03 September 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 2-1 Leicester

Previous Match Infographics: Brighton (h), Crystal Palace (a), West Ham (h)

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

I did not enjoy Leicester taking the game to Liverpool.

Leicester out-possessed Liverpool, not just after Liverpool scored what should have been the game-killing second, but from the 20th minute on. They're the first non-top-six side to do so since Southampton last season, where Liverpool won 2-0 after two first half goals and were happy to concede possession amidst a run of packed fixtures and European competition. That was the only non-top-six match last season where Liverpool had less of the ball than their opponents.

Leicester out-pressed Liverpool, completing more tackles in Liverpool's half than Liverpool did in Leicester's.

Leicester out-shot Liverpool, something often unimaginable, even if game state had almost as much to do with it as Leicester's style of play.

Leicester made it hard for Liverpool do to Liverpool. Even if that didn't happen until Liverpool had already scored.

And once Leicester took the game to Liverpool, Liverpool had no outlet.

The swarming attack, and compact midfield and defense made it hard for Liverpool to build possession. And when that happens, Liverpool often look long. Especially when Liverpool have a lead, because Salah, Mané, and Firmino are that dangerous on quick counter-attacks.

That didn't happen on Saturday.

So many errant long passes, considering how good van Dijk, Gomez, Alexander-Arnold, and Henderson are from range. So many attackers surprisingly well-marshalled by Leicester defenders, with Mané and Salah often unable to get down the flanks.

And when Liverpool did get the ball forward, usually up to Firmino, the center forward simply could not hold up play. His nine unsuccessful touches were, by far, a high for a Liverpool player in the first four games. Only Solanke had more in a league match last season, with ten in the 0-0 at Everton; Firmino's high in a league match last season was six, in three different fixtures. And he was also dispossessed five times – joint-worst with Wijnaldum – Salah at Brighton was the only Liverpool player dispossessed more often in a match so far this season.

That two of the three midfielders barely played more than a handful of passes in the attacking third isn't especially helpful either, with neither Wijnaldum or Henderson creating a single chance. I realize it's not necessarily either's responsibility – especially Henderson – but it's also no coincidence that Liverpool looked better against this type of opposition once Keïta came on. To be fair, Milner was better, but Milner's three key passes also all came from corners.

And, subsequently, Liverpool struggled to create chances, especially after the first 20 minutes.

Liverpool took ten or fewer shots in just five league matches last season: 0-5 at Manchester City, 2-2 v Tottenham, 0-0 at Everton, 2-2 at West Brom, and 0-1 at Chelsea. Liverpool were out-shot in just five league matches last season: 0-5 at City, 1-4 at Tottenham, 2-2 v Tottenham, 2-2 at West Brom, and 0-1 at Chelsea.

Liverpool did not win any of those fixtures last season.

Liverpool won this one. Liverpool could have won this one 2-0, if not comfortably than at least more comfortable than it was if not for one crazy moment.

That April draw at West Brom is a good parallel to Saturday's match.

An early kickoff. A non-top-six side that's given Liverpool problems in the past. A lack of shots but an early goal, then what should be the game-killing second. But then mistakes. But then collapse. Two late goals conceded, from two set plays – a haphazard scramble, then an individual error on the offside line.

Liverpool may have conceded on Saturday, and in an incredibly dumb manner, but they just conceded once. And despite our collective repeated heart attacks, Leicester rarely threatened after Ghezzal's goal. Their only shot was from Wilfred Ndidi, a defense midfielder, from 25 yards out. In the 88th minute. Almost immediately blocked by Naby Keïta.

Liverpool shelled reasonably well over the last half hour, keeping Leicester at bay, keeping Leicester out of the penalty box. Similar to the first half defensive performance where five of Leicester six shots came from outside the box, rather than the first 15-20 minutes of the second half where Leicester actually looked threatening.

And both of Leicester's late set plays went nowhere. Look, we're all still traumatized by last season's set play defense. With reason. Late corners and free kicks end in scrambles that lead to goals. No matter the increasing infrequency, we still remember.

In added time, Van Dijk cleared a free kick behind, then van Dijk headed a corner away. Incidentally, Liverpool have allowed just four shots from set plays so far this season: two from West Ham on corners (Balbuena easily saved, Antonio awkward and well off-target), Milivojevic's free kick that Alisson's excellently saved, and Maddison's free kick into the wall on Saturday. That's it. 15 opposition corners in the last three matches. Zero opposition shots.

It may be as much signal as noise, but that this result came in an early Saturday kick-off makes it even more encouraging. Because Liverpool very much suffered in those matches last season.

That was the first early Saturday kick-off which Liverpool won since Palace away at the end of March. Which was the only early Saturday kick-off Liverpool won last season, with 1W-5D-2L in those matches.

So while the style of play, subpar Liverpool performance, and procession of the match may have been similar to some of these fixtures last season, the result wasn't.

As against Brighton – Liverpool's first 1-0 win in a calendar year – Liverpool won a match when not at its best. Liverpool won a match where the opposition kept Liverpool from doing what Liverpool are capable of doing for the majority of the match. Liverpool won a match where the opposition was the better side for the majority of the match.

Liverpool won a match that they'd most likely have drawn last season.

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