03 February 2016

Visualized: Liverpool 0-2 Leicester

Previous Match Infographics: Stoke [League Cup] (h), Norwich (a), Manchester Utd (h), Arsenal (h), Stoke [League Cup] (a), 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)

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.)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Liverpool are the better side. But Liverpool can’t score. Then Liverpool concede. Then Liverpool lose.

Okay, campers, rise and shine, and don't forget your booties ‘cause it's cold out there today. Yep, it was Groundhog Day. Again.

An inability to break through a deep, well-organized defense, poor chances created, poor shot location, poor shot accuracy. And then, a concession, a tremendously struck shot, the kind Liverpool rarely recreate, and then a defensive mix-up coupled with some unlucky caroms.

Just two of 14 Liverpool shots on-target, 14.3% accuracy: Lovren’s lofted and tame set play header in the 34th minute, and Can’s no-angle wide-box shot in the 69th. Nine of 14 shots from outside the box, with none on-target. Just two Danger Zone shots: the aforementioned Lovren header and Can’s deflected effort (from one of Liverpool’s best moves of the match) in the 48th. Zero clear-cut chances created, for the fourth time in Klopp’s 16 league matches.

It’s hard to score when your opportunities to score are that bad. Unless you’re Jamie Vardy, I guess. I also wouldn’t recommend Emre Can taking more than a third of your total shots, but hey, someone's got to do it.

It’s almost as if Liverpool are using up their goals in bursts. Score six at Southampton in the League Cup, then held scoreless in the next two matches. Score five at Norwich, held scoreless in the next three matches. Let’s try spacing them out a bit more judiciously, guys.

Liverpool haven’t scored a goal in the last five hours – five. hours. – of football. 120 minutes against Stoke, 90 against West Ham and Leicester.

Liverpool have now been held scoreless in nine of Klopp’s 27 matches – exactly one-third. It happened just twice in Rodgers’ 11 matches to start the campaign. Liverpool’s goals-per-game is higher under the new manager (1.44 v 1.0 in all competitions), but the variation is greater. It seemed as if Liverpool scored just once in every one of Rodgers’ matches; under Klopp, it’s more often two or three or four or five or six, or it’s zero. And zero is happening far too often.

Leicester also held Liverpool to its lowest xG since Klopp became manager: 0.5, tied for worst with the 1-0 win at Stoke on opening day. Liverpool took just eight shots that day, and scored from one of those one-in-a-hundred chances. You’ve got to work really hard at being really insipid to take 14 shots but only total 0.5 expected goals.

To be slightly fairer to Liverpool, Leicester haven't conceded a league goal at home since Chelsea on December 14. 0-0 Manchester City, 0-0 Bournemouth, 3-0 Stoke, and now 2-0 Liverpool. Leicester have conceded 13 in 12 home games this season – more than six other sides – but ten of those 13 came in the first four home matches of the campaign, including five in a 2-5 loss to Arsenal. Since then? Three goals in eight games: five clean sheets, and one each from Watford, United, and Chelsea.

Leicester are very, very good defensively, especially at home. They’re built off the deep defense, and then countering quickly and countering long to Mahrez and Vardy. Leicester know what Leicester does well, so that’s what Leicester does, and that’s all that Leicester does. And Leicester leads the league. We still don't know what Liverpool does well, and so Liverpool still sits firmly mid-table. Except disappointing us. They're quite good at that.

Unlike the last time these sides met, Liverpool’s 4-4-1-1 couldn’t match Leicester’s. Leicester – who have no injuries to key players, had 10 days since their last match, and played three fewer matches in January than Liverpool – out-worked, out-thought, and out-finished Liverpool. But that’s also the difference between a 4-4-1-1 with Origi/Benteke up front, Firmino in the hole, and Lallana and Coutinho on the flanks versus Firmino “up front,” Lallana in the hole, and Milner and Henderson “on the flanks.” The front six was four central midfielders, a #10 much better without the ball than with it, and an inconsistent false nine who’s still very much adapting to this league and style of play.

Incidentally, as in the last meeting, Liverpool weren’t terrible in defense. They were certainly better last time, but Leicester’s attack was very much worse last time. And unlike Liverpool's front six, Liverpool's back five was the same as in the last meeting. Consistency matters. Liverpool allowed just three shots inside the box. Liverpool kept Leicester at bay for an hour, although they had two very good saves from Mignolet to thank for that. Between the save on Mahrez’s dipping effort in the 35th and Vardy’s goal in the 60th, Leicester took just one shot: Okazaki from distance, well over the goal.

The last time Liverpool saved the first shot on-target – this time, the first four shots on-target – but still conceded was the 1-1 draw against Southampton on October 25. More than three months ago. Since, the 0-0 v West Ham in the FA Cup, 1-0 at Stoke in the League Cup, 3-0 v Exeter in the FA Cup, 1-0 v Sunderland, 1-0 v Leicester, and 1-0 v Bournemouth in the League Cup. Of course, in all the other matches, Liverpool either didn’t allow a single shot on-target (1-0 Swansea, 0-0 Sion, and 1-0 Kazan) or conceded from the opposition’s first shot on-target (the other 15!!! matches).

But then, Mahrez’s hopeful punt forward when Liverpool yet again lost possession in the final third, Vardy in behind Liverpool’s dozy high line, and a goal from absolutely nothing and nowhere, almost certainly the Premier League goal of the season.

It’s seemingly not fair. But that’s the difference an actual out-and-out in-form striker makes. So it was little surprise when, 11 minutes later, Liverpool’s defense reverted to Keystone Kops: Sakho misjudging and mis-hitting what should have been an easily cleared header, Okazaki’s shot taking a fortunate deflection off of Moreno, Lovren caught on the back-foot and wholly unaware, the deflection perfectly placed for a Vardy tap-in. Two Vardy shots, two Vardy goals.

So very Liverpool. So very Groundhog Day.

But with continuing injuries, an unbalanced squad, and woeful form from the few potential replacements (looking at you, Christian and Jordon and then Christian again), there’s seemingly little that the manager can do at the moment. The January transfer window could, and probably should, have helped, but I understand Klopp not wanting to overpay and also wanting to know exactly what he has and what he needs before the massive overhaul that has to be coming. I honestly still believe – but there's a good chance I'm wrong – that can be a much different, much better side with just one or two from Sturridge, Ings, Coutinho, and Origi available.

As painful as it is, it feels as if we’ve just got to grin and bear it for the next few months. And hope that Liverpool can replicate one of those few-and-far-between goal bursts in the now even more important cup matches.

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