Two Goals Is Too Many; Liverpool’s Away Defence

As Liverpool slumped to a 3-1 defeat at Selhurst Park on Sunday, they racked up their fourth away defeat of the season, and sixth in total, with both of these loss figures matching their total for the whole of 2013/14.

Once Crystal Palace had equalised, it should’ve come as little surprise that they scored again before the end of the match; conceding two-or-more goals on the road has been a trademark of the Brendan Rodgers era at Liverpool.

Take a look at the below table. It shows you the away defensive records of the fifteen teams that have been ever present in the top flight since Brendan Rodgers took charge at Anfield in the summer of 2012. You can see how many times they’ve had a clean sheet, conceded once, or been breached twice-or-more. The teams are sorted by the latter of those three, and it doesn’t make good reading for Liverpool fans.

Conceding two plus awayIn the last ten seasons of the Premier League, teams have on average only won 6% of the time when conceding at least twice, with 14% ending in a draw and 80% leading to a defeat. Although Liverpool have been above average on this front historically, winning 18% of the time when conceding twice-or-more in the last ten years (with this figure given a boost by four wins from twelve in 2013/14), the fact is they can no longer rely on Suárez (permanently) or Sturridge (injury permitting) to bail them out of trouble. The Reds won at Stoke, Fulham, Cardiff, and Norwich despite conceding at least twice last season, and the aforementioned strike duo scored nine goals between them across these games.

Although a clean sheet is the obvious aim, even conceding just once (which Liverpool have done less often than any other team, as you can see in the above table) would make a massive difference. The league average for wins rises to 31%, with Liverpool again exceeding this slightly with a 40% win rate when conceding once on the road.

Look at it another way; based on the last ten years of Premier League football, Liverpool have a 65% chance of at least a point when they conceded once away from home versus just 33% when their keeper is beaten at least twice. It’s essentially twice as likely that the Reds will have something to show for their exertions if they can limit the home side to a single goal.

So how does Brendan Rodgers prevent this from happening? Perhaps not selecting the Premier League’s most error prone player might be a good start; Dejan Lovren has made five (Opta defined) errors that have lead to shots with four of them occurring in the last three matches. Fortunately for Liverpool, only one of these errors has cost the Reds a goal, but as it was Crystal Palace’s second strike on Sunday, it proved particularly costly.

When you consider that the most errors by any outfield player in the last two full seasons was six, the fact that Lovren has five in the first third of his debut Liverpool season shows just how the Croatian is struggling.

Using a specialist defensive midfielder would surely help the Reds’ cause too. I have seen a couple of pieces highlighting Steven Gerrard’s dwindling defensive contribution recently, and whilst defensive statistics are notoriously hard to work with, there’s no doubt that he doesn’t appear to be offering much of a shield to the back four this season; he didn’t make a single tackle or interception against Palace, for instance.

By looking WhoScored’s detailed stats section, I can see that Gerrard is ranked 79/120 central and/or defensive midfielders in the Premier League for tackles per 90 minutes this season, and an even worse 86/94 for interceptions (presumably more players have attempted a tackle than made at least one interception). Some of this will be down to Liverpool having the fourth highest average possession, but even so, it highlights that the skipper isn’t breaking up opposition attacks as often as he surely should.

The long and short of it is that Liverpool need to keep their hosts below two goals when on the road, else they’ll struggle to win away games too often. How Brendan Rodgers does this is up to him, but it’s starting to look like his job probably depends on him doing so.

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