Where’s the money, FSG?

I suppose I’m someone who sees the glass half-empty.  Liverpool’s performances between the last time we faced Norwich, which was matchday 6 of the league, and the same fixture this coming weekend show a simple trend; Liverpool either win or lose the game in the first half.  Obviously there are exceptions, such as the game at West Ham where Diame’s injury was a cruel blow that cost them 3 points, but for the most part unless Liverpool are tactically adept in the first half they create too much of a hole for themselves to play out of in the second.  In other words, although Liverpool’s second half performances generally improve, they cannot improve enough in games they fell behind in order to win.

The primary cause is that the Liverpool players react poorly to pressure when trying to play the ball out from the back.  Opponents like Stoke and Manchester United press very well without the ball, though Stoke does not employ the tactic against all opposition.  Liverpool’s system of keeping the ball on the floor and passing it through several stages from keeper to striker has an inherent weakness in this its primary strength.  If the opponent presses with poor co-ordination, then accurate passing and smooth transition between defence and attack can take several opposing players completely out of the game for the duration of the move.  While the team won’t score from every such opportunity it is certain that being the beneficiary of such chances is a great advantage in the game.  However, if the opponent presses well, or Liverpool fails to pass accurately, the opposition will regain the ball high up the pitch in a position where their players are not significantly outnumbered by Liverpool defenders.  This is extremely dangerous, and indeed such “final third regains” are a noted metric in leading to goal-bound efforts or cardable offences on the part of defenders desperate to snuff out a dangerous attack.

There is one caveat; no team can press continuously and accurately for 90 minutes.  This is because pressing drains far more energy than passing, so there comes a time when the side pressing must instead choose to stand off, handing the advantage back to the passing team.  The concept is that as long as the passing side does not fall too far behind, they will score late goals against exhausted opposition, who will also be unable able to reply with goals of their own because it is their attackers who are tired.  So Liverpool improving in the second half is matter-of-course; either their opposition have tired from pressing, are behind in the game because they failed to defend against the onslaught in the first half, or have obtained sufficient advantage to not need to press.  The former has been something of a rare bird, though perhaps the Everton game is the best example, where Liverpool could have stolen 3 points at the death but for a poor call from the linesman in a game where Everton were the better side for more than an hour.  This leads me back to my opening statement – Liverpool win or lose in the first half.

The remaining category of games Liverpool play would be those where the opposition does not press, but rather cedes space and allows Liverpool to take the ball relatively unchallenged into their half of the field.  Sometimes they do this because they will be satisfied with a 0-0 draw (for instance the Stoke game at Anfield), sometimes they will do this because their strength is on the counter-attack, and sometimes they’re just trying to lose by as few goals as possible because the fixture is a mismatch.

This is borne out in peculiar manner.  Liverpool have played 11 matches against clubs in the top half of the table and, by sheer coincidence, the same number against the bottom half of the table.  Of those against the bottom half, Liverpool have won 8, drawn 2, and lost 1; a remarkably good return.  The top?  Won ZERO, drawn 5 and lost 6.  The inference is clear: the teams that let Liverpool play have a bad time of it, while the teams that impose themselves are successful.  Perhaps this is not surprising, as it is commonly accepted that the side intent on defending stands the lower chance of winning, but surely Liverpool should have had at least some success against its peers?  Perhaps draws at Stamford Bridge, Goodison Park, and Swansea count as successes – in 3 fixtures time, having played Manchester City and Arsenal away, Liverpool will have 5 fixtures remaining against top half clubs, all of which will held be at Anfield, which suggests success against the top half is sure to follow.

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