11 March 2016

Visualized: Liverpool 2-0 Manchester Utd

Previous Match Infographics: Crystal Palace (a), Manchester City (h), Manchester City [League Cup] (n), Augsburg (h), 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.)

There were a few key differences between yesterday's Europa League match and the 0-1 Premier League loss to the same opponents on the same ground. The result's obviously the biggest. A close second place: 61.5% versus 21.1%.

That's Liverpool's shot accuracy yesterday versus two months ago. And there are multiple reasons for that: Liverpool's shot location (only four Danger Zone shots and 52.6% from outside the box in the league; seven Danger Zone shots and only 38.5% from outside the box yesterday), Liverpool's attacking options (no Sturridge or Coutinho in the league meeting), a more improved and settled Liverpool side in general, less effective United fullbacks (Darmian and Young/Borthwick-Jackson versus Rojo and Varela).

Once again, it's facile, but if Liverpool shoot well, Liverpool tend to win. This football's thing is easy.

Despite the comprehensive drumming, United has slight reason to be furious. Liverpool's penalty – while nowhere near contentious as last weekend's at Palace – was barely on the line and without a ton of contact. Henderson could have been ruled offside in the build-up to the second, also aided by a completely unnecessary defensive error from Carrick. Too bad, so sad. That's not to diminish the quality in each goal either: the delicious Firmino throughball for the first, Lallana's initial run, then sucking in Carrick before putting the assist on a plate for Firmino. Or Liverpool's quality in general, from start to finish. But Liverpool weren't super far off being held scoreless despite dominating United, either, as in the last meeting. Even in impressive performances, there are usually still very fine margins.

It's better to be good and lucky, etc.

In the four previous matches against United, Liverpool created six clear-cut chances: one each in this season's matches, one at Anfield last season, three at Old Trafford last season. Liverpool scored none of them, missed by Sterling, Sterling, Balotelli, Lallana, Ings, and Lallana.

Liverpool had four clear-cut chances yesterday, the third-most of the season (six v Sion, five at Manchester City), and scored twice, with Sturridge and Coutinho wonderfully denied by De Gea. David De Gea is the only reason there's still some doubt in this tie.

Meanwhile, United had eight clear-cut chances in their four wins, and scored six of them. They created none yesterday.

A little bit of a difference, then.

As for the managerial battle: Louis van Gaal tried to be clever, was too clever for his own good, got cleverer during half-time, then was out-clevered by Jürgen Klopp.

Marouane Fellaini has played a key part in all four of United's wins over Liverpool under van Gaal: as a holding midfielder, a more advanced midfielder, and even a very false "false nine." Which is little surprise given his height, aerial ability, and physicality – all facets that Liverpool struggle to deal, and especially struggled to deal with under Brendan Rodgers.

Fellaini hasn't played in a month, last appearing in the 1-1 draw at Chelsea in early February. And he absolutely looked it yesterday: unable or unwilling to provide protection for the back four, keep up with Liverpool's quick midfielders, or influence the game in any way except for fouling. I've no idea how he stayed on the pitch for the full 90 minutes. It certainly helped that Liverpool defended well enough (and United offered so little in attack) that United didn't have a single corner yesterday. I suspect you remember that United's lone shot on-target, and winner, in January's meeting came from a corner. I suspect you remember all the goals Liverpool have conceded from corners.

Slight credit where it's due though. David De Gea kept United in the game long enough for van Gaal to positively change things, switching from 4-5-1 at halftime to something like a 3-4-1-2. And it worked for a while, at least to slow Liverpool slow and give United a bit of impetus going forward. They dramatically improved possession totals. They limited Liverpool changes, with Liverpool allowed just two shots (both from outside the box, both in the same minute) during that 20-minute spell. They registered their only shot on-target, even if it was an easily saved and from distance.

But Klopp replied, in surprising and surprisingly effective manner, bringing on Allen for Sturridge and switching Liverpool to a 4-1-4-1 formation. The 4-1-4-1 matched United in midfield and continued to limit United on the flanks, with neither Varela nor Blind able to make a difference going forward despite playing higher up the pitch. And Liverpool's attack didn't suffer because of the work rate of the front three plus Allen (and, to a lesser extent, Henderson). Liverpool countered quickly and pressed furiously, both traits leading to Liverpool's second goal, with Liverpool also exploiting the space behind the advanced wing-backs to excellent effect.

Van Gaal's final switch, Herrara for Mata and Schweinsteiger for Schneiderlin, had no impact, barely a change in formation and no change in proceedings, with Liverpool comfortably seeing out the contest. Comfortable. Against Manchester United. In Europe.

Special mention must be made for Roberto Firmino: the perfectly placed throughball to win the penalty, in position to stab home the crucial second, terrorizing United's midfield and defense for 84 minutes. He's been absolutely on fire since Klopp became manager, especially since the beginning of the new year, with eight goals and four assists in the last two months.

In fact, it's more than reminiscent of a certain someone.

There are caveats galore here. Sample size. It's league-only for Suarez, ineligible for the Europa League that season and with Liverpool out of both domestic cups; it's all competitions for Firmino (although his stats are better when it's just League and Europa League and even better when it's league-only). Firmino had a few months to adapt to the league; Suarez was thrown into the deep end after his January transfer.

Still. It's a reassuring comparison, especially given the similarities in age. And neither blew the doors off with seemingly unsustainable form. Both Suarez and Firmino made a clear difference to their sides but also have/had room for growth. Suarez got better. A lot better. Firmino, for all he's done over the last two months, seems as if he can still get a lot better.

And as Firmino's gotten better, Liverpool have gotten better. Liverpool have gotten healthier. Liverpool were able, for pretty much the first time, play what's probably the strongest XI with Lallana replacing the ill Milner.

And Liverpool succeeded, against the old enemy, the Evil Empire, for the first time in the last five meetings.

But we're only halfway done. All of yesterday's impressiveness and accomplishments are all for naught if Liverpool can't replicate their form at Old Trafford next week.


Anonymous said...

Lallana should get an assist on the "Shots, Assists, Chances Created" graphic, right?

nate said...

Yep, I boned that up. There's usually something. Fixed now; thanks much.

E Coutinho Can said...

Klopp made another great sub with Origi too. Our team released a couple of long balls down the flanks to let Origi get into a footrace with Carrick and we won a corner and relieved pressure on our defense that way. Man Utd couldn't attack with more men because a third was always possible with Origi's pace.

Brilliant from Klopp that Allen sub and then Origi!