It has been quite clear for some time at Liverpool that when they concede a goal, the players’ heads drop, eventually press the ‘self-destruct’ button and go on to lose. I’ve become more aware and more worried by this scenario as time has gone by. Ever since the club’s near-triumphant title chase of 2008/09, the tenacity, the fight, and the battling mentalities that made that season so memorable have evaporated. I’ve taken it upon myself to take a look back since the start of that season to see how bad Liverpool are when they concede the first goal in a game.
If you were to ask any Liverpool fan what they remember staunchly from 2008/09, they almost would all say how good the team was at fighting back to win a match and how they never gave up until the last-minute.
Personally, I’ve never been so confident in a Liverpool side in all my life. If a match was dragging on and the score was deadlocked at 0-0 with 15 mins remaining, I knew we would get a goal, if not two. Even if we were trailing 2-0, I’d still be confident of getting a result. It was this confidence from everyone involved with the club that made that title fight last so long. And it was those battling tendencies that built up so much confidence and hype heading into 2009/10 but it all went wrong, and the trend started to set there.
What started to set in, for some reason, was when the side went a goal down or were level, their heads suddenly dropped and they’d go on to lose the match. After such a solid and dependable 2008/09, Liverpool were now crumbling under the slightest bit of pressure from opposition teams and failing to give the pressure and the fight back.
Since the start of 2008/09, Liverpool have lost a grand total of 42 Premier League matches. And that’s in four seasons and one match (2012/13).
That number is far too high for a team that wants to challenge for Champions League places and beyond but the past few seasons have been some of the hardest the Kopites have had to endure since the early 1950s and 1990s.
Instead of throwing a bucket load of numbers at you, I’ve compiled my research for Liverpool into simple tables showing all the information I have picked up. The contents of this particular table show how many matches Liverpool have lost, how many matches they have conceded the first goal in and the percentages of that.
Now, obviously, this needs comparing to other Premier League sides otherwise we won’t get a proper indication of how severe this problem is for Liverpool. I can understand myself that, logically and more often than not, if you concede the first goal, the chances of you losing increase. But as so often happens, teams equalise to salvage a draw or fight back to gain a win. The table above shows that when Liverpool lose, they often fall behind first, meaning they have a lack of fighting spirit, or their heads drop.
Something that happened so many times at the back-end of 2011/12 was when the side conceded they would look, quite simply, useless. I say that in the kindest way possible but it did look like that on numerous occasions in Kenny Dalglish’s final season at the helm.
Some might not grasp how important these figures are so I’d like to try to make it as simple to understand as possible. Last season, Liverpool lost 14 league games, and in those losses they conceded the first goal 12 times – that’s a percentage of 85%. So, basically, 85% of the time when Liverpool concede first, they go on to lose which is an appalling record. That number points to one outcome – there’s no fight or willingness/ability to come back in a game when losing and there is the issue. When a team gets to a stage when there’s no fight or strong enough mentality to come back from a losing position, they can find themselves in serious trouble. From Christmas onwards last season, the club’s form dipped dramatically and left them near the bottom of the league for ‘points picked up in 2012′. If that continues, who knows what will happen?
Any club with those figures will finish nowhere near the Top Four.
I took a look at Chelsea from the same time-scale to grasp another look at things, and to compare them to Liverpool. Now, in this time, Chelsea did win one league title so you would assume they’ll already have a better record than Liverpool but, don’t forget, statistically the Reds’ 2008/09 were worthy of the Premier League title so they can be compared.
As you can see, Chelsea’s overall percentage of conceding first and going on to lose is lower than Liverpool’s. They have lost fewer games but, pound-for-pound, Chelsea come out better. Their lower number shows that they tend to lose more games when in the lead (8) which is a different problem entirely, to be honest. If you compare that to Liverpool you’ll see that, in four-and-a-bit seasons, they have lost 8 matches when they’ve been in the lead, too. So quite similar records but Chelsea edge it at their percentages are much lower than Liverpool’s.
Conceding First and coming back
There are other ways to back up my argument about Liverpool’s problem and that is to show how little they come back from the brink of defeat to win games. Before even looking at the statistics to compare, I know there will be a high number of turnarounds from the first season of my research as that was what Liverpool were great at doing – getting stuck in a muddle but finding a way out to win the match.
What I’ve also compiled is the number of draws and number of occasions when Liverpool have fallen behind to salvage a draw. Nil-nils also included in the research to give a broader scope.
As you can see, and as I predicted, the first season of my research was the greatest for coming back to salvage points, either winning or drawing. In total, in the year Rafael Benitez got closest to winning the Premier League, Liverpool managed 9 comebacks in total – over half of the entire sum of figures when adding all seasons together.
In that particular season, with their backs against the wall, Liverpool came back to win the match 20% of the time – a vast number. Scrap that, though. 36% of the time, Benitez’s side came back to salvage a point. Liverpool’s downfall that season was too many draws but without those comebacks to draw, the title race wouldn’t have lasted anywhere near as long as it did.
This further proves how well the team played that season but also shows how far the team has dipped since. The following season, not one draw was salvaged from a losing position so already 09/10 was four points down on the previous season. Seven less wins culminated in Liverpool’s lowest finish for years and Rafael Benitez’s sacking. Of those 18 wins, there was one comeback – a percentage of 5.5%. Abysmal.
The two comebacks the following season was not much better but could be put down to the poor run of form under the new manager Roy Hodgson and while Dalglish was in charge from January onwards, the club won more games after taking the lead so didn’t have as many opportunities to comeback. 16 of 17 league wins that year came from taking the lead, a trend that the club has had since the end of 08/09. And wins have taken a hit, with the number slowly decreasing as time passed by.
Last season was clearly, statistically, the worst so far. A poor 14 wins (5 above what I consider enough to survive relegation) is embarrassing. The winning percentage from a losing percentage did rise (7%) but that was due to less wins. Dalglish did have the best draws from a losing position stat since 08/09, however, with three (33%).
Clearly, after mulling over the statistics, when Liverpool concede the first goal of a game, they struggle. A lot. Eight wins and eight draws salvaged from losing positions in four seasons is just not good enough.
If Brendan Rodgers is to turn Liverpool’s fortunes around he must manage the poor mentality at the club when a goal is conceded. It’s almost predictable now. I’ve seen many, many times on Twitter when Liverpool concede, everyone says the same thing: ‘Game over’; ‘Surprise, surprise. We miss chances and concede. No way back in this now.’ You could argue that the players’ inability to fight back from losing positions has now rubbed off on fans as any hope is diminished – both on the pitch and off it – once a goal is conceded.
It become a recurring scenario last season, almost like a wet British summer. Liverpool would throw everything at the opposition, miss their chances, concede and self-destruct. It was a hammer blow every time. That same mentality still exists now. You could call it bad luck but for it to constantly happen for a number of years and, most significantly, since January of this year – then there is a problem deep within this squad of players and it needs resolving quickly otherwise this could be another predictably disappointing season for Liverpool.