The Liverpool draw at Anfield on Boxing Day was not only a massive disappointment for the club and their supporters but also an eye-opening glimpse into the problems that Liverpool have suffered in the first half of the 2011/12 campaign. Kenny Daglish and the LFC front office have assembled a quality side that is capable on many fronts, but they are simply not showing enough class in front of goal. Despite the presence of Luis Suarez, 4 goals in 1100′ minutes last season, and Andy Carroll, 13 goals in 2070′ between Newcastle and LFC, the Reds have scored just 21 goals this season.
While the loan Blackburn goal was a Charlie Adam own goal, it was never the opposition scoring that would be the problem. Liverpool have allowed more than 1 goal a single time in the opening 18 matches (four in the 0-4 loss to Tottenham) and their 14 goals allowed is joint best with Manchester United. Of slight issue have been the lack of clean sheets. Though they have 7, they’re being overshadowed as Liverpool have needed nearly perfect matches from Jose Reina to ensure the full 3 points. Liverpool have managed to win 1-0 just once this season while having lost by that scoreline twice.
Defensively the central pairing of Skrtel and Agger have proved successful and, with Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique on the wings, solidify a back four that provides Reina enough protection to ensure few chances conceded. They are winning more than 50% of their 50/50 balls and 3/4 of their tackles. Further, this is a side who commit few defensive errors and are infrequently dribbled past. In the dominating performance over Rovers the Reds defense attempted 17 tackles, winning 14.
In the center of the pitch there have been more successes than failures with the side again illustrating this v. Blackburn. In the new Quick Match stats we can see that Liverpool allowed just one Rover to pass the ball with great frequency, Steve Nzonzi who completed 46/55 passes or 84%. While Nzonzi did complete a great number of passes, just 44% of has passes went forwards and he was 25/25 on passes in his own half. In the final third Liverpool applied the pressure and Rovers as a squad could only manage to complete 46 of their 102 passes – 45%. It is also in the Quick Match stats that we’re able to confirm what our eyes already knew, Liverpool dominated the creative aspect of this match have created 19 chances, 15 from open play, while allowing the opposition 5 chances, 4 from open play and 3 created by one player – Morten Gamst Pedersen.
But in the end the Reds sixth home draw in nine fixtures will be justly attributed to the lack of quality finishing. We can see by comparing the match to their seasons statistics, available in the Stats Centre, that this match followed the course of the season. Liverpool controlled a good deal of the ball with 64.7% of the possession (62:06′) and out-passed their opponents in both volume and accuracy. Liverpool is credited with exactly twice as many completed passes as Rovers, 456 to 228, while they completed 83% of their 550 attempts. For the macabre there may be slight disappointment that Liverpool did not add to their woodwork total – having hit the woodwork 17 times in the first 17 matches they did not add an 18th in the 18th. They did however fail to score a second goal, raising their tally to 10 EPL matches with <2 goals scored. In those 10 matches their record reads 1-7-3.
It may not be fair to put the onus square on one player’s shoulders but there can be no denying that it is Luis Suarez who has failed to meet expectation with only five Premier League goals to his credit in 1466′. It’s worth noting that Liverpool as a team have played 1701′ this term, with Suarez on the pitch a full 86% of the time. With his pending suspension it will be important for Liverpool to secure another player that is able to fulfill the level of performance that Luis has contributed to the side because, low goal tally aside, he has been one of the most valuable players for Daglish this season. Suarez has created 36 chances, with 34 of those coming from open play. Only Stewart Downing has contributed more chances created – 39 – but has fewer from open play – 30. His 2011/12 Stats are below – accurate via Opta through 27/12/11.
The Liverpool squad has, including the match against Blackburn, created a total of 244 chances. Suarez is responsible for 15% and has created more chances than Henderson (13), Lucas (11) and Carroll (11) combined. This was not the case in the Blackburn fixture where Suarez was ineffectual. He created only a single chance, embarked on a single successful dribble and took 6 shots – all of which were off target. Unfortunately, Suarez performance was not out of character for the Liverpool squad which shot 41% (32% against Blackburn) and converted only 8% of their chances (5% against Blackburn).
While Suarez presence in the Starting XI, his transfer fee, his reputation from Holland, his outstanding form for his country, his recent troubles with Evra, and his singular skill on the ball all put the focus squarely on the Uruguayan, he is not the problem and the statistics bear this out. While Suarez certainly takes more shots than others in the team his shooting accuracy is not an outlier. Suarez is leading the squad with 81 shots taken and his accuracy of 41% is not the best, but he is in line with the rest of the squad. Both Andy Carroll – 38 shots, 14 on target – 42% and Dirk Kuyt – 26 shots, 7 on target 41%, are finding the target at an identical rate to Suarez.
Additionally, by reviewing the entire squads statistics, available in the Quick Stats Season section of the Stats Centre, we can see that the entire club is missfiring, recording a team accuracy of 41%. While it may not be unusual for a team to have just 4 of 10 shots hit the target, when the best strikers are not leading the line, and offsetting the wasteful or speculative efforts from others, the effect is to give away possession, to squander chances and, ultimately, to drop vital points.
This poor finishing was also painfully evident on Boxing Day where Liverpool took 27 shots. Of those 15 were off target and a further 5 were blocked leaving just 7 shots on target. Again, the shots on target were wasteful with a single goal to show for their efforts. 9 different Reds managed a shot, with Jose Enrique (1 shot, 0 on target), Gerrard (1, 0) and Henderson (2, 0) joining Suarez in failing to find the mark. Andy Carroll (5, 2) and Stewart Downing (4, 2) were less wasteful but equally unsuccessful.
While the Reds are certainly in contention for a Champions League spot, sitting just 3 points behind 4th place Chelsea and 1 back of 5th place Arsenal who still have a match in hand, their goals scored of 21 is good for only 11th in the scoring table. The dedicated performance at the back should continue into the New Year however, should the poor quality of finishing continue, it could be a third consecutive season without Champions League football at Anfield. Dropping points against Blackburn, and without allowing Rovers to score a goal of their own, is a microcosm of the LFC season to date and evidence of a trend that must be corrected.