29 November 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 1-2 Paris St-Germain

Previous Match Infographics: Watford (a), Fulham (h), Arsenal (a), Cardiff (h), Red Star Belgrade (h), Huddersfield (a), Manchester City (h), Napoli (a), Chelsea (a), Southampton (h), Leicester (a), Brighton (h), Crystal Palace (a), West Ham (h)

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

A crucial Champions League match between two European luminaries. Even with more group stage matches to be played, the result will go a long way in deciding the group. And the home side starts a house afire, pinning back the opposition, breaking through their press, 2-0 up by the 37th minute. But the away side pulls an unlikely goal back just before halftime, setting it all up for the final 45 minutes.

At Anfield, PSG held on, still second-best but with Liverpool unable to extend its advantage. And then PSG equalized, seemingly unfairly. Yes, Liverpool restored their advantage deep in added time, earning a now-necessary three points, but this could easily have finished 2-2.

Yesterday, the home side again couldn't extend its advantage. But Liverpool never got going in the second half. Possession dominance without reward. A continued complete dearth of shots, let alone shots on-target. Substitutions that did little to change proceedings. And a disappointing 1-2 loss as the game ebbed away. Now, Liverpool have it all to do in two weeks against group-leading Napoli.

We can complain about the attack again. No shots on-target from Salah, Firmino, or Mané. No key passes from Salah, Firmino, or Mané. Liverpool's only shot on-target – from all of eight in total – was Milner's first half penalty. Liverpool's best other chance was Firmino's penalty box header seemingly sent back across goal rather than on frame. Salah was successful with just one of four dribbles. Mané was slightly better with two of five, including one for the penalty. Firmino's one attempted dribble, deep on the left flank, was unsuccessful.

So much for the vaunted return to 4-3-3.

We can complain about the midfield again. It's hard for the strikers to create, shoot, or score if they aren't being fed by the supply line. Sure, Milner played three of Liverpool's amazing total of four key passes: a corner flag cutback for Salah, cross for the aforementioned Firmino header, and short forward pass for Salah on the hour mark, but that's not obviously enough. Nor did that workmanlike trio provide the defensive protection needed to explain why that trio was picked ahead of, say, Keïta, Fabinho, or Shaqiri.

PSG's first goal is not great to look at.

This looks relatively safe.

Uh oh. Wijnaldum hasn't stuck to Neymar, so now Henderson feels the need to get involved, both pressing forward, leaving Verratti all by his lonesome if Firmino doesn't track back quick enough. Still, Verratti's only gonna be in the center circle.

Double uh oh. Still, maybe Milner cuts this out.

Nope. And now Verratti's still going, to be in place for the return from di Maria with literally five Liverpool players chasing in his wake and, well…

Three versus three, with Gomez not going to get back to Mbappe in time. Those three are Verratti, Mbappe, and Cavani. Those three are pretty decent at the football. Mbappe, in behind Gomez and wide of Lovren, gets the pass. Mbappe centers toward Cavani. Van Dijk cuts it out, but only sets up Bernat. A defensive error leading to a goal, but a goal that absolutely began in Liverpool's midfield.

A simple one-two completely destroys Liverpool's midfield if the limited press fails in the build-up.

So much for the vaunted return to 4-3-3.

This was the same midfield that started the 3-2 win over Paris St-Germain at Anfield. And, maybe as importantly, it's the exact XI which started against Manchester City last month. That Klopp would start the same XI as against City isn't beyond understanding. That side shut down the reigning, rampaging champions of England. But that side also didn't create a damned thing against City, and that was at Anfield. Paris St-Germain are similarly super-powered, but also even stronger on the counter-attack, when in full flow. As they were in the first half against Liverpool.

We can complain about the attack and midfield, but it's also not great when Neymar and Mbappe have almost free rein to double up on Lovren, as we see in the average position graphic. He didn't do too badly – that's a hell of an ask for any defender, and to be fair, it's hard to blame Liverpool's defenders – at least aside from van Dijk's unfortunate clearance leading to the first goal – for yesterday's result, but it's also no coincidence that Liverpool have yet to concede twice in a league match and have now done so in three of five Champions League matches.

No matter which phase of play we're primarily blaming, the fact remains that Liverpool have not been good away from home in the Champions League this season.

Yes, yes, sample size but yikes. Everything's bad in attack away from home. No matter whether Liverpool play the 4-3-3 as at Napoli and PSG or the 4-2-3-1 at Red Star. There's the discrepancy in both goals and shots, both for and against. The enormous disparity in shots on-target and shot accuracy. A disparity in all basic attacking statistics except xG per shot, surprisingly the same for both Liverpool and their opponents dependent on venue.

Thank the lord for penalties. Three at home so far, one scored against both PSG and Red Star, with another missed against Red Star, and yesterday's ultimately-only-a-consolation. It hasn't been good enough. And it might not be good enough to keep Liverpool in this competition.

But Liverpool aren't done yet. At least the Champions League this season now comes down to a match at Anfield. 1-0 will do, or any two-goal win, assuming PSG beat Red Star as expected. We're going to hear a lot about 2005, about Olympiakos, over the next two weeks.

Because this is Liverpool, and results like that are expected rather than hoped for. Unlike results such as this one.

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