Liverpool blogger Dave Tindall analyses the stats from Liverpool’s 0-0 draw with Manchester City and sheds some light on Pep Guardiola’s Anfield tactics.
When I sent in the last Red Letter column following a 3-0 win over Southampton which had given LFC seven straight wins to start the season, TEAMtalk’s Matt Briggs replied: “Cheers Dave. Hard to write about when everything is going so well.”
It was hardly a chore but I knew where he was coming from. Rattling through a series of wins is fun on one hand and yet the telling of the best stories needs the subject matter to ebb and flow.
Well, after four games without a win, our season certainly has a bit of that now.
Make no mistake, this was a hugely tough stretch of fixtures. Home and away matches against Chelsea, a Champions League trip to Napoli and an Anfield date with last year’s runaway Premier League champions.
Nightmare scenario avoided
One understandable viewpoint is that Liverpool have come up short and received a reality check. After all, but for a sensational last-gasp strike from Daniel Sturridge and Riyad Mahrez’s fluffed penalty kick, Liverpool would have lost all four.
And yet, that nightmare scenario didn’t happen.
Twist it the other way and if Eden Hazard wasn’t in the form of his life and Napoli hadn’t scored a last-minute winner, LFC would have passed this concentrated burst of difficult exams with something approach flying colours.
If you’re a Liverpool fan still wavering on how to take it, a look at the Premier League table should allay the negatives.
There, tied on 20 points, are Man City, Chelsea and Liverpool. Last year after eight games? Man City 22 points (goal difference +25), Liverpool 13 points (goal difference +1).
This was a comparison I analysed in my pre-season Red Letter. Man City outscored us by 20 points in the first 19 games of the last campaign but won just five more in the second half of the season when our tally was compromised late on by extra Champions League involvement.
The gap had closed. Summer signings suggested we could close it even further and I speculated that both sides would be virtually neck and neck by early November (actually City ahead by just one) if the Anfield showdown with Pep’s men ended in a draw.
That looks a pretty fair assessment so far with our next three games away to Huddersfield, home to Cardiff and away to Arsenal against City’s home to Burnley, away to Spurs and home to Southampton. Seven points each? If so, that would keep us side-by-side on 27 points.
While the start of those predictions has played out pretty accurately, I’ll admit that the manner of our recent run has come as a surprise.
In a complete reverse, we’ve turned ourselves into a tight defensive unit which struggles to score goals!
Sturridge’s ‘worldie’ is our only goal in the last three games and yet we’ve drawn two of them after conceding just twice in tough, tough encounters against Chelsea, Napoli and Man City.
Mahrez’s miss mattered so much because we had a clean sheet up until that point. While our frontmen stutter, our defence is keeping us in matches.
Although we played well at Chelsea and deserved something, Napoli produced the remarkable stat of Liverpool failing to have a single shot on goal. It wasn’t much different against City as we managed just two.
But it’s worth taking a deeper delve in Sunday’s stats as they reveal some eye-popping differences to the previous Premier League game with City at Anfield:
Last season’s 4-3 – Shots 16, duels won 60, tackles 32, recoveries 80, distance run 120.5km
This season’s 0-0 – Shots 7, duels won 37, tackles 17, recoveries 57, distance run 109.5km
On first glance it looks a remarkable drop-off in intensity but another stat helps uncover a different side to the story. In the 4-3 we made 366 passes; in the 0-0 we had 514.
City let Liverpool have the ball
In other words, City let us have far, far more of the ball. Guardiola stated later that he considered LFC to be the best team in the world at hitting sides with fast breaks so he denied the Reds the same opportunities.
A cute tactic and one City needed to make in the evolution of this fixture. Now Klopp has to find a response if the steamrollering days are over.
The discrepancy in distance covered is certainly an interesting one. For the last season or two, it’s as if we’d prided ourselves on outrunning everyone else. It shows great commitment to the cause but perhaps isn’t a realistic strategy for a long, hard Premier League season.
The feeling is that Klopp has wised up. The 100mph, all-out heavy metal football is still a big part of his philosophy but the approach had to be refined. It’s one of the great clichés but this is a marathon not a sprint. We need something in the tank for season’s end when the big trophies are on the line and the boss has realised that.
The morning after the 0-0 threw up another stat: it was three years to the day since Klopp took over. In a pleasing piece of symmetry we’ve scored 333 goals in that time but, more than anything, have shaken off the post-Luis Suarez hangover and emerged as a real force again.
So as it’s his birthday of sorts, I’ll leave the last word to Klopp and his enjoyable German word order.
“If somebody would have told me at the start of this season that we have after eight games 20 points and showed me the fixtures, I would have said, ‘yeah, I’ll take it’ so I’m fine.”
And if he’s fine with it, we fans should be too.
To be level at the top after trips to Spurs and Chelsea and a home clash with City in our first eight games is impressive.
And to be in this position with our strikers suffering a collective drought (Salah one in eight, Mane none in seven and Firmino none in five) hints at LFC becoming thoroughbreds again rather than a one-trick pony.