As Vincent Kompany lifted the Premier League trophy above the heads of him and his fellow Manchester City players on Sunday evening, the 2013/14 was finally brought to a close. It was a season that saw the top place change hands several times and have as many as four teams potentially competing for the title at one point in the year.
Manchester United failed miserably in their first season without Sir Alex Ferguson, Tottenham spent £100m and sacked yet another manager before achieving much the same as any other season, Jose Mourinho returned to Chelsea but failed to win anything, and Arsenal could yet win a trophy for the first time in nine years.
The most glaring omission from that list of clubs? Liverpool.
Brendan Rodgers’ team only managed 61 points in his first season in charge of the Reds in 2012/13, culminating in a seventh place finish. The aim for this season was to finish in the top four but that didn’t prepare the team, fans and neutrals alike for what was to follow. Liverpool, as we know, went on to finish second on 84 points, only losing out on the Premier League title on the last day. That is an improvement of 23 points, and one that fans of the club would have bitten your hand off for it you had suggested it to them in August.
So how exactly did this improvement compare to their efforts in the previous season and how does it compare to other teams this season?
Defending was one area of Liverpool’s overall play that left a lot to be desired this season and the various problems at the back were well documented in the media. The most obvious evidence of Liverpool’s defensive frailties were the 50 goals they conceded over the course of the year. If not for the relentless attacking threat that the Reds possessed this season, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the team would have struggled to make the top four, never mind competing for the title. No other team in the top six apart from Tottenham conceded more, the closest being Arsenal who conceded 41 and finished fourth.
This point about over achieving in this respect is reinforced by the fact Liverpool conceded 43 goals in the previous season and finished seventh as a result of not scoring anywhere near as many as this year.
Looking at the statistics, you can see how Liverpool have become worse at the back. They attempted 845 tackles this season and finished with an accuracy rat3 of 75.5%. They attempted 50 fewer tackles in 2012/13 but were more successful, completing 78.49% of those tackles. This suggests, at least from the stats, that the Reds were much more effective at picking the right moment to put in a tackle and ultimate succeed with it than they were this year. This is perhaps a contributory factor in the team making 42 defensive errors this season, six more than in the previous one.
Look at Chelsea managed in defence this season and Liverpool’s inefficiency becomes even more apparent. Mourinho’s team were successful 77.05% of nearly 100 fewer tackles and made just 10 defensive errors in the whole season.
As far as the work of the individual players go, Steven Gerrard attempted the most tackles and won the most as well at 96 and 69 respectively. However, it is worth mentioning Mamadou Sakho who was successful in 93% of his 27 attempted tackles.
Liverpool were widely praised for their passing football in 2012/13 and this style of play continued again this year, so it is no surprise that the overall statistics for this area of the game are largely the same for both seasons. The Reds attempted slightly less passes and were successful with slightly less this season than they were previously, but finished with an 84% completion rate in both seasons. They played 35.97% of their passes forward compared with 36.47% in 2012/13, and there are similar figures for the other directions as well.
Even when we look at the passing zones, the only difference in terms of accuracy is in the attacking zone where Liverpool completed 75% of their attempted passes compared to 73% in the previous season.
If we are to compare the Reds to Arsenal for example, who are rightly commended for the quality of their passing game, then we see that Liverpool are almost on a par with their London counterparts. Arsenal completed 86% of their overall passes this season and were only more slightly more accurate in the attacking zone and final third of the pitch – this is despite attempting significantly more passes than Liverpool in these areas.
What more can be said about Liverpool’s attack this season that hasn’t been said already? The Reds’ very own SAS combination of Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez combined for a total of 52 goals this season, more than half of Liverpool’s 101 total league goals. However, no team scores goals without the creative contribution of their players and this is one area where Liverpool have excelled their previous efforts. The Reds attempted 910 dribbles this season and were successful with 471, significantly more than the 378 successful dribbles they had in 2012/13. They did attempt less crosses this year but were successful with 21% compared to just 19% in the previous year. While disappointing, this has not been a strong area of Liverpool’s attacking threat for some time now.
They managed to create 492 chances this season, which despite being significantly less than the 548 chances created in the previous season, the team managed to make 63 assists compared with the 46 assists they made in 2012/13. They also did much better at creating clear-cut chances this time round, creating 87 compared to the 76 they created in Rodgers’ first season in charge.
Steven Gerrard made the most assists in the team and the Premier League with 13, and this was just one more assist than Suarez managed. The Uruguayan managed to create 87 chances for his team mates, significantly more than Gerrard managed with 69.
As mentioned before, Liverpool’s deadliness in front of goal was matched only by Manchester City. The Reds’ 101 league goals was the most a Liverpool team has managed in 50 years and came from 258 shots on target. This was in contrast with the 263 shots they fired off target however, meaning Liverpool finished the season with a 50% shooting accuracy.
Liverpool had a phenomenal season and it was one that will be difficult to replicate. Champions League football will be at Anfield again next season and so fitness levels will have to be better managed by Rodgers, meaning the ruthless attacking football that fans loved watching this season may not be on show to the same extent next season. The defence will also have to be significantly improved through player recruitment and coaching if Rodgers wants his team to take the last step and win the Premier League title.
Despite that, the future is looking good at Anfield. Who knows? Maybe next year Liverpool will put the last quarter of a century behind them and finally win the Premier League title they crave so much.