The Liverpool Echo had an article at the weekend which claimed to have ‘the proof Liverpool fans are right to be excited by start of season‘. It spoke of the Reds scoring four-or-more goals in the first two home games for the first time in the top flight since 1922, and scoring the most goals the club has managed in the opening eight games since 1895, and there were some impressive individual player stats from the Hull City rout thrown in too.
This is all well and good, but finishing can blow both hot and cold so for an amateur football analyst like myself a little deeper digging into the underlying numbers is required, and the good news is that the findings are both positive and, based on Klopp’s managerial history, entirely expected.
When the German first took over at Anfield, I wrote this free piece for The Tomkins Times about how consistently impressive Dortmund’s shots on target ratios were under Jürgen Klopp. Rather than regurgitate the article in full here (though please do have a read, and subscribe to The Tomkins Times whilst you’re at it), I will re-post the table of shots on target ratios and the key paragraph here.
I’ve looked at seven seasons of Premier League data for this, and only one team has either averaged over 6.8 shots on target per game, or posted a SoTR of over 70%. In fact, it was one team who did both: the Chelsea side of 2009/10 (whose manager Liverpool definitely haven’t spoken to), yet we can see here that Klopp’s Dortmund managed both of these feats on their way to the title in 2010/11, and also hit over seven shots on target per game in 2013/14.
This season, Liverpool average 7.2 shots on target per league game, and their shots on target ratio is a very impressive 69.4%. One other point from the above article is definitely worth mentioning here: the Champions in the Premier League for the previous seven seasons averaged 66% on this front (though Leicester went onto win the title with only 56%, putting a slight dent in this), so Klopp’s team have started 2016/17 very well indeed.
Now it would be folly to assume at this point that this level of performance will definitely continue for the whole campaign; as much as we’d like them to, the Reds won’t hit double figures for shots on target for every single home game this season, as they have so far. As an aside, Liverpool’s last two home games are in a group of just eighteen league games from the previous 310 (from August 2008 onwards) where the Reds have had eleven-or-more shots on target.
What we can say though is that Liverpool’s performance for this early part of the 2016/17 season has basically matched that of the best Premier League team statistically (in terms of shots on target at least) from the last eight seasons.
It’s only fair to point out that at this early stage of the campaign there are other teams with better shots on target ratios than Liverpool; Southampton have posted 70.8%, and Everton a remarkable 76.5%. Tottenham aside, Everton have yet to face anyone that likely to finish in the top half though, whilst Southampton have travelled to Arsenal and Manchester United (plus West Ham) in fairness, but have had three likely bottom half sides at home. I think it’s safe to say that Liverpool have had the hardest run so far.
It’s also interesting to draw some parallels with the manager’s career at Dortmund. Last season, Klopp’s Liverpool posted a shots on target ratio of 60%, which was a very creditable effort when taking over mid-season (and the average level posted by the Premier League’s fourth placed teams), and which matches his side’s efforts in 2009/10. BVB’s ratio then leaped to 71.2% the following season, and they won the league.
Are we seeing a similar pattern begin to emerge at Liverpool? I keep saying it’s too early to be sure, but the Reds’ start to 2016/17 certainly suggests it’s a possibility at least. Either way, the shots on target numbers imply to me that Klopp’s Liverpool appear to be taking shape in the same way that his illustrious Dortmund side did.
After the thirty-six league games they’ve played under the management of Jürgen Klopp, Liverpool’s shots on target ratio is 62%, which is the average that the team finishing third posts, and is one that has only been bettered by twenty-two of the 160 team seasons from the last eight years in the Premier League. If the Reds can continue to average seven shots on target per game and a ratio of 69%, then rest assured this will be a very special season indeed, even if no more 120 year old scoring records are broken along the way.