What’s wrong with Liverpool? Comparing attacking stats

Date published: Sunday 24th January 2021 7:59 - Will Ford

On Thursday night, as Liverpool were nearing their fourth consecutive game without a goal, Jamie Carragher said: “I can’t remember a time under Jurgen Klopp when so many of these players have been out of form; the front six in particular.”

Something is up, but what specifically? We’ve tried to work it out by comparing a number of attacking stats this season, with last. We’ve cherry picked the most relevant players for each and have included the full-backs, so it’s a front eight rather than a front six. Players must have started at least three games in both seasons to be included, all stats are per 90 minutes unless otherwise stated. Thanks to FBref for the data.

 

Goals

Team total: 2.18 – 1.84 (-0.34)

Sadio Mane: 0.59 – 0.36 (-0.23)
Roberto Firmino: 0.27 – 0.30 (+0.03)
Mohamed Salah: 0.59 – 0.79 (+0.20)

We start with the obvious, widely reported problem. They’re still the Premier League’s top scorers by the way, but they had scored ten more at the same stage last term. The front three contributed 54% of Liverpool’s goals last season, but despite Mane’s relative slump and Diogo Jota’s contribution, the original trio are responsible for 65% of the goals in this campaign. Just six other members of the squad have scored and they’ve all only managed one. The forwards need some goalscoring support.

 

Expected goals

Team total: 1.88 – 1.95 (+0.07)

Mohamed Salah: 0.61 – 0.60 (-0.01)
Sadio Mane: 0.45 – 0.47 (+0.02)
Roberto Firmino: 0.41 – 0.46 (+0.05)

The team as a whole should have scored more goals per 90 minutes than they did last season: they’re getting in the positions.

 

Goals minus expected goals (total)

Team total: +11.5 – -0.11 (-11.66)

Mane: +4.2 – -0.11 (-5.3)
Salah: -0.4 – +0.2 (+0.6)
Firmino: -4.5 – -0.16 (+4.34)

This shows how efficient Liverpool were last season – they scored 11.5 more goals than they were expected to – relative to this campaign, where they’ve scored very slightly fewer goals than expected. The team profligacy is mirrored by Mane, but both Salah and Firmino have improved, the latter admittedly from a pretty low baseline.

 

Assists

Team total: 1.82 – 1.11 (-0.71)

Trent Alexander Arnold: 0.37 – 0.13 (-0.24)
Salah: 0.31 – 0.18 (-0.13)
Jordan Henderson: 0.20 – 0.07 (-0.13)
Mane: 0.23 – 0.12 (-0.11)
Andy Robertson: 0.35 – 0.26 (-0.09)
Firmino: 0.24 – 0.18 (-0.06)

Assists as a team are way down. Henderson’s move to centre-back hasn’t helped, but the numbers of the whole squad have dipped in general. Alexander-Arnold’s taken a particularly notable hit.

 

Shot-creating actions
The two offensive actions directly leading to a shot, such as passes, dribbles and drawing fouls

Team total: 24.1 – 23.9 (+0.02)

Naby Keita: 3.52 – 2.27 (-1.25)
Alexander-Arnold: 4.31 – 3.16 (-0.85)
Robertson: 3.24 – 2.84 (-0.40)
Salah: 3.75 – 3.41 (-0.34)
Firmino: 2.92 – 3.21 (+0.29)
Mane: 3.57 – 4.11 (+0.54)

There’s a tiny improvement for the team as a whole, with Mane and Firmino doing much of the carrying, but again Alexander-Arnold’s contribution has dropped significantly, as has Keita’s.


F365 says: Jurgen Klopp is right-back where he started at Liverpool


 

Key passes
Passes that lead directly to a shot

Team total: 11.5 – 11.3 (-0.20)

Keita: 1.65 – 0.68 (-0.97)
Alexander-Arnold: 2.41 – 1.55 (-0.86)
Firmino: 1.48 – 1.19 (-0.29)
Salah: 1.69 – 1.71 (+0.02)
Mane: 1.84 – 1.96 (+0.16)
Robertson: 1.76 – 1.95 (+0.19)

Keita again takes top (or bottom) spot. Liverpool fans will no doubt make injury excuses, but three of his five starts this season came in the first three games when he was presumably fully fit, so absolution should not be quite so forthcoming. Thiago Alcantara has been blamed for “slowing play down” and “not playing the Liverpool way”, but he tops the charts for key passes on 2.13 per 90 minutes, significantly more than the he was contributing at Bayern Munich last season (1.12).

 

Open play passes that lead to a goal

Team total: 2.50 – 1.58 (-0.92)

Keita: 0.55 – 0.23 (-0.32)
Firmino: 0.42 – 0.24 (-0.18)
Mane: 0.30 – 0.12 (-0.18)
Robertson: 0.46 – 0.32 (-0.14)
Alexander-Arnold: 0.40 – 0.26 (-0.14)
Salah: 0.25 – 0.30 (+0.05)

The other goal creation metrics – dead-ball passes, shots leading to another shot, dribbles – are pretty similar across both seasons, but there is a vast difference in open play passes leading to goals. Only Salah is in credit and there’s Naby again. He seems to be getting worse with time.

 

Passes into penalty area

Team total: 13.2 – 14.7 (+1.5)

Firmino: 1.05 – 0.89 (-0.16)
Mane: 2.20 – 2.08 (-0.12)
Keita: 1.76 – 1.82 (+0.06)
Salah: 1.88 – 2.13 (+0.25)
Robertson: 1.79 – 2.16 (+0.37)
Georginio Wijnaldum: 0.67 – 0.94 (+0.37)
Alexander-Arnold: 2.55 – 3.10 (+0.55)

The lack of goals is not for the want of trying. Despite key passes and open play passes that lead to a goal both being down, Liverpool are passing into the penalty area more often. Alexander-Arnold is apparently particularly good as passing to no-one.

 

Touches in attacking penalty area

Team total: 34.7 – 37.1 (+2.4)

Salah: 9.91 – 8.90 (-1.01)
Firmino: 6.90 – 7.80 (+0.90)
Keita: 2.86 – 4.09 (+1.23)
Mane: 7.18 – 9.17 (+1.99)

A lot of those passes are getting through, just not enough to the main goalscoring threat.

 

Completed crosses into penalty area

Team total: 2.66 – 2.32 (-0.34)

Alexander-Arnold: 0.85 – 0.65 (-0.20)
Robertson: 0.78 – 0.84 (+0.06)

It was notable on Thursday the amount of space Alexander-Arnold was allowed on the right flank by Burnley. It may have been subconscious, but they were far better at shutting the door on Robertson than his fellow full-back. And if you are going to prioritise a side to defend against Liverpool, that’s the way to go right now. Robertson’s key passes and crosses are both up on last season: he is now the more significant threat.

 

Progressive carries
Carries that move the ball towards the opponent’s goal at least five yards (excluding those in the defending 40% of the pitch), or any carry into the penalty area.

Team total: 58.9 – 62.3 (+3.4)

Robertson: 7.54 – 6.16 (+1.38)
Alexander-Arnold: 6.94 – 6.19 (-0.75)
Mane: 7.70 – 7.38 (-0.32)
Salah: 5.81 – 6.46 (+0.64)
Firmino: 4.91 – 4.64 (-0.27)
Wijnaldum: 4.91 – 5.29 (+0.38)

The increase in the team total is not particularly significant, especially when you consider the team are making more passes this season than last (660.8 – 702.1), so they’re not collectively holding on to the ball too much. Robertson and Salah perhaps are though.

 

Dribble success percentage

Team total: 61.1 – 62.7 (+1.6)

Salah: 66.7 – 50.9 (-15.8)
Wijnaldum: 62.8 – 58.3 (-4.5)
Mane: 65.5 – 63.8 (-1.7)
Keita: 76.9 – 80.0 (+3.1)
Firmino: 60.8 – 71.4 (+10.6)

Understandable given his undeniable quality on the ball and the current strife of his side, but this suggests Salah is trying to do too much.

 

Dispossessed

Team total: 11.2 – 11.9 (+0.70)

Keita: 1.10 – 2.50 (+1.40)
Salah: 2.47 – 3.29 (+0.82)
Mane: 2.36 – 2.80 (+0.44)
Firmino: 1.78 – 1.19 (-0.59)
Wijnaldum: 1.26 – 1.12  (-0.14)

This strengthens the claim that Salah is being – dare I say it – a bit selfish. But so too is the great proponent of his selfishness.

 

Successful pressure percentage
Percentage of the time possession is gained within five seconds of applying pressure.

Team total: 32.2 – 33.9 (+1.7)

Keita: 36.6 – 28.6 (-8.0)
Firmino: 31.1 – 28.4 (-2.7)
Alexander-Arnold: 32.0 – 33.1 (+1.1)
Salah: 32.6 – 34.5 (+1.9)
Robertson: 34.4 – 36.7 (+2.3)
Mane: 30.4 – 34.6 (+4.2)
Wijnaldum: 32.7 – 38.6 (+5.9)

Undeniably one of Liverpool’s greatest strengths remains a great strength. Mane and Wijnaldum are working their asses off. Keita is not.

 

Will Ford is on Twitter

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