Liverpool's Lovren-Sized Problems

Liverpool's Lovren-Sized Problems

In the aftermath of Crystal Palace’s 2-1 win over Liverpool at Anfield, Sam Allardyce spoke about exposing their opponent’s weaknesses “time and time again”. He went on to elaborate on what those weaknesses were as if he were a college professor introducing a new concept to students, while the reality was that his audience had been aware of it since pre-school. Liverpool have a problem with crosses and set pieces, and the whole world knows about it.

The stats bear this out. If you look at the 42 goals Liverpool have conceded in the league this season, eight have been from crosses, six* off corners, three from penalties, two from free kicks and one off a long throw.  That is an astounding 20 goals, almost one in every two conceded through the course of the season.

However, it is when you delve even deeper into these stats that you understand why fans reach out for rosary beads or other prayer accessories whenever a ball is launched in the general direction of the Liverpool box. Only a small handful of goals can be attributed to an opposing team breaking down the defensive organisation of Liverpool, which also explains why the goals conceded always provide us with the illusion of a sucker punch that has arrived out of nowhere.

*A goal conceded by Liverpool at Hull was from a corner but has been classified as a goalkeeper error because Mignolet clearly was at fault.

Reason for goal

Goals

Cross

8
Blatant defensive error

7

Corner

6

Ball behind back line

4

Penalty

3

Open play – other

3
Goal keeper error

3

Poor clearance

2

Free kick

2
Deflection

2

Long throw

1

Given away midfield

1

Somewhere in between handling crosses and the corners poorly, there have been seven blatant defensive errors that could make a comedy reel. This is in addition to three goal keeper errors, two by Mignolet and one by Karius. In my last piece, I made a case for Mignolet, showing him to be one of the more solid performers this season. He really has not been helped by the defense line in front of him. In addition to the more obvious mistakes of those around him, he’s been put in difficult situations by balls behind the back line, poor clearances and deflections.

His critics might point out that he does not help his defence by not coming out and catching more corners and crosses, but this season, he has been decisive in that area. While he still prefers to punch balls clear, he has always managed to get the ball out of the danger area, which cannot be said about his defenders who invariably manage to put the ball back into the mix. Every goal conceded off a corner this season has been from a second ball situation, with not a single one being scored directly from the corner kick. Maybe Klopp needs to take some of the blame for persisting with a zonal marking system, which sometimes makes it hard for defenders to figure out who should be going for a header. Or it might be that Liverpool do not have good headers of the ball. Liverpool players this season have won only 44% of their aerial duels, the second lowest in the league behind Leicester.

Player

Aerial Duels

Win percentage

Clyne

52 17%

Milner

110 47%
Lovren 132

65%

Matip

90 59%
Klavan 71

54%

Lucas

81

57%

Can 108

58%

Henderson

49 53%
Wijnaldum 68

49%

Mane

117 36%
Firmino 192

31%

Coutinho

36 14%
Lallana 56

36%

Origi

110

25%

This, coupled with the fact that Liverpool are also second lowest in crosses blocked, indicates a weakness that opponents have caught on to and try to exploit.

Most observers have said this season that Klavan and Lucas do not cut it as centre-backs, and they do have a point. Klavan has made three errors that have contributed directly to a goal, the most by any player.  If you look at the number of goals that you could attribute some blame to him for, this number rises to eight. In Lucas’s case, he made one big mistake in having his pass to the goalkeeper intercepted by Vardy against Leicester, and another two where he has been culpable.

Player Primary error

Attributed error

Klavan

3 8
Mignolet 2

3

Clyne

1 5
Lucas 1

3

Matip

1 1
Wijnaldum 1

3

Milner

1 6

Mane

1

1

Karius 1

1

Lovren

1 10
Lallana 0

3

Firmino

0 2
Origi 0

2

Can

0 2
Moreno 0

1

Henderson

0

1

Attributed errors could be poor clearances, balls played behind the defender for a forward to run onto, crosses or corners a player is beaten to, free kicks conceded, deflections and the ball being given away to the opposition to score.

There have been the odd errors from midfield and Origi, which you would expect, which have led to a goal.

Both first choice full-backs, Milner and Clyne, have had their share of errors. Clyne only wins 17% of his headers, and this has shown up on crosses and corners, but he has been solid otherwise. In Milner’s case, his lack of pace has been the predominant factor in contributing to goals, either being left for dead or being late in a tackle in most cases. The same could be said of Klavan and Lucas too. All four goals conceded through a ball played behind the defence have been in cases where their lack of speed has been exposed.

Where would Liverpool be this season without Matip? He has had a standout season. He’s only made one error this season which has led to a goal, the misguided slide in the box in the buildup to Chelsea’s goal at Stamford Bridge. He was also wrong footed by a deflection off Henderson’s head in the game against West Ham at home, but it would be harsh to attribute any blame to him.

It is Lovren though whose stats make interesting reading. Much had been made of the fact that Liverpool had not lost a game whenever Matip and Lovren started. That of course ended this past weekend at home against Crystal Palace.

He has only made one error that has led directly to a goal, a horrible miss kick inside the box in the return fixture against Palace, but has not been as assured as that number suggests. He has been culpable in conceding a team high 10 goals, but the real surprise is that he has contributed to 7 goals conceded via a corner or a cross, the most by any player. Between the three other centre-backs, they have conceded two. For a player who wins 65% of his headers, more than anyone else in the team, these are disturbing figures.

While he is comfortable dealing with high balls further up the pitch, in most cases towering over a lone forward with the security of another centre-back beside him, he resembles a bundle of nerves inside the box. This is also borne out in the 2 goals conceded via poor clearances by him.

These numbers do not make good reading for someone aspiring to be a first choice centre-back. This season has shown that Klavan and Lucas do not have the pace to withstand the scrutiny of the Premier League. The jury had been out on Lovren. On this evidence, Liverpool need two more centre-backs to partner Matip next season. Goals are not the problem. Liverpool have scored a league high 70 goals. It is the 42 goals conceded that needs addressing. It is no surprise that reports are emerging out of Liverpool about breaking the transfer record for Virgil Van Dijk. A centre-back has to be top priority.

And given Liverpool’s Lovren-sized problems, the next priority has to be another player in that position. Because everybody and their uncle now know that Liverpool do not like balls that aren’t played on the ground, especially in the box. The team has to be ready for that next season, if they are to challenge for the title.