All 2020/21 data correct as of 20th January 2021.
When a club enjoys some success and wins a trophy or two, it’s tempting to wonder if this will kick start an era of dominance, or if said club has already hit its ceiling.
Thanks to Klopp, Liverpool are the 4th most successful club in Champions League history. He’s also ended a 30 year wait for a Premier League title. Here’s a quick look at how Klopp compares to other Liverpool managers that have won Champions League trophies.
Certainly, more than a few things have changed in football since the 70s and 80s, not just the names of major competitions. There’s more money, more technical know-how and more fierce competition. It seems difficult to imagine a manager presiding over a period of dominance like Paisley’s. For roughly the calendar year of 2019, Liverpool enjoyed an almost perfect Premier League record.
There’s no denying that Liverpool had a patchy start to this season, from dropping points against teams like Fulham and West Brom, to a humiliating 7-2 result against Aston Villa. It might be a case of opponents getting used to defending against liverpool. There is also the undeniable impact of an unlucky string of injuries afflicting the team this season - from Yashin Trophy winning Alisson to FIFA The Best’s 2019 player of the year Van Dijk to exciting new signings Jota and Thiago.
With this in mind, let’s look at a few issues Klopp has to overcome to keep his talented squad at the top of their game.
Bobby, Mo, and Sadio
Certainly by the high standards set the past few seasons, there is a goalscoring issue at Liverpool. The nil nil draw against Manchester United means that Liverpool have failed to score in their last three Premier League games. The last time this happened was in 2005.
Just for background, I’ve compiled some goal scoring data from Liverpool’s last three seasons. You might notice Salah’s crazy prolific 17/18 season. Despite a slight drop in his numbers since, he’s settled on a very respectable output.
Diogo Jota: A New Hope
In the summer transfer window, Liverpool signed Diogo Jota, a key member of an impressive Wolves team that went straight from playing in the Championship to playing in the Europa League.
Since signing for Liverpool, Jota has impressed. Whilst his standout performance in a Liverpool shirt is his hattrick against Atalanta in the Champions League, he’s also started this Premier League season with an impressive goal scoring rate.
Jota has taken to playing for Liverpool like a fish to water. Once he’s back from his December injury he should be able to get Liverpool back to goalscoring ways. Before his injury, he netted more goals per minute than any of Klopp’s favoured front three.
If Jota keeps it up, he’ll have quickly earned a spot in one of the most formidable attacking trios in the world. Going forward, Klopp must consider the thorny matter of whose spot in the starting 11 Jota will take. It’s difficult to say, having not had the opportunity to see how well various combinations gel, but Salah’s consistency suggests that at least his spot is safe for as long as he wants it.
Salah scores regularly and at a rate above his fellow forwards. As we’ll see below, Salah also creates a lot of opportunities for other attacking players, which goes some way to dispelling the myth that he is a selfish player.
Give them a chance!
It goes without saying that to score goals you need to be in a team that creates chances for you. This is where key passes come in. Key passes are passes that result in the recipient having a shot on goal, whether or not the recipient scores. In a way, they are successful assists plus unexecuted assists. I’ll use the measure here as a way to determine which players create the most goal scoring opportunities for Liverpool.
Andy Robertson has been the best at making key passes this season. Notably, he makes the most crosses of any Premier League player this season, at a rate of 2.2 successful crosses per game. Apart from Robertson, most of the chance creators are a little less prolific this season. In particular, Alexander-Arnold, who has had a wobbly start to this season.
On a more positive note, it is evident that new signing Thiago has already started creating opportunities for his teammates.
Honestly, I took against Thiago watching him in the UCL this summer. He commits way too many fouls. Those that watched the recent Saints game where he gave away a stupid foul that led to an early goal will agree that it’s the worst part of his game. Despite this, Thiago is a very complete player. As Thiago, freshly recovered from injury, starts playing more for Liverpool, his value should have an immediate impact. I suspect Thiago’s assists and goals will start racking up soon. He’s averaging 1.8 shots a game, which is the highest of any non forward player.
Thiago is also introducing new elements to Liverpool’s play. He is currently averaging 8.2 long balls per game, the highest of any player. The player with the highest number of long balls per game last year was Virgil Van Dijk on 5.4. He also completes the second most dribbles per game, 2.2, bested only by Mané’s average of 2.4. Thiago’s style of play offers new avenues for opening up space against teams that have got used to defending against the usual Liverpool tactics. Introducing new dynamics through carefully picked transfers might ensure that Liverpool remain an unpredictable team in the long term.
Perhaps most critically for the current Liverpool side, Thiago takes his defensive duties seriously. At a rate of 2.6 interceptions a game (more than any other player), he’s got a key role to play in taking pressure off the injury struck defence.
Calm as you like...
The reason Trent and Andy have been able to be so involved in attacking play is that Virgil Van Dijk is solid. In particular, Virgil is responsible for the lionshare of last ditch defending. He has an eye for spotting danger from opposing attacks.
Since he was signed in January 2018, Virgil has played every minute of Premier League football. His ACL tear towards the start of this season was unfortunate, but maybe unsurprising from such an overworked player. The impact of his injury to the team has been compounded by injuries to the other senior centre backs: Matip and Gomez. In recent games, Liverpool have played with two midfielders at centre back: Fabinho, who has been used in this position before, and captain Jordan Henderson.
The following graphs compare the performance of Liverpool’s most used centre back partnership in their title winning season (Van Dijk and Gomez) with the midfielders that have stepped up to form a temporary centre back partnership this season.
There are certainly some positives to Henderson and Fabinho’s partnership that suggest they’re doing a good job. They make a similar number of interceptions to Gomez and Virgil last season. Fabinho also performs a substantial number of blocks.
The key issue is that this interim partnership is easily beaten by attackers, being dribbled past several times a game. The graphs also make it clear that nobody executes as many clearances as Virgil. This element of his game is sorely missed in his absence; the diffusing of opposition attacks.
Like a young Virgil Van Dijk
Virgil Van Dijk is essential to Liverpool’s success: the steady engine that allows Trent and Andy to roam, whilst protecting against counter attacks. Out of curiosity, I’ve attempted to seek out possible signings Liverpool could make that would be good back ups to Virgil.
To ensure the signing would be as useful as possible to Liverpool, any potential CB signing should meet at least some of the following requirements:
Plays primarily as a centre back
Age in early 20s, so the player can be Virgil’s heir once he retires
A lot of clearances - Virgil’s unique quality
Half decent pass accuracy - liverpool averaging 86% last season
Good in the air - VVD won average of 5 aerial duels a game in 2019/20
When filtering for these characteristics, I noticed two ideal signings, both of whom have recently joined premier league clubs:
At only 20 years old, Fofana has made his mark on the Premier League after signing from Saint-Etienne in the summer. He’s currently playing for title contenders Leicester City. At 1.9m tall, it’s unsurprising that Fofana fits the Virgil Van Dijk mold. So far this season he’s averaged per game:
3.4 aerials won
Fofana can also be relied upon to play the ball forward, providing 2.4 long balls per game and a respectable pass accuracy of 86.3%.
The downside to attempting to sign Fofana is that he is already in high demand. Jamie Redknapp has claimed that Fofana will be sold for more than the record breaking £80 million Leicester got for selling Harry Maguire.
Tosin Adarabioyo, who came up through Manchester City’s youth system, is another player that fits the bill. The 23 year old has registered some impressive numbers playing for Fulham this season:
6 clearances pg
1.6 interceptions pg
0.9 blocks pg
2.1 aerials won pg
Decent pass accuracy of 85.8
Averages 3.6 long balls a game
Furthermore, in Liverpool’s underwhelming draw against Fulham, Adarabioyo completed an impressive 11 clearances. Like they say, if you can’t beat them, sign them to your club!