#10 Match Report: Man City 2 – 1 Liverpool

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Liverpool head into their first game of 2019 still unbeaten and 7 points clear of arguably the best ever Premier League side, reigning champions Manchester City. Manchester City were on course for another incredible year, and still are by anyone else’s standards, however losing at home to Crystal Palace and then Away to Leicester in 2 of their last 3 games was not in the script for their next documentary.

Up to Christmas, City had been unbeaten too, sitting top of the league and had already played all of the other ‘Top 6’ sides away from home. it was looking like the question was whether City could go unbeaten, with Liverpool doing amazing to just keep up. A severe dip in form, a key injury and some incredible shooting against them saw City relinquish the lead in the title with Liverpool not looking like slowing down at all.

A Liverpool win at the Etihad and the gap becomes 10 points, arguably the title race is over without a Liverpool collapse (not impossible). A draw would maintain the 7-point gap, but would also give Liverpool hope that they can continue in their excellent season since the champions couldn’t beat them at their own ground. Whilst a win for City would reduce the gap down to 4 points, which means City are still relying on Liverpool messing up, but it also means that Liverpool are no longer untouchable and City will have put doubt in Liverpool’s minds.

Considering City finished champions 25 points ahead of Liverpool and won 5-0 in this fixture last season, if I were to say to you that this was the most even game of the season so far would be surprising to say the least. It shows how far Liverpool have come in such a short space of time that that is indeed the case, this game was incredibly even and almost any result could’ve happened if repeated.

City did end up winning 2-1, however the Expected Goals (xG) from Understat suggest it wasn’t an easy win. The xG score was City 1.18 – 1.38 Liverpool, suggesting arguably Liverpool would win this game more often than City if repeated and a draw is most likely. For a game with two of the highest scoring teams in the league, there were not that many shots or chances created with only 9 – 7 for City – Liverpool respectively. This low shot volume adds to the variance in xG numbers and emphasises that it would be more down to individual skill at finishing or luck to determine this game rather than an overwhelming inevitability that someone would score.

Figure 1: Size of bubble = Expected Goals (xG), Location = Location of shot, Stars = Goals

In terms of finishing and scoring goals, Liverpool were not very clinical however they did create the best chance of the game with a lovely cross field pass followed by a first time cross across the box for a tap in to an empty goal. They also had a ball cleared off the line by centimetres following a scramble after a rebound off the post. Other than those two, Liverpool were limited to shots through crowds of bodies. City managed to manufacture some chances through counter attacks, and also capitalise on the fact that Sergio Aguero is an incredible finisher from tight angles. Whilst Liverpool scored with their highest xG chance (0.62), City missed both of their highest xG chances (0.49, 0.32) and scored from two lower xG chances (0.06, 0.05) which suggests that it was City’s finishing when needed was the difference in goal scoring.

Since not very chances were being made, most of the game and interesting plays were between the two boxes. There are three players I’d like to highlight, all playing central midfield: Fernandinho, Bernado Silva and James Milner. It’s hard to quantify the effect that these players had on the game, but all three were excellent in denying the opposition any space or progression up the pitch.

No player had more ball recoveries than Silva with 10, Fernandinho had 9 and Milner whilst only being on the pitch for about an hour had 7. In of itself ball recoveries doesn’t mean much, however especially for City players it’s the area of the pitch that they win the ball back that’s so great.

Figure 2: 25/65 Man City recoveries in Liverpool’s half, 10/56 Liverpool recoveries in Man City’s half

https://thelastmananalytics.home.blog/2018/11/06/3-are-man-city-better-without-the-ball-defensive-analysis/

5 out of the 10 ball recoveries for Silva and 4 out of 9 for Fernandinho were in Liverpool’s half, which suggests that City were winning the ball back high up the pitch and not allowing Liverpool to progress much further. Compared to other players with high recoveries, this is significant. Not only recoveries, but Silva also completed 3 tackles on the halfway line out of 8 (!) attempts and made 4 interceptions in Liverpool’s half. As you can imagine Silva got around the pitch a lot this game and managed to cover 13.7km which is the most in a game this season. I don’t usually like those kinds of stats since they don’t suggest anything about a player’s involvement in a game but maybe suggest that they’re just out of position recovering for the whole game. However, Silva was definitely involved and sometimes that extra effort you put in makes others do the same.

A lot of Fernandinho’s work is done off the ball, in ways that aren’t quantifiable by tackles or interceptions or distance covered. It’s clear how large an impact he has in City’s midfield since the two games he didn’t play due to injury were the two games they lost so far this season. Fernandinho deserves more than a paragraph of one game to highlight his skills, he’ll be the focus of an upcoming post in the future. But City need to find a replacement quickly for him, or find a way of playing that doesn’t rely so heavily on him sweeping up behind the front 5’s press.

It’s a shame that James Milner had to be the one to come off early in the second half, Milner plays similarly to Bernado Silva when Liverpool have the three in midfield and was as effective as Silva defensively until he got taken off. Moving to 4-2-3-1 since they needed to score was probably a sensible move, however needing a goal and leaving Jordan Henderson on the pitch alongside Fabinho (better version of Henderson) doesn’t always end well. It worked out since Liverpool scored an amazing team goal but they may have been more of a threat if Milner was alongside Fabinho. Also, doesn’t help pushing Wijnaldum out to left wing with several wingers sitting on the bench but hey.

Come the end of the season, this game will be regarded as a turning point whatever happens. Whether Liverpool collapse and City come back to win their second title in a row or Liverpool brush it off and continue in the same manor we will find out, but Manchester City have showed their hand and they are here to stay until the end of the season. We have our first real title race in years, take it in and enjoy it.

Thanks to @StatsZone and Understat for images, stats and xG numbers.

@TLMAnalytics

#1 Match Report: BVB 4 – 0 Atletico Madrid

Hello world,

After reading and consuming lots of amazing pieces of analysis that’s out there in the football analytics community, I found myself inspired. Watching football is now also an evaluation of performance rather than just for pure entertainment, here’s a place for me to keep tabs of some of the thoughts I have. Match reports, individual performances and defensive structure will all be on the agenda. Constructive criticism is welcome, please feel free to get in touch!

What this report aims to do is to look back on the game and highlight the key areas of importance. That will be looking at team structures and how the team has been set up to play, individual performances and suggested changes that may (or may not) have improved performance.

Initial Thoughts:

  • Dortmund have started the season exceptionally, unbeaten after 9 games in the league with 29 goals scored from only 18.42 xG. Mainly due to Paco Alcacer’s 7 goals from 2.4 xG
  • Atletico have been unspectacular, not really been tested since beating Real Madrid in the Super Cup.
  • The extreme result is what drew my attention to this game, it’s not every day that Atletico concede four.

Match Analysis:

We have an unexpected extreme score line, let’s see if there’s anything clear to explain why.

Number of shots, completed passes, attacking third passes, tackles, interceptions, fouls and possessions are all even. The main difference is in big chances and big chances created, where Dortmund have four and three respectively compared to Atletico’s zero. Considering Atletico only conceded two big chances to Real Madrid at the Bernabau at the end of September, four could be seen as significant.

Checking the attacking dashboards on Statszone for both teams explains where Dortmund were successful and Atletico weren’t. All of Dortmund’s goals were scored from shots between the width of the posts, this means the chances they created to shoot were optimal. Shooting from between the width of the goal produces the largest angle available of the goal to aim at. They favoured attacking down their left-hand side. Atletico lacked penetration into the box, with many incomplete passes and crosses into the box. They crossed the ball from deep into the box aiming for their forwards, if defences are expecting a cross they are easier to defend and attempts at goal resulting from crosses are harder to convert than others.

There is a clear distinction in styles of chances created between the two teams. Dortmund’s chances were of higher quality as they had shots from between the posts, whilst Atletico resorted to attempts from crosses.

How does a team that’s so rigid and robust in defence such as Atletico give up higher quality chances? If they did so on a consistent basis they wouldn’t be known for having that rigid and robust defence.

The context of how the goals were scored and when is important. At half time, Dortmund had only created one big chance from a corner and had scored from a long-range, deflected Axel Witsel shot. Not too much to split the sides. Considering both have won their opening two games, these two teams will be fighting for the top spot of Group A to get the best possible draw in the knockout rounds. This means that this is a game that Atletico would like to win, and after the uneventful first half, was probably a game that they felt they could win or at least get a draw out of the game.

In the second half, Atletico attempted 16 crosses compared to just 8 in the first half. Only 7 of the 24 were completed. Dortmund only attempted 6 all game. The increased frequency of crosses also came with an increase in clearances from 10 (8 in the box) to 14 (all 14 in the box) for Dortmund. This suggests that despite the increased frequency, Atletico weren’t creating any more or clearer chances. Atletico don’t play with clear wingers, this is part of what gives them such a rigid base, so their full backs have to provide the width. When losing possession getting back into that defensive shape quickly is important. Due to the nature of their attack, Atletico lost possession many times from attempted crosses which gave Dortmund many chances to counter attack. Producing chances from counter attacking against a team that is trying to recover defensive shape will produce good chances since there are fewer defenders and these defenders aren’t always set up properly. Not even Atletico are exempt from this. Dortmund completed less passes in the attacking third in the second half, but completed more passes into the opposition box. This suggests that Dortmund were able to be more productive with fewer opportunities. The difference is Atletico were set up defensively in the first half and were recovering from incomplete crosses in the second.

The resulting half boiled down to whether Atletico could break Dortmund down or whether Dortmund would extend their lead on the break. One well worked move, one perfectly executed counter attack and two assists later for Achraf Hakimi and Dortmund are 3-0 up. An extremely poor decision and pass from Felipe Luis gave Dortmund their fourth and the unpredictability of football wins again.

Ultimately, Atletico are still the defensive unit that we see them as. They just need to decide that’s the way they want to play the game. They did for 45 mins and were unlucky to be behind, they decided not to for 45 mins and conceded three late goals. Atletico will be okay as long as plan A works. Dortmund a tad fortunate, but we seem to be saying that so much recently that it’s getting uncomfortably like that’s just what they do.

@TLMAnalytics

Credit to understat.com for the xG numbers and Statszone for the graphics. Please go check them out they are amazingly useful resources.

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