14 December 2015

Visualized: Liverpool 2-2 West Brom

Previous Match Infographics: 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.

28 shots were Liverpool's most in a league match since 32 against West Ham on 7 December 2013. Two years ago. 77 league matches ago. Sure, Liverpool took 35 against Rubin Kazan and 47 v Carlisle (albeit with extra time) this season, but it's rarely happened in the last over the last season and a half.

It is a positive step, especially after Liverpool took just 10 against both Newcastle and Swansea in the previous two league matches.

Since that drumming of West Ham two years ago, Liverpool have taken more than 25 shots in a league match just five times: 27 against Cardiff, and 26 against Chelsea and at Crystal Palace in 2013-14; and 27 against Arsenal and 25 against QPR in 2014-15. Liverpool's previous highest shots total in a league match this season is 23, against Norwich.

Incidentally, Liverpool won just two of the aforementioned seven matches: 3-0 v Cardiff in 2013-14 and 2-1 v QPR in 2014-15. Otherwise, 0-2 vs Chelsea, 3-3 at Palace, 2-2 v Arsenal, 1-1 v Norwich, and 2-2 v West Brom.

Except the routine win over Cardiff, Liverpool were desperate in each of those matches. Liverpool needed goals, so Liverpool had to force matters and take chances, so Liverpool often resorted to low-value, speculate efforts.

28 shots but an Expected Goals total of 2.0 – which is exactly what Liverpool actually totaled – is fairly mundane. In Michael Caley's model, Liverpool had a higher xG total in four league and European matches this season: 2.8 v Sion (19 shots), 2.4 v Kazan (35 shots), 2.1 v Palace (22 shots), and 2.7 at City (14 shots). Liverpool only outperformed Expected Goals in one of those four matches: Liverpool's best win of the season.

But that's what happens when 16 of your 28 shots come from outside the box. When you put just eight of 28 shots on-target (11 off-target, nine blocked), with five of those eight on-target shots from outside the box. When you only create two clear-cut chances: Henderson's goal and Lallana's 80th-minute one-v-one saved.

Even with a better shot output and more chances created, Liverpool still struggled to create good chances and to break down a packed defense. And once again, you can't help but look at Liverpool's focal point striker.

There have been complains about Benteke's movement, Benteke's pressing. Complaints about his shots and shot accuracy – six yesterday, none on-target. They're fair complaints, even if some are probably overemphasized. I'm most concerned about how Liverpool has seemingly changed its attacking philosophy to suit him.

Liverpool attempted 29 crosses yesterday, the third highest total of the season behind 33 against Villa (Benteke didn't start) and 32 against Crystal Palace (Benteke did). Just seven of those 29 crosses found a Liverpool player, just three lead to a scoring chance: two off-target headers from Benteke, one blocked set play header from Lovren.

Liverpool are averaging 20 crosses per league game so far this season. Which is more than in recent seasons, but not dramatically so, averaging 17 in 2014-15 and 2013-14, 21 in 2012-13. Liverpool have scored just three league goals from crosses this season: Benteke v Bournemouth, Ings at Everton, and Benteke v Southampton.

The discrepancy's even more dramatic since Klopp became manager. Liverpool have played eight league matches under Klopp; Benteke has started four of them. In the four matches where Benteke's started – v Palace, v Swansea, at Newcastle, v West Brom – Liverpool are averaging 27.25 crosses per match. In the four where he hasn't started – at Spurs, v Southampton, at Chelsea, at City – Liverpool are averaging 16.25 per match. Liverpool have scored eight goals in the four matches Benteke didn't start, but just four in the four that he did.

The matches where Liverpool most deviated from the Cross To Benteke philosophy – 3-1 at Chelsea, 4-1 at City – were also Liverpool's best performances of the season. Liverpool's opponents and venue meant that Liverpool were allowed to play a certain way, which is a way that both suited Benteke's absence and was a way that most opponents won't allow, but Liverpool still had to take advantage. And Liverpool did. Liverpool haven't taken advantage with Benteke in the starting XI anywhere near as often or as proficiently.

Admittedly, Liverpool aren't overflowing with options: Sturridge is hurt again, Firmino's form is hardly better (although he has looked best as a #9 compared to a #10 or a wide attacker), Origi remains incredibly raw. Benteke will continue to play the majority of minutes up top, for the immediate future. But Benteke needs to better adapt to Liverpool rather than vice versa. The potential is there: in position to take six shots is a good thing, and Benteke created one of Liverpool's two best chances of the match with an excellent throughball. But he simply hasn't done enough.

Meanwhile, set plays. Again. Six of Liverpool's 19 league goals conceded have come from set plays: 0-1 United, 1-1 Norwich, 1-1 Southampton, 1-2 Palace, 1-1 West Brom, and 1-2 West Brom. Which doesn't seem like a lot (although it's higher than the league average and it's worth noting that just three of Liverpool's 20 league goals have come from set plays), but each of those goals dramatically changed the course of the match. United took an early second-half lead they'd never relinquish, Norwich and Southampton stole late equalizers, Palace scored a late winner, and West Brom scored twice in a match where they didn't remotely seem capable of scoring from open play. That's seven points; let's assume United still wins, however painful that may be. With seven more points, Liverpool would sit fourth, just two points behind the league leaders.

The match against Crystal Palace seems the best parallel to yesterday's proceedings. A defensive mistake leads to the opposition's opener, Liverpool comprehensively beaten on a set play leads to the opposition's second, failing behind 1-2 with time quickly running out. Liverpool again disappoint at Anfield, where they've now won three, lost two, and drawn three in the league.

But unlike against Palace, Liverpool came back. Liverpool had 10 more minutes than they did against Palace, and they used almost every second of it, and they needed a fortunate deflection from a shot that goes in maybe once every 50 attempts, but Liverpool came back. That's no small matter. When Liverpool have conceded in the first half, Liverpool have responded reasonably well: Chelsea and Southampton in the League Cup, but also Kazan and Bordeaux at Anfield to a lesser extent. But Liverpool had yet to respond to conceding in the second half: Southampton in the league, Crystal Palace, and Newcastle.

Liverpool simply have to be better at Anfield, Liverpool simply have to respond better to conceding in the second half. And Liverpool did so yesterday, even if not to the extent we'd like. Which is why it was heartening that Klopp and the team responded to Anfield's raucous volume at the final whistle. They weren't celebrating a point – no matter what the vaunted punditocracy wants to claim – they were rebuilding the much-needed atmosphere, which feeds into the much-needed self-belief, which leads to better performances on Liverpool's home ground.

Yes, once again, Liverpool simply weren't good enough: in attack, in defending set plays, in eliminating individual errors, the home form in general. Liverpool didn't really merit more than a point because of those flaws, Liverpool still deserve to be clumped in the middle of the league table. But at least there were a few signs of progress, of getting past these multiple, long-standing problems.

It's a start. It's only a start.

1 comment :

E Coutinho Can said...

Just another Liverpool blog. Please support thank you.