By scoring with his first touch in the Reds’ 3-0 win at Southampton, Raheem Sterling bagged the seventh league goal by a Liverpool substitute since Brendan Rodgers took charge of the club in the summer of 2012.
I wasn’t sure if seven goals was a particularly decent contribution by Liverpool’s bench or not, and it turns out it isn’t, as the table below demonstrates.
We can see that only Aston Villa and Norwich City have fewer goals from substitutes than Liverpool over this period, whilst Manchester City and West Bromwich Albion have scored more than seven this season alone.
So what are the reasons for this lack of impact from the Reds’ bench? Whilst I don’t have the definitive answer, here are some possible explanations, in no particular order. Feel free to add to these in the comments below.
1) Compared to Manchester City, Liverpool have a weaker squad.
City’s eight substitute goals this season have been scored by Negredo (two), Aguero, Nasri, Jovetic, Navas, Dzeko and Milner, a septet with a total transfer cost of approximately £180m.
I think it says a lot that Daniel Sturridge has scored four of Rodgers’ seven substitute goals (with Cole, Borini and Sterling netting the others, for the record). Better players from the bench are more likely to score; there’s no disputing that logic.
2) Compared to West Brom, Liverpool’s squad has a bigger quality divide between starting XI and substitutes.
It is therefore harder for any in-game changes that Rodgers makes to make as much of an impact as the starting eleven can, whereas if the quality level is more even, as it is at West Brom, then it’s easier for a sub to influence proceedings. The Reds’ lack of quality on the bench leads me to ponder…
3) Rodgers doesn’t make enough subs.
The Liverpool manager has made the fewest changes of any side in the Premier League over this period, and fewer subs obviously have fewer opportunities to score. Are the lack of substitutions because Rodgers doesn’t like to change things, or is the lack of quality in reserve the overriding issue?
He usually puts as many of Liverpool’s best players on the pitch as he can to begin with, and then says to the opposition manager: ‘all the best’. Whilst it’s an admirable approach, should Rodgers hold players like Sterling back more often, so that they can come on and run at tired defences?
4) Liverpool have tended to start matches well (especially this season), so aren’t so reliant upon impact subs.
The Reds have scored the first goal in twenty-one of their twenty-eight league matches this season, which is more than every other team in the division. Liverpool’s results from these matches are seventeen wins, two draws and two defeats, so it’s clear that they haven’t had to chase results too often in 2013/14.
In truth, I expect the reason is actually 5) a bit of all of the above, though the relative lack of quality on the Liverpool bench does seem to be at the root of several of the possible explanations.
The other issue of course is that subs can make an impact beyond goalscoring; as an example, Rodgers subbed Suso off in the first half of a match with Wigan last season, and the Reds won 3-0. The Spaniard’s replacement (Henderson) didn’t score himself, but the change had the desired effect as Liverpool claimed all three points.
Of course, this sort of impact is far harder to measure and to use to compare against other teams than my simplistic research is. But one thing is for sure: if Liverpool reach the Champions League next season, as now looks very likely, they’ll need better options (and hopefully more goals) from the bench.