Previous Match Infographics: Leicester (h), Watford (a), West Brom (h), Sion (a), Newcastle (a), Swansea (h), Bordeaux (h), City (a), Crystal Palace (h), Rubin Kazan (a), Chelsea (a), 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.
(Nota Bene: Here's the formation diagram usually included in match reviews.)
You have seen this movie before, you have heard this song before.
Liverpool control possession and tempo, Liverpool take a reasonable amount of shots, but Liverpool create only a couple of good chances. Liverpool mostly struggle when throwing themselves against a deep-lying, physical side happy to defend and play for little more than keeping Liverpool out and maybe counter-attacking once in a great while.
But Benteke scores a second half goal, despite complaints about other parts of his performance, and Liverpool eke out a victory. It was more Leicester – a much better side, but a match played at Anfield – than Newcastle or Watford.
So be it. It's the festive season, and Liverpool's first-team injury list is almost in double digits. A win is a win is a win, even if it also featured similarities to past failures.
Sunderland tried to do to Liverpool what Newcastle did to Liverpool on Liverpool's last trip to the north east: unsettling the away side with a deep back line; a physical, narrow midfield; and a high work-rate in Liverpool's half. Six of Sunderland's 13 successful tackles came in their attacking half, pressing Liverpool as Liverpool usually want to press the opposition.
But Liverpool didn't make the mistakes they did against Newcastle, and Liverpool did better in taking the game to Sunderland, in attacking and creating in Sunderland's final third. And that makes all the difference between three points and no points.
Sunderland are Sunderland, but 17 shots are still the most that Liverpool have taken in an away league match this season, narrowly beating the 16 at Chelsea and 15 at Arsenal, both teams who gave Liverpool much more space to play in. As a reminder, Liverpool took just 10 at Newcastle and just 12 at Watford in the previous two away losses.
This was just the second time in the last six league matches where Liverpool created at least two clear-cut chances: Benteke scoring the first, hilariously (in retrospect, if not at the time) denied on the very late second. The other was against West Brom at Anfield: Henderson's opening goal, but also Lallana denied when through in the 80th minute, a chance that Liverpool very much needed to take.
Against Leicester? One, Benteke's very late (and very offside) chance saved. At Watford? None. At Newcastle? One, Benteke's miss from a corner in the 21st minute. Against Swansea? One, Milner's penalty.
Admittedly, Liverpool should be able to create more than two against Sunderland. But two is still better than we've seen lately, and only the Manchester City match had at least two clear-cut Liverpool chances away from home since Klopp became manager (five, scoring two of them, as well as two more).
Once again, it's a performance nearly defined by Liverpool's terrible shooting accuracy. Liverpool's six of 17 shots on-target, 35.3%, is actually better than the season-long average, and vastly better than Liverpool's previous five matches. Firmino (twice) and Benteke forced fine saves from Mannone, while Clyne and Coutinho also hit the target from distance. But Liverpool still put more of its shots off-target (seven), with four blocked.
Unsurprisingly, Philippe Coutinho remains Liverpool's worst offender. Six shots, again leading Liverpool: one on-target, four off-target, one blocked. Which follows up his four off-target, one blocked performance against Leicester.
As we saw in the matches Coutinho missed through injury – Newcastle (a), Swansea (h), Bordeaux (h) – Liverpool's total shots drop precipitously without Coutinho in the line-up, and bad shots are usually better than no shots. Coutinho remains Liverpool's second-top scorer, only passed by Benteke yesterday. But, for the most part, they have been bad shots: bad locations and bad accuracy. 59.2% of Coutinho's league shots have come from outside the box (42 of 71), leading to two of his five goals (at Stoke, at Chelsea). Just 22 of Coutinho's 71 shots (30.9%) have been on-target, which is almost exactly Liverpool's (pretty bad) overall shooting accuracy. One on-target, easily scooped up by Mannone, from his last 11 shots is an especially woeful stretch.
No one in the league has taken more shots than Coutinho. Kane has 67, Lukaku 66, Ighalo 64, and Vardy 60; those are the only players with 60 or more. Of course, those are all strikers, and Kane's scored 11, Lukaku 15, Ighalo 13, and Vardy 14. Coutinho, I reiterate, has scored five. His 4.8 shots-per-90 is Luis Suarez pace, who averaged 4.5 (in half a campaign), 4.5, 5.7, and 5.5 shots-per-90 in his four Premier League seasons.
Maybe take a couple fewer shots, Phil. But more importantly, please do better with the ones you take.
Meanwhile, yesterday saw Benteke's most creative game since Klopp became manager, with three key passes: a layoff for Can's blocked shot from distance in the first half, and inside-the-box cutbacks for Coutinho and Can in the second half, blocked and off-target respectively. Again, three isn't a lot, but it's better than he (and Liverpool) have done recently. Benteke created four chances in Liverpool's 1-0 win against Bournemouth back in August, but hasn't created more than two in a league match since, doing so against West Brom, Newcastle, Palace, Chelsea, and Arsenal.
Ten of Benteke's 20 passes went to Coutinho, with six in the return direction, Liverpool's joint-second highest pass combination (behind Can and Coutinho), and by far the most those two have combined for in a match this season.
Benteke scoring, Benteke creating, Benteke combining fairly often with at least one of Liverpool's other attackers (and, thankfully, not at his most involved from Mignolet passes) are all good things. Of course Klopp's right in that Benteke can play better, and Liverpool need Benteke to play better, but the last two matches have seen more positives than negatives.
As for the other end of the pitch. Again, Sunderland are Sunderland, but Liverpool remain very, very good at limiting opposition shots. Sunderland took just eight (they're averaging 11 per match), with only three inside the box.
Liverpool have allowed 10 or more shots in a league match under Klopp just twice: at Tottenham (13 shots, zero goals) and at Manchester City (11 shots, one goal). But Liverpool allowed 10 or more in five of Rodgers' eight: Bournemouth (h), Arsenal (a), West Ham (h), Villa (h), Everton (a).
Admittedly, Liverpool have conceded multiple goals while allowing few shots: two at Newcastle (from six shots), two against West Brom (four shots), three at Watford (six shots). But if the opposition has few chances to score, chances are that they'll score fewer goals. It went all a bit wobbly over the last month, but the improvement in defense – notably, the new Lovren-Sakho pairing – remains Klopp's greatest achievement so far.
Now, Liverpool just need to score more of their own.