Liverpool’s win against Tottenham Hotspur last weekend was obviously well received by Reds everywhere, but at the same time it didn’t teach them anything new about the strengths and weaknesses of their team. Jürgen Klopp’s men have been ruthless this season against teams who play a high line, as Spurs did to suicidal effect at Anfield, but they have seemed toothless against the low block favoured by the Premier League’s lesser lights.
The Tomkins Times published a very good article this week (here) which looked at how Liverpool have fared against teams who have ‘parked the bus’ against them this season. The findings were certainly interesting, but in my continual quest for context with statistical analysis, I thought it would be worthwhile comparing the Reds to the other members of the big six to see how each team has fared. My assumption is that all teams struggle against a low block, but is that actually the case?
There’s no foolproof or easy way to determine which teams have defended deep against the top teams, but I have defined the matches in this study by the following: The big team is at home, and their opponent is in the bottom half of the division for average possession away from home. I have match-by-match data for the past two seasons, so for the record the potential bus parkers are listed in the table below. Ah, do come in, Mr Pulis…
As you’d expect, it’s not a perfect system (2015/16 champions Leicester didn’t wholly park their bus, despite their aversion to possession) but it will at least give us an indication of how the big six perform at home when they have a lot of the ball. In terms of total shots, Liverpool lead the way in terms of dominating matches:
To really get to the bottom of how teams fare against a low block though, we need to factor in chance quality, and so I shall defer to Opta’s clear-cut chances (which are defined by the data collector as “A situation where a player should reasonably be expected to score usually in a one-on-one scenario or from very close range”). Here’s the data, with the teams sorted by the clear-cut chance difference per game:
It probably won’t surprise Liverpool fans to see that their team does not fare well compared to their peers here, as the numbers match what they’ve seen; the Reds happily dominate matches against the ultra defensive teams, but consistently struggle to create top quality goal scoring opportunities, whilst also often allowing their opponents decent chances. I looked at the figures for Chelsea for this season alone as they were so poor last year, and their CCC difference in this campaign has been 2.00 per game, so excusing Chelsea from being so bad in 2015/16 would leave Liverpool bottom of this table.
Using a combination of the figures from the tables above, we can see what proportion of each team’s shots for and against fall into the clear-cut chance category (and the clubs are sorted here on the attacking side as we’re trying to determine who is best at breaking through a low block):
We can hereby say that Liverpool appear to have been the worst of the big six sides when it comes to breaking down bus parking teams at home in the last two seasons, and that’s before we get to being on the road, where Hull City are the most recent side to offer the Reds a wall of opposition whilst profiting from set pieces and counter attacks.
Wins against a wide-open Spurs are one thing, but Jürgen Klopp needs to figure out how to regularly beat opponents who employ a low block, and compared to their immediate rivals the Reds still have a fair way to go on that front. Obviously game state has a massive bearing here, as if you can score first then good chances should be easier to come by, but it’s clear that Liverpool need to up their attacking game against the Premier League’s lesser lights.