30 April 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 0-0 Stoke

Previous Match Infographics: Roma (h), West Brom (a), Bournemouth (h), Manchester City [CL] (a), Everton (a), Manchester City [CL] (h), Crystal Palace (a), Watford (h), United (a), Porto (h), Newcastle (h), West Ham (h), Porto (a), Southampton (a), Tottenham (h), Huddersfield (a), Swansea (a), Manchester City (h), Everton (h), Burnley (a), Leicester (a), Swansea (h), Arsenal (a), Bournemouth (a), West Brom (h), Everton (h), Spartak Moscow (h), Brighton (a), Stoke (a), Chelsea (h), Sevilla (a), Southampton (h), West Ham (a), Maribor (h), Huddersfield (h), Tottenham (a), Maribor (a), United (h), Newcastle (a), Spartak Moscow (a), Leicester (a), Burnley (h), Sevilla (h), Manchester City (a), Arsenal (h), Hoffenheim (h), Crystal Palace (h), Hoffenheim (a), Watford (a)

Match data from WhoScored, except average position from the SofaScore app. 

Let's say Stoke win their final two matches. Which isn't entirely out of the question. Against Crystal Palace, almost certainly safe, and at Swansea, almost certainly not. That would give them 36 points. Which might well be enough to stave off relegation. Southampton's currently on 32, Swansea 33, and both Huddersfield and West Ham 35.

It's possible. It's not likely, but it's still possible.

35 points, which is what they'd get had they lost on Saturday but won the next two, would probably not be enough, especially considering Stoke's current goal difference.

So it's hard to complain about Stoke's lack of ambition, even though they desperately need points. And even though I desperately want to complain.

You get what you reasonably think you can get. And it's up to Liverpool to do Liverpool. Unfortunately, that lack of ambition worked against this Liverpool side. As it had for West Brom (twice) and Everton this season, but hadn't for Huddersfield, Newcastle, Bournemouth, or Stoke in the previous meeting. Among others.

That lack of ambition, and that deep, happy-to-foul defense led to Liverpool's lowest shot accuracy this season, putting just two of 20 shots on-target. 10%. Alexander-Arnold's bobbled clear-cut chance and Clyne's soft header. That's it. The only other matches that come close to that accuracy percentage were 1-1 at Newcastle in October and 1-1 v Everton in December. Where Liverpool at least still scored once. Which probably would have been enough to win on Saturday.

Even Mohamed Salah wasn't immune. This was the first time this season that Salah's taken more than two shots without putting any on-target. And he took seven shots, which ties his high for the season, along with 2-1 Leicester, 1-1 Everton, 1-1 Chelsea, and 3-0 Maribor. Where he scored twice, once, once, and once respectively.

It's probably a different match, with a different outcome, if Salah scores in the 6th minute. But there are a lot of Liverpool matches with a lot of different outcomes if Mohamed Salah doesn't score some of the much harder chances he's scored already this season.

Stoke's deep defense also had a lot to do with it, at least after Liverpool's two early clear-cut chances. Stoke blocked ten of Liverpool's shots on Saturday, a high for the season. Stoke are just one of four sides to block 50% or more of Liverpool's shots in a match, along with 1-1 Chelsea, 2-0 Newcastle, and 1-2 United. Matches where, again, Liverpool still scored at least once.

It's a style that hasn't worked against this season's Liverpool as often as in past Liverpool seasons, but it's a style that still works more often than we'd like. Don't concede, by any means necessary, and at least you won't get beat.

Once again, I can't help but complain about early kickoffs.

That's a bad record. And there have been some bad matches in there.

Liverpool have been held scoreless in eight matches this season – six in the league. Four of them – all league matches – have been 7:30 US ET Saturday kickoffs. Three draws, one loss.

I don't like early kickoffs. And neither do Liverpool.

Once again, I can't help but complain about the referee. Pieters' handball ignored in the 87th minute. As was Dawson's shoulder tackle on Ings last week. As were three shouts at United last month. And that's all in the last six weeks. That's potentially five points.

Everyone always complain about how their side is refereed, so it's easy to hand-wave away grievances, but these two articles from Paul Tomkins last month make it harder to do so.

Are Refs Biased Against Foreign Players?
Placing Refereeing Bias Against Liverpool and Foreign Players on the Spot

Once again, I can't help but complain about squad depth. Can, Lallana, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Matip injured. Mané left out with a knock. Robertson rested. And this is the XI we got. Alexander-Arnold as a midfielder. The same back four that conceded twice in 12 minutes against West Broom last week. An unbalanced formation that seemed to shift between 3-4-3 and 4-3-3 before the substitutions. Milner and Clyne as impact subs, with the latter playing as an advanced right winger.

This is the Liverpool we got. And this is the result we got.

And now we've got a hell of a week. A Champions League semi-final in Rome, still kinda sorta in the balance, then an all-important league match at Chelsea. And it's not starting out well: with this match and this result, with the Buvac "news," with a shallow, tired, injured squad.

But for a few moments going a different way on Saturday – from Salah and Andre Marriner most notably – it could be starting very differently.

I really hope Liverpool don't regret it.

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