Where have all the goals gone for Liverpool?
The reigning Premier League champions, Liverpool, had a rather fast start to year, jumping out to an early lead. Spirits would have been high at Anfield leading into Christmas after a 7-0 whopping away to Crystal Palace. But since that result - be it due to complacency, exhaustion or perhaps too much turkey over the Christmas break - they have looked a far cry from the free-flowing, dominant team positioned at the top of the Premier League table.
In their three most recent games , Liverpool have only earned two points from a possible nine, scoring just a solitary goal in the process. One may assume that they had a tough run of fixtures, but this is not the case: they drew at home to 19th-placed West Brom and were held to a 0-0 draw at Newcastle. These poor performances were then followed by a loss away to Southampton. Liverpool have now gone 262 minutes without scoring a goal in the Premier League! Prior to these matches, Liverpool were averaging a goal every 34 minutes.
So what’s happened to the once super potent offence of Liverpool?
Are Liverpool being outplayed?
Not necessarily. The graph shows that despite the poor results Liverpool are not being outclassed on the pitch. Across the last three matches, Liverpool have averaged 72% possession. And as shown by the above graph, they’ve had a considerable amount of possession in their attacking third. Over the last three games 37%, 29% and 33% of Liverpool’s touches have occurred in the final third (including opponent’s penalty area). Across the entire season, only two games have had a higher proportion of touches above 37%, three above 33% and four above 29%. In fact, in Liverpool’s most recent game (the loss at Southampton), they recorded their most touches in an opponent's penalty area this season.
So, is finishing the problem?
Over this poor three-game stretch, Liverpool have still managed to take a lot of shots, but the quality of them have been questionable. Against West Brom and Southampton, Liverpool took more shots than their season average, but recorded significantly fewer shots on target than they normally do. Against Southampton, Liverpool attempted 17 shots, but just a single one of these efforts was on target! That equates to just 5.9% accuracy, significantly lower than the season average of 36.3%. Similarly, againstWest Brom (a side that on average allows their opponent 6.2 shots on target per game), just 2 of Liverpool’s 17 strikes were on target.
What used to be one of Liverpool’s strengths, their execution around goal, has become their biggest weakness across this poor stretch. What has killed Liverpool over the last three games is the lack of creativity in front of goal. The majority of the game is spent in their attacking third and they are getting the ball in the dangerous areas, but they are missing the final touch or a bit of a class that is needed to consistently score goals in the Premier League. These qualities, which typically come so naturally to their talented attacking players, are especially required this season, as they currently hold the Premier League title and every team in the league will want to put up a strong fight.
In the one match prior to this stretch (against Crystal Palace) Liverpool recorded more shots on target (8) than in their last three matches combined (7). It has been more than a decade since Liverpool recorded fewer shots over a three-game period in the league - that was in March 2010, two months before Rafa Benitez was sacked as manager.
What can Liverpool do to change things around?
Although the front-three of Salah, Mane and Firmino has been incredibly successful for Liverpool over the last few seasons, Klopp may need to make a change in order to provide a bit of spark in the hope that it will lead to more goals. Liverpool fans are also eagerly awaiting the return of Diogo Jota, who is recovering for a knee injury. In his limited minutes this season, Jota has shown how lethal he can be in front of goal, and he is exactly the type of player Liverpool need right now in their striker rotation.
However, as tends to go with low-scoring sports such as football, this might just be a blip in the season. Based on the shots taken against Southampton, Liverpool were expected to score 1.53 goals. This is the highest number Liverpool has recorded without scoring a goal since 2018. But prior to Christmas, Liverpool had been outperforming their expected goals quite considerably, scoring 36 goals from an expected 27.20.
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