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On the surface, Liverpool looked to have been a little unlucky against Swansea.

They enjoyed 74% of possession, 16 shots and allowed their opposition to shoot only six times.

Variety key to Liverpool's chances in the leagueOrdinarily, that level of control would have been enough to generate a win, but the reality was rather different, as Liverpool went home with a 3-2 loss. In that sense, the match provided analysts with yet another chance to use the old, “Statistics don’t tell the whole story” line, and in fairness to those who chose to use it, it was a pretty good time to apply it.

In truth, even despite their dominance, Liverpool lacked punch. The Reds attacked well at times, mainly through quick switches of play to their onrushing fullbacks, Nathaniel Clyne and James Milner, but aside from those moments, there was very little thrust to their play. 16 shots might look impressive on paper, but seven of those were speculative efforts from long range. Throw in the fact that, according to StatsZone, Liverpool only generated one “big chance” in comparison to Swansea’s three, and it’s clear that Jurgen Klopp’s players lacked efficiency in front of goal.

That lack of efficiency cost them on the scoreboard, and when combined with the fact that Liverpool’s overall dominance seemed to lull their own defenders into a false sense of security, the Reds conceded three cheap goals to lose the match. Again, it all comes back to efficiency. Swansea were clinical, putting 50% of their chances into the back of the net, while Liverpool were not.

There was, however, one positive for Liverpool in terms of the way they attacked, and that came in the form of their first goal. They were already 2-0 down that point, but when Jordan Henderson, located on the right edge of the penalty area, whipped a pinpoint cross field switch into the feet of Milner on the left, they were about to peg one back. Milner followed Henderson’s lead, hitting a precise cross in from the left-hand side, and Roberto Firmino finished the job by heading the ball home.

In isolation, this might have seemed like a pretty standard sort of a goal, but for Liverpool, this was the kind of opportunity they were hoping to create all day. For much of the 90 minutes, they looked a little stale, struggling to puncture Swansea’s deep-sitting and extremely narrow defence. Klopp’s men couldn’t play through the middle due to the lack of width in their opposition’s defensive structure, so they tried to attack the wide areas instead. By the eight-minute mark, they had already hit three quick switches to Clyne out on the right-hand side, and as the match progressed, it became clear that these three instances were part of a wider plan.

Liverpool would often work the ball down one side and wait for Swansea to shuffle across. At that point, they would note the open space available on the far side of the field, and it was then that they looked to launch a diagonal ball into the path of their onrushing fullbacks. This tactic was made even more effective by the fact that Klopp’s wingers, Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana, often drifted infield, thereby dragging their direct opponents (Swansea’s fullbacks) into the centre along with them. This meant that Milner and Clyne often had a huge amount of space ahead of them, and due to Liverpool’s, and most notably Henderson’s, ability to fizz diagonal balls with precision, the Reds often looked capable of creating openings by playing this way.

Again, however, Liverpool’s lack of efficiency hurt them. They created a lot of opportunities to cross after switching the play, but many of these failed to find the head of a teammate. Then there were moments when a Liverpool player would fashion an opening beautifully, such as in the 43rd minute, when Georginio Wijnaldum made an outside-to-in run to draw Swansea left-back Martin Olsson in off the flank, only to see a teammate, in this case Clyne, fail to control the ball at all. Emre Can also missed a very presentable headed opportunity after Liverpool worked an opening through a quick switch to Clyne, and so in some ways, despite their lack of cutting-edge in front of goal, there were some positives to be taken from this switch-and-cross strategy.

The problem was that Liverpool offered very little in other areas. They showed a very limited ability to move the ball through the middle of the pitch, something which is shown by the graphic below:Variety key to Liverpool's chances in the league

Indeed, there is plenty of U-shaped passing between Liverpool’s centre-backs, fullbacks and deep-lying play maker Henderson, who often dropped deep to get the ball, but very little through the dangerous pockets in central zones. Credit must, at least in part, go to the well organised Swansea, who looked incredibly compact under new boss Paul Clement, but Liverpool lacked variety nonetheless. Can and Wijnaldum are two powerful runners in the middle of the pitch, but they didn’t break into the box as often as they should have, while Lallana and Coutinho saw very little of the ball between the lines.

Granted Liverpool are missing the impact of Sadio Mane, who is off on African Cup of Nations duty, and Coutinho is still returning from an injury layoff, but the Merseyside club can’t hope to rely solely on one avenue in attack. They did show occasional glimpses of promise in other areas, most notably when Wijnaldum made driving runs in behind the opposition defence, yet more is needed to truly trouble other teams.

Klopp held a meeting in the wake of the match to talk to his players about the need to relish their command of possession, even when it doesn’t immediately lead to goals. “In our job, in 70 to 80 per cent of all games, we are dominant,” Klopp said. “So we have to enjoy this, even when we don’t come through after five minutes. That’s how it is. That’s the job to do.”

Liverpool can do that and, judging by their league-high scoring numbers, often do. If they want to make the breakthrough against packed opposition defences more regularly, however, they need to ensure they have enough variety to do it.

Originally published at licencetoroam.net

Post written by Will Stratmann, Twitter: @willstratmann
for Licence to Roam, Blog: licencetoroam.net, Twitter: @licencetoroam

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