Liverpool and Manchester City have been going toe-to-toe this season in the pursuit of the Premier League title and at this stage, a single point separates them. Manchester City have a squad that is widely recognised as the greatest set of players ever assembled in the Premier League, yet Liverpool have somehow matched them. However, while Liverpool’s front three and defence have regularly matched their elite levels over this season, one area of the pitch where there is a real gap to the champions is creativity from midfield.

Going forward

Liverpool have now recently played out three 0-0 games. While their front three (Mohammed Salah, Sadio Mane, and Roberto Firmino) have faltered, they have received little attacking support from their midfield. In Sunday’s game against Everton, for example, Jordan Henderson played only 4 penetrative forward passes. He played only 22 passes in the attacking third, completing only 12, and making no chances.

Gini Wijnaldum had fewer touches than the Alison, Liverpool’s goalkeeper. Fabinho, the deepest player of the midfield trio normally rounded out by James Milner, was the only one to make a chance.

Contrast this to Manchester City’s David Silva, who while a different player, is playing in essentially the same position. Of his 85 passes, Silva attempted 55 in the attacking 3rd, completing 44 of them, and creating 4 chances in the process. Manchester City won by a single goal against Bournemouth, but that doesn’t begin to illustrate their dominance.

Creativity

A quick comparison of midfielders playing more than 1400 minutes each this season makes grim reading for Liverpool fans. From an attacking sense, a midfielder’s primary role is to create goals. Looking at the expected assists per 90 mins (xA) shows a gulf in class between the two teams, with only Fabinho able to compete with his opposite number, Fernandinho. It’s a similar story for expected goals (xG). In fact, Liverpool’s midfielders have only managed to muster 5 goals between them this season.

  • David Silva (MC): 0.37 xG/0.39 xA
  • Ilkay Gündogan (MC): 0.23 xG/ 0.22 xA
  • Fernandinho (MC): 0.06 xG/ 0.10 xA
  • Fabinho (LIV): 0.07 xG/ 0.09 xA
  • Georginio Wijnaldum (LIV): 0.10 xG/ 0.05 xA
  • Henderson (LIV): 0.02 xG/ 0.03 xA

Where is it going wrong for Liverpool?

Compared with the 17/18 season, Liverpool are missing three key players, either to injury or to other clubs – Philippe Coutinho, Oxlade Chamberlain, and Emre Can.

During their time at Anfield, all three consistently got forward, broke the lines, and played key passes to the front three:

  • Philippe Countinho (BAR): 0.29 xG/ 0.39 xA
  • Oxlade Chamberlain (LIV) 0.15 xG/ 0.27 xA
  • Emre Can (JUV): 0.06 xG/ 0.13 xA

If they still played for Liverpool, their expected assist statistics would be comparable to Man City’s trio. On paper, the inclusion of Coutinho, Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Can brings the Reds on par.

Two new players that Liverpool do have at their disposal are Naby Keita and Xherden Shaqiri. At the start of the season, they were expected to be the creative engine of the midfield. However, both have underperformed and are not trusted by the manager from a defensive perspective:

  • Xherdan Shaqiri (LIV): 0.36 xG/ 0.11 xA
  • Naby Keita (LIV): 0.18 xG/ 0.06 xA

Shooting blanks

Not only do Manchester City have the more creative midfielders, manager Pep Guardiola plays them regularly. On the other hand, Klopp has focussed on a much more pragmatic approach this term, opting to utilize more defensive players. The attacking midfielders that he does have, have not seen regular playing time, and have not had the opportunities to develop. So when Liverpool’s front three do not perform, there is very little from a creative perspective — goals or assists — to back them up.

WORDS: Anish Uppal (@anishuppal79)

DATA SOURCES: StatsZone; understat.com.

IMAGE SOURCE: John Jones (Creative Commons)

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