Liverpool have fallen from their previous grace of days gone by and this season marks the second time in 3 years that they aren’t involved in a European competition, and 4 years since their last inclusion in the Champions League. Brendan Rodgers hopes to change that though this season and Liverpool have set upon this task in good fashion, with only Arsenal preventing Liverpool claiming the top spot due to a higher goal tally. I will look at how Liverpool have fared so far this season and their improvements on last year.
After a transfer window where he was linked with a move away from the club for most of the summer, Martin Skrtel found his way back into the team due to an injury to Kolo Toure. Since then he has started every game for Liverpool and forced his way back into Rodgers’ plans despite the arrival of Sakho and Tiago Ilori near the end of the summer. Skrtel has made the most clearances (58) by a considerable distance for Liverpool and offered a strong presence in the air with 31 headed clearances alongside winning 15 aerial duels. Kolo Toure has also been a pleasant surprise for Liverpool fans after the feeling of distaste when the ex- Manchester City defender signed on a free transfer. The Ivorian defender has made the most tackles (12) out of all the centre backs at the club and is second to Skrtel in the number of clearances made.
The style of football Brendan Rodgers likes to play is well known, and while the adapting stage is still under process, it is evident in the passing stats that this is a strong area for Liverpool. Playing the ball out of defence is a big part of Rodgers’ philosophy, so it is not surprising that Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho have the best passing accuracy at the club – 90% and 91% respectively. Steven Gerrard is also still showing his influence at Liverpool by attempting and completing more passes than anyone else in the side.
There is one concern for Rodgers though with new number 1 Simon Mignolet showing signs that he is struggling with this aspect of the game, especially compared to the man he replaced between the sticks. Mignolet has a passing accuracy of 52% compared to Reina’s 71% last season and the Belgian goalkeeper has played more long balls (98) than other Liverpool player.
Whilst Mignolet struggling in possession may not seem as a problem, it can have profound effect on the rest of the team. Keeping hold of possession is a key aspect of how Liverpool play, so the defence passing back to their keeper is not an unusual sight. If the keeper is uncomfortable when receiving the ball, it can mean the ball is played long and this is evident with 46% of Mignolet’s passes (69 out of 149) going into the opposition half where only 14% (10) find a Liverpool player.
The creative forward line of Sturridge, Suarez and Countino has the potential to be one of the best in the league, but unfortunately for Liverpool they have been unable to start a Premier League game together so far this season. Suarez’s return to side has already seen him create 3 chances, with one converted, in just 2 games; whilst Coutinho had created 6 chances, with one converted, before a shoulder injury against Swansea in September interrupted a good start to the season.
Again, Steven Gerrard has proved his worth to Liverpool by creating more chances (15) than anyone else in the team, although 8 have created from set plays. Maybe surprising to some, but Jordan Henderson continues to improve after a tricky first season with Liverpool and has created the most chances from open play (9).
The passing and fluid style of football played by Liverpool requires the full back to be involved in the attacking play. Jose Enrique has been a prime example, crating 8 chances and 2 assists – joint top with Daniel Sturridge, who has improved vastly since moving to Merseyside in January.
The suspension of Luis Suarez gave Daniel Sturridge a chance to prove his worth as the main striker and the English international firmly took it. 6 goals in 7 games makes Sturridge the Premier League’s top goal scorer and resulted in Brendan Rodgers adapting his formation to a 3-5-2 against Sunderland to fit both Suarez and Sturridge in their favoured positions. The Uruguayan has enjoyed a good return to action for Liverpool with 3 goals from 9 shots, and scoring both his clear-cut chances demonstrates Suarez’s positioning and ability to be in the right position.
Despite the good form of the two strikers, a cause for concern would be the lack of goals from the rest of the team. The signing of Iago Aspas has yet to work out with the Spaniard having a poor start while only Moses and Gerrard, both with 1 goal, have scored other than Sturridge and Suarez. Gerrard, who is only 1 goal away from 100 Premier League goals, has had the second most shots for Liverpool (14) behind Sturridge (22), but has only scored from a penalty. Another goal scoring issue for Liverpool is the fact they have only one second half goal to their name in the league so far – a result of some poor second half performances.
Compared to Last Season
Brendan Rodgers had a poor start to his tenure as Liverpool boss and after 7 games only had a total of 6 points at this stage last season. A difficult set of fixtures could be to blame, with early games against Arsenal and both Manchester teams for a new look side a tough ask despite them all being at Anfield.
In the corresponding fixtures last season, with QPR replaced by Crystal Palace, Liverpool have managed to obtain 4 extra points with only a home defeat to Southampton resulting in dropped points and improved results against Sunderland, Stoke and Manchester United. In these games they have also scored 5 more goals (11 compared to 6) than last season, but have conceded 1 extra (5 compared to 4). A clearer view of Liverpool’s potential for this season though will be after the fixtures against bigger teams with Manchester United – the only ‘big’ side faced so far- enduring a poor start.
There are areas that still need to be improved by Liverpool, but it will be seen as positive by Brendan Rodgers that despite not yet playing to their full potential for 90 minutes they’ve still managed to pick up points and find themselves in 2nd place.