The Stats Behind Liverpool’s Tame Premier League Title Defence
In sport, there is a saying that staying at the top is much harder than reaching the summit. Liverpool are finding that out the hard way as their Premier League title defence fizzles out with a whimper.
The Reds' 2-0 home defeat to neighbours Everton on Saturday was their seventh league loss this season. It was also the first time in almost 100 years that Anfield suffered four successive home defeats in the league.
To put that into context, Liverpool lost a total of four games in the previous two seasons. Liverpool's title defence is the worst of any defending champion in the history of the Premier League and they go into their next league game at Sheffield United on Sunday 33 points worse off than at this stage last season.
Here, we look at a number of reasons why Liverpool's title defence has not gone according to plan, ranging from injuries and fatigue to individual errors and inexperience.
Liverpool's injuries have been well documented, with Ballon d'Or runner-up Virgil van Dijk suffering a season-ending injury in just the fifth game of the campaign at Everton. This season, Jurgen Klopp has tried 13 different centre-back partnerships, but they are still struggling to stop their opponents from scoring.
Even before van Dijk's injury, Liverpool's defence was ranked second last in the league with 11 goals conceded in their opening four games so there were already issues at the back before van Dijk's long-term injury.
Skipper and make-shift centre-half Jordan Henderson is the latest player to be sidelined through injury. A groin injury is likely to keep Henderson out of the champions' trip to Bramall Lane and perhaps force Klopp into yet another new combination at the heart of the defence.
Starting Centre-Half Partnerships This Season
|Starting XI at CB||Game Tally|
With so many different combinations at the heart of the defence, first choice goalkeeper Alisson has made a number of uncharacteristic errors that have proved very costly. Two mistakes trying to play the ball out of defence helped leaders Manchester City beat Liverpool 4-1 in a game the Reds simply could not afford to lose.
When Alisson made the first error, not one of his team-mates offered him any comfort. They simply left him on the ground in a similar manner to the way Liverpool defenders shunned Loris Karius after his mistakes in the 2017/18 Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid.
Another Alisson error led to the crucial goal that helped Leicester come from behind to beat the Reds and extend the Foxes’ lead over Klopp’s side. It's not just Alisson making errors. Others in the team are to blame for mistakes, but when a goalkeeper makes them and they almost always lead to a goal and therefore stand out more.
Alisson's Clean Sheet Record For Liverpool
|2018/19||21 in 38||55.3%|
|2019/20||13 in 29||44.8%|
|2020/21||5 in 21||23.8%|
|Total||39 in 88||44.3%|
One of the biggest contrasts between last season and this, is Liverpool’s goal difference which has dropped from +45 after 25 games last season to +11 this time around. Because of van Dijk’s absence and Alisson’s loss of confidence, the number of goals Liverpool have conceded has increased drastically.
At the end of their title-winning season, Liverpool had conceded just 33 goals at an average of 0.87 goals per game. This season, Liverpool have surpassed that total with 34 in their opening 25 games at an average of 1.36 goals per game. And there are still 13 games left to play. Liverpool have conceded 19 more goals than at this stage last season.
At the other end, scoring has proved to be an issue too. After 25 games last season, Liverpool had scored 60 goals, but their output has fallen to 45 despite the efforts of leading scorer Mohamed Salah who leads the league with 17 goals.
However, his strike partners Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino have not been as prolific. Mane has scored seven league goals in 22 games while Firmino has six in 25. By this stage last season, Mane and Firmino had 19 goals between them which is six more than this term.
Goals conceded after 25 games:
- 2019/20 - 15
- 2020/21 - 34 (+19)
Goals scored after 25 games:
- 2019/20 - 60
- 2020/21 - 45 (-15)
In the aftermath of winning the club's first domestic league title in 30 years, Jurgen Klopp was asked about his transfer plans. He replied: "We can buy if we have the money and the need. If one of these is not there, we will not. It's not an excuse."
Liverpool managed to make two major signings they hoped would help them dominate English football for the next few seasons. Thiago Alcantara joined for £20million from Champions League winners Bayern Munich while Diogo Jota was signed from Wolves for £41m.
Jota made an immediate impact at Anfield with nine goals in 17 games, but a knee injury has sidelined Jota since early December. He is back in full training now and expected to return to the side in the near future.
Liverpool also spent £11.7m on Kostas Tsimikas from Dutch strugglers Willem II in August but with just one Premier League appearance so far this season, Tsimikas has not yet earned the trust of his manager to feature more regularly.
On the final day of the mid-season transfer window, Klopp brought centre-half Ozan Kabak in on loan from Bundesliga basement side Schalke to shore up the defence. But Kabak has had a less than convincing start to his spell at Anfield. Bringing players in from struggling teams are unlikely to improve the situation at Liverpool.
Liverpool major signings since winning the title:
- Thiago from Bayern Munich (£20m)
- Diogo Jota from Wolves (£41m)
- Kostas Tsimikas from Willem II (11.7m)
- Ozan Kabak from Schalke (loan)
Young Players Need More Time
A lack of signings has forced Klopp to put his faith in the younger players coming through the ranks at their Melwood training facility. Players like midfielder Curtis Jones, defenders Nathaniel Phillips and Neco Williams and goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher have combined for 31 appearances in the top flight.
Young players can be the future of any football club, but they need time to settle in. They need to be introduced to the first team at the right time. It's much easier bringing young players into a winning team rather than one that is struggling for consistency.
Klopp's team selection has not been easy this season with a total of 27 players starting a Premier League game. Last season, 24 players started a league game for the champions with 11 of them starting 22 games or more. The experience gained by these young players playing in these testing times will serve the next generation of Reds stars well in the future.
Young Stars Thrown In At The Deep End:
- Curtis Jones - 18 games
- Nathaniel Phillips - 7 games
- Neco Williams - 4 games
- Caoimhin Kelleher - 2 games
Pressure Of Being Champions
Liverpool waited 30 years for their 19th league title which was also their first Premier League triumph. Winning the first title is hard, but defending it is even more difficult. It has only happened six times in the Premier League era and with a 19-point gap between them and leaders Manchester City, the Reds will have to wait a little longer for their second Premier League title.
Klopp admitted weeks ago his side's focus is on finishing in the top four and qualifying for the Champions League. They are currently five points behind West Ham who occupy fourth spot.
Defending champions always have a target on their back. Roy Keane, who helped Manchester United retain their title three times, accused Liverpool's players of a lack of ambition after sealing last season's title.
Keane said: "In my mindset, when you've won a league title, your next challenge is 'can we do it again? I never got the impression from this squad/group, from their interviews. Obviously, it was a long wait, 30 years, but I never heard any of the players come out and say 'I want to do it again'. That's the key."
Winners of Second Successive Premier League Titles:
- Manchester United – 1993/94
- Manchester United – 1996/97
- Manchester United – 1999/00
- Chelsea – 2005/06
- Manchester United – 2008/09
- Manchester City – 2018/19
No Fear Playing At Anfield
The most remarkable stat of Liverpool's troubled season is the fact four of their seven defeats have come at Anfield where the Reds had been untouchable in the league for four years. When Burnley won 1-0 at Anfield on January 21 thanks to Ashley Barnes' penalty, it brought an end to Liverpool's 68-game winning streak on home soil.
Many pundits felt it was a one-off, but when Brighton won by the same scoreline in Liverpool's next home game, eyebrows were beginning to raise. Now, the opposition’s fear of playing at Anfield has gone.
Manchester City and Everton are the latest sides to win at Anfield and with Chelsea the next visitors, the champions could be looking at a fifth straight home loss for Klopp's side in the league. The sudden loss of form at Anfield might be due to the empty terraces because of Covid-19, although they did win their first seven home league games to start the current campaign.
If a lack of fans is the case, the sooner supporters are allowed back through the turnstiles the better, but things might get a lot worse for Liverpool before then.
Liverpool's League Defeats at Anfield:
- January 21, 2017 to January 20, 2021 (1,461 days: 68 games) - 0
- January 21, 2021 to February 20, 2021 (31 days: 4 games) - 4
Fitness and Fatigue
Last season, Liverpool were hailed as the fittest team in the league. Their concentration levels helped them to the title especially when it came to the final 15 minutes of games. They outscored their opponents 18-6 in the 76th minute or later. Nobody conceded fewer goals than the Reds at the end of matches.
This season, only Crystal Palace (12) have allowed more goals to be scored in the final 15 minutes of games. Six of the last seven goals conceded by the champions have come in the final 15 minutes including Gylfi Sigurdsson's penalty on Saturday which suggests concentration, fatique and fitness levels might be an issue.
Liverpool have only scored once in the final 15 minutes of their last 11 league games. If things are to improve at Anfield, then they need to make sure they finish games stronger.
Goals Scored Between 76th Minute and Full-Time:
- 2019/20 - 18
- 2020/21 - 10
Goals Conceded Between 76th Minute and Full-Time:
- 2019/20 - 6
- 2020/21 - 11
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