As a regular listener of the excellent The Anfield Wrap podcasts (and seriously, check out The Tuesday Review), it’s very clear to me what is currently bothering host Neil Atkinson; Liverpool aren’t creating enough chances, and Liverpool aren’t scoring enough goals.
This obviously seems strange and unusual when they scored 101 (mostly great) goals in 2013/14, but it’s certainly the case right now. One of the many things I keep an eye on is how many points and goals both for and against Liverpool have accrued over their previous thirty-eight league games, and a recent TAW-inspired look at the figures hammered home what Neil is talking about.
You can of course slice data any way you like; for instance, people and the media often refer to a team’s form over their last six games (though I’m not sure why six; why not five?). I like to look at the last thirty-eight simply because a team will have played a good variety of teams, both home and away, and any lucky or unlucky results don’t have too much impact. I don’t claim that this method is right necessarily, it’s just something I noticed.
Brendan Rodgers has now had a total of sixty-nine runs of thirty-eight league games with Liverpool. The 2012/13 season is obviously the first one of these, and then you remove the first game of that season and replace it with the opening match of 2013/14 to make up the second run, and so on.
Using the running totals for goals scored, goals conceded and points earned, I was able to plot the following graph:
The main line to take notice of here is the orange one, as it shows that goalscoring has seen the largest variation, but also that it is currently at it’s lowest point and very much on a downward trajectory; if Liverpool don’t score two against Arsenal at the Emirates (and most teams don’t) in their next game then it will drop further still.
The Reds scored goals at an unsustainable rate last season, so a drop in the thirty-eight game form was inevitable in fairness, but as scoring goals is the hardest thing in football, the alarming downturn in form for an extended spell has got to be a serious concern. Liverpool weren’t particularly known for goal scoring in Rodgers’ first season, yet they got more than in their recent runs which include the end of last season.
It’s also interesting to look at the range between best and worst in these categories, plus goal difference too.
Brendan Rodgers deserves a lot of credit for improving Liverpool’s defensive performance in recent times, but over a longer term of thirty-eight games there has rarely been that much difference; ‘only’ half a goal per game between the peak and the trough. In fairness, the Reds haven’t had a thirty-eight game run with a solid defence yet, so they could yet set new records for goals against.
With goalscoring it’s a different story as we already know, and we can also see in the table here that the goal difference is currently at it’s lowest point too. This is a big problem, as goal difference obviously correlates very strongly to how many points a team is likely to earn. In other words, it’s perhaps not as important to improve the defence if it means your own goal threat dries up too, and since the end of last season this has definitely occurred for Liverpool.
Liverpool lost three league games in a row for the first time in the Brendan Rodgers era in November, so I can understand why he wanted to tighten the team up to stop that happening. The attack hasn’t particularly improved since then though, and so the chances of winning games has not hugely improved either. It seems that Rodgers now has yet another tactical puzzle to solve.