Liverpool’s win against Tottenham Hotspur last weekend was obviously well received by Reds everywhere, but at the same time it didn’t teach them anything new about the strengths and weaknesses of their team. Jürgen Klopp’s men have been ruthless this season against teams who play a high line, as Spurs did to suicidal effect at Anfield, but they have seemed toothless against the low block favoured by the Premier League’s lesser lights.
The Tomkins Times published a very good article this week (here) which looked at how Liverpool have fared against teams who have ‘parked the bus’ against them this season. The findings were certainly interesting, but in my continual quest for context with statistical analysis, I thought it would be worthwhile comparing the Reds to the other members of the big six to see how each team has fared. My assumption is that all teams struggle against a low block, but is that actually the case?
There’s no foolproof or easy way to determine which teams have defended deep against the top teams, but I have defined the matches in this study by the following: The big team is at home, and their opponent is in the bottom half of the division for average possession away from home. I have match-by-match data for the past two seasons, so for the record the potential bus parkers are listed in the table below. Ah, do come in, Mr Pulis…
As you’d expect, it’s not a perfect system (2015/16 champions Leicester didn’t wholly park their bus, despite their aversion to possession) but it will at least give us an indication of how the big six perform at home when they have a lot of the ball. In terms of total shots, Liverpool lead the way in terms of dominating matches:
If we look at just shots on target, then on a ratio basis the Reds drop to third best out of six:
To really get to the bottom of how teams fare against a low block though, we need to factor in chance quality, and so I shall defer to Opta’s clear-cut chances (which are defined by the data collector as “A situation where a player should reasonably be expected to score usually in a one-on-one scenario or from very close range”). Here’s the data, with the teams sorted by the clear-cut chance difference per game:
It probably won’t surprise Liverpool fans to see that their team does not fare well compared to their peers here, as the numbers match what they’ve seen; the Reds happily dominate matches against the ultra defensive teams, but consistently struggle to create top quality goal scoring opportunities, whilst also often allowing their opponents decent chances. I looked at the figures for Chelsea for this season alone as they were so poor last year, and their CCC difference in this campaign has been 2.00 per game, so excusing Chelsea from being so bad in 2015/16 would leave Liverpool bottom of this table.
Using a combination of the figures from the tables above, we can see what proportion of each team’s shots for and against fall into the clear-cut chance category (and the clubs are sorted here on the attacking side as we’re trying to determine who is best at breaking through a low block):
We can hereby say that Liverpool appear to have been the worst of the big six sides when it comes to breaking down bus parking teams at home in the last two seasons, and that’s before we get to being on the road, where Hull City are the most recent side to offer the Reds a wall of opposition whilst profiting from set pieces and counter attacks.
Wins against a wide-open Spurs are one thing, but Jürgen Klopp needs to figure out how to regularly beat opponents who employ a low block, and compared to their immediate rivals the Reds still have a fair way to go on that front. Obviously game state has a massive bearing here, as if you can score first then good chances should be easier to come by, but it’s clear that Liverpool need to up their attacking game against the Premier League’s lesser lights.
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> “but consistently struggle to create top quality goal scoring opportunities”
How did you come up with that take-away? Firstly, maybe lets just stick with 2016-17 data.
Now, what are the average ‘CCC’ Liverpool create per game? How is this average if the data set is divided into ‘v/s Top6’ (or ‘Traditional Rivals’) and ‘v/s Others’ (or v/s ‘Bottom Half’ if you prefer)?
What is the co-relation between CCC and points per game?
Without either of the above, youre still stitching a presumed narrative and using half-baked stats to support it (“look, LFC have just 37 CCCs!” v/s 39 of UTD”).
The media always needs SOME narrative.
Initially it was:
* Can Liverpool replicate this style of counter-pressing football vs the top teams (early in Klopp’s reign, every singly pundit/expert claimed this, until he started beating the ‘top teams’ regularly)
* Can Liverpool sustain this exhaustive, high intensity football for the entire season (oh look how much they run, they obviously cant keep this up for long!)
* Can Liverpool compete with a CM playing as LB! HOW CAN THEY START THE SEASON WITH MILNER! (then everyone is calling Klopp a genius at the mid-way mark, as we beat City on new years day, and 2nd on the table)
and now …
* Can Liverpool beat teams who dont come at them, thereby leaving open spaces to exploit
and ill tell you now, IF we beat Burnley convincingly, that narrative will morph to
* Can Liverpool beat defensive teams AWAY from home, since our home record, except the loss to Swansea, wouldve been impeccable
Its garbage of the highest degree. You really think if it was THAT simple, that managers of Poch and Wenger’s pedigree and experience wouldnt replicate it to beat Liverpool?
Just because our beloved Carragher claims ‘Klopp’s LFC only know one way of playing the game, they have no plan B’ – doesnt make it true.
I would think, smarter bloggers like yourself would see that our key problem is making critical errors, leading to cheap goals against team’s playing deep-narrow-defensive football.
– Burnley, opening goal is from an errant back-pass
– Hull, opening goal is from Mig dropping a regulation catch
– Bournemouth, winning goal is from Karius dropping a regulation long shot/cross
– Sunderland, equalizer is from penalty due to Mane sticking his arm out on a FK that never shouldve been given
– Leicester, opening goal is from Wij passing the ball to opponent, with the team pressing high
– Swansea, winning goal is from Klavan miscuing his clearance straight to the on-rushing Sigurdsson
The issue is defense. The issue is making critical errors, in key moments of the game or in early part of the game, when team’s looking to pinch goals on the counter/set-pieces are anyways playing at their defensive/efficient best.
The team needs players with more consistency, who will cut out this errors, be quicker in the transition, in the attacking 3rd and patient otherwise. Good to get an early goal, but dont need to desperately chase the game and try it win in the first half.
As Klopp puts it ‘quality’ in key moments.
I fail to agree with this new found narrative that Klopp’s Liverpool struggles to create clear-cut chances vs ‘unfancied’ opposition. Yes, finishing them has sometimes been an issue.
Firminio is one of the leagues Top3 offenders, in missing ‘big chances’. Thus, finishing, i can agree has been an issue – but NOT creating clear cut chances. (unless you dig out the extra data in my post, and make the appropriate statistical case)