Where Have Liverpool’s Late Goals Gone?
Trace your mind back to this time last year, when Sadio Mane gave us all the most delightful of early Christmas presents at Goodison Park.
The Senegalese’s last-gasp tap-in against Everton secured three invaluable points for Liverpool, and also set an impressive statistic at the same time.
Mane’s strike was the Reds’ 29th last-minute winner since the Premier League’s inception in 1992 – more than any other side during that time, which may come as a surprise to many.
Despite the dominance of Man United, and also title-winning periods for Chelsea, Arsenal and Man City, it was Liverpool who had enjoyed more dramatic match-winning moments than the rest.
The Reds have always had a penchant for drama, as so many unforgettable, nerve-shredding trophy wins over the years have shown, and at the height of their powers prior to the Premier League, they were famed for their ability to never give up.
All of a sudden, however, these late moments of joy have completely dried up, and it has become one of the more baffling aspects of Jurgen Klopp’s Anfield tenure.
Since Mane’s 94th-minute strike on 19th December 2016, Liverpool’s latest winner was the 25-year-old’s against Crystal Palace in August, when 73 minutes were on the clock.
Roberto Firmino’s superb half-volley at Stoke back in April came a minute earlier, while Emre Can fired home in front of the Kop against Burnley just after the hour mark in March.
That is just three winners after 60 minutes in very nearly a year, across four different competitions – a fairly staggering statistic.
Wednesday’s 0-0 draw at home to West Brom was just the latest example of huffing and puffing but to no avail, and incredibly, Liverpool haven’t scored a stoppage-time winner at Anfield in the league since 2011.
That was Joe Cole’s strike against Bolton on New Year’s Day – a goal that actually angered many Reds, due to it giving Roy Hodgson more time as manager.
On the flip side, just look at how many times Liverpool have either surrendered leads or lost matches late on since Mane’s derby winner.
Jermain Defoe’s 84th-minute penalty robbed the Reds of a big win at Sunderland to start the year, and Shane Long struck in the dying seconds of the League Cup semi-final second-leg clash with Southampton.
Admittedly, Long’s effort was a breakaway goal, with Klopp’s men desperately looking for one of their own to level the tie.
Bournemouth’s Josh King scored with three minutes remaining at Anfield to make it 2-2 last season, and Liverpool’s league campaign got off to an infuriating start in 2017/18, as Miguel Britos earned Watford a 3-3 draw in stoppage time.
Mark Uth gave Hoffenheim hope in the first-leg of the Champions League playoff, pulling a goal back with three minutes left, and away to Sevilla, it was yet another added time goal conceded, as Liverpool blew a three-goal lead.
Willian’s fluke for Chelsea saw the Reds fail to see things out late in the day last month, and although not necessarily defined as ‘late’, Wayne Rooney’s 77th-minute penalty for Everton was another crushing blow with not a lot of time remaining last weekend.
Of course, there have been plenty of occasions when the win has already been wrapped up – that is a big reason why United didn’t score as many late winners as Liverpool during their best period – but this is still a worrying pattern emerging.
During Klopp’s two-and-a-bit years in the Anfield hot-seat, you struggle to pick out more than a handful of glorious late winners, or even equalisers.
Dejan Lovren’s header against Borussia Dortmund stands out more than anything, as does Mane’s at Goodison and Adam Lallana’s memorable finish in the 5-4 win at Norwich in January 2016, but where are the rest?
Christian Benteke’s penalty at Crystal Palace in 2015/16 is about as good as it gets, or Joe Allen and Divock Origi’s respective equalisers against Arsenal and West Brom in Klopp’s first season.
Once again, though, it is goals by the opposition that seem to be the more frequent since Klopp arrived on these shores, living longer, and more painfully, in the memory.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic robbed Liverpool of victory at Old Trafford; Adrian Lopez scored in stoppage time for Villarreal in the Europa League semis; Defoe again scored late in 2015/16; Bournemouth won 4-3 with virtually the final kick of the game last season.
Perhaps this is being overly-harsh and ignoring certain moments along the way, but it really does feel as though Liverpool are dreadful in the latter stages of matches.
The rather bemusing thing about all of this is that Klopp prides himself on being a manager who instils optimum levels of fitness in his players.
They are worked into the ground during pre-season, and during the season for that matter, so that they have more legs late on in matches. We aren’t seeing that come to fruition in the slightest, however.
The German is now rotating his squad more than ever – no manager has made more changes in the league this season – which should also mean legs and minds are fresher than opposition players.
All this points to, therefore, is lack of belief and ruthlessness at both ends of the pitch when it comes to the crunch period of games, with opponents appearing far more likely to score, and the Reds offering little threat. There is a lack of a winning mentality.
Trophies are won by teams for many reasons, with quality, experience and consistency all hugely important, but an ability to nick late goals, and display a never-say-die attitude, can make all the difference.
The sides of Gerard Houllier and Rafa Benitez did this so often on their way to cup triumphs, and we need to see the current crop adding it to their game.
While our rivals seem to pop up with big late goals at an infuriating rate, Liverpool seem to accept their fate once 70 minutes have been played.
Nothing beats a last-minute goal – we’ve almost forgotten what it feels like these days.