There are a lot of things going wrong with Liverpool at the moment. A lot. They’re banged up. Missing key players and shoehorning others into positions to patch up the holes. Passes aren’t finding their mark. Teammates are making runs a split second too late.
People like to point to the 7-0 thrashing the Reds gave to Crystal Palace on December 19 as a demarcation point, the dividing line between the glory days and the gory days. But if you consider their record this season, a very obvious pattern forms. Liverpool tend to play well against “top” teams that take a more expansive approach and they struggle against “lesser” teams that prefer to set up more defensively. Hence solid Champions League victories followed by tepid league showings. Nothing ground shaking in that revalation.
If you look at games Brighton & Hove Albion and Fulham, there are at least 5 players stuffing the box by the time play breaks down. At that point, everyone except the opposing keeper can claim real estate with 18 yards of the goal. Defending in low block. Of course, there are the textbook approaches to getting past such obstacles such as playing three at the back or exploiting the vulnerable wide areas that result from the mid/low block.
But at this point nothing is working and it sometimes, it feels as if pumping in crosses is the only thing Liverpool know how to do.
Besides putting the ball between the sticks is obviously the ultimate goal. Yet, right behind that, it’s all about creating and then occupying space. Whether it’s short, probing ticki-tacka passes or the more direct thrashing runs of heavy metal football, the ultimate goal is finding enough space to make something special happen.
The way things are working for Liverpool right now, defensive minded teams are simply smothering them to death inside the box and one reason that they can get away with it is because they don’t have a player who poses a legitimate threat outside the box. Someone to keep the defense honest. By having a threat from distance, it also demands that player be covered, possibly unclogging the path to the goal.
This season, Liverpool’s xG for outside the box is the worst it’s been since at least 2014.
|Season||Shots||Goals||xG||Outperform||xG per Shot|
Not only is their xG at its nadir, the team is somehow underperforming that miniscule number. It’s worth noting that during their championship winning season, they outperformed their xG from a distance by nearly 5.5 goals. The only season they did better was during the 2015 season.
If we take a closer look, it’s pretty clear that Liverpool’s production outside the box shouldn’t surprise anyone. Mohamad Salah is the closest thing to a goal scoring threat from long distance. Unfortunately, he can’t be inside the box and outside at the same time (leaving quantum mechanics out of this discussion, that is).
|Season||Salah (2017)||Mane (2016)||Firmino (2015)||Henderson||Wijnaldum (2016)||Fabinho (2018)||Arnold||Chamberlin (2017)||Robertson (2017)|
The last time Liverpool had a bonafide threat from distance was in 2017 and once Philippe Coutinho left, nobody stepped in to replace him.
On another note, the Reds could also benefit from Coutinho’s ability to pick just the right pass to unlock stubborn defenses. But hey, what’s done is done.
Jamie Carragher recently identified three positions Liverpool must fill in the off-season in order to be a legitimate favorite to win the English Premier League next season – another defender, another midfielder, and someone to slot into the front three. Signing someone willing and able to take shots from distance might be a good idea.
WORDS: Marc Landas