12 December 2016

Visualized: Liverpool 2-2 West Ham

Previous Match Infographics: Bournemouth (a), Sunderland (h), Southampton (a), 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.

A draw is better than Liverpool earned from this fixture last season. A draw is certainly better than what Liverpool did last week. But, for the second week in a row, Liverpool lost a lead and for the third or fourth week in a row, Liverpool weren't good enough at either end of the pitch.

And, 24 hours later, I'm still angriest at Liverpool's attack.

Yes, yes "sample size." Which is a more-than-valid point. But we saw a lot of similar good things recur over the first 12 matches, and we've seen a lot of similar bad things in the last three.

Liverpool are shooting and scoring at roughly the same rate since Coutinho's injury. Liverpool's shot totals, aside from Bournemouth, have been decent, and Liverpool's shot location has been heavily Danger Zone. All good, right? But then you get to Liverpool's shot accuracy and clear-cut chances, which have fallen off a cliff. And you also remember that the last three matches were against Sunderland (20th), Bournemouth (12th), and West Ham (17th).

Liverpool have put just six shots on-target in last two games. And they've scored from five of them! Liverpool simply aren't putting enough shots on-target – damn you, finishing pixie – and Liverpool's chances haven't been as good and Liverpool have missed a few of the actually good chances they've created – Origi's early clear-cut chance at Bournemouth, two Matip set play opportunities and Firmino's poke wide against West Ham, most notably.

Liverpool's four clear-cut chances since Coutinho's injury were a late penalty against Sunderland, Origi's missed sitter at Bournemouth, Mané's goal at Bournemouth, and Randolph's error against West Ham.

Liverpool's five goals in the last two games were Mané's goal at Bournemouth, Boruc's error and Origi's no-angle shot at Bournemouth, Can's excellent shot from distance, Lallana's finish after a good move against West Ham, and Randolph's error for Origi. Two obvious goalkeeper errors, one where Boruc got caught in no man's land – similar to Karius against Antonio yesterday – one rarely repeatable strike from distance, and one competent attacking move.

Liverpool have needed opposition help to get the five goals they've scored in the last two matches. Liverpool probably won't get that help against better opponents.

And when Liverpool's attack isn't working, Liverpool's already rickety and error-prone defense is even more exposed. It took just two unfortunate moments yesterday: not the best positioning from Karius and not the best wall from Liverpool's defenders on a very good free kick from Payet, and an unfortunate deflection which set Antonio up perfectly.

Bournemouth was even more a cluster of insanity: a daft penalty, the entire side stupidly open for the second, the recurring defending-the-second-phase-of-a-set-play problem for the third, and a goalkeeper error for the fourth.

What stands out to me is that Bournemouth and West Ham combined for 19 shots. And, combined, Bournemouth and West Ham created just eight chances. None of Bournemouth four clear-cut chances were set up by a Bournemouth player. Neither of West Ham's goals were assisted: there's Payet's (savable) free kick, and the deflected long ball for Antonio. West Ham had three other unassisted shots from picking up possession, whether a half-cleared corner (Lanzini blocked in the sixth) or too much space for the opposition after Liverpool failed to win possession in the middle of the pitch (Cresswell off-target the 36th).

Liverpool's system often leaves Liverpool vulnerable. This is the cost of Liverpool's high-pressing, high-possession, attack attack attack system, which isn't helped by Liverpool's predilection for set play foibles, inconsistent defending, and erratic goalkeeping. For the first 12 or 13 matches, it mostly worked. And there was still a bit of bad luck in yesterday's concessions: needing a free kick taker with Payet's quality then a horrific deflection to wrong-foot Matip and set up Antonio. Otherwise, Liverpool were rarely troubled, whether through Antonio's pace or by long balls to Carroll.

The bigger story seems that if Liverpool aren't shooting and scoring at the rates they were earlier in the season, Liverpool are far more likely to be punished.

Prior to this last three-game stretch, Liverpool were without Coutinho for one of the first 12 matches. Against Leicester, which finished a thorough 4-1 victory. We against got at least one moment of incredibly bad Liverpool defending leading to a very dumb and unnecessary concession to get Leicester back into the match, but it didn't matter.

Leicester truly weren't good that day, easily picked apart and offering little in attack, but I'm tempted to think the one and only difference was Daniel Sturridge v Divock Origi. Sturridge was involved in three of Liverpool's five goals: winning possession in the center circle on the first, an assist on the second, a hockey assist on the third. He put four of his five shots on-target. His movement, more varied than Origi's and also more focused on dropping deep and pulling to the right, created more space for Firmino to come inside from the left.

That day, Firmino scored twice, put one other shot on-target, and created four chances. Yesterday, Firmino put two shots off-target, had another blocked, and failed to create a single chance. There's probably a bit of injury rust in Firmino's disappointing performances in the last two games, but I'm also fairly sure he'd play better with Sturridge as the spearhead.

But Daniel Sturridge isn't available, and not for the first time. And Origi, with four goals in the last four games, clearly isn't the only problem. It also doesn't seem entirely fair to focus on a 21-year-old striker getting his first sustained run in the side for the last six months. But, other than the goals, he's simply not contributing enough, and he seems the most solvable problem with Liverpool's squad presently as threadbare as it's become. Maybe I'm an abused puppy at this point, but the defense might just be what it is. The attack has been and can be a lot better than we've seen against the last three bottom-half sides.

Despite the brilliance shown in the first three months, Liverpool suddenly find themselves in a very tenuous position. Every single one of us would've chopped off fingers for 31 points from 15 games before the start of the season, but Liverpool's last few matches have made a wobble feel like a free fall.

Three weeks ago, Liverpool were joint-top of the table. Now, they're six points behind Chelsea. The four-point gap ahead of fifth-place Tottenham and seven-point gap ahead of six-place Manchester United could easily narrow if Liverpool's form remains as its been during the fast and furious festive season.

There's still a lot of time to arrest the slide and save the season. But they'll have to do it soon. And I'm not entirely sure how they're going to do so.

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