Now that 2012/13 is complete and the dust has settled, it’s time to try to assess exactly where Liverpool went right and wrong.
For a gentle introduction, I’ve used the info on statto.com to see how the Reds did in relation to both this seasons top six, and their own previous form in the Premier League, with regards to runs of good and bad results, clean sheets, and finding the back of the net. As with virtually everything associated with Liverpool FC this season, it’s a bit of a mixed bag.
Wins: The Reds’ best run came when they beat Swansea, Wigan and Spurs. Although a best run of three is below their average since 1995/96, when the league switched to twenty teams (4.8), it was the first time they had managed such a run since May 2011, when they were under the caretaker stewardship of Kenny Dalglish.
Every team in the top five managed a run of four-or-more wins this season, so the Reds will likely need to do likewise next season if they are to make a challenge for a top four finish.
In terms of a run without taking three points, Liverpool’s much talked about disastrous five match winless start takes the lead here, as you’d expect. The top six averaged 3.7, though remarkably Chelsea went seven without tasting victory, so account for a fair chunk of that; exclude the west London blues, and the average was exactly three, so this seems a reasonable target for the Merseyside reds in 2013/14.
Losses: This is where Liverpool made the most progress this season, in regards to shifting the losing habit that they had acquired under Kenny Dalglish in 2011/12, when they lost three in a row twice, with a further single run of two defeats too.
At no point did the Reds lose more than one game in a row this season; this may not sound like too much of a big deal, but the club had only matched this feat three times in the preceding twenty years of Premier League football. It’s also better than the average posted by the top six (1.7), so this is definitely one feather for Brendan Rodgers’ cap.
As for avoiding defeat, the Reds displayed some progress here too: two runs of eight games without suffering a loss (which included the final eight games of the season) was fairly impressive stuff; Liverpool have only had longer unbeaten runs in three of the preceding eight years.
It was still a fair way short of the average of the top six, which was 11.8, but again there was an outlier; Manchester United put together an unbeaten run of eighteen matches, and without them the other five averaged a best run of 10.6, so perhaps Liverpool weren’t far behind the chasing pack after all.
Clean Sheets: These figures are probably the hardest to explain. Although Liverpool had the second most clean sheets in the Premier League this season, they never had more than two in a row. Only once in the last eighteen seasons have the Reds not logged back-to-back shut outs, and they have averaged 3.9 per campaign across this period. This despite the fact that Liverpool had more clean sheets in total than in ten of those eighteen seasons. Weird.
They also posted their joint-worst run of games without a clean sheet since Rafa Benitez’ first season (when Liverpool had a run of nine such matches), as the Reds failed to keep their opponents out in their first six games this season. After their horrific first five fixtures, Liverpool went no more than three games without a clean sheet at least, so as with most aspects of their season, once they were up and running they did okay.
In spite of all this, no team in the top six had a shorter wait for a clean sheet than Liverpool this season, so perhaps the Reds did slightly better than seems initially apparent.
Failure To Score: Liverpool failed to score eight times in total during this campaign, a tally they’ve only bettered five times in the last twelve seasons. But what about runs of goallessness (a new word I’ve invented, I think)?
The Reds never went more than two games without scoring, which is an identical record to the previous seven seasons, so perhaps a little unlikely to be bettered (and only half of the top six managed to this season).
The inverse of this (failing to fail to score; scoring, you might call it) saw a very creditable twelve game run posted in between the goalless draw away at Swansea and a home defeat to West Bromwich Albion when the Reds netted in every fixture.
Liverpool have only had longer runs in three of the previous twenty years, so it’s not to be sniffed at (and for context, they didn’t manage a twelve game run in their only serious Premier League championship challenge, in 2008/09). Only Manchester United (23) and, perhaps surprisingly, Everton (18) could beat Liverpool’s run this season, so it’s something the feel reasonably proud about.
Conclusion: I think their records regarding matches scored in, clean sheets kept, and avoiding defeat were all creditable, and par for the course in view of the issues (such as a new manager for the third season running, plus a lack of strikers for half of the campaign) that Liverpool faced this season.
The real issue lay in a lack of a significant winning run, plus of course the failure to win for the first five games this season. If Liverpool are to make a serious top four challenge in 2013/14, they simply can not afford to give every other team a five game head start (and the fact that the Reds performed at average top four level – 1.79 points per game – for the final thirty-three matches of the season is proof enough of that).
The Reds successfully lost their losing habit this season; now it’s time to acquire a winning one in the next campaign.