It would be decidedly easy to look back at Liverpool’s season as something of a failure, based on the fact that we had hoped to challenge for the title once again. Having taken Manchester City to the wire in 2018-2019 then overtaken them in 2019-2020, stopping them from being the runaway winners during our most recent campaign is the least many of us were hoping for. In the end, we finished seventeen points off them, which many might consider to be a disaster. Certainly there were some members of the punditry class that were busy suggesting that ours was the worst defence of a title ever, in spite of the fact that we lost the same number of games as Pep Guardiola’s team did the season before and actually finished closer to the eventual champions than they did. Of course, six consecutive home defeats will colour the look of any campaign and I’m quite sure that neither Jürgen Klopp not his players will be happy with how things transpired during January, February and the beginning of March.
What they won’t do, though, is throw the baby out with the bathwater. Liverpool’s mentality hit rock bottom during the winter months, but the manager will be acutely aware of why that happened and what he needs to do to fix it. Things in Premier League football are never simple and the German will have a sense of how he can get his team to regroup and go again when the next top-flight campaign comes around. This is a team that has defied its critics time and again and will be chomping at the bit to prove them wrong about all of the criticisms that they’ve faced. Many of them were fair, plenty of them were not and I can’t imagine the likes of Andy Robertson, Jordan Henderson and Trent Alexander-Arnold wilting in the face of unfair criticism. Instead, I think they’ll be ready to bounce back in the most impressive way possible, though I accept that might be me looking at things through red-tinted glasses. Next season we’ll have added Ibrahima Konaté to the mix, but what lessons can we learn from our last campaign?
It Wasn’t All About The Defence
Given the absence of Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip for the majority of the season, it’s easy to imagine that all of Liverpool’s problems during the campaign can be pinned pretty firmly on the defence. The question is, does that idea hold water? Here’s a look at our Expected Goals information from the thirty-eight matches across the Premier League season:
|Gameweek||Liverpool’s xG||Opposition xG||Actual Result (Liverpool – Opposition)|
I understand that xG isn’t for everyone, but it is a good indication of the underlying numbers that tells us more than a simple scoreline ever could. Whilst Liverpool’s defensive frailties have been well documented, there have definitely been times when the defenders could have looked at the attackers and thought, “Any hopes, lads?” When we played Newcastle at home, for example, the xG was 2.85 to 0.86 and yet we drew the game 1-1. Against Burnley at Anfield, it was 1.65 to 1.08 but we lost 1-0. A makeshift defence is always likely to concede soft goals, but the attack wasn’t makeshift and yet struggled to score far too often.
It Was A Freak Of A Season
Whether you want to talk about the manager’s mum dying, Alisson Becker’s father dying, our main central defender being handed a season-ending injury with no repercussions to the perpetrator or discuss the ludicrous Video Assistant Refereeing decisions that went against us week after week, it’s entirely fair to point out that the Reds are unlikely to endure a season like that again any time soon. The manager made some mistakes in his team selections once it was clear that we’d be without any first-choice centre-backs for the remainder of the campaign, but he’d be entitled to wonder whether the team should have responded better to the adversity regardless of that fact.
I also wonder if he might ponder whether he can work at reducing the extent to which his players are dependent on a crowd. Every club was without supporters for the majority of the season, yet Liverpool seemed to suffer more than most. Jürgen Klopp got his players finely tuned to work with the crowd, feeding off their passion and having it give them a little something extra in their play. When that was taken away, it seemed to take the Reds too long to adjust to the ‘new normal’ and that’s the sort of thing that might give him pause for thought. Ultimately, though, we managed to regroup and not only gain a Champions League place but also to finish third, which will be a platform I’m sure he’ll enjoy building from.