06 January 2016

Visualized: Liverpool 1-0 Stoke [League Cup]

Previous Match Infographics: West Ham (a), Sunderland (a), 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)

Now that we're at the semi-final stage, WhoScored is finally collecting stats in this competition.

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

Back on track.

Unlike in almost all of Liverpool's other matches over the last month, Liverpool were given space to play, space to attack, in the first half. The opposition wanted to take the game to Liverpool, which allowed Liverpool to return the favor when opportunities presented themselves: pressing Stoke into mistakes and attacking at pace. Liverpool started the brighter side and pinned Stoke back early, then settled into more of a counter-attacking groove when Coutinho picked up a 17th-minute injury.

And once Liverpool took the lead, Liverpool were defensively solid, despite multiple injuries, keeping a clean sheet against a full-strength side that had beaten both City and United at home in the last month.

The last time that Stoke failed to score at the Britannia this season was October 24, beaten 0-2 by Watford in the same manner than Watford beat Liverpool a few weeks back. It was just the fourth time Stoke had been held scoreless at home in 12 matches in all competitions: the aforementioned Watford loss, a 0-1 loss to West Brom when down to nine men in August, and now twice by Liverpool.

It wasn't perfect. I'd have preferred if Liverpool hadn't put eight of their last nine shots off-target, including all seven after the opening goal. I'd have preferred if Liverpool hadn't allowed 15 shots, the second-highest total since Klopp became manager. I'd have preferred if Liverpool were more cohesive when counter-attacking, wasting opportunities to find both a first goal earlier or a game-sealing second later.

But it was certainly good enough. Good enough considering Saturday. Good enough considering Liverpool's injuries – both before and during this match. Good enough considering Liverpool were away from home against good opposition. And good enough considering this was a cup semi-final.

Seven shots from Roberto Firmino were his most, by far, since joining Liverpool, replicating Coutinho's volume. And Coutinho's accuracy, unfortunately, with just one of the seven on-target: his first, 33 seconds into the match, from distance when presented the ball by Pieters' error. With seven shots as well as three key passes, Firmino was involved on 10 of Liverpool's 16 shots (62.5%). That's more along the lines of what Liverpool need from the player.

Five key passes from Adam Lallana tied his most since joining Liverpool – he played three against West Brom, Southampton, Kazan, and Sion this season, but had five against Arsenal last season – setting up chances for Firmino (twice), Ibe (twice), and Allen (which led to Liverpool's goal).

It was, as cup performances tend to be, a match for the unheralded. Firmino, Lallana, and Ibe all played well, but Toure, Lucas, Allen, and Milner were my most impressive: the former two in defense, the latter two's work-rate necessary in the second half and with both involved in the build-up to the goal. We'll be debating whether Allen meant that assist for weeks. Or at least until he tells us that he didn't.

Everything good stemmed from Liverpool's initiative in the opening stages, and from that first half attacking performance. Remember how Liverpool lost a 1-0 lead v Southampton in Klopp's third match? It was all those Brendan Rodgers matches – at Bordeaux, v Norwich, v Carlisle, v Sion, at Everton – all over again. But since then, Liverpool have won six and drawn once when scoring first: 1-0 Bournemouth, 1-0 Kazan, 4-1 City, 1-0 Swansea, 2-2 West Brom, 1-0 Leicester, 1-0 Sunderland, and now 1-0 Stoke. We've still seen some sloppy defense and familiar issues at times, but it remains light years better than before, and galaxies better when Liverpool have a lead.

13 of Stoke's 15 shots came after Liverpool scored, but only two were on-target. Only six came in the Danger Zone. None were especially threatening; even Arnautovic's 38th-minute header (block crosses, Liverpool!), classified by Opta as Stoke's only clear-cut chance, wasn't an especially easy opportunity and ended well off-target. Mignolet's save on Johnson's effort just before halftime – unsurprisingly, from a scrambled corner – was the most frightening moment of the match.

And Liverpool did this with Toure (three interceptions, 16 clearances) and Lucas (four tackles, five interceptions) as the center-back pairing for the final hour, while defending that 1-0 lead. Kolo Toure. And Lucas Leiva. Against the likes of Bojan, Shaqiri, Armautovic, Affelay, Walters, Joselu, Crouch, etc.

Of course, it remains one match. One cup match, which are even more likely to be one-off situations. And actually just one leg of a cup tie, with a narrow lead to protect at Anfield in three weeks.

What matters even more is where Liverpool go from here, a situation made extra difficult by injuries to Coutinho and Lovren, joining Sturridge, Henderson, Sakho, Skrtel, Origi, Rossiter, Ings, and Gomez on the sidelines. Add a goalkeeper and that's an arguably better XI than what Liverpool have available.

Defend like this. Work like this. Attack even better. Liverpool's fixture list isn't getting any easier or any lighter.

It's just a start. But at least it's a start.

1 comment :

E Coutinho Can said...

Don't worry. We still have Klopp to play centerback!

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