This will perhaps be one of my shortest posts, as it is clear that the stats from the game against Stoke have been widely reported. If you wish to see a comparison of Liverpool’s key stats compared to Stoke I would suggest you have a look at ICG90’s Stoke V Liverpool article on the site.
Unfortunately it was the Liverpool fans reaching for the Rennies to deal with the acid indigestion at the end of the game on Saturday (if at this point you are wondering why I am referring to acid indigestion please refer to my match preview); they failed the acid test and Liverpool’s dismal run at the Britannia continues for another season.
Despite the failure of Liverpool to achieve at least a point at Stoke, there is certainly no need for some of the knee-jerk reactions from some fans and the media. In my opinion it is very easy to criticise team selection, and the selling of Raul Meireles; I believe that both are without foundation. The team selected by Dalglish was very capable of securing a win against Stoke, it just simply didn’t happen. It is also easy to say Meireles would have made the difference; why would he? There are plenty of games when Meireles has created nothing and there are games when Meireles has created chances and scored goals. In my opinion he is not somebody who would be down as a key player in an away game against Stoke, and I very much doubt that any Liverpool fan was thinking we would miss Meireles before kick-off.
In my preview of the game I highlighted a couple of things that I felt Liverpool would need to do to achieve the three points against Stoke, namely hold a high defensive line and press high up the pitch. I then listed six points that I said I would be hoping to see reflected in the stats at the end of the game, if they managed to do those two things, they were;
- Fewer defensive half passes compared to last season’s fixture at the Britannia
- Fewer losses of possession
- Fewer long passes
- An increase in attacking third passes
- An increase in clear-cut chances created
- Plenty of touches for Suarez
It was my opinion that if the points above were achieved, it would reflect the fact that Liverpool had forced Stoke back into their own half, dominated the game and achieved three points. The reality was as follows;
In every area above Liverpool improved from last season’s fixture with Stoke. Total losses of possession were reduced dramatically, defensive half passes reduced showing that Liverpool did manage to base most of their possession in the Stoke half, long passes were reduced, the frequency and accuracy of attacking third passes increased and three times as many clear cut chances were created (Chelsea created 1 in their fixture this season with Stoke, whilst Man Utd created two, scoring from one, in their somewhat fortunate victory last season).
What also adds more credibility to these results is the fact that Liverpool dominated much more of the ball than in last season’s fixture with Stoke. Therefore the proportion of specific types of passes is also worth considering. In Saturday’s game Liverpool made a total of 545 passes, whilst back in 2010-11 they made a total of 429 passes. Therefore the percentage proportions are as follows;
Again the table above shows improvements in all areas and what is astounding, is that on Saturday Liverpool very nearly doubled the proportion of attacking third passes.
In point six I also suggested that Liverpool would also need to ensure that Suarez received the ball frequently. Again they managed to achieve this. Suarez received the ball 55 times against Stoke, more often than he did in the only other game where he has completed 90 minutes against Bolton (47). Again the heatmaps below illustrate the fact that Liverpool managed to get Suarez on the ball in advanced areas, far more than they could with Torres last season.
The simple fact of the matter, is that Liverpool did what was asked of them from a tactical point of view. They were able to defend higher up the pitch and press Stoke back during the game, however nobody has ever said that if you dominate possession, territory and the attacking third, you are 100% guaranteed to win. They are simply indicators of game domination which usually leads to winning more games than losing (trends prove that the most successful teams frequently dominate these stats).
This current team can simply not be held responsible for the failures, in previous seasons, against Stoke. This was the best performance from a Liverpool side at the Britannia, since Stoke returned to top flight football and should not give Liverpool fans any cause for concern. Yes there will be things that Kenny and Steve Clarke will address in training this week. They may work on getting the full-backs further forward more quickly; or work on improving the quality of the final ball for example. On another day though Henderson would finish his chance, and Suarez would definitely finish his (the referee may also notice the glaring hand-ball in the first-half as well). Tony Pulis will not want to endure a game like that again this season at the Britannia (and I very much doubt he will); he will know that he has gotten away with one. Stoke pride themselves on their solidness and the fact that they are hard to beat, but this would have certainly been too one-sided for even them.
I watched Pulis frantically try and wave his players forward, to try and stop them falling so deep, for the majority of the second half. He must have been expecting what we all believed was the inevitable at some point, but it just didn’t happen this time.
On a final note, the chalkboards below show Liverpool’s heatmaps for the final 10 minutes of the game this season (top heatmap) compared to the final 10 last season (bottom heatmap).
If you look at the final third you will see that the total percentage in 2010-11 comes to 25% of total possession, whilst on Saturday the total percentage comes to 50%. Last season’s team went out with nothing more than a whimper when losing at Stoke, this season’s team have a different mentality and are a different animal. That is why Liverpool will finish in the top four this season.
Onwards and upwards!