Yesterday, United scored an equalizer with its first shot on target. It was the third league match this season – of five in total – where Liverpool conceded on the opposition's first shot on goal. Against Manchester City and Arsenal, Liverpool conceded on the second shot on target they faced.
This is a worrying trend. Especially since it seemingly takes scads and scads of shots before Liverpool are finally able to make a breakthrough of their own. If they ever make the breakthrough.
Liverpool's opponent scored with its first shot on target in seven of the last 15 league matches, plus Fulham tallying an own goal before even taking a shot on target in the 0-1 loss last May. In three others, the opposition scored with its second shot on target. In contrast, Liverpool scored with its first shot on target in just four matches: 2-2 against City this season and 4-1 Chelsea, 3-0 Norwich, and 3-2 Blackburn last season. Needless to say, it's a fairly good omen when Liverpool strikes early. It usually means they strike often. It also goes without saying that it doesn't happen often enough.
The goals-per-shots-on-target statistic is even more damning. During this stretch, Liverpool have averaged a goal for every 4.5 shots on target – 72 shots on target, 16 goals (not including one own goal). The opposition has averaged a goal for every 2.17 shots on target – 50 shots on target, 23 goals (not including one own goal).
Liverpool's opponents took more shots on target than Liverpool in just two of these 15 matches. Unsurprisingly, Liverpool lost both: a dismal performance at Newcastle last spring and this season's opening day match at West Brom, with Liverpool failing to register a shot on target after Agger's dismissal.
Unfortunately, that suggests there are two issues here, at both ends of the pitch. The first has been very much discussed and is very much obvious almost every time Liverpool play. Liverpool's shooting accuracy sucks, Liverpool don't have enough strikers, Carroll shouldn't have been loaned out, and now Borini's injured. At least 5% of all the pixels on the internet have been devoted to this topic over the last 16 months. Even when Liverpool hit the target, it's with shots that are easily saved far too often. And by all accounts, Liverpool aren't hitting the target enough considering the overall number of shots taken either. Liverpool have attempted 279 total shots in these 15 matches; 26% of their total shots were shots on target. Comparatively, the opposition took 156 total shots, hitting the target with 32%.
Somehow, Liverpool have taken 123 more shots than the opposition over these 15 matches, yet Liverpool have scored seven fewer goals. One hundred and twenty three. That's a lot. And you really don't want to know the overall goals-per-shot average over this stretch. What? You do? You masochist. Well, Liverpool have averaged a goal every 16.4 shots since losing to QPR six months ago. The opposition is averaging a goal every 6.5 shots. Not only does the opposition make better use of its shots on target, they're more accurate with their shots in general. Double whammy.
But the second issue is that Pepe Reina also isn't saving enough of them at the other end of the pitch. Sure, he's had little to no chance on a surprisingly large number of shots faced. Just this season, he can't be blamed for either of United's goals – Rafael's stunner and a penalty – or two of West Brom's three: an unstoppable half-volley from Gera and yet another penalty. Time and time again, teams seem to score wonder goals against Liverpool. That Liverpool's sometimes shaky defense is allowing easier shots than the ones Liverpool get is also mostly likely a factor. Nonetheless, saving slightly more than half of the shots on target faced is not a good ratio. That Liverpool have kept just one clean sheet in its last 15 league matches is also an abhorrent statistic, but one not wholly down to Reina. Meanwhile, the opposition has kept six clean sheets in Liverpool's last 15 league matches.
Liverpool have been unable to hit the target on a regular basis, score with even an average percentage of its shots on target, prevent opposition shots on target, and keep out opposition shots on target on a regular basis, with a dash of bad luck thrown in to complete the stew. All together, it makes a recipe for utter disaster.