26 February 2016

Visualized: Liverpool 1-0 Augsburg

Previous Match Infographics: Augsburg (a), Aston Villa (a), Sunderland (h), Leicester (a), 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 for Europa League matches, all data from WhoScored.

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

Liverpool needs to finish its chances, Part XXXVIII.

We've seen this match multiple times, but it seemed most like Liverpool's first European match at Anfield. Except, thankfully, in the result.

Liverpool created six clear-cut chances against Sion, the most in any match this season, but only scored the first. Liverpool created good chances, rather than relying on speculative or forced shots from distance. Liverpool took the vast majority of its shots from inside the box, Liverpool put an above-average amount on target. Liverpool should have scored a lot more than they did. Liverpool should have won.

And that's almost exactly what happened yesterday. Five clear-cut chances; only that Sion match (6) and the 4-1 win at Manchester City (5, scoring two) saw as many. 17 of 24 shots from inside the box, 12 from the Danger Zone. A barely-mediocre 25% shooting accuracy, but more because Augsburg blocked ten Liverpool shots rather than Liverpool's all-too-usual errancy.

The difference? Sion scored from one of their few counter-attacks, Liverpool caught out by a long cross-field pass over a failed offside trap. Had Liverpool done similar yesterday, Liverpool would be out of the competition. And Liverpool almost did similar: Lucas errors released Caiuby in the 1st and 35th minutes, Stafylidis forced an excellent save from Mignolet in the 25th and barely missed with a free kick in the 89th, Mignolet charged off his line to deny an almost-through-on-goal Werner in the 70th, and Liverpool barely scrambled a loose ball clear from its six-yard box in the 87th.

It was far too close for comfort, and yet again, that's because Liverpool couldn't convert just one more of its multiple chances. But by hook, by crook, or by luck – by all of those things – Liverpool didn't concede.

It's not the first time similar has happened in the Europa League. Liverpool have now played eight European matches this season. Liverpool scored 1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 0, 0, and 1 in those eight games. Seven goals in eight games is not good. Seven goals in eight games almost perfectly summarizes Liverpool's season; you've just got to throw the word "hamstring" in there somewhere. However, in their eight games, Augsburg scored 1, 1, 1, 4, 2, 3, 0, and 0. Liverpool were the only side to hold Augsburg scoreless in this competition, and they did it twice.

It's still surprising to me, but Liverpool actually have a fairly competent defense. Usually. And yesterday, that was enough. As it was in 1-0 Bournemouth, 1-0 Kazan, 1-0 Swansea, 1-0 Leicester, 1-0 Sunderland, 1-0 Stoke, etc. But it makes for a very small margin of error: all those 1-1 draws earlier in the season, 0-2 Newcastle, 0-1 United, 0-1 Stoke, 0-2 Leicester, etc, etc.

We've seen what happens if this side finishes its chances: 4-1 City, 6-1 Southampton, 5-4 Norwich, 6-0 Villa. Better finishing or a bit more luck, and this could have easily fallen into that category. It helps when Coutinho and Firmino monopolize possession as they did, create as they did. Two Coutinho clear-cut chances for Sturridge, one Sturridge clear-cut chance for Coutinho. Seven chances created by Coutinho in the match, the most by a Liverpool player in league or European competition this season. Augsburg created eight chances in the entire match.

If this side plays like this, but finishes just a bit better, it can be a very, very good Liverpool side, especially when everyone's fit. Having Sturridge and Coutinho fit unsurprisingly makes Liverpool actually decent. Other than the finishing, it's coming together: possession, creation, shot dominance, clean sheets. This is the first time since the first three matches of the season that Liverpool have kept three consecutive clean sheets.

Unfortunately, scoring goals is pretty much the most important part of the game. That can come, that should come, but Liverpool's frequent failings in regard, both with and without its best attackers, remains more than worrisome.

Let's just hope that Liverpool are saving their infrequently-seen ruthless finishing for Sunday's match, as well as the next round of this competition.

No comments :