21 November 2016

Visualized: Liverpool 0-0 Southampton

Previous Match Infographics: Watford (h), Crystal Palace (a), West Brom (h), United (h), Swansea (a), Hull (h), Chelsea (a), Leicester (h), Tottenham (a), Burnley (a), Arsenal (a)

All match data from Stats Zone and Who Scored.

Blame international breaks.

For the second time running, Liverpool stuttered after international fixtures, missing at least one key starter and with others obviously fatigued. So Liverpool, as they did against Manchester United, were as patient as possible – a patience they notably lacked in the loss at Burnley – slowly upping the tempo in an attempt to put their superlative fitness to use and win the narrow, difficult contest in the second half.

And for the second-straight time, it didn't quite work. But the signs were there.

Liverpool's attack clearly better in the second half, with Southampton pushed deeper and deeper, reliant on clearances and tackles where they were able to intercept in the first half. Liverpool increasingly dominating possession, with Southampton far less able to get out of their own half or even recover the ball.

But as against United, despite Liverpool's second half improvement, Liverpool just couldn't do enough to eke the victory. In that match last month, Liverpool had a couple of decent chances, through Can and Coutinho, but United had the best of the match, the only clear-cut chance, missed by Ibrahimovic. Liverpool were definitely better, in all phases, at Southampton, seemingly further proof of this side's continual improvement. And it's not as if United are that much stronger than Southampton, at least in this season's performances and results so far.

Unsurprisingly, it comes down to putting the damned ball in the damned net. We've seen this side score 30 goals through 12 matches and can still rightfully complain about missed opportunities for more. Admittedly, maybe it's only "rightfully" in my mind.

Liverpool's 13.3% shot accuracy is the joint-third worst since Klopp became manager. The two worse performances? 8.7% (two of 23) in a 0-2 loss at West Ham and 10.0% (one of 10) in a 0-2 loss at Newcastle. Two gut punch losses, because Liverpool completely failed at the back while struggling up front.

The match where Liverpool hit exactly the same amount – two on-target from 15 in total – last season? Against Southampton, albeit at home, in a 1-1 draw. Incidentally, Southampton's back four that day was Cedric, Fonte, van Dijk, and Bertrand, the same four players who started on Saturday. That's probably not coincidence.

Last season, Liverpool averaged 32.3% shot accuracy in the Premier League. It was 32.9% in 2014-15. Prior to Saturday's match, Liverpool had averaged 40.9%, an even higher mark than 2013-14's high water mark. As you may have guessed from Liverpool's goals tally, shot accuracy hasn't often been a problem this season. I doubt it'll be a problem in most of Liverpool's matches this season. But matches like Saturday's still happen.

Saturday was also the first time this season that Liverpool had created at least one clear-cut chance but failed to score. The two previous matches where Liverpool failed to score – at Burnley and against United – Liverpool failed to create a clear-cut chance. They created at least two in every other fixture and scored at least one. Prior to this match, Liverpool had converted 15 of 28 clear-cut chances (53.6%). Creating two on Saturday, they missed both.

It is both obvious and cliché in extremis, but you've just got to take your chances in matches like these.

Still, Liverpool's shooting could have been worse. Liverpool's shooting could have been Southampton's.

Parked bus or not, playing for 0-0 or not, Liverpool's defense held Southampton to that. As irrelevant an attack as they've had in the last four years.

This was the 12th match of the campaign, and it was the third time Liverpool's held an opponent to three or fewer shots. Hull took two, Burnley took three. I hesitate to remind – although I doubt I need to remind – that both of those sides scored at least once.

It's also the third time that Liverpool's league opponent has failed to put a single shot on-target since Klopp became manager. The other two? A 1-0 win against Swansea almost exactly a year ago and the 4-0 win against Everton last April. Both at Anfield. That Swansea match is a decent parallel to Saturday's: a fatigued Liverpool side missing a couple of key players, which won for the first time after a midweek Europa League match. Liverpool were the "better" side against a parked bus defense, starting slowly but improving bit by bit as the match went on, but still needed a soft penalty (only given by the linesman, not the referee) to get the win, putting just two shots on-target in the match.

Fine margins, etc. As there were when Ibrahimovic missed his clear-cut chance against Liverpool a month ago, or when van Hoorn missed his at the death in Liverpool's 2-1 win at Swansea. Football, eh?

So, yeah, this result's a bit disappointing. That Liverpool performance needed just one goal, whether it's Mané in the 28th minute, Firmino in the 66th, or Clyne in the 80th. Then we're again gloating about Liverpool's ability to win ugly and another weekend spent atop the table and up the Reds up the Reds up the Reds.

But Liverpool did exactly what they needed to in defense. Liverpool controlled proceedings. Liverpool improved as the match went on. Liverpool created chances, including two outstanding opportunities. All after an international break, with many fatigued and a crucial attacker absent. Against a side that's been one of the better defenses in the league in the last couple of seasons and on a ground where they conceded three and lost just eight months ago.

This ain't a set back. I'm taking it as further proof that we're watching a potentially very good Liverpool team, even if it's one that still has even more improving to do.

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