As always, match data from Stats Zone and Squawka.
"Defensive football is, as the great Italian theorist Gianni Brera put it, 'the right of the weak.'" - Jonathan Wilson
It's infuriating. It's a bit embarrassing for the second-most expensively assembled side in the league. I very much never want to watch a Liverpool side play that way week in and out. But football is about getting the result, by any means necessary, and Mourinho's concentrated evil got that result.
It may have been under a different manager, but that's exactly how Chelsea won a Champions League as well. Good football is good, glory is great, but the result is what matters.
Yesterday saw Liverpool's biggest possession disparity of the season, the biggest disparity in passes attempted, the second-biggest disparity in passes completed (behind 3-2 at Fulham), and the fourth-biggest shot disparity (behind 3-1 Cardiff, 4-1 West Ham, and 4-0 Fulham, all at Anfield).
Liverpool had 74.1% possession, completed 383 more passes, and took 15 more shots. And Liverpool lost 0-2, its first two-goal loss at Anfield since suffering the same scoreline against West Brom more than 14 months ago.
But we learned long ago (read: 2011-12 and 2012-13) that winning passing, possession, and shot totals don't equal winning the game.
First and foremost was where those Liverpool shots took place. I'm gonna blow it up in a bigger graphic, because the compressed Stats Zone or Squawka chalkboard doesn't seem weighty enough.
Yikes. 21 of 26 shots came from outside the box. That's remarkable, and not in a good way. I am not clever enough with statistics to figure out "Expected Goals" but I imagine Liverpool's were pretty low yesterday. But, to be fair, Liverpool's been well out-performing Expected Goals all season long. Regression to the mean, and all that.
Not only was the shot location bad, the shooting accuracy was bad too. Liverpool's first shot on target came in the 52nd minute, the 11th shot taken. Eight of 26 on target, 30.77% shooting accuracy. Which, devoid of context, isn't awful, but still below Liverpool's 40.1% for the season. And the sixth-lowest accuracy of the season, behind Villa (a), Newcastle (a), West Ham (h), Cardiff (h), and West Brom (a). Where Liverpool won three and drew two, scoring at least once in all five.
Nine of Liverpool's 26 shots came from Steven Gerrard, which is the most shots he's taken in a match this season, by far. His previous high was six in the 5-1 win against Norwich. The only other match where he took more than three was at Manchester United, attempting five, three of which were penalties.
I'm not going to excoriate Gerrard for slipping. Shit happens, and often at the most inopportune time. It's horrific luck, made even more horrific by the fact it's Gerrard, the symbol of Liverpool, the captain who's given all he can to this title run, deservedly mentioned as one of the best midfielders in the league this season. And against Chelsea, of all teams. I can't help but mention the 2005 Carling Cup Final. The worst luck.
But yesterday was a return to the (sometimes) bad old days of one-man Liverpool. If not Gerrard than no one; he'll do it himself. Nine shots. Nine! Eight from outside the box. He'd taken 51 in his previous 31 appearances this season, and that includes free kicks and penalties. And Gerrard also attempted 27 more passes than the next closest player.
Give Gerrard the ball and hope he can do something. Stand off and let him go to work. Frustrated outside Chelsea's box? Gerrard will let fly. We'd seen next to none of that this season, not even in the other matches where Liverpool had to overhaul a deficit. He was absolutely dying to make amends for the mistake that gave Chelsea the lead, but his single-minded second half play was almost (but obviously not quite) as costly as the mistake.
Obviously, Gerrard wasn't the only culprit. Suarez – just named the PFA Player of the Year – was denied absolutely any space to operate, attempting just two take-ons. He's averaging 7.25 per match this season. Sterling and Coutinho saw a lot of the ball, but couldn't play the killer ball, forced to pass pass pass outside Chelsea's box. Sturridge, sadly, clearly wasn't fit. Liverpool's attackers all got into positions to create something at least once, even if it was a marginal chance, but couldn't convert, and were mostly marked into oblivion by four defenders, three holding midfielders, and two wingers who spent more time in their own half than Liverpool's.
Still, it's infuriating that Liverpool repeatedly and increasingly tried to force shots from distance rather than shake and bake through a packed defense with patient build-up, which we'd seen time and time again this season. It's not as if Chelsea are the first side to park the bus against Liverpool this season, even if they were the best.
Plan A was shots from distance. Plan B was crosses. And in case you hadn't noticed, Liverpool is not a team that thrives on crosses.
"You went full Moyes, man. Never go full Moyes."
42 crosses is, by far, Liverpool's high for the season. They'd averaged 17 per match through the first 35 games this season, the fewest in the league. And only eight were successful, just three actually leading to a chance.
All of this led to just the third time Liverpool were held scoreless this season, after the 0-1 loss to Southampton in September and the 0-2 loss at Arsenal in November. It's been nearly six months, and 28 matches, since that last happened.
It's hard to avoid the conclusion that Liverpool panicked, for the first time in a long time. That it had to happen at least once seems inevitable in retrospect, and it's absolutely amazing that it hadn't happened sooner, but they still picked a bad time to do so.
Credit where due, as painful as it is. Chelsea's gonna Chelsea, and Chelsea Chelsea'd really, really well.