10 August 2015

Visualized: Liverpool 1-0 Stoke

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

Rodgers set his team up to win 1-0, and succeeded. Yes, that success was wholly down to a wonder strike from Philippe Coutinho, but the point still stands. Liverpool played for a 1-0 and got that 1-0, by hook or by crook, by an unbelievable goal. That's not something we've often seen Liverpool capable of during Rodgers' tenure.

Liverpool simply were not going to let last May happen again.

Credit for that goes to Liverpool's midfield and defense, both unbalanced, discordant, and irreparably broken in the last meeting. Four of Stoke's goals that day came down Liverpool's flanks, Emre Can the notable scapegoat on the right, Alberto Moreno not much better on the left. The other two saw Stoke players – N'Zonzi, Diouf – break through Liverpool's midfield through pressing and counter-attacks.

That didn't happen yesterday, with two debutant fullbacks – including an 18-year-old who'd never played left-back at first-team level – and a reshuffled midfield.

Sure, it's a different match if Stoke convert one of their two good first half chances, both down Liverpool's left, but Adam whiffed on a difficult shot when the ball deflected to him in the 8th minute, and Glen Johnson skied a left-footed effort in the 35th after Skrtel cleared out of the six-yard box and Clyne blocked Affelay's attempt. Gomez, caught out by both, demonstrably improved as the match went on. Meanwhile, Nat King Clyne was wholly unthreatened down the other flank, even winning a crucial aerial duel – something he rarely attempts – in front of Diouf less than two minutes before Liverpool's winner.

Mame Biram Diouf, with two goals and two assists the last time these sides met, was especially irrelevant, limited to one harmless on-target shot from distance and one key pass layoff for a harmless Charlie Adam off-target shot from distance. Which is why Lovren, of all players, has been praised to the hilt today, outstanding when one-on-one with the striker.

That said, there are – of course – still very valid concerns about Liverpool's attack. Liverpool took just eight shots, fewer than all but three matches last season (at Newcastle, at Southampton, v United), with just two from the Danger Zone. Ibe found little space down the right, well- and closely-marked by Stoke defenders, often holding onto the ball too long and running into trouble. Lallana did next to nothing, although to be fair, Gomez did need more protection than Clyne on that side. Benteke had moments of promise linking up with other players, but struggled to make things happen in the final third, limited to just one threatening-but-blocked shot. If not Coutinho, seemingly no one.

Did Liverpool's attack struggle because of its unfamiliarity, not quite clicking because of all the new players and style? Did Liverpool's attack struggle because the focus was (rightly) on remaining secure? Are there just still structural problems in Liverpool's attack?

Well, yes, to probably all of that. It is worth noting that things got better when Lallana made way for Can, making a better base to build from in midfield, with both Henderson and Milner now getting forward, pressing more intensely (especially after Firmino came on), while Coutinho remained influential from the left.

One match doesn't make a season at all, not in praising Liverpool's defense or condemning Liverpool's attack. It obviously wasn't brilliant – in fact, it was rather boring, and that's putting it nicely – but it's a still the right start.

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

Did Firmino track back to help Clyne? At that stage it was more Liverpool on the front foot anyway after riding any early storms so probably not much cause to.

Milner and Henderson seem very similar, and yet because one is captain and one is vice-captain, (despite captaincy being useless in football, let's be honest it's largely ceremonial) it's a strong indication both play every week.

Hopefully that means Rodgers liked the look of a trio with Can behind the two, but Coutinho wide left moving central means less protection for Gomez.