Liverpool made a crucial slip in the race for fourth by failing to clinch all three points on the road at West Brom. It was an opportunity for Brendan Rodgers’ men to go 9 points clear of Manchester United in 7th and four points clear of Merseyside rivals Everton.
West Brom were coming fresh from a grudge match of their own, losing 4-3 at Villa Park on Wednesday, while the Reds needed to pick themselves up from their deadline day disappointments.
Baggies manager Pepe Mel spoke before the game about the need for an extra body in midfield, moving away from his preferred 4-4-2 , to a 4-2-3-1 which would allow a withdrawn striker to put some pressure on Steven Gerrard in the holding role.
The man for the job started out as Zoltan Gera, with youngster Saido Berahino out on the right hand side. However the two frequently alternated their roles, neither got particularly close and Gerrard was not dispossessed in the entire game.
As you can see above, Rodgers kept with the same game plan as the Merseyside derby on Tuesday. A 4-3-3 with Coutinho and Henderson ahead of Steven Gerrard, and Sterling remaining disciplined on the right to assist Coutinho.
Sturridge and Suarez did the same and shared the workload on the left flank (while Henderson covered a bit deeper when needed), taking it in turns to hang on the centre backs.
Here you can see the general shapes of both teams with the average positions infographic (Whoscored.com). Berahino and Gera’s positions are slightly skewed on the right from their rotation, and the same for Sturridge and Suarez on the left for Liverpool.
The general theme from West Brom was not to allow Liverpool to play from the start. They were aggressive, pressed well as high up as they could, without conceding too much space in behind. As a result the Reds struggled to make the ball sit, particularly once entering the final third. The only joy they seemed to get early on came from Raheem Sterling on the right side against Liam Ridgewell:
He continued to perfect his third man runs into the ‘half-spaces’, attacking the gaps between full-back and centre-back. Above we see Skrtel playing into Coutinho, who in the screen shot has taken a quick glance at Sterling. These are his cues to start his run – and he looks to make a bursting run on the outside of Ridgewell, and let Coutinho play it through on his inside.
Here we see the ball played through, and the gap between Olsson and Ridgewell which Liverpool look to exploit. Sterling’s pace and sharpness in those situations has been one of the Reds biggest weapons, and in this case it led to Liverpool’s only goal. The youngster kept his composure in the box, and fed Suarez who guided it to the back post for Sturridge to tap in.
A very closely fought game resulted in an even split of possession close enough to 50/50. Both teams had high pass counts too in attempts to dominate and matched up in this respect, Liverpool completing 10 more passes than West Brom’s 321. The accuracy however was poor, as mentioned particularly for Liverpool (76%) at the start finding their rhythm while West Brom (75%) pressed them.
Final third accuracy was also poor from both teams, particularly Liverpool who hit a season low with 56% in the third that matters. There were more similarities in both teams getting 12 shots on goal, West Brom only managed 4 on target to Liverpool’s 3 in a game of few attempts and few golden opportunities.
As the stats show, West Brom tended to look for space out wide to cross the ball, while Liverpool looked for spaces to dribble, attempting a massive 37 dribbles (22 successful). Raheem Sterling led the Reds with 9 successful dribbles, more than West Brom even attempted.
The crucial stat for Liverpool sits in the ‘Errors’ row, and decided the outcome of the game.
Another defensive error for the Reds has led to more points dropped. A relatively solid first half gave the impression that Liverpool would manage to stutter to victory, before a horrendous mistake from Kolo Toure. The Ivorian is likely to receive a lot of stick now, however he has marshalled the defence well when called upon so far. Fans should not forget he was massively responsible for the string of clean sheets at the start of the season alongside Daniel Agger.
So why all the defensive errors? Is it the standard of the defenders or the system of play, or both? @DanKennett observed that since Rodgers took the reigns at Anfield, his risky style of play has had a significant effect on the amount of defensive errors the team are making each game, often leading to shots and goals conceded.
In Rodgers 62 games in charge, Liverpool have only got through without a defensive error on 27 occasions. When the Reds manage this they average 1.93 points per game (PPG). However in 15 games Liverpool have made 1 defensive error and on these occasions they manage 1.8 PPG. Finally when they make more than 1 error (which has happened 20 times, nearly a third of Rodgers games!) they only average 1.4 PPG. A massive decrease in points picked up.
League table-wise, this can be the difference between 3rd/4th and 7th.
To put this into perspective a little bit, a look at Mourinho’s Chelsea shows that this season they have made a total of 4 errors which have led to a shot, and 4 errors which have led to a goal. A total of 8.
Liverpool have now made 23 errors which have led to a shot, and 6 errors which have led to a goal. Perhaps the worrying factor for Liverpool fans should mainly be that these numbers do not look like dropping any time soon. A clear area for Rodgers to try to improve in, which could lead to greater success in the league.
West Brom will value their point in the scrap to avoid relegation, while Liverpool now welcome Arsenal to Anfield – the home they have now turned into a fortress, but will it be enough to deal with the high flying Gunners?