15 December 2016

Visualized: Liverpool 3-0 Middlesbrough

Previous Match Infographics: West Ham (a), 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.

(Nota Bene: Here's the formation diagram usually included in match reviews.)

Everything's better again!

Well, kind of.

Liverpool should be quite pleased with that performance, especially the second half. Three well-worked and well-taken goals, against a side that had conceded just seven through seven home matches prior to this match. A side that had conceded three in a match just once this season. Eight of Boro's last nine games had seen no more than two goals combined between the two sides.

All three of Liverpool's goals saw seven of 11 Liverpool players involved. All three came from the right flank: two crosses, one high and one low, and one centered inside-the-box pass from Lallana – exactly the type of goals Liverpool tried and failed to create against a similarly deep West Ham defense, even if more of Liverpool's attacks came from the opposite flank in that fixture. All three goals were clear-cut chances, against a defense that's allowed fewer clear-cut chances than all but Chelsea, Southampton, Tottenham, and United. This was the first time Liverpool scored more than one clear-cut chance since walloping Watford 6-1, and that's the only other match where Liverpool's scored three or more clear-cut chances.

Adam Lallana deserves absolutely every plaudit he's received but I was just as impressed with Divock Origi's overall performance. Multiple-goal league cup matches and the miracle against Dortmund aside, that might well have been Origi's best all-around game since joining the club.

Origi's now scored five in his last five appearances, but he hasn't really been involved in the build-up to any of Liverpool's other goals. That certainly wasn't the case yesterday. Mané's movement was the highlight of Liverpool's one-touch pass pass pass crucial second, but Origi's flick for Mané to find that space was something special, following it up by quickly getting into the box to score. And his low cross for Lallana's second was his first assist of the season, and only his second league assist for Liverpool. Yesterday saw the first time he's created multiple chances since returning to the line-up as well his first clear-cut chance of the season. Hell, I think it's the first clear-cut chance he's created since Klopp became manager; I'm pretty sure the only other one came when assisting Lallana's goal in the 1-1 draw against Sion in last season's Europa League.

But, once again, Liverpool's shooting still left something to be desired. The first half was especially difficult, struggling to find space in the final third and create against a packed defense aside from the opening. 15 shots in total – still below Liverpool's average – and just four on-target. In the last three matches, Liverpool have taken 43 shots but and put just ten on-target (23.3%). And, somehow, they've scored eight goals!

Liverpool's shooting accuracy – failing to break 30% in the last five league matches after surpassing that mark in ten of the previous 11 – will undoubtedly improve. I truly hope it's before Liverpool's red-hot conversion rate regresses to the mean.

And, once again, Roberto Firmino struggled mightily. Sure, it's less of an issue when we get matches like that from Origi, Lallana, and even Mané – who didn't display the end product we've become accustomed to but was heavily involved in all three goals. Firmino did look more threatening when playing on the right flank in the second half. But he wasn't involved in any of Liverpool's goals. As against Bournemouth, he created just one chance, after failing to do so against West Ham. As against both Bournemouth and West Ham, he failed to put any of his shots (two, three, two respectively) on-target. This dip in form, whether due to having to play from the flanks or missing Coutinho or simply off-color since returning a minor injury or all of the above, remains worrisome.

Meanwhile, Boro's defense may be incredibly stingy, but Boro's attack is often incredibly bad. Middlesbrough take the fewest shots per game in the league, Middlesbrough have scored the fewest goals in the league. Middlesbrough's attack isn't Bournemouth's or West Ham's, let alone even better opposition.

Credit where due, Liverpool didn't give them any real opportunities, despite a comparatively almost reasonable amount of possession from the home side. Liverpool allowed Boro just two second-half shots, both from well outside the box and both after Liverpool scored its second: Fabio's free kick into the wall and Clayton from long range nowhere near the goal.

Simon Mignolet did what he had to, especially in the first half with the game still in the balance: fairly routine saves on Fabio and Gibson, a more impressive but still should-be-saving-it chance at his near post from Fischer, and two well-held claims from Boro corners. Gibson's header could have been spilled, and Negredo was on hand for an easy tap-in rebound. Fischer's blast could have gone in. Neither should have, but we've seen similar before, from both of Liverpool's keepers, and it would have led to a different game. But neither did.

Still, that was a bad attack. Only Southampton and Sunderland – two of Liverpool's three other league clean sheets – offered less, and not much less.

So there are a lot of positives to take away, most notably arresting the slide and restoring the Era of Good Feelings. Really good goals, three of them. Impressive, increasing, smothering control of a match on a ground where Liverpool have historically disappointed. Top scorers in the league, back up to second place.

But there's a lot more to improve and a lot tougher tests to face – starting next Monday – before everything truly is better again.


Zētētikos said...

I agree that Firmino hasn't been contributing at his earlier levels, but I think it is slightly unfair to say he wasn't involved in any of the goals yesterday. Sure, he doesn't touch the ball. But it is his run across the face of goal, dragging defenders, which opens up space for Lallana for the third. Firmino's off-the-ball movement continues to be important part of our offensive threat (which is perhaps part of the reason his influence decreases when he plays out wide).

Thanks, as always, for the great write-up and vizio, Nate. BTW, you might want to double check Lallana's goal count under "Shots, Assists, Chances Created"

nate said...

First point is absolutely fair, and I'm probably being too harsh.

Second point is derp, hey thanks. Fixed.