Wembley, having lost to United and Arsenal to finally give up on fourth a few matches before, Liverpool have won just once, against QPR, a side who had even less to play for than Liverpool. And barely won at that.

Six matches. One win, two draws, three losses. Five goals scored, 12 goals conceded, including nine in the last two matches. Liverpool simply gave up the ghost, gave up on the season, and seemingly gave up on the manager, and that's incredibly hard to forgive.

Maybe I'll feel different in the cold light of day later, but it's hard to see Rodgers hanging on to his job after that. It'll take a hell of a meeting with FSG in the coming weeks, at least. I try not to overreact after a single match but it's hard not to after that match.

Despite a seemingly stronger squad (I guess), Liverpool are currently worse off than they were at the beginning of 2012-13. When ten-man Liverpool lost 0-3 at West Brom on the first day of the season, you thought that'd be the low-water mark of Rodgers' Liverpool tenure. Nope. Not even close.

After three seasons, it feels like 2012-13 and 2014-15 are the baseline (7th and 6th place, 61 and 62 points respectively), are the norm, and 2013-14 was a Suarez-led aberration. And that's simply unacceptable. At least in 2012-13, you could see progress, especially after the signings of Sturridge and Coutinho. But there hasn't been any progress this season; there has been the opposite of progress, for the first four months and the last two, with recurring problems evident throughout both stretches.

And that may well cost Rodgers his job.

23 May 2015

Liverpool at Stoke 05.24.15

10am ET, live in the US on SyFy

Last four head-to-head:
1-0 Liverpool (h) 11.29.14
5-3 Liverpool (a) 01.12.14
1-0 Liverpool (h) 08.17.13
1-3 Stoke (a) 12.26.13

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-3 Palace (h); 1-1 Chelsea (a); 2-1 QPR (h)
Stoke: 0-0 Burnley (a); 3-0 Spurs (h); 0-2 Swansea (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Gerrard 8; Sterling 7; Henderson 6; Coutinho, Lallana 5; Sturridge 4; Lambert, Markovic, Moreno 2; Allen, Balotelli, Borini, Can, Johnson, Skrtel 1
Stoke: Diouf 10; Crouch, Walters 7; Adam 6; Bojan 4; Moses 3; Nzonzi, Shawcross 2; Arnautovic 1

Referee: Anthony Taylor

Guess at a line-up:
Can Skrtel Lovren Moreno
Henderson Coutinho
Ibe Sterling Lallana

This is it. This season's last waltz, the last chance to dance out of tune, step on each other's toes, and shit in the punch bowl.


I doubt I need remind how much of a disappointment this season has been. Or how terrible the last few weeks after been, most notably those embarrassing losses against Palace and Hull. Liverpool have been going through the motions since elimination from the FA Cup and losses to United and Arsenal doomed the bid for fourth.

Well, Liverpool have to go through the motions one more time. And your guess is as good as mine as to whether those motions will in 4-3-3 or 3-4-3, or whether it'll be Sterling or Lambert or Balotelli up top.

I suspect last week was the exception, and Rodgers would prefer to stick with four at the back, seeing that as the preferred formation for the future, picking three at the back against Palace in the hopes of blunting their speedy counter-attack (sigh). And if that's the case, it'll be Skrtel and Lovren as the center-backs, and Can and either Johnson or Moreno as the full-backs. It'll be Gerrard as the deepest midfielder, with Henderson and Coutinho or Allen between the lines. It'll probably be Sterling up front, despite the last week he's had, Liverpool keeping faith with him to prove they still want him at the club and because there's still no better options. And it'll probably be Lallana and Ibe or Coutinho or Markovic on the flanks.

And hopefully this time will be different from all those other times, because Liverpool need to win tomorrow. If Liverpool lose (or draw) and both Tottenham (at Everton) and Southampton (at City) win, Liverpool will finish 7th, and Liverpool will start their Europa League campaign sometime in July. Late July if Arsenal win the FA Cup but early July if Villa do, meaning that Liverpool would qualify for the Europa League based on the Fair Play Table. Which has an excellent chance of dooming the season before the season even starts.

Meanwhile, Stoke are guaranteed ninth place, their highest Premier League finish, but that shouldn't mean they'll just be going through the motions tomorrow. Hughes won't want to end this campaign with a defeat: a defeat at home, a defeat to Liverpool, a club he loves getting one over on.

Stoke have used the same XI for last two matches, the same front six for last three. So it seems safe to assume we'll see similar, if not the same, tomorrow. Butland; Cameron, Shawcross, Muniesa, Pieters; Whelan, Nzonzi; Walters, Adam, Arnautovic; Diouf.

Charlie Adam (I know right!) has been the star lately, with four goals in the last seven matches, his form earning him a recall to the Scotland national team. Mame Biram Diouf hasn't been far behind, with 10 goals this season – more, I'll churlishly note, than any Liverpool player – dangerous on the counter, even if not blessed with the pace that so dismantled Liverpool last week.

Victor Moses, another ex-Liverpool player on Stoke's books (along with Crouch, who's likely to come off the bench), and Bojan are out injured, while Stephen Ireland will be a game-time decision.

Last season – that magical season which has become increasingly harder and harder to remember – notwithstanding, Liverpool have struggled at the Britannia even at the best of times. The 5-3 win 16 months ago was Liverpool's first Premier League win at Stoke since their promotion in 2008-09, with three losses and two draws prior.

I suspect tomorrow will be similarly difficult, because Stoke and because Liverpool. Still. This is the last waltz, more specifically Gerrard's last waltz. After last week's failure, you'd have to believe – well, "want to believe" is probably more appropriate – that Liverpool have one more decent performance in them before we drop the curtain on 2014-15.

18 May 2015

Visualized: Liverpool 1-3 Crystal Palace

Previous Match Infographics: Chelsea (a), QPR (h), Hull City (a), 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.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

This match, aside from the Gerrard eulogies, may have seemed familiar. Because we saw it back in November.

Seven months earlier, a different Liverpool formation, slightly different personnel from both sides, and a different manager for Crystal Palace. But the same script, and the same result with the same scoreline.

Liverpool scoring first, but Crystal Palace following with the next three: a first half equalizer about 15 minutes after the opener, then two second half goals as Liverpool looked increasingly unable to get through their opponents. A similarly outstanding direct free kick from Palace. The same vulnerability on Crystal Palace counter-attacks and the same player – Yannick Bolasie – terrifying the life out of Liverpool's defense, especially Dejan Lovren. If you look at the goal chalkboards for both matches you'll notice a similar run from Bolasie down Liverpool's inside left, around and past Lovren, to set up Palace's second.

And the same Liverpool inability to take decent shots or put enough shots on-target. A feature we've seen in far too many matches this season. At least Liverpool put more than one shot on-target this time?

I know you're sick about me writing about Liverpool's shooting. I'm sick of writing about Liverpool's shooting. But – despite Liverpool's continuing defensive weaknesses, from direct counter-attacks and on set plays, whether it's a back four or back three – that is the main issue, the most galling recurring feature, the alpha and omega which doomed Liverpool's campaign.

16.7% shot accuracy is really, really bad. And it's only the sixth-worst accuracy Liverpool's posted this season, bettering the performances against Villa, at Palace, against Sunderland, against United, and at Arsenal. Liverpool never shot worse than 20% last season, and shot worse than 16.7% just twice in 2012-13: the 10-man loss at West Brom and 0-0 draw with Stoke, matches in August and October respectively.

Nine of Liverpool's last 10 shots came from outside the box. The only inside-the-box shot in the final 40 minutes, from Sterling in the 75th, was immediately blocked. Unsurprisingly, seven of those nine were off-target, with one blocked and one on-target: Gerrard's placed effort easily saved in the 54th. Liverpool were desperate, Liverpool were increasingly impatient, and Liverpool were easily frustrated by a Palace side that had lost its last four matches.

Meanwhile, seven Danger Zone shots from Crystal Palace, with 11 of 15 shots inside Liverpool's box. Only the loss to Chelsea in November saw Liverpool's opponent with more In-Box shots, only the 3-2 win at QPR at the end of October saw Liverpool's opponent with more Danger Zone shots (although multiple teams registered seven, both with Liverpool playing four or three at the back).

For all the tinkering, for all the different formations, despite Liverpool's improvement from January through March, we end up back here. Another little bit of history repeating when we'd hoped that nightmare was long over.

For all the tinkering, for all the different formations, despite Liverpool's improvement from January through March, Liverpool hasn't been able to fix the season-long problems in front of goal. You can't always make chicken salad from summer transfer chicken shit, but that Liverpool have consistently remained direly impotent falls on the manager's tactics and the manager's head as well.

And those two things may well doom Brendan Rodgers' tenure at Liverpool.

16 May 2015

Liverpool 1-3 Crystal Palace

Lallana 26'
Puncheon 43'
Zaha 60'
Murray 90+1'

"STEVEN GERRARD'S LAST MATCH AT ANFIELD!" can't overcome "wow Liverpool have been pretty terrible for almost two months now."

Liverpool's last two matches rolled back the years. Liverpool weren't good in either contest, but Liverpool took four points because Steven Gerrard stepped up when no one else could. Well, Steven Gerrard couldn't today, and no one else could either.

It's sort of fitting. Aside from the Torres and Suarez/Sturridge campaigns (incidentally, the two seasons where Liverpool came closest to the league title), Liverpool have always relied on Gerrard. In the last decade, Gerrard has rarely been able to rely on his teammates.

A 1-3 loss at Crystal Palace in November marked the nadir which prompted Liverpool's turnaround, and a 1-3 loss to Crystal Palace marks a new nadir in Liverpool's last home match. That also seems fitting; it's been quite the season. And that's with Crystal Palace's winner when the goalscorer was offside and Crystal Palace's third with a penalty given for a foul outside the box.

Today followed the template set in the reverse fixture almost perfectly, despite a return for the 3-4-3 from Liverpool, despite a different manager and personnel from Crystal Palace. Liverpool scoring first, but Palace scoring three, constantly more threatening than the supposedly better side, terrifying Liverpool's uncertain defense through counter-attacking pace.

Liverpool's goal was part class but part luck: excellent pressing and a wonderful finish from Lallana, but set up by Martin Kelly's poor pass and Scott Dann's hesitancy when closed down. Both Kelly and Dann remain good Liverpool lads.

But Liverpool couldn't push on from the gift, and were lucky to stay ahead as long as they did: Ledley and Bolasie shooting over, Mignolet outstandingly parrying Puncheon's deflected effort. But Puncheon made no mistake with a 43rd-minute free kick – a free kick won because of Bolasie's pace on the counter, unsurprisingly – inch-perfect and fooling Mignolet into dancing toward the wrong direction.

Liverpool's inability to threaten Palace despite dominating possession and play led Rodgers to switching to the more familiar 4-3-3 in the second half. Liverpool created a few more chances, but Ibe (twice) and Henderson put those chances off-target, but none was an especially dangerous chance. And, of course, Liverpool were summarily punished for failing to take those half-chances: a deep free kick only half-cleared, a 1-2 down Liverpool's left putting Bolasie in, his deflected cross falling to Zaha, who'd been on the pitch for all of 20 seconds, for a tap-in. With both Zaha and Martin Kelly apparently offside.

Liverpool's response was to bring on Lambert and Lucas, to switch to 4-2-3-1 with Gerrard behind the substitute striker. And it worked about as well as it had when we saw it earlier this season. I'm struggling to this of any Liverpool opportunities besides Gerrard's placed shot easily saved by Hennessey and a deflected Emre Can center that almost became an own goal. Meanwhile, Bolasie hit the crossbar and Liverpool needed another wonderful reaction save from Mignolet to deny Puncheon.

With three minutes left, Sinclair replaced Moreno, Liverpool now 4-4-2, the fourth formation in the match. Three minutes later, another Palace counter, Lucas taking out Zaha inches outside the box but with Moss pointing to the penalty spot. Sigh. Mignolet made the save, Murray was first to the rebound. That's now three consecutive league fixtures where Crystal Palace scores three against Liverpool.

Liverpool's three substitutes arguably made Liverpool worse, although it's not as if Liverpool were very good to begin with, and by the 87th minute, Liverpool were simply desperate. Two of Palace's three substitutes scored.

Crystal Palace had lost their last four matches, by the way.

This is life. It isn't fair. Very few of us get happy endings, very few of us get what we deserve. Michael Jordan's basketball career ends with the Washington Wizards. Muhammad Ali loses a unanimous decision to Trevor Berbick. Roy of The Rovers has to have his foot amputated. Steven Gerrard suffers through the last year that we've suffered through, leaving Anfield with a dismal, dreary defeat to the team that dashed his title hopes 12 months ago.

Gerrard did not deserve to leave Anfield with that result. But Liverpool very much did.

15 May 2015

Liverpool v Crystal Palace 05.16.15

12:30pm ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
2-1 Liverpool (a; FA Cup) 02.14.15
1-3 Palace (a) 11.22.14
3-3 (a) 05.05.14
3-1 Liverpool (h) 10.05.13

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-1 Chelsea (a); 2-1 QPR (h); 0-1 Hull (a)
Palace: 1-2 United (h); 0-1 Chelsea (a); 0-2 Hull (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Gerrard 8; Sterling 7; Henderson 6; Coutinho 5; Lallana, Sturridge 4; Lambert, Markovic, Moreno 2; Allen, Balotelli, Borini, Can, Johnson, Skrtel 1
Palace: Murray 6; Gayle, Jedinak, Puncheon 5; Bolasie, Campbell 4; Zaha 3; Dann, Hangeland, Ledley, McArthur 2; Chamakh, Ward 1

Referee: Jon Moss

Guess at a line-up:
Can Skrtel Lovren Moreno
Henderson Coutinho
Sterling Lambert Lallana

Steven Gerrard, Steven Gerrard, Steven Gerrard. That's all anyone's talking about in the build-up, and it's hard to fault that. After 17 seasons, his last game at Anfield, after a mini-resurgence in the last two matches having scored Liverpool's last two goals.

What? There's also a football match? A largely meaningless match, but a match nonetheless, a match against a club and a manager who've given Liverpool multiple problems over the last two seasons? Alright, then. There will be time for lots of words (and probably a few infographics) about Steven Gerrard – the best player to ever play for Liverpool – after the season's over.

As much as I'd like to see changes, see Liverpool revert to three at the back, see Liverpool give a few young and/or out-of-favor players another opportunity, I don't expect that to happen. I expect the XI to look a lot like the last few XIs, because there has been very little change in Liverpool's XI in the last month.

At best, Moreno might finally replace the soon-to-be-departing Glen Johnson. Sterling could start up front instead of Lambert, with either Ibe or Markovic coming into the side or Can moving into midfield with Coutinho moving into the front three. I'd be happy to see any of those options, or to see Manquillo return to the side for the first time since January. But I don't expect to see those options. Rodgers finds a system he likes, whether 4-3-3 over the last two months, 3-4-3 before that, or 4-diamond-2 last season, and he sticks with it until he can't stick with it any more.

Meanwhile, Crystal Palace have become a very Pardew side. Excellent on their day, but consistently inconsistent to an amazing degree. Threatened with relegation, Palace reeled off four consecutive wins in March and April, including a victory over City which ended their small hopes at the title. And then followed it up with four consecutive losses in their last four matches: understandable against Chelsea and United (each by a single goal) but baffling against Hull and West Brom at home, giving each of those sides' hope in their own relegation battles. Much like Liverpool have done recently.

And like Liverpool, you'd expect tomorrow's XI to look a lot like other recent Palace XIs. Speroni; Ward, Dann, Delaney, Souare; Jedinak, Ledley; Zaha, McArthur, Bolasie; Murray. Exactly as against United. Maybe Mutch, Puncheon, or Chamakh starts as the #10 instead of McArthur, maybe Ledley drops out or shifts to left-back to accommodate one of those players, maybe Kelly starts in place of Ward or Souare, but those are the only changes Pardew has made in recent weeks.

Dwight Gayle, Liverpool's bane in the last two league meetings, has been out of favor lately, used off the bench if at all, not even in the squad in the last two matches. But if there's any match to bring him back for, it's a match against Liverpool, though. Palace only has one injury concern – Jerome Thomas – who's been out for a while and probably wouldn't start anyway. Palace will play on the counter, as Palace is prone to do, using Bolasie and Zaha's pace and ability with the ball at their feet. As Palace has done to get results in the last two meetings with Liverpool, albeit at Selhurst Park rather than Anfield.

Regardless, tomorrow will still be all about Gerrard. But, even though Liverpool seem cemented in fifth, there's still football to be played, a month and a season of disappointment to be partly erased by a strong finish. That tomorrow's match is against a side that broke Liverpool hearts a year ago and prompted Liverpool's turnaround six months ago should be added incentive. Not that Liverpool, in (as you may have heard) Gerrard's last match at Anfield, should need any extra incentive.

11 May 2015

Visualized: Liverpool 1-1 Chelsea

Previous Match Infographics: QPR (h), Hull City (a), 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.

Liverpool played reasonably well but struggled to score. Chelsea weren't at the peak of their powers, Chelsea didn't need to be at the peak of their powers, but Chelsea still defended resiliently because they're still a Mourinho side. It seems fairly straightforward from start to finish.

I couldn't help but mention in yesterday's match review that Liverpool still have yet to win away from home against a Top-4 side since Rodgers became manager. 11 matches: four draws, seven losses. Yesterday was the first draw against an opponent ahead of them in the table this season, having previously lost at City, United, and Arsenal.

But it's not as if Liverpool have been completely outclassed in all four matches.

It's this season perfectly encapsulated.

Liverpool outshot their opponents in three of the four matches (only Arsenal took more than Liverpool), 58 to 44 in the four fixtures. Liverpool made more key passes, and had similar passing and possession statistics despite being away from home against stronger squads.

The difference between the sides is the issue we've been hammering all season long. Liverpool's shooting is bad and Liverpool's shot accuracy is bad, so Liverpool doesn't score anywhere near enough goals. Something that hasn't been a problem for the four sides ahead of them in the table.

It's not as if Liverpool have wholly relied on speculative efforts. 31 of Liverpool's 58 shots came inside the box, 24 of those 31 in the Danger Zone (six-yard box and center of the 18-yard box). Which is a higher proportion of In-Box and Danger Zone shots than Liverpool are averaging in total this season. Liverpool created five Opta-defined Clear Cut Chances: one against City, three against United, and one against Chelsea. Gerrard's goal yesterday was the only one of the five that Liverpool converted.

Liverpool haven't converted their opportunities, because they're either not taking those chances and/or the opposition has prevented them from being good chances. Which has been the case whether Liverpool are playing at Chelsea or, say, Hull. Or West Brom, or Everton, or etc etc. Liverpool's shot accuracy in these four matches isn't much lower than Liverpool's season-long accuracy (31.03% to 33.45%)

Meanwhile, City, Arsenal, Chelsea, and United put more than 50% of their shots against Liverpool on-target and converted at a much better rate. Combined, 68.2% of those sides' shots against Liverpool came inside the box, 40.1% in the Danger Zone. So not only did those teams shoot more accurately, they took better shots than Liverpool did. Or, put another way, Liverpool allowed them better shots than they allowed Liverpool. And that's regardless of whether Liverpool were playing with three or four at the back.

And that's the difference between Liverpool and the sides ahead of them in the table. It's about shots, shot accuracy, and goals. It's about Liverpool's attack, or lack thereof. It is probably not coincidence that the two Liverpool strikers to play yesterday both failed to take a shot or create a chance (although, Sinclair, 18-years-old and making his debut, at least has an excuse).

It seems as simple as that, and it's the story of Liverpool's season.

10 May 2015

Liverpool 1-1 Chelsea

Terry 5'
Gerrard 44'

Too little, too late, and still not quite good enough.

Stop me if you've heard this one before. Liverpool played well enough, but struggled to create chances, really struggled to put shots on-target, and stupidly conceded from a set play. I know. It's stunning. Completely unexpected. I'll give you a moment to collect yourselves.

It's not as if Chelsea were already on the beach, but they certainly weren't at the apex of their powers either. The early set play goal – Terry's header from a corner in the 5th minute, eluding Lambert's marking – set the storyline. All Chelsea had to do was defend. Maybe it's a different match if Fabregas is rightly sent off in the 2nd minute for a horrific tackle on Sterling, but it's little surprise that he wasn't.

A Mourinho side, if nothing else, knows how to defend. Clog the toilet, kill the tempo, kill the game. If you get a chance to counter, great, but they weren't really bothered and Liverpool's defense – Can, Skrtel, Lovren, and Johnson – defended fairly well.

Chelsea do it better than anyone else, and it's a major reason why they're champions.

And thus, we got the slog. Chelsea dominating possession without many chances, Liverpool unable to create much meaningful from open play when getting the ball to the other end, limited to a narrow angle strike by Johnson into the side-netting, a couple of blocked efforts from Coutinho, Sterling dragging a shot wide from the top of the box. Coutinho marked by two players at all times, Chelsea's fullbacks usually winning their one-on-one duels with Sterling and Lallana, Lambert unable to find space because he was apparently running through molasses the entire time.

But then, just before halftime, an equalizer in the same vein as Liverpool's winner eight days ago. Henderson's byline free kick, Gerrard fighting for a point-blank header. Now, at the end of his career, another reminder of the damage he can do in the box on the end of set plays instead of taking all of them. Another reminder that he's one of the few match-winners, the few big-game players in Liverpool's squad. Another reminder of how much he'll be missed next season, despite all the complaints (many deserved) about his performances this season.

Two instances of poor marking, two goals from club (and former England) captains, everything level at half-time.

To their credit, Liverpool were much better after the interval. And it wasn't really a formation tweak, but giving the full-backs and wingers more freedom to roam, recognizing that Chelsea weren't really doing much to attack those positions. Almost as if Liverpool needed to be reminded that they had to take the game to the opposition. Sterling, Coutinho, and Lallana rotated constantly, Can and Johnson both got forward more and came inside more. Coutinho and Lallana (twice) went close, their shots narrowly wide or blocked.

So Mourinho responded, bringing on Matic for debutant Loftus-Cheek. The best defensive midfielder in the league, and at least in the conversation for best in Europe. And he absolutely shut down the match, with Liverpool limited to a couple of efforts from Sterling creating solely because of his ability with the ball at his feet, both saved by Courtois: the first easily, the second deftly, the threat coming because of a deflection. Otherwise, passing lanes gone. Space in the final third, gone. It wasn't all down to Matic, but he was the linchpin. As he's been all season.

Rodgers brought on Sinclair – only his second Liverpool appearance, his first in the league – and Ibe, and while it was fun to see the two teenagers on at the same time, neither were able to make the needed difference. Sinclair's movement was better than Lambert, but he still couldn't find many openings, Ibe had a few threatening runs with no end product. But it was still a moment for optimism, and some much-needed valuable experience. Along with Sterling, it was a front three with an average age of 19 years old.

Liverpool pressed harder and harder at the end, needing a goal to keep the infinitesimal hope for fourth alive, but in the final five minutes, Courtois somehow found Coutinho's deflected effort, Henderson and Can's half-volleys went wide.

So yes, there was a little bit that was good. A little bit of hope for the future. Liverpool played 390 minutes against Chelsea this season and conceded just one goal from open play: Costa's winner at Anfield way back in November. Liverpool defended well against a team with Chelsea's firepower whether playing 4-3-3 or 3-4-3. Pity about the four set play goals conceded, though: corners in both league matches, a penalty and free kick in the League Cup semifinals.

At the same time, Brendan Rodgers has now failed to win any of Liverpool's away matches against a top-four side. Three seasons: four draws and seven losses. And this was the first draw this season, after the much more meaningful losses at City, Arsenal, and United. Liverpool have still failed to beat Chelsea in any of Rodgers' eight matches against the club.

Results in big games. Actually scoring goals. Not conceding on set plays. Liverpool's problems remain clear, and remain the same.

09 May 2015

Liverpool at Chelsea 05.10.15

11am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
0-1 Chelsea aet (a; League Cup) 01.27.15
1-1 (h; League Cup) 01.20.14
1-2 Chelsea (h) 11.08.14
0-2 Chelsea (h) 04.27.14

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-1 QPR (h); 0-1 Hull (a); 0-0 West Brom (a)
Chelsea: 1-0 Palace (h); 3-1 Leicester (a); 0-0 Arsenal (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Gerrard, Sterling 7; Henderson 6; Coutinho 5; Lallana, Sturridge 4; Lambert, Markovic, Moreno 2; Allen, Balotelli, Borini, Can, Johnson, Skrtel 1
Chelsea: Costa 19; Hazard 14; Oscar 6; Remy 5; Drogba, Ivanovic, Terry 4; Fabregas, Schürrle 3; Ramires, Willian 2; Cahill, Matic 1

Referee: Andre Marriner

Guess at a line-up:
Can Skrtel Lovren Moreno
Henderson Coutinho
Sterling Lambert Lallana

I'm tired of guessing the 3-4-3 to return. Rodgers has gone with the 4-3-3 for the last four matches, and shows no sign of abating. So, chances are, tomorrow's XI will look a lot like last Saturday's, even though facing Chelsea at Stamford Bridge is a far different proposition than QPR at Anfield.

With Moreno back in the squad, there seems no need to start Glen Johnson, clearly on his way out of the club in the summer. Gerrard, as has been demonstrated, is a slightly different case; fitness permitting, I suspect he'll start in the last three matches, because he's Gerrard and because – as shown against QPR – Liverpool need all the match-winners they can get into the squad, despite the other problems Gerrard's inclusion entails. But yes, Gerrard as the deepest midfielder in a 4-3-3 up against Chelsea's line of three attacking midfielders is absolutely terrifying.

The XI is easier to guess than the formation. Coutinho, Henderson, Sterling, Skrtel, Lovren, Can, and Mignolet are certain starters. As is Gerrard, for the reasons mentioned above. Lallana probably is as well. The other two positions – left (wing)back and striker – are less certain. Moreno should feature rather than Johnson. Lambert probably did enough last week to earn another start, especially since the other options are Sterling up front or Balotelli.

If Sterling does start centrally, which should be a distinct possibility given that Liverpool will have to rely much more on the counter, Allen or Lucas would come into midfield with Coutinho pushed into the front three.

Would I rather see Mignolet; Can, Skrtel, Lovren; Ibe, Henderson, Allen, Moreno; Lallana, Sterling, Coutinho? Well, yeah. It's the formation where Liverpool has looked the best this season, it's the formation which prevented Chelsea from scoring an open play goal in all 210 minutes of the League Cup semifinal. But I'm trying to stop wishing for things that seemingly aren't going to happen.

As for the league champions. The fully deserved league champions, by the way. Oscar and Ramires will be absent, and I highly doubt Mourinho will risk Diego Costa either. But I also doubt that Chelsea will start playing the kids and reserves now that they've wrapped up the title. Out of the FA Cup, out of Europe, and with few significant injuries, they've no need to rest players. They'll want to acknowledge these players' contributions to the title. And, because Mourinho, they probably wouldn't mind rubbing Liverpool's face in it either.

So I'd be surprised if Chelsea's XI wasn't Courtois; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta; Matic, Fabregas; Cuadrado, Willian, Hazard; Drogba. Maybe Zouma plays in defense or midfield. Maybe Ake or Loftus-Cheek, the two u-21 players to appear for the senior side this season, get a chance. But it seems unlikely.

Liverpool haven't beaten Chelsea since Dalglish was manager, a 4-1 victory at Anfield in May 2012, a meaningless match that came three days after Liverpool lost to Chelsea in the FA Cup final. Since then, since Rodgers became manager, three draws and four losses (one of those losses in extra-time), with Liverpool second-best in approximately five of those seven contests.

Tomorrow's match may be insignificant in the greater scheme of things, with Chelsea's title secure and Liverpool's future – a place in the Europa League next season – all but sown up even if the final league position isn't, but that's a stat that needs changing. And, despite this season's disappointments, we need still need to see the players look like they want to play for Liverpool, something that hasn't necessarily happened in the last few matches.

04 May 2015

Visualized: Liverpool 2-1 QPR

Previous Match Infographics: Hull City (a), 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.

This is the second time that Gerrard led Liverpool in both shots and chances created in a single match since I started doing these infographics, since Rodgers became manager. The only other time was the 2-1 home victory against West Brom in October, a match incredibly similar to yesterday's. On that day, he took three shots, the same amount as Lambert and Balotelli, and created five chances from a deep-lying midfield role, with far fewer defensive responsibilities than that position usually entails because of both opposition and venue.

Part of the reason he's usually failed to post such high totals is due to playing with Sturridge, Suarez, and Coutinho: the first two shot-monsters, the latter two chance creation monsters. If you're playing with Luis Suarez – who only misses matches through suspension, never through injury – chances are you aren't leading the side in shots or key passes (unless you're Messi). Part of it is due to the position Gerrard's played in the last few seasons. And part is obviously due to age; time makes fools of every single one of us.

Does this mean Gerrard had a good game on Saturday? Well, yeah. Liverpool didn't really need him to protect the back four, so often where he's struggled as the deepest midfielder. And Liverpool did need him to lead the side in shots and key passes, despite playing as the deepest of the front six. No one else, except maybe Coutinho – who had every shot bar the opening goal blocked – seemed capable of doing so.

Gerrard's taken six or more shots and created three or more chances just one other time in the last three seasons: Liverpool's 5-1 win at Norwich in December 2013, a match where Suarez took more shots, and Coutinho, Johnson and Suarez created more chances. That was a very different Liverpool team than this Liverpool team. Coutinho remains a vital cog, but one of those players isn't at Liverpool anymore and the other has fallen off an even steeper cliff than Gerrard has.

Put simply, even in his dotage, Liverpool don't have a match-winner like Steven Gerrard in its squad anymore.

With Sturridge perpetually injured, Coutinho's the only other who comes close these days. See 2-1 City, 2-1 Bolton, 1-0 Blackburn in the last few months. But that's still a fairly recent phenomenon and he's still not consistent enough in front of goal, too reliant on often-speculative shots from distance that could either travel into the top corner or 20 rows up into some poor sap's face.

Lallana pressed well and was tidy in possession. Sterling, deployed on the right, was more of a passenger than usual, but pressed similarly well and at least attempted to take players on. You couldn't help but see their respective misses just after halftime as glaring demonstrations that they're either not ready or not the answer.

And while Rickie Lambert was a vast improvement on Balotelli, he's certainly not the answer either. Yes, he made Liverpool better just by being more involved in the play; compare Lambert's passes to Balotelli's at West Brom and Hull. But his pass accuracy (59%), shooting (two on-target shots easily saved, one off, one blocked), and general lack of mobility (no tackles or interceptions, just one attempted unsuccessful dribble) highlight his deficiencies as well.

Gerrard's certainly not able to do it against every opponent, whether their tactics force him into a more defensive role (Villa in the FA Cup semifinal, among many others) or because he just doesn't have it in his locker every day anymore (at West Brom two weeks ago). And QPR certainly helped by being quite bad: allowing the most shots Liverpool have taken when playing four-at-the-back (only the 27 in the 2-2 against Arsenal saw more this season), making just six interceptions despite Liverpool's vast supremacy in possession, creating just four chances and putting just two shots on-target.

But Gerrard's still capable of it once in a (great) while, and that's more than you can say for some of the players currently at the club. And that's why Rodgers still tries to shoehorn him into the side, even when it seems to be to Liverpool's detriment. And that's why Liverpool will still miss him next season, no matter the issues his inclusion creates.

Liverpool need players capable of grabbing the game by the throat. Liverpool need players capable of scoring game-winning goals, or any goals for that matter. It's why Liverpool have so vainly struggled in the previous two season-killing matches, it's why Liverpool have so vainly struggled throughout this season. And it's something Liverpool desperately need to remedy next season, whether through transfers or by current "key" players finally stepping up. Ideally both.

02 May 2015

Liverpool 2-1 QPR

Coutinho 19'
Fer 73'
Gerrard 87'

For awhile, it looked like we'd once again achieved Peak Liverpool.

The same formation which had led to disaster against West Brom and Hull. A difficult, lethargic start, but a surprisingly well-worked opening goal to give the team hope.

Then, a complete inability to get the game-killing second despite multiple opportunities to do so, including missed sitters from Lallana and Sterling. Followed by the least surprising of equalizers when QPR finally took advantage of one of the set plays Liverpool kept conceding.

There was renewed hope when Liverpool won a soft, stupid penalty, which was promptly saved when Gerrard shot too close to Robert Green. Onuoha sent off for a second yellow in as many minutes, but Liverpool once again raging with sound and fury that would seemingly signify nothing.

Until Liverpool's ninth corner of the match in the 87th minute, having wasted the previous eight. A storming header in front of the Kop by Gerrard, reminiscent of his opener against Everton last season, of the first in Liverpool's 2005 Champions League comeback. Liverpool's first league goal from a corner in 2015, just Liverpool's third league goal from a corner this season.

It may be a meaningless moral victory in the grand scheme of things, but it's a moral victory nonetheless, both for Liverpool and for Gerrard personally. And, even more important, it's an actual victory, Liverpool's first since April 13. That's the way Gerrard's Liverpool career should end: a late winner in front of the Kop that turned back the clock. That's the narrative he should go out with, not the pain we've endured, he's endured over the last calendar year.

To be fair to Liverpool, it was better than we'd seen in the last two matches. Lambert was much more involved than Balotelli, and did well to set up Liverpool's first goal. Lallana made Liverpool more coherent in the final third, despite that awful miss which would have made the game a lot easier (a miss, to be fair, which was nowhere near as bad as Sterling's). The two former Southampton players were more influential as starters then they'd been as substitutes, while Ibe did well off the bench when replacing Lallana. Coutinho ran the game wonderfully despite the tricky surface; Sterling, Coutinho, Lallana, Henderson, and Lambert all combined fairly well. Can actually looked more like a right-back, not trying to act as another midfielder with Liverpool in possession, exposing Liverpool to unnecessary threats.

With different fullbacks, a different holding midfielder, a different striker, and Sakho instead of Lovren, you could maybe almost kinda see a future for this formation.

How much of that was down to QPR being QPR is a valid question, though. QPR are deservedly 19th, nearly relegated; they battled for the points they so desperately need – never giving up as Newcastle (and arguably Burnley) have given up – but it's also clear why that defense has conceded the most goals in the league this season. Liverpool remained goal shy, creating better chances but putting too many shots off-target. Liverpool remained vulnerable on counters and set plays, the back four still nowhere near as secure as the back three. Liverpool again conceded a goal they had no business conceding. Liverpool still looks far too much like the Liverpool we saw from September through November rather than the one from January through March.

But at this point, I'll happily settle for "better" any way it happens. Today certainly wasn't the matches at West Brom or Hull, two teams that aren't much more troublesome than QPR have been recently. I'll happily settle for Liverpool's first late winner in the league since Balotelli's against Tottenham back in February. I'll happily settle for Gerrard remembered for scoring a vital goal rather than missing a penalty or being run past by yet another opposition midfielder.

I'll happily settle for all three points, points which make Liverpool's hold on fifth slightly more secure.

01 May 2015

Liverpool v QPR 05.02.15

10am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
3-2 Liverpool (a) 10.19.14
1-0 Liverpool (h) 05.19.13
3-0 Liverpool (a) 12.30.12
2-3 QPR (a) 03.21.12

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-1 Hull (a); 0-0 West Brom (a); 1-2 Villa (n); 2-0 Newcastle (h)
QPR: 0-0 West Ham (h); 0-1 Chelsea (h); 3-3 Villa (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Sterling 7; Gerrard, Henderson 6; Coutinho, Lallana, Sturridge 4; Lambert, Markovic, Moreno 2; Allen, Balotelli, Borini, Can, Johnson, Skrtel 1
QPR: Austin 17; Fer 4; Vargas, Zamora 3; Kranjcar, Phillips 2; Barton, Caulker, Hill, Sandro 1

Referee: Martin Atkinson

Guess at a line-up:
Can Skrtel Lovren
Ibe Henderson Allen Moreno
Lallana Sterling Coutinho

It's been 200 minutes since Liverpool last scored a league goal: the last two matches and the last 20 minutes against Newcastle. 200 minutes against teams currently 13th, 14th, and 15th.

Even if the season's gone, with a Champions League place gone and with the FA Cup gone, that's unacceptable. So you can't keep doing the same things that have gotten Liverpool to this place. You can't keep playing 4-1-2-3 or 4-2-3-1 with Balotelli or Borini or Lambert up front and hope that things improve. Because we've seen little sign of that happening.

But what's the alternative? Sterling as the main striker rather than one of those three misfit musketeers? A return to the 3-4-3 which was so swiftly dropped when it appeared that teams had started to figure it out? A 4-4-2 diamond? That Gerrard, Lucas, and Moreno should all return to the squad gives Liverpool a few more options, even if none adds firepower to a squad which so desperately needs it.

I honestly don't know what the answer is. There simply aren't goals in this squad, no matter how you dress it up. But since Liverpool has looked best this season when playing 3-4-3 and QPR will most likely play 4-4-2, a return to 3-4-3 seems the safest option. Or, differently put, Austin and Zamora one-on-one against Skrtel and Lovren is a terrifying prospect and for the love of all that's holy, stop playing Balotelli, Lambert, or Borini as a lone striker.

There's no guarantee that Bobby Zamora – who caused Liverpool a fair few problems in the reverse fixture – will be fit, a late fitness test after suffering a knock last week. And if Zamora's not fit, QPR will struggle to deploy two strikers with Vargas also injured, Junior Hoilett out of favor, and Zarate returning to West Ham from loan after an injury earlier this month.

If that's the case, QPR will probably have to play 4-2-3-1, with either Fer or Taarabt or Wright-Phillips coming into the side. Otherwise, the QPR line-up is far easier to predict. Green, Onuoha, Dunne, Caulker, Hill; Phillips, Barton, Sandro, Henry; Austin have started almost every match under Ramsey when available.

The above guess would mean that Gerrard's left on the bench despite being available, which – sentimentality be damned – I'm fine with. At this point, no matter that he has at most four Liverpool games left, he's best used as a substitute, and Liverpool are best served by playing players who'll be here next season. Similar goes for Johnson, and probably Balotelli, Lambert, and Borini as well.

The "best" way to shoehorn Gerrard into the XI is probably in a 4-2-3-1 behind Sterling, flanked by Lallana and Coutinho, with Henderson and Lucas or Allen as the central midfielders. But that's only because it's where he can do the least damage; Liverpool have looked far worse when he's been one of the wide attackers in the 3-4-3, or as one of the central midfielders, or as the deepest midfielder in either a 4-2-1-3 or a 4-4-2 diamond.

Which probably means that we'll see Mignolet; Can, Skrtel, Lovren, Moreno; Gerrard, Lucas, Henderson; Coutinho, Balotelli, Sterling, because there's only four weeks left and Liverpool have so much more pain left to give us.

So will this be another match where Liverpool hand points to a relegation-threatened side which desperately needs them? QPR are currently 19th, four points from safety, with just one win in their last nine matches. QPR need points even more than West Brom, even more than Hull, and will have to go in search of them.

Of course, there's a "but." QPR's lone win over that stretch was a 4-1 annihilation of West Brom, a team that held Liverpool scoreless a week ago. They drew 3-3 with Villa, another who's beaten Liverpool's recently, drew with West Ham, and took Chelsea all the way to the end before losing 0-1 on a late goal. Their last two wins, against West Brom and Sunderland, both came away from home. Like Hull, like West Brom, QPR will look at Liverpool's form and go "yep, this is probably our best chance at getting some points." They'll attack Liverpool like Villa attacked Liverpool: long balls to Zamora or Austin like Benteke; Phillips and another floating inside like Grealish and N'Zogbia; runners from midfield, whether Barton or Sandro, like Delph.

QPR have nothing to lose. Sure, a loss will probably seal relegation, but they're expected to lose, they're expected to go down. Meanwhile, Liverpool have played their last two matches like they've nothing to play for.

That bodes poorly, and it's up to Rodgers and Liverpool to change that trend in what little time they have left this season.