22 May 2017

Visualized: Liverpool 3-0 Middlesbrough

Previous Match Infographics: West Ham (a), Southampton (h), Watford (a), Crystal Palace (h), West Brom (a), Stoke (a), Bournemouth (h), Everton (h), Manchester City (h), Burnley (a), Arsenal (h), Leicester (a), 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.

When Liverpool were backs against the wall, needing to win its last two games, Liverpool won. Convincingly, at least after 90 minutes were up. When Liverpool clearly needed to make changes – both because of injuries and because what had worked wasn't working – Liverpool made changes which clearly improved the side, clearly improved the attack, and led to Liverpool winning those games.

The incredibly short version is that the diamond midfield has made Liverpool vastly more creative in the middle of the pitch. And that's where Liverpool's goal-scorers played and that's where Liverpool's goals came from and that's why Liverpool won.

Compare the chances created in yesterday's match to Liverpool's last loss against Crystal Palace.

Sure, it'd be even more reassuring to see multiple passes in and into the box, but still. It is not easy to break through a deep, deep, deep defense. And passes into the zone just outside the box, a handful of passes into the box, and maybe a throughball or two is a hell of a lot better than crosses, chips, and long balls. Finding space through movement and quick passes versus hoping to find space with hoofs and crosses and fortune.

Even before Wijnaldum's opener, Liverpool had created some decent chances, even if resulting in far too many shots from outside the box. Firmino in the first minute, Can narrowly missing the top corner in the 21st, a couple of efforts from Sturridge pushed not far wide of the post.

Then, Wijnaldum's timely goal. First, the goalscorer finding space in that important zone, receiving the out-ball from Lovren. Clyne to Firmino just outside the box, a deft layoff, and Wijnaldum continuing to move, those necessary runs into the box from deep, finished off with aplomb.

A quick aside for Gini Wijnaldum. Six goals and 11 assists in his first season; all six goals in the league, as well as nine of 11 assists. Goals against City, Chelsea, and Arsenal, assists against Arsenal and Tottenham. The crucial equalizer in first-half stoppage time against Burnley, the crucial opener in first-half stoppage time against Boro. Three assists in these final two matches, when Liverpool needed goals because Liverpool needed to win. We'll continue to complain about going missing in games, about struggles away from home and against parked buses and when there's no space in the opposition half, but good lord he's shown up when most necessary, in the biggest of games.

And after that opener, and as against West Ham, the opening goal created the space for more soon after the restart, both with sustained build-up and on the counter-attack. Coutinho's two goals and Origi's scrambled fourth at West Ham, Lallana's game-sealing third after Boro's corner, just like Liverpool's third at West Ham. And more goals is something which did not happen against either West Brom, Watford, or Crystal Palace despite scoring the first goal around the same time.

Liverpool have taken 25 or more shots just six times this season. Four matches in the first third of the season – all prior to Coutinho's injury – and these last two matches.

More shots, but also better shots, especially after getting the first goal. Better locations, higher percentages. And goals. Goals win games, now and forever. But not conceding goals certainly helps.

The last time Liverpool went four consecutive games without conceding was January-February 2011: 3-0 Wolves, 1-0 Fulham, 2-0 Stoke, 1-0 Chelsea. They were Dalglish's 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th games as Liverpool's caretaker manager after Roy Hodgson was fired. The last two were Luis Suarez's first two games for Liverpool. That's how long it's been. 2014-15 saw a four-match league run without conceding – 1-0 Sunderland, 2-0 Villa, 2-0 West Ham, 0-0 Everton – but with goals allowed in cup ties against Chelsea (twice) and Bolton in between.

Liverpool's big wins in these necessary final two games hasn't just been improvement in attack or just improvement in defense.

There has finally been a bit of balance. Liverpool aren't scoring at the same rate as the first half of the season – at least, not until these last two games – but Liverpool are conceding fewer. And that's despite allowing slightly more shots than earlier in the season.

Liverpool have been good at shot prevention all season long; only Manchester City have allowed fewer. As we're all aware, too many of those shots have been good shots, and too many have resulted in goals. Because of set plays, because of defensive lapses. And it was still somewhat of an issue yesterday: Bamford nearly winning a penalty, Adam Forshaw's two second-half clear-cut chances (albeit both after Liverpool had taken a 3-0 lead). Progression to the mean. Everything evens out over the course of the season, even if it takes until the final few games to do so.

A fair bit of credit goes to Simon Mignolet, who has saved six clear-cut chances in the final 10 matches of the season: one at City in a 1-1 draw, one against Everton in that 3-1 win, two at Stoke, one at West Brom, and one against Boro, denying Forshaw's first good chance just after Liverpool scored its third. Mignolet saved five clear-cut chances in his previous 18 league matches. City, Stoke, and West Brom were especially important, saves which made sure Liverpool left with one, three, and three points respectively. Had Liverpool dropped points there, Liverpool could be looking up at four rather than three teams.

So, for the first time in too long, we're ending the season on a high note. Not only winning the final match – something which hasn't happened since 2013-14, after Liverpool had already thrown away its chance at the title in the two previous games – but winning a final meaningful match. Winning to cement a chance to play in next season's Champions League proper. Winning while playing well at both ends of the pitch.

Winning to make this a successful campaign, Liverpool reaching its goal of finishing in the top four for only the second time the last eight seasons. And winning to give us more than enough optimism to sustain the next three months without football.

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

thanks, nate.