I remember reading about Liverpool’s issues in front of goal a while ago. This article on the BBC Football site has some key details, and The Times ran a chart in yesterday’s edition talking about the same thing (behind a paywall, sadly).
The point of all this is that Liverpool are having a terrible time converting their shots to goals, and at that point were only scoring with 10% of their shots. This was in late October – in late December, the Times noted that the figure is now about 8%.
I wanted to get a better handle on this so ran the data myself. The chart below shows how each team ranks on the above, both attacking and defending. What this does, I think, is give us a good understanding of what each team is doing this season and why.
This emphasises Liverpool’s problem: going forwards their 19th of 20 in terms of converting shots to goals. But defensively they’re second in the league. Such a discrepency would suggest a tactical issue to me, too few men in attacking positions perhaps.
Another clue comes from Manchester United, who do very, very well on both counts. United surprised a lot of us the other day by playing scintillating football, attacking at extraoardinary pace. Is United’s secret that they’re effective enough at having men behind the ball, but blindingly quick on the counter, allowing them to attack space, create space, and ultimately take shots they can score from?
Liverpool, and Fulham really, have the reverse problem. They are effective defensively but perhaps not quick enough in attacking, meaning defences are set against them and good shooting chances are harder to come by. I don’t know, this might be miles off, but it feels about right (particularly as we seem to need to walk the ball through opposing defences, which is the antithesis of United’s quicksilver approach).
Instructive, I think. For those of us who like betting on football, too, perhaps revealing (I have a fine record of betting on Fulham; a dreadful one on betting on others).
With the above in mind I wanted to check that these things are… reliable. Is United’s extraordinary season a fluke, in which shots they’re taking are just ‘going in’, while Liverpool’s are, as Dalglish suggests, merely finding opposing keepers in great form? So the charts below show actual ratios this time, first how many shots each team needs to score, this year and last.
That looks pretty consistent to me. United’s fine form this year certainly doesn’t seem to be a fluke, while Liverpool’s attack does look weird when compared to last year. They’re taking almost twice as many shots as last season between goals. (‘walk it in’ Fulham are in the same boat.)
Same below for defending:
Not much has changed. Chelsea’s defence has got worse, United’s and Liverpool’s better. Aha! So Liverpool’s attack has got a lot worse (less efficient), at the same time as their defence has got more efficient. This is instructive: football is not a zero sum game, and this would suggest to me that the team has changed the way it’s playing, whether deliberately or merely to accommodate new signings. Fulham’s defence is unchanged, so the solid bedrock remains but the attack’s got a bit less efficient. This fits with what we see with our eyes, and again we must think back to the United masterclass at the Cottage: they break with remarkable speed; we’re far too slow. I can’t necessarily see a way that we’ll improve this without some real pace in the side. It’s true that we have some lovely ball-playing attackers, now, but are they better? Maybe that’s not a fair question, as the system is bedding in, but not yet they’re not.
Lessons? That ignoring the City battering, United are every bit as good as they looked when we saw them. Liverpool are probably about what they’re doing now and I wouldn’t necessarily expect a magic surge (goal difference supports this) and Fulham need to find ways to make better chances (how many blocked shots do we ‘suffer’?). Chelsea’s defence is allowing better chances this season, presumably because of Villas Boas’ attempts at playing a higher line. So yes, check the betting sites out and have a bit of fun; you can click here for odds.