02 November 2015

Visualized: Liverpool 3-1 Chelsea

Previous Match Infographics: Southampton (h), Rubin Kazan (h), Tottenham (a), Everton (a), FC Sion (h), Aston Villa (h), Norwich (h), Bordeaux (a), Manchester United (a), West Ham (h), 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.

Aside from the first 10 minutes, Liverpool's game plan worked reasonably well. Which is no small feat against the defending league champions, no matter their form, at a ground where Liverpool hadn't won since November 2011. But what's more impressive is that Liverpool's game plan worked – and Liverpool stuck to it – despite those opening 10 minutes and the early goal conceded: a well-crafted goal but one which still had the penultimate touch off a Liverpool player before ending up in the net.

Since the beginning of last season, Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool conceded the opening goal in the first 15 minutes eight times. They came back to win just once – in the FA Cup at Crystal Palace – and drew just twice: 2-2 against Ludogorets and 1-1 at already-won-the-league Chelsea. Otherwise? 0-1 Villa, 1-3 West Ham, 0-3 United, 1-2 United, and 0-3 West Ham. If you only count league matches, that's one draw and five losses. That's not good. That, among many other reasons, is a big part of why Brendan Rodgers was fired.

Chelsea, even in this form, can be a better version of those Villa and West Ham sides: happy to sit deep and prevent you from getting back into the game, while still dangerous on the counter and from set plays. Mourinho's teams are often the worst possible opponents when given an early lead, while Liverpool have been terrible at coming back from an early deficit. Or any deficit for that matter.

But Liverpool, threatened just once after the goal – a free kick which ended with an offside flag and Mikel missing the chance anyway – slowly reasserted themselves, working diligently before a breakthrough just prior to halftime. And Chelsea struggled to create on the counter, Chelsea failed to take a shot or create a chance from a set play, limited to just one corner but with nine free kicks in Liverpool's half.

Clyne led Liverpool with six successful tackles (seven attempted), while Lucas and Moreno had five (of six), and Firmino had four (of five). The two fullbacks, Liverpool's (usually) deepest midfielder, and the "striker" who led the press from the front, with the majority of those tackles out on the flanks. The only two Liverpool outfield starters to not make a single tackle? Skrtel and Sakho, who had surprisingly comfortable games against Diego Costa et al (a kick to the midseason not withstanding, of course).

That Oscar and Willian – at least until Kenedy replaced Hazard – were Chelsea's wingers didn't help matters. Two players who'd prefer to play as the central attacking midfielder; neither comfortable crossing nor really dribbling. Chelsea only completed four of 11 dribbles in Liverpool's half, only one near Liverpool's goal or leading to a shot: Kenedy in the 79th minute. Chelsea's attacking line of three created just one chance: Willian, in the 61st minute, leading to a Ramires shot that was swiftly blocked. Oscar took three shots, but two were in the final five minutes, from outside the box and blocked, the other that dangerous shot from 45 yards out which Mignolet palmed away just before Liverpool took the lead.

As in the previous two league matches, Liverpool's press did well to force the ball into wide areas, where – the goal aside, obviously – Liverpool did well to nullify potential Chelsea attacks. Liverpool worked hard, Liverpool set the tenor and tempo, Liverpool got the goals (if with a bit of fortune). But the story is as much Chelsea's failures as Liverpool's successes.

Still, at Chelsea, Liverpool took twice as many shots, created three times as many chances, and dominated possession until the second goal before settling for a defensive shell and counter-attack – where they got a third and nearly scored two others.

Liverpool traveled to Chelsea four times under Brendan Rodgers: three league matches and one League Cup semifinal, drawing twice and losing twice.

Caveats: yes, one of those matches didn't count for points, and that match also went to extra time. But the overall point remains: these matches were all close, but Chelsea ground out the better results. Not this time. It's a new day, yes it is.

There's a reason the cliché is that goals change games. Well, for the most part. Liverpool's goal before halftime completely changed what each side would need to do in the second half, Liverpool's second goal allowed Liverpool to coast through the final 15 minutes. Both were exceptionally well-taken goals, in the build-up and the finish, but both had an element of fortune: extra added time in the first half led to the last-second equalizer, a deflection took the second past Begovic.

But goals don't always change games. Liverpool didn't let Chelsea's, and that's the biggest takeaway from Saturday's match. Liverpool kept to the plan, kept working, and eventually got the result: a much-needed result that went against how these matches played out over the last few years. Liverpool pressed and ran Chelsea early, Coutinho's efforts finally found the net, Benteke's presence completely altered how Chelsea had to defend. It was good. There has been a dearth of good over the last year or so.

Despite the two-goal win, Liverpool's first away from Anfield since February 22, there are still small margins. Those deflections, Mignolet just getting a hand to Oscar's long-range shot, Lucas staying on the pitch. Unsurprisingly.

But that shouldn't detract from the fact that Liverpool were cohesive, coherent, and stuck to its plan; that Liverpool were the more resilient side; that Liverpool came back to win on the road; that Liverpool won at all.

That's tangible progress – and we've seen tangible progress in each match since the managerial change. That's exactly what Liverpool needed to get its first league win under Jürgen Klopp.


Anonymous said...

Hey Nate,
If you could ask the CEO of Liverpool a question right now, what would it be? I might have the good fortune of meeting him at a conference next weekend!

Apuleius said...

coutinho's shot locations were notably better than the standard shock collar efforts under late rogers. that 5-10yd really makes a difference - so much easier to score from closer in. It's like klopp says: it's about making the right decision at the right time.