Liverpool: Scoring less, conceding more and getting old, but can Rangers turn it around?

Darwin Nunez and Liverpool have struggled to impress in the Premier League this season

As the October rains fall, the sunny days of July feel so far away. For Liverpool supporters, it seemed particularly far-fetched.

On 30 July, Liverpool beat Manchester City 3–1 in the Community Shield. Darwin Nunez scored on his debut. Mohamed Salah scored a penalty. Erling Haaland missed the opportunity cap.

It was a match to fill all Reds fans with optimism. However, with Liverpool and City meeting for the first time since that game on Sunday, optimism has taken a hit.

A bit of positivity has returned after Rangers’ 7-1 thrashing at Ibrox has put Liverpool in sight of the last 16 of the Champions League. A City win on Sunday would see him almost fully recovered.

However, while Manchester City – and Haaland in particular – has gained strength as the season has progressed, Liverpool have largely regressed.

Liverpool made it two wins from a historic quartet in 2021-22. Ilkay Gundogan’s double and Vinicius Junior’s slide saw him become the first English men’s team to lift the top four trophies available.

Coming so close to immortality and coming up short would give any team a hangover. But Liverpool’s relegation to the Premier League has been quite striking.

According to Opta, Liverpool’s shots per game in the league have fallen from 19.2 last season to 17.5 this term, while their xG (expected goals) per game has also fallen from 2.6 to 1.8.

However, it is not that their attack has been completely sterilized: the average number of touches in the opposition box has increased from 38.9 to 42.1 and the number of open crosses per game has also increased from 15.6 to 16.4.

That comes from an offense that was once so established, but now shows signs of falling apart piece by piece.

Sadio Mane went to Bayern Munich. Salah, aside from a six-minute hat-trick in Glasgow, has not found the form of recent campaigns. Nunez has started to recover from his debut goal, a red card against Crystal Palace does nothing to help him.

Mo Salah
Mohamed Salah has scored just two goals in eight Premier League games this season

“Chopping and changing is a big problem”

That flow in midfield and attack is the main concern for Chris Sutton, who has sensed the loss of key players, the arrival of new faces and the dips in form of remaining stars creating the perfect storm of problems. Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp.

Speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Monday Night Club, Sutton said: “There are a lot of things that are a problem at the moment. A lot of players have been out of shape. Look at the squad selections too, they’ve been reduced and changed.

“Cutting and changing is a huge problem. Harvey Elliott is a nice footballer but he’s in the team at the wrong time. That’s a problem, they haven’t found continuity.

“They’re looking for a lead and it hasn’t been prominent enough. What’s an acceptable ending for Liverpool? Because they’re not going to win the league.”

A lackluster front line has stifled Liverpool’s ability to create big chances this season – the team is averaging 1.5 per game, according to Nielsen Gracenote.

Gracenote reckons Liverpool created an average of 3.75 big chances per game in 2021-2022 and 3.5 per game in their title-winning season.

the season Manchester City Liverpool
2016/17 3.22 2.75
2017/18 5.33 3.13
2018/19 4.89 3.00
2019/20 4.78 3.50
2020/21 3.0 4.38
2021/22 3.67 3.75
2022/23 3.0 1.50
Source: Nielsen Gracenote

Things are not looking good at the other end of the pitch either. Trent Alexander-Arnold’s form – or lack of it – has been the subject of much debate, while Virgil van Dijk has not been the same imposing figure this campaign. The average number of goals per game has doubled, from 0.7 to 1.5.

Liverpool conceded 26 goals in the league in all of 2021-22 and have already conceded 12 in 2022-23. They faced 111 shots in the Premier League last season, and 31 already: 2.9 per game, 3.9 maximum.

They have scored the first goal in six of their eight Premier League games this season. According to Gracenote, only Southampton, with seven, have played the opening game more often, having played one more game than Liverpool.

It was a problem that arose last season. Liverpool have conceded goals in six of their last 14 Premier League games – including the last four – whenever the opposition have scored first. However, the Reds came back to pick up 14 points in those six games.

In this campaign, they have collected six points in six consecutive games.

Liverpool players against Arsenal
Arsenal’s defeat left Liverpool 14 points off the top of the Premier League

Is Liverpool at the end of a cycle?

The stats certainly tell a grim story for Liverpool, but they cannot tell the whole story. Rather, they are the result of less quantifiable problems for Klopp’s team.

There is a feeling that this Liverpool team has reached the end of a cycle. At over 28, Liverpool’s starters are the oldest on average this season since Klopp took over as manager, with the third-oldest average in the Premier League.

The core of the squad has remained relatively unchanged in recent seasons, with the likes of Allison, Van Dijk, Jordan Henderson, Fabinho and Salah still relied on week in and week out.

Gracenote believes it was Manchester City’s only finish outside of the first two under Pep Guardiola when the team’s starters aged this much on average, with all Premier League champions in the last six seasons having a weighted average age of between 26.61 and 27.67. their starting players.

In 2017-18, Liverpool had the youngest average age of a team in the top flight. When they won the league in 2019-20, they were still ninth-oldest.

Of course, age is just a number and as a statistic should be taken with a grain of salt, as is the idea that Klopp is suffering from “seventh season syndrome” – he left Mainz and Borussia Dortmund in his seventh campaign, and it’s a year on. seven at Anfield.

However, a long time at any football club brings tactical knowledge to your opponents and there is a fear that the rest of the Premier League have Liverpool figured out.

As Aston Villa manager, Dean Smith led Klopp’s 7-2 win over Liverpool on October 4, 2020, after revealing where the Reds’ defensive problems lay.

Smith told the Monday Night Club: “The way we prepared for that game was to play from behind Liverpool – they play a very high line. They recruit the press unbelievably, we felt the space was behind us and we needed to change the game and get runners behind.”

Darwin Nunez looks happy
After scoring in the Community Shield, Darwin have only scored twice

Haaland vs Nunez

The contrast between Liverpool and Manchester City this season has been shown by the campaigns against the signings of their flagship strikers in the summer.

In the 97th minute of the Community Shield, shortly after Nunez scored Liverpool’s third to secure the trophy, Haaland hit the bar into the empty net after Adrian spilled a shot.

City fans shook their heads, Liverpool fans jeered, pundits wondered if Pep had bought a puppy.

Haaland has since scored 20 goals in all competitions. It’s four

If there was ever a time for the Uruguayans to bring back that July sunshine and Liverpool’s optimism, this Sunday would surely be it.