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A Deeper Look at What It Takes to Beat the [Red] Devil

Let me start off with a couple disclaimers: (1) I'm a shameless Liverpool fan, but will try not to be completely biased in this post after a terrific victory for the Reds this weekend; (2) I spent WAY too much time compiling the statistics used in this post, so pardon the data dump. Now for the main course:

I wanted to take a closer look at the Liverpool-ManU game this weekend, partly because--like Kent--I've been a little bemused by the Reds up-and-down play this season and wanted to get behind it; and partly because I've always felt that you could get a lot of quality analysis out of a deeper statistical look into the game of football than the cursory shots, goals, assists, cards tallied by most media around. So I watched the game touch-by-touch and kept track of every bit of play by Liverpool to see how the team played the game. I tallied the usual goals, assists, etc., but also touches (good and bad), attempted and successful passes, pressured passes, dribbles, completed dribbles, turnovers, blocks, interceptions, whether a player was outpaced, and a host of other minutiae. Some of my stats are necessarily a little objective (like whether a touch was poor or superb, for example). And I admit there could be some small errors here and there in the tallies, but it's more or less accurate. Here's some of my conclusions:

The biggest revelation from the statistics is how Liverpool's holding midfielders dominated the game. Lucas Leiva led the team in touches with 44, and completed an astonishing 38 of 42 passes. His first unsuccessful pass came at 11:24 in the first half, after 10 successful ones, and incredibly he didn't miss another pass until the 81:09 mark, and that was a tight through-ball that almost placed Kuyt in a clear scoring opportunity. For a player who's caught a lot of (perhaps unfair) criticism, he showed up today.

Mascherano did as well (as he usually does), with 39 touches and having completed 31 of 34 passes, to go along with 4 tackles, 15 interceptions and a block. Mascherano didn't miss a pass until the 13:55 mark, after he had made 14 successful ones. My only criticism of Mascherano's game is that he tends to gun for goal from outside when the better play would probably be for one of his forwards. He missed at least one solid chance for Torres this week.

Carragher--another Red who's taken some heat this season for what some thought to be a decline in form--also had a very good game. He led the team by far in defensive stoppages with 5 tackles, 21 interceptions, and 3 blocks (one of which likely saved a goal). He was truly beaten only once--when Owen snuck in behind him and forced a professional foul that, I admit, looked like the only way to stop a direct goal-scoring opportunity. (There's a good argument it should have drawn a red). Overall, Carragher didn't show the lack of pace that has drawn criticism earlier this season. But one weakness did surface: Carragher loves the long ball, and it usually doesn't work for him. He had 12 turnovers in the game to lead the team in that dubious statistic, and 11 came from long-ball attempts that went nowhere fast. Take those away, and Liverpool retains possession better and Carragher only passes awry once.

Yossi Benayoun was the other unsung hero of the game. His assist to Torres on the first goal was world-class quality in a pressure situation. He trailed only Lucas in total touches, led the team in dribbles, played several superb balls through, and even dropped way back for several key defensive stoppages during the final quarter of the game. While he had several turnovers (7--second only to Carragher), most stemmed from his quality efforts to create openings in attack, not poor play.

There's a lot more that might be said about what the data shows, but I'll cut it short there for now, with the final observation that there's no statistic to describe the quality of Torres' goal. For all SAF's complaints about the referee work on Sunday, Ferdinand's desperate and unavailing effort to stop El Nino was the closest thing to a penalty in the game, and didn't even draw a whistle.

But for all the quality that surfaced in Sunday's game, in the end, the only statistic that really matters is the point tally on the league table. By that all-important count, ManU is still on top and Liverpool still have a ways to go...
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6 comments:

  1. Liverpool won cuz they cheated. Go Man U!

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  2. Alex Ferguson complains about officiating in order to take some of the attention from poor performance on the pitch.

    The Guardian noted that Carragher is quite good when he is not asked to go forward. His strength is defending around the 18 yard box where he throws everything at defenders. Earlier in the season he and Skrtel did not mesh very well and had a few pointless giveaways.

    When Benitez allows his team to play aggressively and creatively they win. When they play tight formations they put look like they did against Sunderland. I still think Benitez is the best man for that job right now. As a Liverpool supporter are you still firmly on his side?

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  3. Awesome analysis, by the way.

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  4. I'm still behind Rafa. In my mind, he's proved his mettle enough over the past several seasons to warrant a little patience, despite the recent run of bad form. But I also agree that lack of creativity on attack has been Liverpool's biggest problem not only this year, but over the last two or three years, and when it shows through that long, maybe it is the manager's tactics. Mascherano is great and Lucas does fine, but neither are really creative players going forward. They're more ball control and holding workhorses. It will be interesting to see how Rafa incorporates someone like Aquilani with those two and Gerard in the midfield.

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  5. I agree on the great analysis. How did you come up with all that stuff? Did you compile all that data on your own? The game must have taken you 4 hours to watch so that you could pause it after every pass to record what happened and compile all the data. That's a dedicated fan. Breaking down each individual pass to completely analyze the team.

    I couldn't agree more on Carragher's long ball. When I was watching the game I kept on wondering why he was consistently kicking it 45 yards down the field to the ManU defense. A complete waste of possession.

    I think the hardest thing about Liverpool is that even without Gerrard, as demonstrated on Sunday, they have all the pieces to compete and beat the best teams in the league. But they have been terribly inconsistent and don't always come out to play like the did on Sunday. But Sunday was a huge win for the team.

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  6. Took at least 4 hours to watch the game. Got to the absurd point where I was actually almost happy to see ManU in possession, since I wasn't tracking their stats and it gave me a break. Probably a little over the top, but it was fun to do at least once...

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