Liverpool: The only way is up

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With the international break in full swing, I think it’s time to reflect on Liverpool’s season so far and where I see them going from hereon in this season.

It’s obvious the team hasn’t had the best of starts this season and now have an uphill struggle to rejoin the title race proper. The three losses to Manchester City, Aston Villa and West Ham have raised concerns among the Liverpool faithful. The focus of which has mainly been directed at Brendan Rodgers. Having taken time to reflect, without the immediate post-match emotion, I have to come to the conclusion that things aren’t actually that bad.

The Reds’ aren’t the only side struggling. Look at the table. Chelsea remain the only side with a 100% record which includes one draw. Man City have lost once. Beyond that, all the teams from third to sixth have already lost twice each. This time last year, all the top four sides had only lost one game each. Liverpool included who were in second. Thus it’s fair to assume that if things continue as they are, this may become a low-scoring season in terms of points. Historically the lowest points qualification for the Champions League was 60. Achieved by the Reds in the 2003/4 season. We all know what happened after that. With a fully fit squad, this represents an opportunity for Rodgers and his charges.

Injuries have affected Liverpool badly so far this season. Three of their bast players in Joe Allen, the promising Emre Can and of course, Daniel Sturridge have not played since August and this has been a big factor in the team’s apparent decline. Statistically and practically, the loss of Sturridge has probably been the most telling. Goals win games. Using the striker’s stats of last season, he scored 21 times in 29 games. That’s 1.4 goals a game by my dusty calculator. And say, six goals by my dusty brain, missed during the four games that he’s not played. With a goal difference of minus-one in the sequence, it’s not  inconceivable that Liverpool could have won perhaps one and drawn another of the three games lost. Another four points would have put Liverpool in joint second place.

Now, you may say that’s all ‘if’s ‘but’s and ‘maybe’s. But without those little gems can’t be ignored. Otherwise, let’s send Sturridge on holiday for the rest of the season. If it doesn’t matter that much. The fact is, Liverpool are below strength. Joe Allen also has been missed. Probably as much as Sturridge. The midfield has missed his ability to find space and press opposition players out of possession. This has been key. If we look at last season, Allen won 55% of his duels compared to Philippe Coutinho who has played instead of the Welshman this season winning 51%. The former also had a higher passing accuracy at 87% compared to the Brazilian’s 81%.

These two elements have been missing without Allen. Granted, Coutinho created more chances last season. 64 – about 2 per game, compared to just 18 from Allen. However, it’s clear that this season the opposition has sussed this and his lacking of physical ability has been telling. His chances created this term has been less than one per game. Against Villa and West Ham, both his lack of physicality and inability to create chances when closely marshalled has been evident and both games were lost. For this reason, I for one will be happy to have Joe Allen back. Rodgers often describes Allen in terms of “Energy” and when one looks closely at what he brings to the team, a bit of physicality, an ability to retain possession, then it’s easy to see why.

Against West Brom Rodgers pushed Steven Gerrard into a forward position and put Lucas Leiva in the holding midfield position. Lucas, for some reason is a shadow of the player we saw a couple of seasons ago. The benefit of Lucas was that his passing was accurate. over the last couple of seasons he’s managed around 90% pass completion on average. However, his duels statistics are low and I think this is the reason he’s fallen out of favour at Liverpool. So far this season, he’s won only 27% of his duels whereas Emre Can has won 44%. Not a great stat from the latter either but when you consider playing time, it’s more impressive.

The German’s pass completion rate is also 96% so when he’s been called into action, he’s delivered. Lucas on the other hand  has completed 86% of his passes. In times when opposition players are pressing hard, passes need to be completed. Can will provide a better alternative to Gerrard and allow the captain to advance upfield where he can do more damage.

Chances are these three will be back for the trip down to Loftus Road to face Queens Park Rangers next Sunday and, for me, it won’t be a moment too soon. Whatever’s passed, we are where we are and as things stand, there’s a chance to improve and get amongst it. It’s still all to play for. Bring it on.

Follow me on Twitter: @Mrbengreen

More Stories Brendan Rodgers Daniel Sturridge Emre Can Joe Allen