By Mark Chrystal
Before the season began I published an article on this site that suggested that Liverpool would be under pressure by October, due to the deficiencies and changes in their squad. As a life long red, it was a painful prediction to make and even more so to see come true now. The reality is that Liverpool have not picked up enough points from their first 6 matches for us to expect that they can now achieve Champions League qualification. I will explain this point, but please note that my desire is not to fuel negativity about the team. My objective is to inform Liverpool supporters about the likelihood of qualification from this starting point, for us all to be realistic about the prospects, and to back the team to the hilt anyway.
The Remaining Points Per Match Issue
Only once since 95/96, when the 38-match format began, have Liverpool qualified for the Champions League when they had 7 points at this point in the season. The year was 05/06 and they had 7 points from 6 matches, which comprised W1, D4, L1. Following this start, with a team that boasted Gerrard, Alonso, Hyppia, Agger, Reina, Cisse and Garcia all in their prime performance years, Liverpool went on to win 24, draw 3, and lose 5 of their remaining 32 matches. As a reminder, this was the season that was memorably capped by the “Gerrard-Final” vs West Ham. In fact, Liverpool have delivered 7 points or more after 6 matches and failed to finish in the top 4 on 6 occasions, but only on this one occasion have they started so poorly and still qualified.
So, only once in 20 years has Liverpool gone from 7 points after six matches and still qualified. In the Premier League era they have never finished in the top 4 with less points after six matches. Liverpool have qualified for the Champions League 13 times in the last 20 years, 12 of which came from top 4 finishes. Over the last 5 years it has taken an average of 72 points to qualify. This means that Liverpool would need to pick up 2.03 points/match for the balance of the season at a minimum; a performance pace that would require 20 wins, 5 draws and 6 loses. On the face of it, it doesn’t look so unreasonable right? Yet, a pace of 2.03 points per match has only been achieved once in the last 5 seasons, and that was last year. In 12/13 they achieved 1.60 points/match, and a rate of 1.75 from the last 32 matches. In 11/12 they achieved 1.37 points/match, and a rate of 1.31 points from the last 32 matches. In 10/11 the average pace was 1.53 and in 09/10 it was 1.66 points/match. In 08/09 they did achieve 2.25 points/match from the last 32 matches, but they began the season achieving 2.33 points/match. This is an important point where, aside from 05/06, Liverpool in the Premier League era have never achieved more than 2 points/match for the last 32 matches when they didn’t exceed that performance pace in the first 6 matches. When you consider that Liverpool are still yet to play 4 of the current top 7 on a home and away basis, having already lost 2 out of 3 to the remaining teams, the challenge to repeat 05/06 looks quite steep.
Even if they go on to perform like they did last season for the remaining 32 matches, it would give them a total of 77 points, which was only good enough for 5th place last season; albeit, that it would have qualified them in the prior 4 seasons. Yet, last season was characterized by having the two highest goal scorers in the league in the team, an achievement that looks very unlikely this season. Looking at the points per match achieved over the last 5 years, it is more likely that Liverpool can expect to finish in the range of 5th to 7th, unless a remarkable turn-around can be achieved.
The Squad and Tactical Consistency Issue
Compounding the problems associated with Liverpool’s ability to turn the season around is the current state of the squad and the tactics being employed. When any business organization undergoes significant change in personnel it takes considerable time to regain its cultural identity and operating efficiency. I would argue that this is also true, perhaps more so, for a football team. This is certainly the case when coupled with the loss of the world’s most creative talent. Consider that fully 50% of the players that played in the match against Everton were not in the squad last season, this includes 55% of the starting line-up and 60% of the defensive component of the team being new. This statistic is a really important one when you recognize that of the Premier League matches that Liverpool have won this season (2), the team’s starting line-up has only consisted of 3 new players on average. Whereas when Liverpool have dropped points (in 4 matches) the number of new players starting those matches averages close to 5.
Further exacerbating the ability of the new players to adapt into the team is Rodger’s desire to continually change the tactics and players. Given the need to get the new players to adapt to Liverpool’s system, and the need for the existing players to learn how to play with the new, there needs to be a strong level of consistency in all other regards. Consistent change in personnel and tactics does not allow a new team to develop the understanding required to perform at a peak level. While injuries to key players have certainly been a factor, it seems imperative that Rodger’s pick a more stable path. He must either stick with 11 to 13 players in a similar tactical pattern for a significant run of games, or he must go back to using players who understand the system from last season and keep the new players to just 3 of the starting 11. Without making these adjustments, I would argue that Liverpool have little chance of repeating the turn-around achieved in 05/06.
The Bottom Line
As a consequence of the above statistics relative to the current point tally and points dropped with new players, it looks to me that a top 4 finish in the Premier League is highly improbable. Winning the Champions League is possible, but also unlikely, and as such I am now predicting that Liverpool will not achieve qualification this season. This is a prediction I certainly hope does not come true, but I think it is important to assume that this has now become a transition year for the new team, and as fans I think we need to give them room to do so. However it is always worth putting a few quid on Liverpool, you never know, check out the sports betting guide by SportsbookNavigator.com.
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