18 September 2015

Visualized: Liverpool 1-1 Bordeaux

Previous Match Infographics: Manchester United (a), West Ham (h), Arsenal (a), Bournemouth (h), Stoke (a)

As always for Europa League matches, all data from WhoScored.

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

So, do we look at the match in isolation, or in the context of the last six-12-18-36 months?

If in isolation, then okay, that was acceptable. It certainly wasn't great, but away matches in Europe are always a difficult proposition, that was a (necessarily) much-changed and incredibly young side – with an average age of 21.7 after Chirivella came on for Toure in the 28th minute – and a point will often do away from home in the group stage. Coutinho and Mignolet were the only two players in the starting XI who'd made more than 46 appearances for Liverpool. The seven players on Liverpool's bench had made all of seven appearances: five by Firmino, two by Ings, both signed this summer. Gomez, Chirivella, and Rossiter are 18, Ibe is 19, Origi is 20, Emre Can's 21. Coutinho, Liverpool's most experienced player, is all of 23.

It was an indifferent performance by an unfamiliar and exceptionally young team, away from home, with one good goal and one bad concession. So be it. It's still early, it's good to see all those kids get chances. Take the point and move on.

But if you're looking at it in the context of all that's come before, well, we've got some concerns. It may have been a very different Liverpool side than we saw in the first five league matches, but was still a team with the same problems we saw in the first five league matches, and the same problems we've often seen from Rodgers' sides in Europe.

The criticism, once again, falls mainly on the attack. Because, once again, there was no control to proceedings and no pattern of play. Once again, Liverpool took a paltry amount of shots: just 10, with six of those from outside the box. Once again, Liverpool needed an individual moment of brilliance to score: Lallana's Suarez-esque touch through a defender to break into the box before curling a low shot past the keeper. Liverpool's other best chances to score? More individual brilliance: Ings' wonderful sombrero from a pass over the top, only for Carrasso to make a smart save, and Coutinho cannoning a shot off the woodwork from 25 yards.

Of Liverpool's four (four!) goals scored this season, three have been individual moments of brilliance – one each from Coutinho, Benteke, and Lallana – and one which should have been called offside. That's. Not. Good.

If Liverpool hold on after finally taking the lead, Rodgers gets credit for grinding out a difficult away match with a team full of kids. But, because Liverpool, Liverpool don't hold on, increasingly pushed back after scoring, trying to shell to keep their narrow lead, and ultimately conceding when Bordeaux passed around and through from front to back, ending with Crivelli bafflingly allowed to play keepy-up in front of Gomez and Can before Can's attempted tackle somehow presented Jussie with an open shot from 12 yards.

It certainly wasn't Liverpool's best defensive performance of the season – they only allowed only nine shots, but eight of them came in the danger zone – but for the most part, Liverpool's defense seemed secure. It usually is when Liverpool play three at the back, and it was especially secure on Sakho's side of the pitch. But one bad moment by a 21-year-old midfielder playing center-back and an 18-year-old playing in his third position of the season, and one unlucky bounce of the ball, and we're back to square one. Again, this may be familiar.

Sakho played well, and demonstrably proved he needs to be starting ahead of Lovren. As did Moreno. It is probably not coincidence that none of Bordeaux's nine shots came from the left side of Liverpool's defense. Mignolet did well to punch clear multiple crosses, and made a couple of crucial saves. Both Rossiter and Chirivella encouragingly grew into the game, and earned further chances. Coutinho, Lallana, and Ings each had a few reassuring moments, but all three struggled to cohesively link with their teammates in attack. The less said about Ibe and Origi – again, just 19 and 20 respectively – the better.

Liverpool have now played 21 European matches under Brendan Rodgers, although four were walkover qualifiers in the 2012-13 Europa League. Of the 17 in the competition proper, I can think of two where Liverpool actually played well: the insane 5-3 at BSC Young Boys and the 3-1 win over Zenit, when Suarez nearly hauled Liverpool back from an 0-3 aggregate deficit to progress. Both of those matches came in Rodgers' first season.

Liverpool's record in those 17 matches? 7W-4D-6L, an average of 1.47 points per match, an average of 1.24 goals per game, heavily boosted by the five at Young Boys. In the nine matches since that 3-1 win over Zenit, Liverpool have scored more than a single goal just twice: home and away against powerhouse Ludogorets last season. Liverpool's European record away from home? 2W-2D-5L: eight points from nine matches, with Liverpool scoring all of nine goals, more than half in that single match at Young Boys. I'm not sure whether Rodgers doesn't value Europe as much as the league or whether Rodgers can't figure out Europe's often cagey affairs, but Liverpool's continuing disappointments in continental competition remain frustrating. But a lot about Liverpool remains frustrating.

This Bordeaux side, like Basel and Ludogorets and Besiktas last season, like Udinese and Anzhi in 2012-13, is nowhere close to a juggernaut, finishing sixth in Ligue 1 last season, currently sitting 12th in that competition. A mid-table French side, against what increasingly appears to be a mid-table English side. And, obviously, Liverpool should aspire to better than that; fat, drunk, and mid-table is no way to go through life, son.

But, again, a 1-1 draw away from home in Europe to begin the group stage certainly isn't the worst result in the world. Had Liverpool been able to hold onto the 1-0 win, it's 2012-13 at Udinese, a reasonable win against a similar level of opposition, a win which cemented progression to the next round. But, of course, Liverpool didn't hold on to win. And, regardless, this Liverpool should be better than the version from Rodgers' first season, no matter how young yesterday's side was, no matter how many players were missing, no matter how many new players Liverpool have in the squad.

And that's the problem. This is Brendan Rodgers' fourth season. Aside from the awesome aberration that was 2013-14, we've seen three Year Zeros. We've seen similarly disappointing performances in each of those three seasons. We've seen similarly disappointing performances throughout the majority of this short season so far. We've seen this movie before.

And that's why – even if the result's acceptable, and most of us probably would've taken it before kickoff – you can't help but put yesterday's performance within the overwhelming context that we've consistently seen.


Anonymous said...

That's a cruel trick, putting Sterling in the formation diagram.

nate said...

I really am losing my damned mind. I swear I switched Sterling to Origi. This is why it's a bad idea to use the last time Liverpool used "formation X" as a template.

Thanks much.