28 February 2017

Visualized: Liverpool 1-3 Leicester

Previous Match Infographics: Tottenham (h), Hull (a), Chelsea (h), Swansea (h), Manchester United (a), Sunderland (a), Manchester City (a), Stoke (h), Everton (a), Middlesbrough (a), West Ham (h), 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.

There are times where I'm tempted to completely skip these. Or just make a mockery of it, posting poop emojis or dumpster fires where the infographic should be. I guess I feel I owe it to y'all or just can't break tradition or need these to be complete for when I go back to research things in the future.

This is assuredly one of those times.

It was and it wasn't the not-entirely-unexpected "same shit, different day." You know – Burnley away, Sunderland away, Swansea at home, Hull away.

Sure, there are a lot of similarities. We have been here before. Most notably, Liverpool dropping points – usually in losses – against relegation-threatened sides. All of Liverpool's five league losses this season have come against sides in the bottom half: Burnley away (11th), Bournemouth away (14th), Swansea home (16th, 20th before the match), Hull away (19th), and now Leicester away (15th, 17th before the match). Three of Liverpool's five losses have now come after the New Year.

But almost every one of the bad results since the start of 2017 has seen Liverpool repeatedly run into a brick wall before stupidly conceding. Even in almost every bad performance – Burnley away in August and Swansea away in October aside – Liverpool have still started the stronger side. This time, Liverpool didn't even have the chance to humiliate itself in attack before humiliating itself in defense.

This time, Leicester took the game to Liverpool. Which, considering Leicester's circumstances, shouldn't have been all that surprising. And the team should have been prepared for it.

As if it was going to be any great surprise how Leicester would play. Set plays and long passes to Vardy. It's how Leicester succeeded last season and how Leicester have usually tried to play, until Ranieri tinkered with it when it wasn't working for him. And the team should have been prepared for it.

In front of their own fans and in search of redemption, Leicester had four good chances within 20 minutes. A long throw headed on-goal by Huth in the 5th. A long throw only half-cleared, with Vardy's shot redirected by Okazaki, well saved by Mignolet in the 7th. Huth's free header from a corner not far over the crossbar in the 15th. And a punt by Schmeichel over everyone, controlled by Vardy around both Lucas and Matip, again denied by Mignolet in the 20th.

Three set plays and a hoof from the goalkeeper. And all before Liverpool took a shot.

It seemed only a matter of time before Leicester opened the scoring, as Liverpool offered nothing in return. And it was. Headed pinball in midfield before Wijnaldum misplays an awkward, first-time pass directly to Albrighton, whose throughball finds Vardy in behind a pushed-forward Lucas and Matip.

Poor Lucas. That's just a recipe for disaster all over, from the midfield positioning to the defensive line, and all it takes is one misplaced Liverpool pass in the middle third to exploit it.

Okay, so, reaction? Nope. A little more possession. Three shots, none especially threatening, one which would've been given offside had it actually mattered.

And all the while, Leicester still carried a threat, with Mignolet again to the rescue on Ndidi's effort, another chance created because Vardy's faster than Lucas even when the latter has a three-yard head start. Those earlier long throws were a warning, because in the 39th minute, another Fuchs long throw is only half-cleared by Matip then Milner, leading to Danny Drinkwater's hapax legomenon half-volley, a shot that flies over Liverpool's goal 9999 times out of a 10000.

It's good to be good. It's good to be lucky. It's best to be lucky and good. It's worst to be bad and unlucky.

Then, after the more-familiar brick wall brick wall brick wall – even after a halftime formation change to 3-5-2 – Liverpool are undone on the break. Because of course they are. Leicester interception, over the top to Vardy behind Lucas again, a too-heavy cross still finds Mahrez, who interchanges with Fuchs, ending with Fuchs' cross to Vardy, easily out-jumping Can and Lucas.

Liverpool's formation switch – to something we've never seen before this season – made that goal even more likely, with less protection on the flanks because wing-backs and with Can needing to defend an aerial duel in his own box, which he ain't good at. It seemed very much a "we're boned, let's throw something at the wall and hope it sticks." That's not encouraging.

So, an error leading to a goal. A broken, not-fully-cleared, second phase set play. And beaten on the break. I feel as if we've been here before.

Coutinho's consolation – Can's excellent driving run and one-two with Moreno before setting up the Brazilian – was no consolation. There was no further impetus. Just a plaintive cry into the abyss, as Liverpool spent the next 25 minutes or so with all the possession and no real chances aside from Schmeichel saving Origi's already-off-target shot and Schmeichel almost spilling Coutinho's effort into his own net. The deep defense camped in its own 18-yard-box. The brick wall. Again. Failure. Again.

I've harped on Liverpool's one-dimensional, misfiring attack after poor performances this season, even when most have focused on defensive failings. I've probably been wrong. This time it was the defense. It's probably been the defense all along.

This is very bad and not getting better, no matter who plays at center-back, full-back, or goalkeeper.

But it's also still the attack: slow to start, insipid and unthreatening during Leicester's early spell and after. If Liverpool, and more specifically, Liverpool's attack, doesn't start well and doesn't score early, Liverpool almost always don't win. That's still the touchstone, the hub of everything good about this Liverpool side, and as it goes, so often goes Liverpool.

And it's still the midfield, from the poor positioning and giveaway on Leicester's opener, to the lack of creation for the front three, to the lack of incisive forward passes, to the lack of protection for Lucas and Matip throughout. Liverpool's captain has featured in some of Liverpool's bad performances, but this still remains a very different unit without Jordan Henderson.

I can't help but steal The Liverpool Offside's line here. Everything truly is the worst.

First it was "phew, January's over." Now it's "phew, February's over." Liverpool have taken six points from seven matches from January and February. Combined. To go along with feeble exits from both the League Cup and FA Cup.

The boulder's rolling downhill and picking up pace. And I have no idea how Liverpool are going to stop it. It's completely reactionary – August through November wasn't that long ago – but I suspect we're all seemingly reaching the "burn it down, start all over" feeling in regards to this squad.

At least Liverpool's next match is against one of the league's better sides.

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