Why Can't Liverpool Win Against The Top Ten?

Liverpool have still not beaten a team currently in the top half of the Premier League this season. WhoScored.com's Ali Tweedale looks at why that may be the case...

Last Updated: 06/02/13 at 12:50 Post Comment

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Hold on. Aren't Liverpool supposed to be having a terrible season? Aren't they supposed to be worse than they have been in recent memory? Isn't Steven Gerrard supposed to be past it, over the hill and on the way out? And yet the Merseyside club are climbing the table after impressive performances and draws against Arsenal and Manchester City in their last two games, while captain Gerrard remains one of only 12 players and the only midfielder or attacker to be ever-present in the Premier League this season.

After a disastrous start to life under Brendan Rodgers saw Liverpool lose three and draw two of their opening five league games, this youthful team seem to be settling in together with performances and results both improving. The hard-fought loss at Old Trafford is their only defeat in the last six matches, and things are looking up for the Reds. But questions remain as to whether they are as good as recent form suggests.

An astounding statistic sticks in the mind. Liverpool are one of only two teams - along with Southampton - yet to win a single game against a side currently in the top half of the Premier League table and it is plain to see that this is a serious problem. Even though they led at both the Emirates and the Etihad in their last two games and were good value for those leads, the Reds eventually succumbed to pressure to throw away what could have been a pair of fantastic results.

Liverpool scored four goals against Arsenal and City, yet only Daniel Sturridge's wonder-strike at the Etihad had a string of more than one pass preceding it and even then it was as simple as Stewart Downing finding Gerrard, who passed for Sturridge to hit from distance. It was hardly what could be described as a great team goal and only came after Javi Garcia failed to clear his lines on the edge of his own area. Gerrard's goal in that game was fantastic, and highlighted his continued importance to the team. The captain's strike came directly from a weak clearance, and both of Liverpool's goals against Arsenal were the result of the opposition's failure to clear the ball.

What does this show? Firstly, that Liverpool are doing well to get into positions high up the pitch from which goalscoring chances can fall. Secondly, that they are very good at winning possession high up the pitch - only Arsenal (94) and Southampton (85) have won the ball in the attacking third of the pitch more times in the Premier League this season than Liverpool (84), with Suarez unsurprisingly leading the individual charts (22).

However, despite Liverpool's impressive passing statistics - third most possession (58.3%) and fourth best pass success rate (85.3%) in the top flight this season - which can be seen on WhoScored's statistics page - the Reds tend not to be scoring goals as a direct result of their passing game, particularly against the bigger teams. And that might be why results against the other teams in the top ten haven't been up to scratch.

In fact, in Liverpool's 13 games against those nine teams this season, the longest series of passes they have registered directly in the lead up to a goal is four - in the 2-2 draw against Everton at Goodison Park. Even then, the build up to that goal consisted of a Jose Enrique cross that evaded everyone, Suarez firing the ball back towards to goalmouth, only to be finished courtesy of a Leighton Baines own goal. The Reds' second-longest passing move leading to a goal against a top ten side is the two passes prior to Sturridge's long range strike against City on Sunday.

The fact of the matter is that while Brendan Rodgers' commitment to a short passing game is commendable and seems to be something that the Liverpool squad are beginning to enjoy some success with, it is not working against the better teams.

Of course, when you have the likes of Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez in your team, and now Sturridge too, goals from range are certainly something that you can come to expect. Along with Chelsea, Liverpool have scored the most goals from range in the Premier League this season, with nine, already surpassing their tally of seven from last term. Again Suarez leads the individual rankings with four - the joint most with Juan Mata - whilst Gerrard has bagged two long-range goals in his last three Premier League appearances.

Expecting goals of individual brilliance is one thing, relying on them is quite another. So while Liverpool are keeping the ball well, they need to work on the transition from retaining possession in midfield to creating goalscoring chances. With Suarez moving into an attacking-midfield role since Sturridge's arrival, that may well come in due course. For the time being, though, Liverpool's high pressing game - and Suarez's in particular - is working to some extent, and that may just have to be enough for now.

Alistair Tweedale

All stats courtesy of WhoScored.com. Follow Ali Tweedale on Twitter at @alitweedale.

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