Story of a Match: Liverpool

Posted by on October 24, 2011 in Match Analysis | 2 comments

Liverpool were, quite frankly, the best team we’ve come up against this year. Yet rather than following the same pattern of brave, creditable defeats against Man Utd and Chelsea, we came away from Anfield with a huge point. How the hell did this happen, I hear you ask. Well…

Wasteful

Profligate is a word I’ve only ever heard used regarding strikers, but profligate Liverpool were. Stats only tell half the story but an untrained eye would look at 25 attempts and wonder exactly how only one went in. Fact is, Liverpool were dominant for most of the first half. The game had an early pattern similar to Chelsea; we were slow to get going as Liverpool, and Suarez in particular, menaced defenders with some superb movement. Bellamy was also in fine form coming in from the left. They could have been up long before Bellamy finally did take the lead (via a deflection), but Norwich had their moments in the first half. A good passing move led to a Morison chance and Wes also went close. By and large, however, Liverpool were on top.

If you want to see just how many more problems Liverpool caused than other teams, just have a look at that. The dots represent tackles made by Norwich in and around their own box vs the big 3 teams we’ve faced so far, all away from home. While Chelsea and Man Utd got into the box a couple of times, and we were by and large successful, Liverpool made their way into the area with much more frequency. The Norwich defensive performance, generally brilliant, could define last-ditch as they made one crucial tackle after another. Leon Barnett had an outstanding game (again), reading the play and cutting the ball out repeatedly.

The pattern of the first half didn’t follow in the second, but Liverpool still had the better chances. Yet, despite the whinging of some, they weren’t unlucky – they were just poor. Running rings around your opponent and failing to put the ball in the net isn’t the mark of a good team and they were simply unable to beat a defence that stood up and took what they had to give – Ruddy was in particular inspired.

Above you can see the Liverpool attempts at goal. Blue on target, red off, grey blocked, white goal. When their shots had all the accuracy of Emile Heskey, they’ve only got themselves to blame. I said similar things in the Swansea report but playing well does not equal deserving to win – if your strikers are incapable of hitting the target or you cant beat the keeper, you deserve nothing.

In the Liverpool performance, there are a few things worth pointing out. Aside from Suarez’s general great play mixed with crap histrionics and wastefulness, the two wingers had an interesting input. Bellamy, wide left, was much more dangerous cutting inside and testing Naughton. He’s still got enough pace to be dangerous and is a great finisher, and I was pleased when he came off. Downing, on the other hand, had a poor afternoon. I’m generally a fan of the guy but he is so markedly one footed that playing him on the right wing cut out most of his strengths. He isn’t going to take Tierney down the line and whip in a cross with his right foot. He can barely stand on his right foot. By playing him on the right, you’re telegraphing all the way that he’s going to cut inside making it much easier for Tierney and Martin to negate him. Then, bizarrely, he was taken off for Carroll. With Bellamy already off the pitch, the decision not to have Downing on the left wing pinging in balls to a big target man was just odd. Carroll was thus completely ineffective, wasting the one chance that a decent delivery (from Gerrard) provided. Grant Holt proved more than anything what a good crosser of the ball can do.

What Lambert is proving week in week out is that he’s a better tactician than most of the league. Norwich have a flexibility that other teams are unprepared for, and he can adapt to tactical situations as he did on Saturday by removing the ineffective Bennett and putting on another striker. Dalglish, on the other hand, was running into a brick wall and responded by removing his wide threat and putting on the one player who would actually benefit from wide players.

Anyway – just a quick note on Gerrard. For a player who spent so long out and at times seemed not in the game, he was actually bloody useful. He was much more withdrawn, playing in the role that Lucas usually does, and as you can see he was everywhere. From the edge of his own box to the edge of ours, down both wings and spreading the ball to available players and putting it in threatening positions, he made Liverpool tick. Both of the dangerous balls in injury time, to Carroll and Suarez, came from Gerrard.

For Norwich, it was a game of two halves. The first, as discussed, was below par, but the second was much more positive. After the introduction of Holt and the switch of Pilkington (who was excellent) to the right, we posed plenty of threat whenever we went forward. If it wasn’t for Reina’s excellent save we would have gone ahead. Or this…

Just pass the fucking ball Grant. Please. He was caught in two minds as to whether he could outpace Jamie Carragher (a race I would have loved to see) or slide in Pilkington. In the end, he did the latter but both too late and with a poor pass. A better decision and Pilks is one on one with Reina – but I guess we know how one on ones end for young Anthony.

The flow of the game was great for neutrals but utterly nervewracking for fans. To their credit, most of the Liverpool reviews I’ve seen have credited what was another great City performance, yet strangely it probably wasn’t as good as that at Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge. But the point was well earned through a gutsy defensive performance, a wonder save and a bullet header. Fear the big clubs? Not this team.

2 Comments

  1. The pass from Grant was so overhit it hurt to watch. Guaranteed goal from there on fifa lol. All it needed was a cheeky slide in front of pilks but he blasted it. Still, a great result for us

  2. Good analysis as always Mr Holtamania.

    An interesting stat I’ve noticed over the last few games is that while we are often losing out in the possession percentage, we are actually having a greater amount of territory. Looking at our recent games, at Liverpool we had only 44.7% possession, but 52.6% of the territory. Against Swansea, 39.8% possession and 60.0% territory. Sunderland, 42.7% possession and 51.5% territory.

    What I think this shows that we are, somewhat surprisingly, becoming adept at absorbing pressure, maybe letting the opposition keep the ball, but not letting them go anywhere useful with it. This was most clear at Swansea, where they seemed incapable of getting the ball in to our final third. But it is interesting that even against Liverpool away, we are doing a good job of this. Credit has to go to Fox and Johnson for controlling the central midfield, as well as Bennet, Hoolahan and Pilkington who have done an excellent job tracking back.

    I also think that Martin coming in to central defence has been one of Lambert’s most inspired decisions. The results speak for themselves, with Martin at CB we’ve P5, W3, D1, L1. What I think he’s been able to do is show great leadership of the defensive line. Naughton is obviously completely new to our defence, Tierney only came in to the side towards the end of last season and Barnett missed half of that campaign through injury. Martin played every minute of that season for us. I think he has a really good grasp of Lambert’s tactics and is able to direct the defence well. Since he’s come in, we’ve been playing with a higher line to go with the pressing up the field, which contributes greatly to our territory stats. Also, looking at the offside stats in our recent games, we’ve caught the opposition offside many more times than we had previously, a total of 18 offsides in the last 4 games compared to just 5 in our first 5. I was seriously concerned that our defence was going to be our downfall this year given that we didn’t really strengthen what I thought was our weakest area last season. But what with Ruddy on scintillating form and the back four coming together like this, I’m actually much more optimistic. I just hope now we can start picking up some clean sheets. Blackburn at home should be as good a place as any to start.

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