Champions Form vs Project Restart
When football returned for Project Restart back in June, champions-elect Liverpool’s defence didn’t quite come back at the same level we had seen before. The Reds went from averaging 0.7 goals against per game prior to the COVID-19 break to 1.3 afterwards in the league. We could attribute that increase to the fact that Jurgen Klopp’s men had secured an unassailable lead at the summit of the Premier League, so the pressure was all but off, or maybe even that there were a few sore heads lingering from title-winning celebrations.
However, this trend has continued into 2020/21 with Liverpool conceding 16 goals in just eight Premier League games this season, an average of two per match; last season the Reds conceded their 16th goal in their 27th league game of the campaign. The fact that they are almost halfway to their entire goals conceded tally from last season of 33 should have alarm bells ringing.
The reigning champions have also kept just one clean sheet in eight games this season, a rate of 13% whilst they recorded 15 in 38 games on their way to the 2019/20 title, a rate of 39%.
Liverpool are facing fewer shots per game on average this season (8.5 to 9.0) but more of their opponents’ shots are finding the target per game (2.9 to 4.0). Overall though, these efforts are equating to Liverpool averaging 0.9-1.0 expected goals against (excluding penalties) in both 2019/20 and so far this campaign.
Perhaps slightly worrying for Klopp is the number of goals from high turnovers that Liverpool have conceded so far this season. High turnovers are defined as opposition sequences that start 40m or less from a team’s own goal. Despite suffering fewer high turnovers on average compared to the 2019/20 season (2.6 to 3.0), Liverpool have conceded three times from high turnovers, already the same number as in the 2019/20 season and the most in the league this season.
Injury Hit Reds
In a normal season, you would expect Jurgen Klopp to stay calm and expect their defensive numbers to correct themselves in due course. This isn’t just any campaign, however, with the Liverpool squad ravaged by injuries, especially amongst their defensive players.
Virgil van Dijk is, of course, likely to miss the remainder of the season due to the injury he picked up in the Merseyside derby, Trent Alexander-Arnold is set for a spell on the sidelines and Joe Gomez is undergoing surgery during the international break. Add to that the fact that Thiago and Naby Keita are both currently missing whilst Fabinho and Matip are just making a return to action and there will be a nervousness around the Anfield changing room on Saturday afternoon. Leicester may well be smelling blood.
Hopefully, Liverpool’s new home through the week, the AXA Training Centre, has a state-of-the-art medical room.
Whether Fabinho is passed fit to partner Matip this weekend against Leicester or not, it will still be a seventh different centre-back partnership for Liverpool in the Premier League this season, already more than double that of last season (3).
The difference this time is that the starting centre-back pairing will not feature either of Gomez or Van Dijk for Liverpool for the first time since 30th January 2018 (Matip and Lovren v. Huddersfield, Gomez at RB), 98 league games ago. The last time neither were present in a starting Premier League lineup for the Reds was 26th December 2017 (v Swansea City).
Whoever it is that gets the nod from Klopp will also need to show the qualities Jurgen Klopp’s team require on the ball as well as being defensively sound. Amongst Premier League centre-backs last season, only Harry Maguire (6) has started more sequences that ended in a goal than both Virgil van Dijk (5) and Joe Gomez (4).
Liverpool’s Defence Since Winning The League
We are close to if not already past the point of this defensive weakness just being attributed to a Champions hangover with only Newcastle (29) conceding more Premier League goals than Liverpool since they were crowned champions back in late June.
Meanwhile, Crystal Palace (1) are the only Premier League ever-present side across the last two seasons to keep fewer clean sheets than Liverpool (2) in the league in that period whilst Chelsea the only top-flight team to commit more errors than the Reds (5).
Down But Certainly Not Out
Only a brave man would take the above information and write Liverpool off from retaining their title however, given that Klopp’s men once again this season do not know when they are beaten. The Reds have won the joint-most points from losing positions already this season (9) having come back to win in three of the four games they have fallen behind in, the exception being the freak game at Villa Park.
Liverpool have won more games than any other team in the Premier League so far this season when both teams have scored (4) with their quality further up the field bailing out their defensive mishaps out so far this campaign.
|PL 2020/21||Games||W||D||L||BTTS & Win||% of Wins Where BTTS|
Liverpool were top of the Premier League after MD7 with the worst defensive record in the league (15 conceded), the first time the leaders had conceded the most goals in the league since Norwich City between 9-20th November 1992.
With the impact Liverpool’s defenders made last season, three of them making the PFA Team of the Season, perhaps they were due a small break, though all three being on the treatment table at the same time probably wasn’t Jurgen Klopp’s preference.
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