By Justin Fitzgerald
I’ll be the first to admit that statistics is at times a dark art where data can be manipulated in any number of ways to portray different arguments. Be that as it may, to say that Liverpool has been unlucky so far this season would be an understatement that requires no tinkering of the numbers whatsoever.
Let me first share with you the number of times Liverpool hit the post so far this season – 14. Here’s a video montage of those missed chances, and let me also point out the star of this depressing cinematic portrayal of misfortune, Stewart “The Carpenter” Downing, who has hit the woodwork 3 times all by himself.
On another day, if the Football Gods had been smiling upon The Kop, and had those shots wound up in the net instead, Liverpool would bounce into 3rd place in league standings (6 points below Manchester City instead of 15). After the injuries sustained to Gerrard and Lucas), to think that Liverpool could in fact be comfortably within Champions League qualification is a bit encouraging.
Another encouraging stat is that Liverpool has the best defensive record this season, conceding only 13 goals through 15 games. This is a direct result of the reemergence of a healthy Martin Skrtel, and Daniel Agger, the addition of a dominant Jose Enrique, and the organizational prowess Steve Clarke has instilled in the back four. Skrtel hardly put a foot wrong in Saturday’s win over QPR. The Slovak international’s confidence grows each week and his distribution out of the backfield has improved dramatically, recently outshining his more offensive minded Danish counterpart with surgical passes to Luis Suarez that would make Charlie “Hollywood” Adam smile.
Unfortunately there are two sides to every story, and while Liverpoolhas enjoyed success defensively, on offense it certainly leaves something to be desired. The Reds have found the back of the net a mere 18 times through 15 games this season. To put that in perspective – league leader Manchester City has scored 49 goals, 4th place Tottenham Hotspur has scored 30 goals, and even 10th place Norwich City has scored 24 goals.
Liverpool has often been accused of playing down to the level of an inferior opponent and not taking advantage of chances to put games away, (Sunderland, Stoke, Swansea, Fulham, QPR, Manchester United all come to mind). I would argue that this is the direct result of a lack of creativity and fluidity from the midfield to the final third, and is evidenced by the following stat: Out of all players to have scored three or more Premiere League goals this season, Luis Suárez has the lowest shot conversion rate (7.6%). In fact, only Wigan (8%) has converted a lower percentage of shots into goals than Liverpool this season (9%). This is what happens when a team is so heavily invested in the talents of a singular player, and its success often hinges on his individual performance. Suárez has a low shot conversion rate because time and time again he is relied upon to take players on and create his own scoring opportunities.
Rather than focus solely on the negatives ofLiverpool’s current situation on the League Table, I would argue that through adversity comes opportunity, and that opportunity comes in the form of the recent pairing of Luis Suárez and Maxi Rodriguez. Why Kenny has waited this long to start the in-form Argentine in midfield is beyond me. The deft triangular passes he connected with Kuyt, Adam, and Suárez against QPR last Saturday were the beautiful game at its best, and how he didn’t have a hat trick on the day is certainly a mystery. Playing Maxi adds width to the pitch and allows Jordan Henderson to occupy his preferred central role in the midfield while allowing Kuyt to support Suárez up front.
With upcoming games against Villa, Wigan, Blackburn, andNewcastle, look for the Reds to hopefully get Andy Carroll a run of games as well. Liverpool need to get their number nine firing on all cylinders to maximize points and climb the table. At the end of the day, the numbers never lie — 18 Titles, 5 European Cups, 3 UEFA Cups, 7 FA Cups, 7 League Cups.