As I waited for the game to start on Saturday, I flicked through the programme and came across the players’ stats.
It brought home to me how few Liverpool games that most of their players lining up in this match (and particularly those in key attacking positions) had previously played for the club.
Looking at the front six on Saturday, half of it was new to the club, and Lucas and Can were unlikely to create too much either. Coutinho can usually be relied upon, but of course creating chances is very much a two-way process.
Yes, the players who create the most chances across a season tend to be the better ones, but equally they need to know the likely runs and movement of their colleagues, in order to play them in. Attacking patterns are built and honed through time spent playing together, and the current Liverpool team hasn’t had enough of it yet.
Leaving aside any chances that will have been created in international football, here’s how many chances Liverpool’s starting XI on Saturday created for each other last season.
Moreno came on at half time, and he linked up well with Coutinho last season; the Spaniard created ten chances for the former Inter man last year, and the Reds only had five better partnerships in 2014/15. Coutinho’s red card meant that they only spent seven minutes together on the pitch though, and weren’t able to exchange a single pass, much less create a scoring opportunity.
None of this is to excuse the rubbish that Liverpool dished up on Saturday, but it shouldn’t be that surprising to see a new front six struggle to create chances, and not least against a side who were very compact and had a lead to defend for virtually the entire match.
West Ham may also have had new players in their ranks and managed to win easily, but then they only created six chances in the match themselves; with Liverpool’s abysmal defending, the Irons didn’t need to create much.
It was a similar story for the Reds a year ago too; Sterling created two chances for Sturridge in each of Liverpool’s first three matches last season, and even though the striker then got injured the Sterling/Sturridge pairing remained Liverpool’s top creating combination overall for another nine matches, as no other pairing made more than six shooting opportunities until the twelfth match of the season.
The fact that the two players are so good is obviously relevant, but they had also played together before and so Sterling would often know where Sturridge would be.
It would be wrong to assume that strong new creative partnerships will automatically grow later in this campaign (though Coutinho and Benteke have started well, as I wrote here), as there was little evidence of it happening after a slow start for Liverpool last season. Equally though I think we need to give this new look Reds outfit a little more time before we write them off entirely.