15 April 2016

Visualized: Liverpool 4-3 Borussia Dortmund

Nota Bene: In nearly 10 years of doing this blog thing, I've never posted about football on the Hillsborough Anniversary before. True, that's mainly because nothing lined up as this year has, but it also just doesn't feel right. Yet leaving the match infographic for tomorrow doesn't feel right either. I mean no offense, and truly don't want to take away from the Hillsborough remembrance – especially since it's the last year of the service at Anfield and the Hillsborough Inquests will soon come to a close, 27 years after the Disaster – but I also don't want to disappoint the few of you who come here to read my nonsense about the sport and team we support. So I thought a caveat was in order, as well as my heartfelt apologies to anyone who disagrees with my decision, and my heartfelt sympathy for anyone who lost friends or family in the Disaster, for anyone affected by the Disaster.

Justice for the 96.

Previous Match Infographics: Stoke (h), Dortmund (a), 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.

Football, eh?

It couldn't have started worse and it couldn't have finished better.

It was surprising to see Liverpool revert to the 4-2-3-1. Klopp spoke about how Liverpool needed to be brave in this fixture, and going for an extra attacker in the hopes of adding another goal early on was certainly brave.

And it was certainly the wrong decision. And Liverpool certainly paid for it, twice, within ten minutes.

They were two textbooks Dortmund counters: the first sprung by Coutinho's errant pass to Moreno, the second by three Dortmund players pressing Firmino after Milner's ill-advised pass to a covered teammate. And then they were off like lightning. That's what Dortmund can do to you, if given the slightest of openings. That's transition football. But Liverpool didn't need to help them along the way, both in the loss of possession, the vacating of midfield, and – to cap it all off – Sakho sitting so deep he played a Dortmund attacker onside for both.

It's right there in the Goal Events chalkboards. Liverpool give the ball away (or have it taken away, in the second instance) in Dortmund's half, Dortmund charge down the pitch, Kagawa and Reus have acres of space in the middle, Dortmund score. Liverpool were too casual in attack, unbalanced and open in midfield, and disjointed in defense. That's a recipe for a loss against most sides. It's a recipe for annihilation against Dortmund. This looked like it'd be annihilation.

Dortmund continued to have counter-attack chances – most notably, Aubameyang missed another clear-cut chance in the 36th minute; a one-two with Reus through Liverpool's inside-right channel – but Liverpool at least grew into the game. Liverpool kept pushing. Heads didn't drop. They still believed. Etc, etc.

But it was still Bad Liverpool. Liverpool responded with nine first half shots after going 0-2 down – which is more than the 6.64 per match that Dortmund's opponents had averaged in the Europa League since the start of the group stage – but four were off-target and five were blocked. Bad finishing as well as good opposition defending, with Dortmund allowed the opportunity to sit deep and block shots because of their early lead.

It was the Liverpool we saw at Watford and at West Ham more than four months ago, not the Liverpool we needed to see when hosting Borussia Dortmund in a Europa League quarterfinal.

Something had to change. You had to expect halftime substitutions as well as a response from Liverpool.

Surprisingly, we didn't get the former. But we did get the latter: finally, an example of Liverpool's transition football and both Emre Can and Divock Origi's potential: four quick one-touch passes through midfield (Can's exchangs with Milner then Firmino) before a perfectly-weighted throughball, Origi's strong run behind Sokratis and cool finish past Weidenfeller.

Game almost on.

Then game back off.

Unlike their usual modus operandi, Dortmund took the sting out of Liverpool's response with possession, making Liverpool chase the ball while controlling the clock. They maintained control for a full minute before finally pulling defenders out of position, Hummels' throughball to Reus catching Clyne at sea with Sakho playing the attacker onside for a third punishing time.

So now, Liverpool really did have to change things. Liverpool had to throw caution to the win, to go for broke, to use every single cliché in their toolbox.


There are a lot – A LOT – more variables here, yet I can't help but think "win the midfield, win the match." Dortmund tired, and Dortmund's pressing and counter-attacking became less potent, especially as Kagawa then Reus went off. But solidifying the midfield not only gave Liverpool more going forward, better able to unbalance Dortmund with Allen, Milner, and Can breaking the lines, but also more protection the few times that Dortmund countered.

Dortmund were always going to sit deeper, trying to retain their lead as time ran down, but Liverpool's change in structure gave the team a better platform for possession. And it directly resulted in Liverpool's second goal: Can and Allen prodding and poking, to draw defenders while other attackers look for space, until ultimately unlocking the defense through Coutinho: a one-two with Milner, an unerring shot from just outside the box. It was made not only by the Brazilian's accuracy, but Milner's clever run into an area vacated by Weigl's attempt to close down Coutinho. Castro couldn't get over in time, Hummels just could get out quick enough to block.

Game back on? Yeah, actually, game back on.

Liverpool kept pushing, Dortmund kept defending, but we needed two miracles for two more goals. Two set plays miracles from two scapegoat center-backs. Sakho, scoring his first goal for more than two years on Liverpool's 11th corner of the match, after barely creating anything from the first ten, with Coutinho's low delivery somehow missing both Sturridge and three Dortmund defenders at the near post before finding Sakho, in space because Lovren had picked off his marker. Consider amends made for his role in Dortmund's three.

And, in the first minute of injury time, an even more unlikely goal from an even more unlikely player on an even more unlikely dead ball routine.

Schmelzer had to unnecessarily foul Clyne deep on the right flank. Both Milner and Sturridge had to be aware enough to go for the pass down the flank rather than the usual hoofed cross into the box. Sturridge had to be onside, by about a foot. Reus had to be caught unaware for a single second, not quite quick enough to track the striker, and Sturridge still had to regain control after initially misplaying it. Aubameyang had to dawdle back, allowing Milner to charge into the box for Sturridge's layoff, and Milner had to somehow cross just before the byline after an initial heavy touch. And it had to be a inch-perfect cross on the run, to that exact spot at the back post, where Lovren out-jumped the substitute Ramos and actually hit the target just inside the post.

Un damn believable. Football, eh?

So while Liverpool did very good things and Liverpool responded, both players and manager, there's still all sorts of "how the hell did this happen?" involved.

Every single Liverpool shot of the final 15 minutes came from a set play: Clyne from very deep blocked, Sakho's goal, and Lovren's two errant attempts before an inconceivable winner. Which helps demonstrate that Dortmund didn't just roll over. That team can defend, but somehow Liverpool still had enough. By hook, crook, and luck. And that would be the Liverpool who are often terrible at defending set plays and don't convert enough of their own.

As was Dortmund's shot. Shot, not shots.

One. That's the total number of Borussia Dortmund shots in the final 30 minutes of both legs. Combined. And that one was Gündogan's 94th minute free kick yesterday, thankfully put a yard wide of the near post. 60 minutes of play. At Dortmund with the score level, then at Liverpool trying to protect a two-goal lead. And they couldn't manage a single open play shot.

In the final 30 minutes of the last three games: Dortmund took zero shots at Dortmund, Stoke took two shots at Anfield, and Dortmund took one shot at Anfield. Three shots over 90 combined minutes, in three very different matches, with each of them from outside the box and either off-target or blocked. In the first, Liverpool were desperately protecting a draw. In the second, Liverpool were coasting thanks to their two- then three-goal advantage. In the third, Liverpool were chasing the most unlikely of results, needing to throw players forward to erase a three-goal deficit.

That's Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool, ladies and gentlemen. And this is just the beginning.

Make no mistake. Liverpool merited its victory yesterday and to win the tie. The defensive performance in the first leg, the attacking and defensive performances in the second half of the second leg.

Liverpool looked the fitter, more resilient side in both legs, and I'm not quite sure how. Klopp's training methods? The team's new-found belief? Yesterday's Anfield atmosphere? All of the above? Both teams have played a ton of matches this season; yesterday was Liverpool's 53rd and Dortmund's 49th. The likes of Sturridge, Origi, and Allen haven't played anywhere near as much as any of the Dortmund starters yesterday, but the likes of Can and Clyne have played more than all of them, while Milner and Moreno have played more than all but Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan. Both sides should have demonstrably tired, not just Dortmund.

Maybe it was just all down to Joe Allen. With Allen on the pitch – in 73 of 180 minutes, as a substitute in both legs – Liverpool controlled the midfield, out-shot Dortmund 16-5, and out-scored Dortmund 3-1 (the one, of course, from a set play). All hail our Welsh savior.

When all's said and done, over 180 minutes, Liverpool were the better side. Narrowly. By the slimmest of margins. But better. Now that's unbelievable.

This is only Dortmund's sixth loss of the season, and it's their first since December 19th, a 1-2 defeat at FC Köln just before the Bundesliga winter break.

This is only the second time that Dortmund have conceded four or more goals this season, along with the 1-5 loss at soon-to-be-fourth-successive-Bundesliga-winners Bayern Munich. They'd only conceded three or more three times: that Bayern match, a 4-3 win at Odds Ballklubb in EL qualifying with the season barely started, and a 1-3 loss at Hamburg back in November. Just three times, and the last times was in November.

This is only the second time that Dortmund's opponents have taken 20 or more shots in a match this season. The other was Dortmund's 2-1 win at Wolfsburg, where Wolfsburg fired from any and all angles in an attempt to come back from Reus' first-half goal. No side had taken more than 13 against Dortmund in the Europa League this season, and that was Liverpool in the first leg.

And this is the first time this season that Dortmund scored three or more goals and didn't win. Not even draw, but win. 22 matches with three or more Dortmund goals in all competitions, and 22 Dortmund wins. Until yesterday.

The magic is back. European nights at Anfield are back. Improbable, near-impossible comebacks are back. Heart attacks are back. Belief is back.

We're all aware this team still has multiple flaws and a vast amount of room for improvement. But this team is also a hell of a lot better than it was a year ago, than it was six months ago, and that's mainly because of the manager: both for his cult of personality giving the players added confidence as well as the increasingly clever in-game tactical changes. The decision to start with a 4-2-3-1 almost cost Liverpool, but Liverpool still believed, and the second half changes certainly changed Liverpool.

Most importantly, football is fun again.


Aaron Jarosh said...

I feel like Sturridge got the slightest of touches on that Sakho goal. If you watch the replay, Sturridge's back heel either nicks the ball, or comes within an inch. Given that the defender also just barely misses it, I feel like he does actually get a touch to it, just enough to take it out of the path of the defender. Yet I couldn't find a good replay to 100% prove this, so I could be wrong.

nate said...

You might be right; I certainly can't tell. But it ain't given by Opta/WhoScored, so I ain't counting it.

Aaron Jarosh said...

Fair play. In all honesty i've just been surprised that no one seems to be mentioning it as a possibility. Oh well. I still can't find a slowed-down version of the goal; so it goes.

JC said...

Great recap, as always. What's your opinion on what we should do for the rest of league matches? I know we want to keep guys fresh but it seems like for certain matches the rest of the way, we should be resting quite a few of the starting 11 - Bournemouth, Newcastle, Swansea in particular in the next few weeks.

drew said...

Rewatched the match tonight. Dortmund are really fucking good. How on earth did Liverpool pinch that?

Unknown said...

Have Dortmund ever conceded four goals in a single half before?