Looking Ahead to 2024
Merry Christmas, friends. With hindsight, last week’s column was too doom laden for the eve of the festive season. “Aye, here we are with problems at the top of the league,” and all that.
There remains a lot to be positive about with regards to this version of Liverpool, so as 2023 draws to a close, let’s remind ourselves that there is plenty to celebrate and be optimistic about with the club at present.
The frequently fantastic runs of form Liverpool have displayed in the Jürgen Klopp era means that streaks of results which would’ve been other worldly in much of the last 30 years get taken for granted.
Following the 2-0 win at Burnley, the 2023/24 campaign reached the halfway stage. In only three previous Premier League seasons have the Reds had more points on the board after 19 games, and they were all under Klopp anyway.
People will argue with more than a little justification that the performances have often not been as good as the results which have been delivered this term. Yet the underlying numbers, while no guarantee of success, are very encouraging.
If we disregard two matches in which Liverpool played for over an hour with 10 or nine men, there’s only two games where expected goals imply the Reds deserved to lose: at Manchester City, which is inevitably fair enough, and Crystal Palace, where only their penalty gave them the xG edge.
Expected Goal Analysis
Liverpool are ranked third in the division for expected goal difference, with an encouraging +0.80 per game average. However, while all sporting teams can trade in what-ifs, a huge chunk of the xG the Reds have conceded occurred when they were down a man or two, and they’ve had time playing against 10 themselves. Six of Liverpool’s matches have seen either them or their opponent receive red cards, almost a third of the total.
If we look only at the time when it has been 11 against 11, Liverpool’s expected goal difference is 0.99 per 90 minutes. This is the 11th best from the last seven seasons, with only the Reds or Manchester City averaging at least that much across a completed campaign in that period.
While there remains room for improvement defensively – though the xG conceded goes from 1.16 per 90 down to 1.04 for 11 vs. 11 – there are no problems in attack. Liverpool are generating 1.96 expected goals per 90 overall and 2.02 when both teams have a full complement of players, the latter being the eighth best in the Premier League from 2017/18 onwards. And while you might think there has been an issue with converting chances (hello, Darwin! Hello, Manchester United match!), Liverpool have scored more goals than their xG implies they should have.
And lest we forget, this has been achieved with a rebuilt and remodelled midfield. The Reds have started eight games with a central trio none of whom were at the club before this season, all of them in the league. They have won six, drawn two and lost none, scoring 16 goals and only conceding six. You could add in matches in which Cody Gakpo was part of the midfield – as a 2023 recruit who doesn’t traditionally play the position – and Liverpool remains unbeaten with eight victories from 11 games.
Off pitch, Anfield is holding more punters than it has since the days of Bill Shankly. It was interesting to hear Sir Kenny Dalglish praise the owners of the club after collecting his BBC Sports Personality Lifetime Achievement Award earlier this month.
“FSG have been unbelievable with their investment on and off the pitch [at Liverpool],” he said. “They built a new stand, improved the Kop and the new Anfield Road End was frightening on Sunday. Wait until you see that stadium when it’s full… FSG have been tremendous.”
Who am I to argue with the King, but I doubt many Liverpool supporters would use that adjective to describe the owners of the club. Dalglish’s general point is sound, though, with the Reds playing in a fantastic stadium to which somewhere in the region of 16,000 seats have been added in the last decade.
The club is also fielding a starting XI with an average combined value of just shy of half a billion pounds this season (after the Transfer Price Index inflation devised by Paul Tomkins and Graeme Riley is applied), second only to Manchester City. All supporters want their club to invest more in their squad, but Liverpool have spent more than many of their fans would assume, and largely spent it well.
So, while it’s all too easy to get frustrated, as we all do when a performance and/or result is sub-par, there’s an awful lot to be positive about. Here’s to the second half of 2023/24, and the one/two/three/four trophies Liverpool are going to win (delete as appropriate in May).