After a string a good results the struggles of September and October are seemingly gone. The mighty Reds are on a 3 game winning streak in all tournaments that saw them score 10 goals and concede just 1. A lot of supporters and writers urged patience during the string of underwhelming results in autumn throwing around expected goals. And indeed even without the more advanced statistic the Reds fired blanks on too many occasions – failing to win several games in which they took 20 more shots than the opponents. The whole streak looked like a statistical anomaly – a trend that can’t be sustained over an extended period of time. So now that the numbers have normalised and balanced out it is interesting to see where Liverpool is going into the festive schedule.
Premier League comparison
The Reds have taken more shots than any other team so far this season – trying their luck 199 times, 5 times more than Manchester City. Yet Pep Guardiola’s team has managed to score 17 more goals. But that is an extreme example since the league leaders are having a start a for the ages:
|Team||Total||Goals scored||xG||xG Delta||Conversition rate||xConvRate||xConv Delta|
|West Bromwich Albion||96||9||9.12||-0.12||9%||10%||-0.12%|
|Top 6 avg||179.33||23.5||21.81||1.70||13%||12%||0.95%|
The quality of the chances created is best determined by the expected conversion rate, which is the rate between shots and xG. Manchester City, Chelsea and Burnley are the only teams who so far have managed to score from harder chances. What is interesting to note is the Manchester United manage to create higher quality chances from fewer shots compared to the rest of the top 6. So Mourinho’s tactic to park the buss and hope for a winner in the last 10 minutes has some merit.
On the other side of the spectrum – Crystal Palace. The shot conversion rate of 3% (basically the same as LFC’s from corner kicks) stands out.
Looking at Liverpool – the wastefulness of the attack shows in the table. While the quality of the chances created is relatively high even for the top 6 the actual conversion rate is way below average. The Reds look like they have started to turn the corner and have performed better than xPected in the last two Premier League games. LFC have missed the two main offensive players from last season in Coutinho and Mane for big chunks of season so far, so things should start to get better as the attack line gets to full strength. But still where does the negative delta come from?
From open play the team has done well when it comes to creating and finishing – 17 goals scored/17.34 xG, so the problem lies elsewhere. I’ve been calling our relationship with set pieces abusive for quite some time now. It’s too hard for the Reds to score from one, while seemingly every cross leads to chaos in our box. At this point most supporters, including me, can’t really remember the last time when we were good at defending them. On the contrast with Luis Suarez leaving and Steven Gerrard retiring we have seen the quality of the crosses from set place go from bad to worse as the seasons went, with the only bright light being Philippe Coutinho’s brilliant direct free kick goals.
Sidenote: This article is an attack analysis but this stat is so underwhelming I couldn’t miss it. The shot conversion rate of opposing teams from set pieces (excluding pens) is the staggering 19% with the expected conversion rate being over 20%. That is better than Manchester City’s current conversion rate. Truly appalling numbers.
Back to the offense. Strangely Liverpool’s most wasteful player so far this season has been Joel Matip with Dejan Lovren being the third worst at finishing. Even on the rare occasions when someone manages to put a good cross in the box from a set piece, our central defenders miss the chance, with the draws against Newcastle and Manchester United coming to mind. Last season we were one of the top teams in goals scored from set pieces, even if it was on an average rate. This season Klopp’s team is failing to meet even those, not so high standards so far.
End Game woes
Since the start of last season the Reds have taken 169 shots after the 76th minute resulting in just 7 goals. This season LFC have scored 1 goal from 40 shots in the last 15 minutes of matches. That is comparable to Crystal Palace’s numbers. Over the last two season the breakdown looks like this:
|1st – 75th||668||91||75.35||15.65||14%||11%||2.34%|
The main reason behind this number is the lack of squad depth and Jurgen Klopp’s substitution pattern. The German usually takes his time when making changes and their impact is minimal in most cases. Combine the late substitutions with the physically demanding style of play and that paints the full picture. You can’t really blame the manager since for the most part of the last two season he hasn’t had much options on the bench. Even this season with injuries, suspensions and transfer sagas the squad has been stretched thin. With the return of Sadio Mane and Adam Lallana, with the Ox finally having some impact on games this should no longer be the case in the coming months. Klopp showed a bit ruthlessness when he took Lovren out in the first half against Spurs.
With momentum changing and key players starting to come back the numbers can only continue to improve. Philippe Coutinho has consistently put scored more goals than xG over the past 4 season, while Sadio Mane has failed to do so on only 1 occasion. Adam Lallana coming back will add much needed depth to midfield and hopefully give Jurgen Klopp a selection headache. The next two Premier League games are at Anfield where even the defense has been mostly solid. Finally there are reasons of being optimistic this season.