08 April 2016

Visualized: Liverpool 1-1 Borussia Dortmund

Previous Match Infographics: Tottenham (h), Southampton (a), Manchester United (a), Manchester United (h), 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.)

Like Liverpool's weekend fixture, it was a match that Liverpool could and probably should have won.

Like Liverpool's weekend fixture, it's a result that still encourages much more than it annoys, and even more so given venue, competition, and opposition.

Dortmund are unbeaten since returning from Germany's winter break, with 14 wins and just two draws – 0-0s against first-place Bayern Munich and at third-place Hertha Berlin – since January 19. They'd kept a clean sheet in 10 of those 16, including six of the eight in Dortmund, with Hoffenheim scoring once (before Dortmund came back to win 3-1) and Werder scoring twice (before Dortmund came back to win 3-2).

Dortmund scored at least two goals in 11 of those 16 matches, including five in two matches against Tottenham (Liverpool scored once and conceded once in 180 minutes against Tottenham), and three at Augsburg (Liverpool failed to score at Augsburg, with one goal in 180 minutes while holding Augsburg scoreless).

It hasn't been updated since March 20 (there's been one league game since), but by Michael Caley's Expected Goals metric, there are only two teams with a higher xG total than Borussia Dortmund in the four major European leagues: Barcelona and Real Madrid. [La Liga/Serie A/Bundesliga] [Premier League]

Aside from Dortmund's first half threat, usually requiring crucial intervention from Sakho and Lovren, with key blocks on Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang respectively, Liverpool did exceptionally well to smother the home side. Dortmund's best two chances – Hummels' goal and Reus' injury time close-range clear-cut chance when Liverpool failed to clear – came from corners.

Dortmund had chances, took 16 shots in total. And only four teams have taken more than 16 shots against Klopp's Liverpool: Manchester City in the 120-minute League Cup final (20), West Ham (18), Tottenham (18), and Manchester United in the away Europa League match (17). Liverpool forced Dortmund to take 10 of their 16 shots from outside the box (three on, two off, five blocked). Through Dortmund's 28 league matches, they'd taken 65.4% of their total shots from inside the box (285 of 436).

And most notably, Dortmund's last shot of the match came in the 59th minute. 16 shots through 59 minutes. Zero shots for the final 30 minutes. There was more than half an hour remaining. You're at home. You want at least one more goal to diminish the opposition's away goal advantage. And you can't even get off a shot: not a speculative blast from distance, not a set play opportunity. Good lord.

Over the course of those 30 minutes, Liverpool used three different formations. First, the same 4-3-3 as the first half, with Allen a straight replacement for Henderson. Then, a switch to 4-1-4-1, with Milner wide and Lallana and Allen usually, nominally ahead of Can. Then, after Firmino and Sturridge came on, an orthodox 4-4-2. And Dortmund couldn't penetrate any of them.

Regardless of formation, Liverpool's midfield mostly held its shape (looking at Can and Milner going missing a couple of times in the first half, when charging out to press, but only a couple). Liverpool's fullbacks focused on defense, especially Clyne keeping the dangerous Reus quiet. Liverpool mostly denied Mkhitaryan space centrally. And when Liverpool lost players in open play, Sakho or Lovren were there to make the necessary stop. It was a complete team effort, and, again, aside from a solitary set play, Liverpool impressively succeeded.

Over those final 30 minutes, Liverpool only took one shot of their own, Clyne from wide, just inside the box, swiftly blocked. One shot, for either side, in the last half hour of a contentious, vital Europa League quarterfinal. And I'm admittedly biased, but it wasn't a dire, ugly, Allardyce versus Pulis match either. That's strangling the absolute life out of a game. That's a serious Klopping.

We've had our issues – set plays, individual errors, late goals, conceding after taking a lead; you remember Southampton away, etc. – but this can be, and surprisingly often is, a damned good defense. Especially when Liverpool sit deep and focus on defense, conservative but smothering, but even, at times, when Liverpool open up a bit more.

Liverpool's last open play goal conceded in the Europa League came against Rubin Kazan on October 22. In the 15th minute of that match. That was Klopp's second match at Liverpool. That was 795 minutes of European football ago.

Liverpool limited to Dortmund to two clear-cut chances – the aforementioned Hummels' free header goal and Reus from an uncleared corner. Both from set plays, one scored, one saved. But, because Liverpool, neither of their big chances were taken: Lovren's free header in the 21st minute and Origi denied by Weidenfeller one-v-one just before halftime.

And that's why, for all the praise due to Liverpool's defense, Liverpool are leaving Germany with just a slender away goal advantage rather than an out-and-out lead. Lovren's header, Origi's one-v-one, Coutinho twice denied by Weidenfeller in the 51st and 52nd minutes, Clyne's excellent shot from distance palmed away during the same spell.

We've been here before. Liverpool unable to convert good chances, to convert clear-cut chances. I've banged on and on and on about "clear-cut chances" this season, but we've yet more evidence of the issue. Yes, it's a subjective metric, up the game statistician to decide when an attack "should" score. And it hasn't yet hurt Liverpool in this competition. But Liverpool have now converted just three of 22 non-penalty clear-cut chances in the Europa League this season. Three. Of 22.

And yet, somehow, Liverpool remain unbeaten in this competition. Probably has something to do with Liverpool conceding just six goals in this competition's 11 matches.

At least Liverpool got one goal. That's better than we'd assumed, and gives Liverpool a surprising, if marginal, advantage going into next week's home leg. But it could, and it should, have been even more, even better.

And, sadly, that's the story of Liverpool's season so far. Narrow margins and opportunities untaken. But they've a chance to write a different story in a week's time.


Anonymous said...

Nate -

What's the logic behind the chance that Sakho blocked from about 12-feet out not being labeled a clear-cut chance (assuming you're using Opta's definition)? I think I've seen you and a few others (Beasley, Kennett, MCoA possibly) discuss this before on twitter, but that seems pretty absurd to me, as that struck me as a better opportunity than either of the two labeled clear-cut.


nate said...

If there are multiple defenders behind the ball (Sakho + Mignolet), it's almost certainly not going to be classified as a clear-cut chance. CCCs are almost close-range and/or one v one. Despite, yeah, I do agree with you.

nate said...

Also: Opta's "official" definition.