04 April 2016

Visualized: Liverpool 1-1 Tottenham

Previous Match Infographics: 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, match data from Stats Zone, except shot location from Squawka and average player position from ESPN FC.

Much has been written about Liverpool's diabolic passing on Saturday. Just 367 attempted, 256 completed, 69.75% accuracy. All three of those stats are Liverpool's second-worst in a league match this season.

It was not good, and Tottenham's personnel and playing style assuredly made it worse.

It seems worth reminding that a lower passing accuracy isn't necessarily symptomatic of a bad performance. Liverpool's lowest accuracy of the season was 68% in the 4-1 win at City. The next lowest, prior to Saturday, was 71.2% in the 0-0 draw at Arsenal, which is the only match where Liverpool attempted and completed fewer passes than on Saturday. Both were matches where Liverpool willingly conceded possession in the hopes of playing on the counter, as they did on Saturday. They very much succeeded in the former fixture, and weren't far off in the latter, keeping a clean sheet but unable to convert one of the handful of good chances created.

Both of those linked match infographics have a fair few similarities to the above, outside of solely Liverpool's passing. But both of those matches also took place away from home.

While a lot of credit goes to what Tottenham did – and what Tottenham kept Liverpool from doing – it's also worth remembering that Liverpool are very much a different passing side (and, obviously, different side in general) than they were under Brendan Rodgers. And it's a style they're still adjusting to, with fairly dramatic changes coming in the middle of the season.

Liverpool's passing has been admittedly more erratic throughout Klopp's tenure. It's a matter of being more direct, playing quicker passes, aiming for faster transitions. It's less important to keep patient control of the ball when you thrive by frenetically winning it back. Rodgers had moved further away from it in each of his seasons, but this most certainly isn't the cringy 'death by football' anymore. In the first eight league matches of the season, Liverpool averaged 81.4% pass accuracy. In Klopp's 22 league matches, the average is 78.5%. Incidentally, Liverpool's passing accuracy in Rodgers' 122 matches was 83.7%, and Liverpool's passing accuracy was never below 70% in a league match under Rodgers.

Obviously, it'd have been better had Liverpool been more accurate on Saturday. Tottenham did exceptionally well to disrupt Liverpool in every phase, especially in defense and midfield, as further demonstrated by the above passing network: unable to play out from the back, Liverpool got the ball forward quickly, mainly from Clyne and Moreno to Henderson, Milner, and Coutinho, with the deeper Emre Can and the center-backs on the ball much, much less than usual. I suspect it'd have been an even better strategy were Firmino available, much more capable of linking up with the impressive Coutinho, much more capable of creating and scoring in the final third.

It's still a strategy that could, and almost did, succeed. Rather than Liverpool's passing accuracy or struggles out from the back, the bigger problem was, again, that Liverpool failed to convert enough of its chances. This season has turned me into a broken record.

Daniel Sturridge, by far Liverpool's best striker, missed two clear-cut opportunities: put through by Coutinho in the 36th, his shot straight at Lloris, and an awkward close-ranger header over in the 57th. He's now converted just two of nine non-penalty clear-cut chances in the Premier League and Europa League.

We're almost at Benteke levels of conversion here. To be fair, Sturridge has missed mountains of time over the last 18 months. He's had almost as many clear-cut chances as Benteke – and scored the same amount – despite playing barely more than half as much time. Only Firmino, barely, has scored more clear-cut chances per 90 minutes. But that's still a very bad conversion rate for very good chances. And Liverpool, obviously, very much need Sturridge scoring those chances.

To be fair, Tottenham missed both its clear-cut chances as well: Alli's header in the 49th and Son's wayward shot in the 58th. But it's a much more consistent problem for Liverpool; they've converted just 22 of 62 non-penalty big chances in the league and Europa League this season (19 of 42 in the league; yes, it's really been that much worse in Europe). And while Sturridge missed those two notable chances on Saturday, Lallana's shot somehow saved by Lloris in the 40th minute and Coutinho's effort wide in the 85th were opportunities almost as good as the two that Sturridge failed to seize.

Had Liverpool converted just one more shot on Saturday, it's a successful strategy. Or, had Liverpool stayed more compact on Tottenham's goal (or had Eriksen's touch, or Kane's turn, or Kane's shot not been as good as they were), it's a successful strategy. Those are the fine margins which Liverpool have trod all season long. And been on the wrong side of for the majority of said season.

Regardless, there were positives: Coutinho, the draw, limiting good Tottenham chances even if Tottenham were able to take 18 shots, Lovren except for the goal. Liverpool faced a better version of itself in the mirror and came away equal. Liverpool can be a very good counter-attacking team and a fairly good defensive team. It's just that, still, we don't see it often enough, consistently enough. Tottenham is more cohesive, more settled, and, for the most part, more impressive: Kane's the best striker in the league, Eriksen's a chance creation machine, Dier and Dembele are an impressively balanced midfield, and time under Pochettino has led to Tottenham adopting of Pochettino's methods better than Liverpool have adopted Klopp's so far. Every player – even the previously questionable Walker and Rose at full-back – have improved under this manager in this system. Liverpool can be that – you can easily see "Sturridge" replacing "Kane," "Coutinho" replacing "Eriksen," and "Henderson and Can" replacing "Dier and Dembele" in the previous sentence – but Liverpool need more time to be that.

I'm fairly certain that Liverpool will play similarly on Thursday – without the ball for long stretches, on the back foot, reliant on the counter-attack and staying secure at the back – facing opposition that plays in a comparable manner, this time away from home. But Liverpool will be facing opposition that are vastly better at it than Tottenham.

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

I can't bothered to go and watch the match again, but it would be interesting to note how many times Sakho and Can passed to each other when stood no more than 5 yards away when an opposing player was also in close proximity.
In my minds eye, they did it a handful of times and also with a short free kick deep in our half which exasperated me.
If they cut those dangerous passes out, we would have been under less pressure, and possibly wouldn't have given the ball away so often.
Its admirable that they were trying to play a short passing game and build from the back, but sometimes you've just got t play a little longer and a little more direct to counter the tight high press.