Brendan Rodgers return to his former club ended in a balanced 0-0 draw. Both teams played similarly controlled passing styles. Both also created a fair number of scoring chances, but neither displayed the ability to finish them. Liverpool will feel they were closest to three points at the end of the day. Raheem Sterling hit the woodwork and Jose Enrique had a goal narrowly called offside.
Ultimately, a draw is hardly an unfair result. The match was shockingly balanced, even for two teams using a similar system. Possession was split practically done the middle, with only half a percentage point favoring Liverpool. Swansea attempted 522 passes while Liverpool attempted 533. Furthermore, both teams completed these passes at 85% accuracy. Even the difference between scoring opportunities was neglible. Swansea created 11 chances to Liverpool’s 10.
Player Influence and Positioning
Both sides still bear the influence of Rodgers on their sleeves. Close passing was the focus for both sides, resulting in the absurdly parallel pass count. The midfield was dominated by a battle between the partnerships of Britton-Hernandez and Allen-Gerrard.
Angel Rangel was enormously influential on the right for Swansea. The overlapping partnership between Downing and Enrique looked threatening, but Rangel was adept at containing threats on his flank. The rightback had 7 interceptions and a perfect success rate for tackling. Opposite him, Davies also had a strong defensive game, but Rangel contributed far more in attack. The two most common pass combinations in the match were Rangel to Hernandez or De Guzman.
The dividing line in attack was each team’s ability to link attack to midfield. Liverpool’s line played higher, and managed to stuff Swansea’s attackers back into the congested midfield. Itay Shechter failed to be an influence on the match in the first half, making only 18 touches on the ball and failing to get a single shot off.
For Liverpool, Suarez continued to be adept at drifting into channels or deeper in midfield to find space. His constant movement is garnering a reputation for guile and lethality, and he was no less dangerous in this match. He had the highest number of shots and dribbles, as well as the most touches of any centrally attacking player.
The Swans attempted to remedy their impotence in the penalty area by substituting Shechter for Sung-Yueng Ki at halftime and pushing Michu higher. Michu was used as the focal point of attacking in the second half. Crosses were placed in to take advantage of his aerial ability, but the Spaniard only managed one shot on target within the penalty area.
Liverpool have shown a tendency to attack down the left flank far more than the right in previous games. This is in part due to Andre Wisdom taking up the rightback position. Wisdom is an adept defender, but does not yet look totally comfortable going forward.
In this match, their wing play was more balanced than normal. Wisdom was out due to injury, and Glen Johnson returned to his native rightback position. Johnson is far more attacking minded, and helped channel more attacks down the right. Indeed, he and Sterling on average occupied very similar positions. In the second half particularly, Johnson was an attacking threat cutting inside from the right flank. Liverpool’s best opportunity was a pass slipped through to Johnson drifting across the penalty area before timing a run onto a through ball behind Swansea’s line.
On the left, Stewart Downing took up a more defensive position as Rodger’s continues to convert the winger into a left back. Inversely, Jose Enrique was again used as the attacker on the left flank, as he was against Wigan. The result was that both players could attack and defend in tandem. Downing was free to overlap Enrique with the knowledge that the Spaniard could easily cover for him. As reflected in the influence chalkboard above, both players on average occupied similar space on the pitch.
NEXT PAGE: Chalkboards for attacking creativity of Gerrard & Hernandez. Also Ben Davies defensive performance & shots on target chalkboards. Click Here or click on page 2 below.
Steven Gerrard was Liverpool’s main creative force while Pablo Hernandez drove Swansea’s attacks. The two players’ performance directly mirrored each other. Both had total 93 touches on the ball. They both created more chances and more passes in the attacking third than any other player.
Hernandez and Gerrard both profited from their relationship with a deeper midfield player. Leon Britton and Joe Allen both acted as pivot points between defense and advanced players. This allowed the two playmakers to maintain advanced roles and drift around the final third to find space.
Just like many other areas of the match, Britton and Allen were nearly perfect mirrors of each other: both had 93% pass completion. The greatest divide between the two players were how they passed. Britton had a near equal split between forward, backward, and lateral passes. For Allen, 38% of his passes were directed forward. This is indicative of Liverpool’s slightly more attacking approach, and that Allen was more heavily concerned with giving the ball to Gerrard and Henderson than spreading the ball out wide. Roughly 37% of his all his completed passes were to Gerrard or Henderson.
Despite similar performances and styles, Liverpool had a sharper edge in attack. Swansea relied on opportunities outside the box, and forced only a couple saves out of Pepe Reina. Tremmel on the other hand was kept far busier. More of Liverpool’s shots were from inside the penalty area. Tremmel had a great performance with a total of 9 saves.
While both sides attacked in similar fashions, Swansea were far busier in defense. Their overall display was strong, and this is directly reflected in the match statistics. The Swans produced over double the tackles and interceptions of Liverpool at 26 and 22 respectively.
Specifically, The Swans backline was in flying form. Davies, Chico Flores, Jonathan De Guzman and Angel Rangel all had a 100% success rate for tackles. 17 out of Swansea’s 26 tackles were by these players.
Ben Davies was less of an attacking outlet as Angel Rangel, but his defensive game was impressive. Davies led the game in both tackles and interceptions. He marked the pace of Raheem Sterling well, who had a more subdued performance than in previous games. The increased pressure made Sterling lose possession 8 more times than in his previous match against Wigan. By the end of the match, Davies had won 100% of his 7 tackles and won more aerial duels than any other player.
Laudrup has only tweaked the setup Rodgers implemented at Swansea rather than overhauling it. With both teams playing this system, this game is evidence that Liverpool’s squad is becoming more familiar with a short passing game. Both teams played their tactical game very well, and it was only through greater individual performances that Liverpool gained an edge in attacking. Nevertheless, it was not enough to overcome an exceedingly hard working Swansea defensive line.
Swansea and Liverpool are now both on long streaks without losing, and it hard to see them being easy to break down in the future. While both have difficult matches against West Brom and Tottenham respectively, there is no reason to suggest either of these disciplined passing teams will be easy to break down.
For a more general tactical comparison between Swansea and Liverpool, you can read Richard Roberts excellent article here.