There’s been somewhat of an overreaction to Liverpool’s recent poor form.
Yes, the team has been visibly worse than before. And the results are not good.
But for some fans this has been a period of unrelenting horror, with dire performances and spectacularly awful spectator value… apparently.
I’m afraid that’s just not the case.
Liverpool has still been dominating opponents, creating enough chances to win, and preventing opposition chances - in general.
It’s a drop off, yes, but nothing more than bad luck at this stage.
What’s wrong with Liverpool?
I read Paul Tomkins’ assessment of Liverpool’s problems. As always, it was exhaustive. As well as - at 7500 words - exhausting. But a more in depth summation of Liverpool’s various issues, internal and external, you will not find.
Nonetheless, I think we can do a shorter and more optimistic assessment of Liverpool’s current position.
Here are some major problems:
There are no senior CBs.
The team has achieved its goals.
There are no fans.
The injury crisis has been relentless.
The team is tiny.
xG underperformance has been incredible.
Short preseason and little rest.
Feel free to expand on any or all of these points in your own time.
All of these factors will have contributed and more (yes, including the weird reffing). But they do not take away from the fact that Liverpool has a lot of world-class players in good fitness to choose from.
Moreover, one of these things is not like the other.
The factor above which absolutely will change is the xG underperformance. It is incredibly unlikely that the poor finishing we have seen over the past 7 or so games continues. We’ve already seen against United that Salah is still capable of scoring.
In the past two seasons, Liverpool has largely overperformed its xG. That’s to be expected as elite teams tend to have elite finishers who score above the rate of the average player.
But let’s imagine Liverpool had performed merely level with its xG over the last few games. What would the results have looked like?
Per Wyscout data, like this:
Looking at the expected goals, Liverpool wins every one of those games based on the quality of the chances created in them, other than the recent United game which is close enough to call a draw.
Sure, the team can play better - but the team is playing well enough to win all these games.
When you dominate matches football becomes a fairly simple game. Liverpool had much more possession in these games and produced greater xG figures - so I think it’s fair to say “dominate”, as impotent as the team occasionally looked on the eye.
The simple game is the column on the far right.
Yes, that Villa side was young and it should have been an even more comfortable victory; embarrassing for the team to even concede one goal.
But in that game Liverpool had 27 shots with 12 on target - a ratio of 44.44%. A far higher ratio than the other limp goalscoring performances, aside from Newcastle where only 10 shots were had total.
The expected goal model measures the quality of chances. It is up to attacking players to convert those chances into shots on goal, and do so with enough accuracy x volume to result in goals.
Liverpool players need to put on their shooting boots.
But some of them already have…
How’s Salah doing?
According to Understat data, Salah’s overachieving his xG in the league this season by 0.2 goals per-90.
But that’s over the course of the whole season.
What if we look at his Wyscout data for just the last 10 games?
Over the last 10 games, Salah has scored 7 goals from 5.47 xG. And he scored in both of the two games preceding this list too.
Considering Liverpool is creating enough chances to win games, and Salah is scoring at a rate above the quality of the chances he’s getting, it is unlikely he’s the problem.
So what if we look at the other two of the magic three?
What about magic Mane?
Unlike Salah, Mane has been underperforming his xG with 0.36 goals per-90 in the league against a 0.43 xG per 90.
But if we look at Wyscout data over the last 10 games we see little to write home about:
With a sample size of 10 games, he’s racked up an xG of 3.85 but he’s overperformed also with 4 goals.
The problem with Mane has not necessarily been bad finishing but more that he’s not getting chances at all. The chances Liverpool has been creating haven’t been falling to him - the Fulham, Newcastle, and Manchester United games being the standout examples.
So what about the final musketeer?
Bobby is a little dry
With an xG underperformance of 0.15 per-90, Bobby looks to be the weaker of the three for finishing this season, per Understat data.
Yet, looking at the Wyscout data for all competitions his per-90 average across the season is a much smaller 0.04 underperformance.
Over the past 10 games, of course, it comes out as 3.86 xG from which he’s scored 3 goals.
It’s an underperformance but not crazy.
What happens if we just look at the last 7 games?
Salah: xG: 3.72 / Goals: 3
Mane: xG: 2.81 / Goals: 3
Firmino: xG: 2.74 / Goals: 0
…and excluding the Villa game:
Salah: xG: 3.21 / Goals: 2
Mane: xG: 1.54 / Goals: 1
Firmino: xG: 2.67 / Goals: 0
I mean, if we only look at games where Liverpool don’t score, we’re going to see poor scoring stats.
This proves little.
Extend the sample size merely 3 games more and there’s little dramatic to worry about in the underlying stats.
So what does it all tell us?
It tells us that though Liverpool’s recent performances have not been at the level we have all come to expect, they have created (& denied) quality opportunities sufficient to win games - even in this poor run.
The failure to convert these opportunities points to a very recent underperformance of Liverpool’s normal goalscorers. The underperformance is only borderline significant for Firmino with a sample of this size.
Once Liverpool’s forwards find a bit of form again, Liverpool should be mostly fine.
The issues at CB may prove to be the difference in tight games against other elite teams, but, for the most part, Liverpool will likely be fine even in games where a young lad has to play.
The team has just been so good for the past two-to-three seasons that fans forgot a lull is entirely normal and typically happens to all mortal teams at some point over the course of a season.
Those who have memory-holed being top of the league 3 weeks ago and have decided the world is collapsing, should take a moment to pause.
Liverpool will be fine, honestly.