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Don Quixote Hates Your Windmills (AKA: AJ Goes Myth Hunting– Episode 14/39ths )

"Fuck narrative." – Nerf

I’m tempted mightily to leave this post with Nerf’s gloriously accurate (and efficient) statement as the perfect expression of what I’m probably going to use many more useless (though, if you’re of a particularly unhinged sort, entertaining) words attempting to essentially echo: narratives suck.

Now, as a member of the TLO community (and, if I haven’t taken the time to do so, let me thank you all for being so warm and awesome to me during my time as a semi-regular commenter) one thing that is patently clear is that we have a rather diverse mix of brilliant Liverpool obsessives. Starting with the guardians of the site (Ed, Noel, Trev, Eliz, Chuck, Conor/Connor/Con-Air/K-silenta;kldjfadkjfeorueo-awnor and Jake) with their varying quirks/First XI crushes (#teamlucas, yall), this community engenders a sort of utopian feel in that free and intelligent discussion is the norm as opposed to the mashing-of-keyboards style employed by many other spaces. For that we are all blessed and I’m sure the sentiment is shared when I express that.

Still, from time to time, I’ll notice the odd shout here or there (usually during a tense section of the Matchday Thread, to be fair) that doesn’t quite match the discourse. Often, these comments are quickly shut down and, again, knowing that they come from a space of frustration I often occupy when ohmygodWHYISNTLUISALBERTOSTARTINGMORE?!?!?!?!

So, I totally get it. Moreover, I agree with a lot of what’s said (seriously, MOAR ALBERTO, BR…maybe w/ a lil Lucas/Allen cover??). But there have been a few straw man narratives that have popped up of late that I think deserve a little more review as their frequency in appearance does not quite jive with what I’m seeing.

Let’s dig in!

Narrative #1:

When will BR finally get back to that patient build-up game that he’s completely abandoned?

Well, I suppose the real (snarky) answer to this rhetorical question is: "Heh…maybe when he actually abandons it, amirite??" (looks around for high-five and approval that aren’t coming)

But really, let’s look at some facts (h/t to Nerf – we should be friends, mate - for posting this):

Stoke City – 55%
Aston Villa – 53%
Manchester United – 43%
Swansea City – 41%
Southampton – 54%
Sunderland – 61%
Crystal Palace – 62%
Newcastle United – 55%
West Bromwich Albion – 55%
Arsenal – 46%
Fulham – 67%
Everton – 49%
Hull City – 62%

Add in this last match (approx. 62% possession via Nate at ohyoubeauty) and we’ve got 10 matches out of 14 played where we’ve had the lion’s share of the ball.

Now, I know that stats without context are really difficult to decipher, but viewing a match without data (and making grand conclusions from said viewing) is essentially the back side of the same coin: a surefire way to erroneous conclusions.

So, what does this data say, then? Well, it tells me that the idea that we’ve become a team that eschews possession for the opportunity to hit on the counter is murky at best. Best I can see between what I’ve watched and what the data says is that we’ve taken on what I might call a more fluid, offense oriented attack: we look to move the ball quickly up the field and, when possession is lost, look to regain it quickly. I’ve mentioned it before, but I think we look a lot more like the 2007 Phoenix Suns than we do the San Antonio Spurs (or Barcelona if we want to get all boring-y, apples-to-apples about it) but we have not become Stoke.

In fact, recalling all that BR’s talked about, I sense we’re still using his principles: possession is important (hence us still playing with the ball as opposed to trying to pip a team without it) and the stats back that. I think the difference is that BR has given his team the license to move the ball up the pitch freely and to make creative decisions to get the ball in the net. Truth be told, I think we’re moving towards the modern version of the Oranje while people are still looking for the methodical Barca approach. If we flip our perception just a touch (and look at the metrics for validity), then I think we might come at least to a consensus that BR hasn’t quite turned into the Merseyside Big Sam.

Narrative #2:

We’re getting overrun in our midfield.

Ok…this is going to get provocative and controversial, but here goes:

I don’t think this is quite correct. I think that, tactically, we might have issues – the shipping of goals is definitely a problem. Still, according to Squawka, of the 17 goals Liverpool have conceded, 12 have come from set pieces. Looking at Squawka’s comparative data across the league that puts Liverpool tops of the league by more than one standard deviation away from the next in line (Chelsea and Man City with 9 apiece). More importantly, looking at the same comparisons for where we stand in thegoals conceded department, this indicates that we’re a relatively stingy defense (middling…maybe, we’re mid-to-bottom in terms of goals conceded) and that includes an inordinate amount of set piece goals allowed.

What this means is that the majority of goals that we’ve allowed have come not from being overrun in the midfield, but from general set piece play. This conclusion is both overly simplistic (more on that in a moment) and dissatisfying because set piece defending seems as though it ought to be a relatively simple thing to sort. It’s even more disappointing to note that if we were less of a sieve on set pieces, we would rank closer to the most stingy of defenses in the league, making a place higher up the table much more likely.

Now, here’s where I side a touch with those that are touting this narrative: it can be said that these set pieces could be attributed to poor midfield play (maybe a poor tackle leading to a foul in an advantageous area or a missed cue that allows for an opponent to make a play leading to a corner) and that’s a fair assertion; without more detailed data (and a lack of desire for me to pore over the stats THAT much so as to attribute fault on EVERY occurrence) I’m going to concede that I cannot argue confidently the merits of this issue.

Still, these tables do indicate that (were we to remove the two penalties conceded by the team from the equation), no less than half of goals conceded by set piece came from corners. I’ll submit that maybe the midfield fucked up in allowing an opponent to flood channels or whatever to earn the corner, but I think it’s rather murky at best to say that the goal was directly caused by the midfield when the resulting corner is a team defensive responsibility.

Narrative #3:

Steven Gerrard plays too damn much and aintnobodygottimeforthatcausetherentsaretoodamnhigh!!!!

I really want to buy this narrative because there are times when I feel like Stevie needs a rest and because I am on absolute man crush mode with Luis Alberto (he’s replaced Suso for now) and his class, vision andohmygodithinkhelookedatme!!!

But aside from dips in form that are generally to be expected, I have a hard time believing that sitting the Captain was the way to go to this point with a rather empty fixture schedule. Yes, he complicated things with his work with the England squad, but the constant banter tossed about at Gerrard seems a touch over the top to me.

I know that getting midfield combinations/roles right is very key to a successful midfield, and Gerrard KINDASORTA takes that attacking-ish role that Alberto might hold if deployed, so he is kind of standing in the way of my dream Lucas/Allen/Alberto trio. But looking at that early run up, and the need for leadership in this squad, I can’t see a true justification for a major reduction of minutes dispensed to Number 8.

Maybe take him off sooner and more frequently? Maybe. And is BR playing with fire when considering injuries, et. al? Yes. But bear in mind that Allen and Coutinho were injured in the early part of the season (and, yes, indulge me in using Phil as an AM as opposed to a wide forward), Alberto was a new buy and the rest of the cupboard was relatively empty. The void needed to be filled and our Captain did just that, steering us to the top of the table in the first month of PL games, 2nd for most of it and no lower than our current position now at 4th.

Moreover, lest we forget, he provided invaluable leadership during Suarez-gate over the summer and through Luis’s suspension. BR’s role as gaffer lies not just in getting the shape, tactics and player combinations right, but also in managing personalities and getting the most out of each player. Risks? Oh, yes, there’ll always be risks…but that’s what FSG pays BR for.

Well, those are the only narratives I have time to discuss. I’d be more than happy to banter with y’all about this in the comments section. Thanks for sticking around for over 1,530 words to "sum" up what Nerf already said so eloquently! Cheers!

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