It is not often that Liverpool have long winless periods in the Premier League, especially since Jurgen Klopp has taken over. The Reds have been very inconsistent – winning a difficult game easily but losing to a lower half opponent the very next match. But overall, they have churned out wins at regular intervals. So, the run of games ended by the losses to Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur is a bit uncharacteristic for Jurgen Klopp and his team.
In eight matches played over 35 days between the two losses, Liverpool played eight in all competitions, drawing five, losing one and winning two games. Such a run has perhaps occurred only once before under Klopp’s reign at Anfield – at the beginning of 2017. Although towards the end of that period, the Reds did win 0-7 at NK Maribor in the Champions League, the Slovenian side was a much inferior opposition to Liverpool’s might. Also, after that record win, Liverpool promptly lost 4-1 to Spurs at Wembley.
Thus, fans were not sure if that period of inept and blunt football from the Reds had ended or not. Then came the last Saturday’s 3-0 home win against Huddersfield. Although the quality of opponents was only marginally better than Maribor, it gave Liverpool three points in the Premier League and at the end that is what is going to count. After the game, the team and Jurgen Klopp, all sounded relieved as well as thrilled with the result against the Terriers.
While the team and the manager are entitled to their reactions, Liverpool fans ought to be cautious with their optimism after this latest victory. Yes, it is a positive result, and hopefully, it is an end of the terrible run their team have gone through. But if we look just a bit closer, Liverpool’s gameplay against Huddersfield left a bit to be desired. In this piece, I will use three stats to highlight three areas where I felt Liverpool were not up to the mark and they will need to improve in those if they are to compete for top four.
Liverpool’s Penalty Record is Awful This Season
In football, the probability of scoring from the penalty spot is about 75%. Last season, Liverpool converted 77.8% of their 9 spot kicks. In their Premier League history, Liverpool have scored with 83.2% of their 131 penalties. But after James Milner missed one penalty last season, Klopp decided to give the spot-kick duties to Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah this season, and between them, they have scored only one goal from the spot, out of three opportunities. Moreover, if Klopp continues to chop and change his penalty takers, then he is neither building confidence nor is he helping the on-field decision making a lot. Liverpool need a couple of consistent penalty takers.
Liverpool Lacked Penetration in their Play Against Huddersfield
Ever since the Impect and Packing have become popular as metrics to analyse a football team’s performance, the other summary metrics such as possession and passing accuracy have diminished in importance. Packing is the number of players taken out of the game by a team’s passes, dribbles and runs, while Impect is the number of defenders taken out through the same actions.
Against Huddersfield, many pundits observed that Liverpool’s passing lacked that penetrative power to boost their packing and impect scores. While I do not have these numbers from any source but a review of the game video shows that Liverpool were bent on keeping possession through primarily sideways passing. While this lack of penetration did not hurt against minnows like Huddersfield, against other sides, Liverpool might regret such a ploy.
Liverpool Were Erratic in Possession
Many teams focus on patient passing gameplay to break down stubborn defences. Pep’s Barcelona or his Bayern and no Manchester City are examples of such patience. But those teams did not lose the ball as many times as Liverpool did against the Terriers. Even the Reds themselves do not lose possession (through inaccurate passes) as many times when they are playing very well. Thus, it was quite unusual to see passes to Moreno from midfield being hit behind the sprinting wing-back or the midfielders missing passes to each other or to the attackers. There were several instances of each of these inaccurate actions against Huddersfield and even a slightly better team would have latched on to these passes and punished Liverpool badly.
Of course, there must be other areas in Liverpool’s gameplay where they should improve, but I felt that these were the most glaring examples of somewhat under par performance from Liverpool on Saturday. If Liverpool still harbour dreams of competing for the top four, they should address these areas in their next few games.