In the wake of our 1-1 draw with Leeds United, I posited on Twitter that, sometimes, we had to be able to win a game 1-0. The match against the Yorkshire side had been fairly evenly matched, even though we should have put the game to bed in the first-half. My frustration at the full-time whistle lay mostly with the defence, given that we’d conceded from a corner in a really annoying manner. The same cannot be said about our game on Saturday afternoon, however. Yes, it was irritating that we conceded such a late goal, especially after having been given a warning by Steve Bruce’s men with the equaliser that was disallowed just moments before, but there’s no question that we should have been out of sight by the time that the referee blew for half-time, let alone when the board went up with the stoppage time information on it. The extent to which our front three appear to have fallen off a cliff is alarming.
#LIV 1-1 #NEW (via @StatsZone): Liverpool have had seven clear-cut chances against Newcastle this season and have missed the lot. Probably four pivotal points dropped right there. pic.twitter.com/qSvmu3LO11
— Andrew Beasley 💙 (@BassTunedToRed) April 24, 2021
Whilst I didn’t agree with the manager’s decision to start all four strikers, mainly because it meant that we had nothing off the bench, there can be no arguing with the manner in which Jürgen Klopp set us up against this particular opposition. We created chance after chance, as well as being gifted a couple by Newcastle’s haphazard defence. In seasons gone by, we are four or five goals to the good by the interval, yet somehow contrived to only be 1-0 up when the whistle blew. The frustration of Liverpool’s supporters on social media was palpable, with many realising that a top four finish was all but done and dusted because of the points dropped. It’s not just against Newcastle United that we’ve dropped frustrating points, either. Losses to Burnley, Southampton and Everton will be looked back on as moments that saw our season turn, but the big question is: what can be done about it?
We’ve Been Creating Chances
Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal was once accused of being a side that demonstrated sterile domination; they would have all of the ball but at no point did it look as though the Gunners were actually going to score. Whilst that has been the case for Liverpool on occasion this season, the reality is that we’ve actually created numerous chances in most matches but simply haven’t been deadly enough to finish them. If you want to challenge for league titles then you’ve got to be clinical in both boxes and we simply haven’t been. The sloppiness at the back has been understandable at times, given the manner in which the defence has been hit by injury after injury. Up front is a different story, though tiredness could be used as an excuse to some extent. Diogo Jota was brought in as someone to give the ‘typical’ front three a break, yet his absence through injury for months on end meant that that wasn’t possible.
Firmino & Mane are a combined 14 goals from 157 shots in the EPL this season.
27 big chances missed.
Combined XG of 24 for their shots so they are TEN goals under.
— Dan Kennett (@DanKennett) April 24, 2021
Instead, all of the lads have been run into the ground and Mo Salah is the only one who has still been finding the back of the net on a regular basis. Even that hasn’t been enough, however, leading Michael Owen to suggest that the Egyptian isn’t actually a natural goalscorer. I’m not convinced there’s much truth in what Owen has said, given Salah’s scored twenty goals from forty-eight Big Chances. Our former striker would probably say that Harry Kane is a natural goalscorer, but he’s only scored one goal more than Salah from ten more Big Chances. Salah’s shot conversion is 26% compared to Kane’s 23%. It can’t all be on our number eleven, however. Both Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino simply aren’t offering enough goals, with twenty-three players being higher than them on the list of Premier League goalscorers. The defence has had genuine issues, the attack has just toiled.
Is Buying The Only Way Forward?
Right now, it’s difficult to see a circumstance in which the problem can be solved on the training pitch. Last week, ahead of the Newcastle game, the Liverpool Football Club Twitter account released a video of the players practicing finishing drills. There can be no doubt that the manager and his team has been working with his strikers, but is it enough? The stats gang are quick to point out that we over-performed our Expected Goals last season, so in some ways we should be all that surprised that we’re under-performing on that front this time around. You’d expect the variance to level out over the course of a campaign rather than swing wildly in one direction one year and then equally madly in the opposite direction the year after. Here we are, though, with two strikers that are massively behind where we need them to be if we are to have any hope of regaining the title next season. Can we depend on them getting back to over-performing their Expected Goals?
🔴 Most seasons reaching 20 PL goals for Liverpool:
3️⃣ MOHAMED SALAH – 2017-18, 2018-19, 2020-21
2️⃣ Robbie Fowler – 1994-95, 1995-96
2️⃣ Luis Suarez – 2012-13, 2013-14#LIVNEW pic.twitter.com/TkH5kyGAjQ
— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) April 24, 2021
It was difficult to see Erling Haaland go anywhere other than to Manchester City even before we fell off to such an extent that a Champions League place looks extremely unlikely, but now we’re as good as certain not to finish in the top four it’s fair to say that even the most fervent Liverpool fan will accept he’s not coming to Anfield. I do think that Michael Edwards and his team are more than capable of pulling off a masterstroke in the transfer market as they have done time and again, but whether it will be enough to mean we get a player that can finish the chances our team creates on a regular basis remains to be seen. Many Liverpool fans would love us to sign Kylian Mbappe, which might just be doable if he’s got faith in Jürgen Klopp’s methods and the likes of Mané heads in the other direction, but his shots on target conversation rate sits at about 53%, 5% higher than Salah’s but hardly prolific. Whatever else happens in the summer, figuring out how to turn chances into goals has to be the manager’s main aim.