From an amateur’s point of view, it’s great that there are multiple websites that freely share football stats. They don’t always publish a simple list of what you want though; as Liverpool’s woes with defending set pieces continued at Carrow Road, fans want to know how the Reds compare to every other side in the Premier League when it comes to conceding from dead ball situations, but nowhere publishes a table of this information.
I’ve put in the hard yards over at whoscored.com, and gone through ten match previews to extract the data. Here’s what I found.
These figures were compiled on Sunday morning, so don’t include the matches played that day, but I’ve checked and there were no set piece goals in the two matches that took place (WhoScored don’t include penalties in these stats), so the numbers are still accurate.
As I’m mainly interested in defending set pieces for this article, I’ve sorted the team’s by number of goals conceded, from fewest to most.Only Arsenal and Chelsea allow fewer set piece shots per game than Liverpool do, yet the Reds have conceded the joint most goals.
If we refer back to a table I used in this article comparing Liverpool and Dortmund on set pieces, we can see that this will surely be Liverpool’s worst season in the last seven for number of set piece goals conceded.
Notice here that when Liverpool set the Premier League record (for the period since 2009/10, which figures are available for) for scoring set piece goals in 2013/14, they converted 19% of their set piece shots. The Reds have conceded 18% this season, which is over double the league average rate, so although I don’t have time to check every team’s defensive record over the previous six seasons, it’s fair to say that Liverpool are probably close to the record worst level for set piece shot conversion against.
If we return to the first table, it’s remarkable that Crystal Palace have allowed the most set piece shots per game but have only conceded once (and that was from Chadli in injury time on Saturday; they nearly made it this far through the season without conceding from a set piece). Liverpool conceded two in the space of sixty-three minutes at Norwich alone!
Why are Palace so good and Liverpool so bad? Without watching back hours of video, it’s very hard to say. It is interesting though that according to this table (taken from this excellent Paul Tomkins article) Palace are far from the biggest side that Liverpool have faced, yet they seem very good at defending set pieces. Not that height alone is everything of course, but it certainly can’t hurt. Perhaps they’re just lucky?
We saw in 2014/15 that Liverpool’s remarkable attacking set piece record regressed, and I’m confident that the same will happen at the back too. After all, Liverpool have two of the top four defenders in the division for aerial duel wins per ninety minutes played.
A classic example of ‘lies, damned lies and statistics’ perhaps; were the aerial duels they won in the penalty box, or from set piece situations? Regardless of the answers to those questions, Sakho and Lovren clearly have a reasonable level of aerial ability, so hopefully they can start clearing far more set piece crosses soon.
The goalkeeper’s are a different matter though; between them Mignolet and Bogdan have made Opta defined defensive errors leading to set piece goals against Norwich and West Brom at Anfield, and away at Watford. Their general lack of confidence in such situations can only lead to uncertainty in the defenders in front of them too. I wonder how Danny Ward fared on dead ball situations in Scotland?
The fact is that Jürgen Klopp’s teams have conceded a whopping twenty-one set piece goals in their last forty-five league games between them. Whether a regression to the mean happens automatically or not, the Liverpool manager needs to fix this as soon as possible if Liverpool are to have a good end to 2015/16.
Update: These tweets from the excellent Dan Kennett illustrate just how unlikely Liverpool’s atrocious record at defending corners is this season: