The One Stat Which Defines Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool

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If you were to take an interest in football from scratch in 2023 while being mathematically minded, you’d find a wealth of player and team data at your fingertips, just sitting around and waiting to be analysed.

It wasn’t always this way. You don’t have to look back much further than about a decade to find a time in which even knowing how many chances a player had created was almost cutting edge among the analytics community on social media.

It felt like there was something of a quest to find the stat which would make people go. “aha, so that’s how you win football matches.” Indiana Jones and the Golden Metric, that sort of thing. Some kind of magic data that could bring enlightenment to all and 100-point seasons for your team.

It turned out that all a team really needed to hit those sort of heights was either the backing of a nation state or the smartest guys in the room pulling the transfer strings. Little surprise, then, that the amateur analysts didn’t quite reach a winning conclusion.

And besides, stats only tell you what has happened. They hint at what might occur in the future, but anything is possible. Maybe Leicester City will win the Premier League, or perhaps Nikica Jelavić will prove to be better than Luis Suárez. You just never know.

While all of this is true, even the most basic of number counting exercises can tell you quite a bit about a team. There’s a very basic metric that was available in the early 2010s which appears to paint a very illuminating picture about Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool. We’re talking about offsides.

What? Not goals or key passes or inverted full back through balls or big chances missed by Uruguayans? These are all important, and may prove even more so in 2023/24, but if you want a simple overview of how the Reds are performing, keep an eye on the offside counts.

Exhibit A: last season. You may not have realised that Liverpool were caught offside 84 times, more than any other team in the Premier League. It was their biggest total in a full campaign under Klopp and it speaks of a side who didn’t have their attacking patterns flowing quite as smoothly as they should have.

The fact the Reds were second or third in the division for expected goals – depending on your model of choice – might suggest otherwise. Yet think of the potential openings which went begging due to a mistimed run, pass, or both.

In truth, this was almost inevitable. Darwin Núñez was flagged less often than he was for Benfica and the same was true for Cody Gakpo compared with his PSV Eindhoven days. Mohamed Salah has erred more frequently in past seasons but was still below the average for his Liverpool career. However, he also played more offside passes than in his first three Red campaigns combined too. The individual pieces might not have offended too often but putting them together for the first time resulted in an offside puzzle Klopp needs to solve.

Of greater concern was what occurred at the other end of the field. In the six seasons prior to 2022/23, Liverpool had caught an average of 118 opponents offside and never fewer than 95; last season the figure stood at 88.

What made it worse was that their high line had worked supremely well the year before. One hundred and forty-four opposing players fell foul of the Reds’ offside trap in 2021/22, the most men caught out by any Premier League team for at least the last seven campaigns. Klopp’s side also take the silver medal in this niche table (with 142 in 2019/20) as well as fourth spot (with 124 the season before). Anyone reading this will know full well that Liverpool finished second, first and second respectively in those campaigns, with 92, 99 and 97 points.

Was their formidable record purely down to how frequently their opponents were offside? Of course not, to suggest so would be to make the kind of claim which gives stats a bad name in football. The numbers certainly hint at a defensive structure which was working very well in those seasons, though, which was something you could rarely say for Liverpool in 2022/23.

On a match-by-match basis (to return to our wonder metric idea), this sort of thing doesn’t matter too much. The Reds were flagged off six times against Watford in 2018 and still managed to win 5-0, after all, while they battered Bournemouth 9-0 without catching Scott Parker’s hapless charges offside once.

But last season they also didn’t catch anyone from Brighton, Leeds (both at Anfield) or Southampton (on the final day) offside as those teams repeatedly sliced through their back line. They were also flagged at least five times themselves in matches with Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City, a trio of fixtures from which they took a solitary point.

It isn’t the be all and end all, merely part of a team’s statistical tapestry. The humble offside metric seems to tell a big part of the story for Klopp’s Liverpool nonetheless. Keep an eye on it next season if you don’t believe me.

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