Liverpool cemented their place in the top four with a comprehensive 4-0 win over an abject Fulham side at Anfield on Saturday. The problem with such victories is that you inevitably have naysayers suggesting that the Reds should be winning such games as a matter of course, so what does it really prove?
Having looked at Liverpool’s record against the bottom half of the Premier League since 1992, I can confidently state that sweeping aside the strugglers consistently is far more difficult than you might think.
Liverpool have taken an average of 2.67 points per game from their six matches against the bottom half so far this season, and they’ve never had a better record across a full season in the Premier League era (and even since three points for a win came in, so some title winning sides are included there too).
Needless to say (though I will before someone else does!), it’s far too early in the season to assume that the Reds can finish the season with such a good record, but the following table of Liverpool’s bottom half record in the Premier League era illustrates how important or damaging it can be.
A couple of things stand out for me. Firstly, the fact that the two seasons prior to Rodgers becoming Liverpool manager are in the bottom three illustrates that the Reds clearly had a significant issue with dispatching the also-rans before Brendan took charge.
At the other end of the table, we can see that 2008/09 saw Liverpool’s best full-season performance with regards to the bottom half. However, had the Reds won 2.67 points per game as they have so far in this campaign, then they’d have matched Manchester United’s ninety point haul, and won the league on goal difference.
Out of interest I have compiled the figures by manager since Gerard Houllier’s first full season in charge, to see how they compare, and also Liverpool’s complete record prior to 2012/13. I have amalgamated Hodgson and Dalglish’s figures (sorry, Kenny!) due to the small sample sizes involved.
What we can see here is that if Liverpool maintain Rodgers’ form against the bottom half for the rest of this season, then it will provide a forty-five point platform for the push towards the top four (and if his form this season continues, then the Reds will bag fifty-three points from the lower half of the table; more than the whole 2011/12 season, remarkably).
In the interests of balance, we of course have to look at Rodgers’ record against the top half of the table, and there is clearly room for improvement here. That said, whilst his record this season of 1.40 points per game doesn’t sound great, it is better than Dalglish’s one full season, and three of the six Benitez seasons.
To get up to the club’s average this season, which seems a reasonable benchmark to aim for, Rodgers will need to take twenty points from the remaining thirteen games, which is 1.54 per game; not too far above their 1.40 tally so far, in other words. With four of Liverpool’s next eight league fixtures against the teams who occupy the places four to seven in the table at the time of writing, then we should get an idea soon if this is possible in 2013/14 or not.
Of course, the most important thing of all is how many points you have in total at the end of the season, and who you take them off is largely irrelevant (aside from the difference that results against the teams next to you might have in a close table). But I think the above information at least shows that routine wins against strugglers like Fulham should not be underestimated nor taken for granted; they could have won Rafa the league, or kept Kenny in a job.
Recent and related posts you might like:
Liverpool vs Fulham: Chance Quality Preview – The stats from 2013/14 so far suggest a comfortable win for the Reds (and so it proved!).
Better With The Ball? It’s Just A Shot Away – A look at who shots on target affect results. Certainly more than possession does, Brendan…
Liverpool’s Most Successful Formation Is… – …not the one you might think!
LFC Pass Combination Heatmaps 2013/14 – A look at which players have been most involved pass-wise, and who they’ve linked up with in every league match this season.