31 August 2015

Visualized: Liverpool 0-3 West Ham

Previous Match Infographics: Arsenal (a), Bournemouth (h), Stoke (a)

As always, match data from Stats Zone, except shot location from Squawka and average player position from ESPN FC.

That really couldn't have gone worse.

A complete inability to break down a packed defense. No width in attack, no patience in attack, no competence in attack. Narrow build-up play coupled with a marked-into-isolation lone striker. Horrific shot accuracy both inside and outside (usually outside) the box, with Lovren's 35-yard worm burner the lone shot on-target from 13 attempts.

An early goal conceded, something Liverpool's rarely able to come back from. A previously solid defense pillaged on the counter-attack, with Liverpool defenders featuring in each of West Ham's goals: one weak clearing header, one unfathomable error, a couple of unlucky ricochets.

A daft red card for Liverpool's most important player, which completely ruined any minuscule chance of getting back into the game, rendering Rodgers' attempted changes all but moot.

You name it, it went wrong: the starting XI, the strategy, the style, the substance, the substitutions. At least no one got injured? All of the optimism – minor though it may have been – wholly wiped away.

This is the first time Liverpool's had to face a well and truly parked bus. And Liverpool utterly failed against it. Liverpool's other home match, against Bournemouth, could have gone in a similar manner, but Bournemouth failed to score with their early flurry (thanks, ref!) and Liverpool's 26th minute set play goal (thanks, ref!) meant that they'd have to come out a bit more, with Liverpool unlucky not to add to its lead.

That obviously didn't happen against West Ham.

There wasn't any penetration into West Ham's box until the final 10-15 minutes, with the game all but over. West Ham easily tackled, intercepted. blocked, or cleared when Liverpool had the ball in the final third. Liverpool ran headlong into a wall, failed, and kept trying to run through that wall in the same manner with the same reward. None. No reward.

Sure, average position over 90 minutes can be a bit of a lie, but Coutinho, Milner, Benteke, Firmino, and Can's average positions on Saturday were all basically atop each other.

And, of course, Liverpool's shooting was, once again, a low water mark. One shot on-target, speculative at best, from 13. Just four shots from inside the box, three of those four in the final 10 minutes. In 90 minutes, albeit playing 40 or so with 10 men, Liverpool put together just three noteworthy attacking sequences: Firmino's single-handed near-moment of magic early on, Milner firing wide from Ings' layoff of Moreno's cross, and Lovren whiffing on Benteke's well-placed knockdown of Milner's corner.

To say there was a dearth of final third creativity would be putting it kindly.

Ideally, Liverpool can at least take a few lessons from this. No more half measures, Liverpool. You want your fullback to provide width in attack? Then, for all his positives, it's not Joe Gomez. You want to protect Dejan Lovren from having to come wide, where his errors almost always come from? Then don't send Joe Gomez bombing forward at every opportunity. Or don't play Dejan Lovren, but that's a different debate. West Ham knew where Liverpool's weaknesses would lie, and clearly exploited them. It's no coincidence all three goals came down that flank.

Also, you want your midfield to play piercing passes to break West Ham's solid lines? Then that midfield probably isn't Lucas-Can-Milner. You need to pull deep defenders out of position? Maybe don't play with both Coutinho and Firmino cutting inside and Benteke failing to pull center-backs into the channels.

I understand wanting to reward players for the previous performance, but what worked at Arsenal won't often work against West Ham. You're going to need genuine width in attack. You're probably not going to need a midfield that presses and runs well but won't unlock many defenses. Liverpool weren't helped with injuries – both Lallana and Henderson would have improved the situation – and hindsight's 20-20, but you'd think a front six of Milner, Can, Coutinho; Firmino, Benteke, Ibe would have been a better plan. Or going with two strikers; down to 10 men, Liverpool still struggled to do much in attack after Ings came on, but his inclusion was still a positive change.

The major concern is that this isn't a new experience. Sure, it's a new season, with a lot of new players, but this was a film we'd often seen last season: 1-3 at West Ham, 1-3 home and away against Crystal Palace, 1-6 at Stoke, 0-1 against Villa, 0-1 at Hull and Newcastle, etc. Saturday wasn't just a one-off; glaring weaknesses demonstrated time and time again cropped up for the first time this season. The feeble attack, the mistakes in defense, the vulnerability on counter-attacks, etc.

Thankfully, it's still early, and Liverpool aren't the only underperforming side; Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal, and United all have issues of their own. But – and I'm pretty sure this has been written before – multiple things still need vast improvement. And quickly.

No comments :