Paul Tomkins wrote an excellent free piece on this subject (which I recommend you read), which looked at various factors such as squad value, Brendan Rodgers’ lack of experience in such matters, and the need to have been close to the top in the preceding campaign.
However, having looked at aspects of Liverpool’s performance so far this season, it becomes abundantly clear to me why the wait for number nineteen will stretch on beyond this season.
My major concern at the moment is the lack of consistency. Fabulous wins over Everton and Arsenal have been slightly undermined by disappointing draws with Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion.
Since the start of 2009/10, Liverpool have only had seven runs of three or four wins (and none with more victories than that); that’s not very many in a 177 match period.
In order to win the league, they’ll probably need three such runs in the next three months, or an enormously long winning streak, the likes of which we’ve not seen for five years. It’s not impossible of course, but at present it would appear unlikely.
To pinpoint another issue, let’s break the team’s performance down into four groups: attack and defence, home and away.
Home Attack – There’s no problems here whatsoever. Liverpool have bagged 2.92 goals per game so far, which is the second most in the division, scoring three-or-more in eight of their thirteen games (62% of the time).
Whilst acknowledging that the season is not yet over, it’s worth pointing out that only two teams in Premier League history have scored more home goals in a completed campaign, so the Reds are currently operating at an elite level.
Home Defence – The record here is similar to the Anfield attack, as it is also the (joint) second best in the Premier League with just nine goals having been conceded.
Having only conceded two on one occasion (against Aston Villa) means that Liverpool have usually given themselves a decent chance of a positive result, with their potent attack generally ensuring that they get it. Just ask Roberto and Arsene.
Away Attack – Where do you think the Reds rank in the league on a goals-per-game basis on the road this season? Liverpool have only won four of their twelve away matches so far, so they can’t be scoring that many, right?
The Reds are top of the pile. With 2.08 goals per game, they’ve only failed to score once (at Arsenal; oh, the irony after Saturday). Still, 2.08 doesn’t sound especially impressive, does it?
Wrong. It’s only been bettered twice in a full season in Premier League history, and considering that Liverpool’s away run-in is not the toughest (with five of the remaining seven games being against teams currently in the bottom seven), this goal rate should be possible to keep up.
The struggling teams will have to open up in pursuit of three points, which should give the Reds space to play in. It was noticeable how Coutinho, the king of the through ball, prospered last season against the likes of Wigan and Fulham in exactly this situation, so I think the ‘Pool can continue to fill their boots on the road.
Away Defence – You’ve probably realised by now that this is where the problems lie. Liverpool’s record of conceding 1.75 per game is the sixth worst in the division at present, and they’ve let in two-or-more in two-thirds of their twelve games this season.
From those eight games the Reds have taken just 0.75 points per game; not fatal in a battle for fourth place, but costly if seriously trying for the title.
Could Liverpool’s strong attack simply outshoot teams when away from home, and win high scoring matches?
Whilst that isn’t beyond the realm of possibility (witness the 5-3 at Stoke, for instance), Liverpool’s poor defence on the road has been the one continual issue in the almost-two years of Brendan Rodgers’ tenure.
The Reds have conceded two-or-more in eighteen of their thirty-one away games since the start of 2012/13. This means that in over half of their games on the road, Liverpool have only given themselves a 9% chance of winning the game (based on historic Premier League data for conceding two-or-more).
Brendan’s boys have had to come from behind in games at Swansea, Newcastle and Everton just to get a point this season, for example, and with the poor away defensive form stretching back eighteen months, I think this will hamper a title bid.
Nothing would make me happier than being wrong here, but on past form this is definitely what will cost Liverpool a shot at the crown.
If Rodgers can tighten up the defence on the road whilst retaining a cutting edge up front, this team could really fly. But I think it will sadly have to wait until next season.
Recent posts you might like:
Liverpool, Shots On Target, and The Top Four – I revisited an old article on shots on target to see if the findings apply to 2013/14. It turns out they do, which is good news for Liverpool.
When Is A Chance Not Really A Chance (Or Even A Shot?) – One for the football analysts amongst you. I spotted a discrepancy in some match stats, and investigated further…
Henderson and Comolli – An in-depth look at Jordan’s creativity in his final season at Sunderland. Was Comolli right to rate it so strongly?
Solid Foundations – Whether Liverpool finish in the top four or not this season, I think they’re well set for another challenge next year, and here’s why.