Liverpool beat Manchester United today to go top of the league at the end of a Premier League weekend for the first time since 11 January 2009. In doing so, they earned three points more than they did in the corresponding fixture last season, meaning that after just three matches, they are five points up on 2012/13.
It is natural to compare a team’s form with the previous season in order to try to assess if they have made any progress. However, in the case of Liverpool, the difference in peformance between the calendar years of 2012 and 2013 is worth a closer look, simply because it is so pronounced.
The following table shows Liverpool’s points-per-game trend throughout this year and last. You will see that at no points would the lines meet:
So far this year, Liverpool have taken exactly two points per game. It is remarkable that they have earned forty-two points from twenty-one matches this year, considering that they only won forty-six in 2012; in other words, this year’s vintage are just four points behind with eighteen games in hand! It seems almost impossible, but on a points-per-game basis, the Reds have so far been an incredible 69.5% better in 2013 than they were last year.
You can see that 2012 ended on an upward trend, but even then it only peaked at 1.18 points-per-game (with forty-six from thirty nine matches), whilst the lowest that 2013 has dipped is 1.33.
Looking at today’s opponents Manchester United is interesting too, as Liverpool have a very similar record in 2013, and considering that their great rivals are the current champions of England, that’s something to be very proud of.
2013 Premier League Records, Liverpool / Manchester United:
Points: 42/44. Goals: 43/40. Conceded: 17/17. Clean sheets: 12/10. Failed to Score: 4/3.
As you can see, there’s really not very much in it. Of course, United are adjusting to a new manager, and already had the league won for some of this period, but to be even close to their record for over half a season is very encouraging, not least as the Red Devils were over one point per game better than Liverpool in the first half of 2012/13.
The obvious reason, to my mind, for the improvement is the excellent transfer business that Liverpool have conducted so far in 2013.
For starters, relying on a striker who has converted 18.3% of his shots in a Liverpool shirt (Sturridge) rather than one who has only netted 10.3% (Suárez) has improved the efficiency up front (though there is still a long way to go).
Once you add in Coutinho, who created a clear-cut opportunity more often than any other player in the Premier League in 2012/13, and Iago Aspas, who is the Reds top chance creator so far this season, and you can see that Sturridge is receiving better service than the likes of Adam and Downing were providing in 2012.
At the back, Kolo Toure has already assumed cult status, and Simon Mignolet has yet to concede in the league, making twelve saves along the way. For context to that figure, Pepe Reina took seven matches to make twelve saves last season, and conceded twelve goals in the process.
With an international break now under way, Liverpool will spend the next fortnight at the summit of the English league. If they can maintain their 2013 form over the next few months, then they might just stay there or thereabouts.