23 April 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 2-2 West Brom

Previous Match Infographics: 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. 

But, but Liverpool lost a lead again!

It had been 12 matches since Liverpool dropped points despite having a lead, last happening in that I'm-still-mad-at-Jon-Moss 2-2 draw against Tottenham. That's almost the longest stretch since Klopp became manager. The high is 13, between 1-1 at Tottenham and 3-4 at Bournemouth last season. Liverpool were top of the league table before that loss at Bournemouth, far and away the most impressive team in England during the first few months before the winter of our discontent set in.

After that, it happened a lot. Twice in December, twice in January, once in March, and twice in April last season. Once in August, once in September, once in October, twice in November, twice in December this season.

It's happened a lot less lately.

But, but Liverpool conceded from set plays again!

This was the fourth time this season that Liverpool conceded from two set plays in the same game; the others were 3-3 at Watford, 1-4 at Tottenham, and 3-3 at Sevilla. That seems like a lot. And, incidentally, all four were away from home. Every single set play goal conceded aside from Matip's second-phase own goal in the FA Cup has been away from home.

That Sevilla match is a handy dividing line. After that game – the 20th of the season – Liverpool had conceded from nine set plays: five corners and four free kicks. In the 30 matches since, Liverpool have conceded four set play goals: Swansea's winner in the 0-1 loss back in January, Matip's own goal against West Brom, and the two on Saturday, Three of four against the same opposition.

Both Swansea's winner and Matip's own goal were back in January. Liverpool went 14 matches without conceding from a set play prior to this nonsense. Liverpool went from that Swansea winner in January to the 79th minute yesterday without conceding from a corner: nearly 16 full matches, 1478 minutes played, 63 corners faced without conceding.

It's happened a lot less lately.

And, of course, Liverpool conceded just nine goals in total over that 14-match stretch.

And, of course, Liverpool played with an almost entirely different back four on Saturday: two reserve fullbacks, the fourth-choice center-back, and van Dijk playing on the opposite side as usual.

So, sure, there are some concerns. A set-back prior to one of Liverpool's most important matches in the last decade. A potential loss of that indefinable "morale." A reminder of, if not return to, the bad old ways.

More tangibly, there's Liverpool's dearth of shots against West Broom. 62% possession, but only nine shots; only City (a) and Tottenham (h) have held Liverpool to fewer. As at Everton, take one of the front three – or two, in the Merseyside Derby – out of the equation, and the group struggles for chances. Four from Salah and three from Ings, but none from anyone else until Firmino and Milner's late, speculative efforts. Mané, at the heart of a few good moves early on, was notably needed deeper in the build-up and failed to either take a shot or make a key pass in his 65 minutes.

Liverpool's top chance creator came on in the 66th minute, and subsequently set up all three of Liverpool's shots over those 25 minutes.

More tangibly, there's Liverpool's lack of depth. With Can, Lallana, Matip, and Clyne out, this is the XI we got. Only three center-backs available. Only four central midfielders available. Ings as a reasonable replacement up front, but obviously rusty and obviously not Roberto Firmino. Firmino and Oxlade-Chamberlain in reserve, but Dominic Solanke the only other front-six substitute on the bench.

This summer's going to be as much about squad depth as it is adding to the first-choice XI. If not more.

Still, Liverpool did enough to win. Ings scored, his first since Brendan Rodgers' last match. Salah scored, yet again. Liverpool could have won with a different referee. Liverpool could have won if not for one regrettable moment with one substitute deciding to break the offside trap on a free kick. Liverpool still drew despite all those changes to the side, Liverpool are still in pole position for a top-four place.

Thanks to goal difference, Liverpool probably need four points from the final three matches. At most. If Liverpool beat Chelsea in two weeks, then we're moot. But this match, despite the rotation, despite the disjointedness, despite the lack of shots or of control, could have made life a lot less worrisome, at least in league. Should have made.

And Liverpool's "easiest" league match in the last three comes next weekend, against 19th-place Stoke. In a similar situation to the Everton draw, and this West Brom draw. A match where Klopp may feel the need to rotate his side as he did here, as he did at Goodison, with the Champions League looming.

As fun as it's been, as great as it could end up being, I do not want this season to be about lost opportunities and regrets. And I can already think of a few. This doesn't come close to some of the previous, but it's still now on the list.

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