Online opinion on Liverpool’s chances of claiming a place in next season’s Champions League fluctuates back and forth with every victory or defeat.
Whilst the underlying consensus appears to be that the Reds don’t have a prayer, after results like last week’s 5-0 trouncing of Norwich, there are always a few optimists who stick their head above the parapet to talk up Liverpool’s chances.
I’ve taken a look at the stats of the seventeen teams who have finished fourth in the years since the Premier League first became a twenty club division, to see if Liverpool are even vaguely on course for a fourth place finish this season.
The most important target is, of course, the number of points required. On average, the team finishing fourth has earned 67.4 points, at a rate of 1.77 per game; as Liverpool currently average 1.48 points per game, they’re clearly quite a way short, as maintaining their form will see them accumulate 56 points, and so likely fall eleven points short.
In the seven seasons since Everton finished fourth with 61 points, the average has been 70, so in reality it may be even harder for the Reds to make up the shortfall. Liverpool’s win percentage of 39% this season will need a serious shot in the arm if they are to finish fourth, as the team that does averages nineteen wins.
That said, as I showed here earlier this week, the Reds have been demonstrating fourth-place form for their last eighteen games, and their points-per-game figure has been on an upward trend throughout the season (as you can see here), so perhaps they can continue to improve and get in the mix for the 2013/14 Champions League.
In goalscoring terms, the good news is that Liverpool are currently ahead of the average requirement; based on their form so far, the Reds will finish with 66 goals in their ‘for’ column on the league table, and teams finishing fourth have averaged 63 in the past.
Although Liverpool are failing to score below the average required amount (in 17% of their games, against an average of 22%), the Reds have scored two-or-more in only 39% of their games compared to a fourth place target of 47%. Hopefully the acquisition of Sturridge will enable Liverpool to kick on up front, and start to regularly score two goals a game.
Defensively, the figures are a mixed bag. The Reds have amassed nine clean sheets so far, the second most in the Premier League this season, which means they have shut out their opponents in 39% of their games. The team finishing fourth has on average managed this in 36% of their games. So far, so good.
Unless Liverpool do concede that is. Brendan Rodgers’ outfit have failed to keep a clean sheet in fourteen games, and in eleven of those (78%), they have gone on to concede two-or-more. As you won’t be surprised to hear, these eleven games have yielded just eight points between them.
This slightly soft centre explains why the Reds have conceded 1.22 goals per game against a target of 1.01. To reach the target, Liverpool can only afford to concede eleven goals in their remaining fifteen games; with trips to Arsenal and Manchester City up next, this target could very easily soon become even tougher to achieve.
In summary, it would appear to be hugely unlikely that Liverpool can finish fourth, mainly down to their propensity to regularly concede two-or-more goals in games. Indeed, this site (which simulates millions of matches) gives the Reds a mere 7% chance of finishing fourth.
This is not to say that Liverpool have not made progress this season, because I definitely believe that they have, and indeed the stats say as much. It’s just that this season appears to be about putting the foundations in place for a tilt at the top four; hopefully next season the Reds will kick on again and reach the ‘promised land’.