Liverpool hasn't scored three or more goals in a game since beating Hull 6-1 on September 29th. If the team maintains that streak against Blackburn next Sunday (which seems fairly likely), it'll be five full months – 21 games – without scoring more than twice in a league contest.
If that's happened before, it's been a while. The closest stretch came in '91-92 when Liverpool went 20 straight, which equals where the team's at now. Liverpool also had stretches of 19 in '91-92, and 17 in '93-94 and '02-03. Of course, it's worth noting that Liverpool frequently needed to score three goals to win under Roy Evans and finishing sixth was a good year with Souness in charge. Anyone can see how awful the attack is of late, but that stat's still surprising. And that Liverpool's record isn't worse at least demonstrates some defensive steel, in contrast to the early season losses.
Liverpool's only scored three or more in five league games this season (through 27), which actually seems a lot considering they all came in August and September. But it happened 15 times last season. In fact, the number of league games where Liverpool scored more than twice had increased in each of Benitez's seasons: 6 in '04/05, 7 in '05/06, 8 in '06/07, 9 in '07/08, and 10 in '08/09 before the "explosion" last year, most coming during the tremendous run-in. The only way that trend could continue is if Liverpool scores at least three in all the remaining Premiership matches.
Just to show how far "the mighty" have fallen, 5 out of 27 is 18.5%. 6 out of 38 is 18.4%. "Lies, damned lies, and statistics" has never rang truer, but that suggests Liverpool's only a tenth of a percent better in attack since Rafa's first season. Yikes. Just yikes. Incidentally, Liverpool's never lost a league match under Benitez when they've scored three or more; the only defeat came against Arsenal in the League Cup in January 2007, the infamous 3-6 drubbing at Anfield.
One can only hope that the return of Torres and Benayoun will ease the pain, but the complete dearth of goals suggests something more sinister. I've been arguing that this season's a perfect storm of calamities, and I still think that's the case, but an increasingly insipid attack deservedly inspires more questions. Yes, key players have been injured in every phase of the season – Torres, Gerrard, Yossi, Riera, Johnson, Aquilani, etc. – but there has to be more to it than that. An attack doesn't completely fall apart out of the blue. Hell, in the 23 games prior to this stretch, from Sunderland on March 3rd through Hull in September, Liverpool averaged almost 3 goals a game. 2.913 to be precise.
This recent stretch without Torres, where Liverpool's continued to misfire even with Gerrard back in the line-up, makes me think it's ultimately a combination of squad depth and Gerrard's ineffectiveness as a second striker without Torres. Yes, Stevie had some big games in a free role without Fernando, most notably 5-1 against Newcastle with Kuyt up top, but the longer Gerrard's been in the position, the longer teams have had to figure him, and the system, out.
I don't know what changes to suggest – Ed and I have been trying to hammer that out, to little effect, during these recent Benitez back-and-forths – but maybe something has to give, whether it's playing two up top or moving Gerrard out wide or deeper. But maybe key players (read: Torres and Benayoun) returning to fitness will spark the end of season run Liverpool often delivers. It just goes to show how confused this season has me. I'm still tempted to argue for the 4-2-3-1, and will probably do so in future, for all the reasons I've constantly sounded. I didn't create a "This Season Sucks" tag out of the blue.
However – in an attempt to end this on an optimistic note – Liverpool went a fairly long stretch without scoring three or more last season: more than two and a half months if you don't count that odd 3-2 contest against Pompey. Once the dam burst against Madrid and then Manchester in March, the goals couldn't stop coming for the rest of the campaign.
Let's hope springtime brings similar this season.
The full list of games follows:
'09-10: 4-0 Stoke (08.19), 3-2 Bolton (08.29), 4-0 Burnley (09.12), 3-2 WH (09.19), 6-1 Hull (09.29)
'08-09: 3-2 City (10.05), 3-2 Wigan (10.18), 3-0 WBA (11.08), 3-1 Blackburn (12.06), 3-0 Bolton (12.26), 5-1 Newcastle (12.28), 3-2 Portsmouth (02.07), 4-1 Man Utd (03.14), 5-0 Villa (03.22), 4-0 Blackburn (04.11), 4-4 Arsenal (04.21), 3-1 Hull (04.25), 3-0 Newcastle (05.03), 3-0 WH (05.09), 3-1 Spurs (05.24)
'07-08: 6-0 Derby (09.01), 3-0 Newcastle (11.24), 4-0 Bolton (12.02), 4-1 Portsmouth (12.22), 3-0 Sunderland (02.02), 3-2 Boro (02.23), 3-1 Bolton (03.02), 4-0 WH (03.05), 3-0 Newcastle (03.08), 3-1 Blackburn (04.13)
'06-07: 3-0 Spurs (09.23), 3-1 Villa (10.28), 4-0 Wigan (12.02), 4-0 Fulham (12.09), 3-0 Charlton (12.16), 3-0 Bolton (01.01), 3-0 Watford (01.13), 4-0 Sheffield Utd (02.24), 4-1 Arsenal (03.31)
'05-06: 3-0 Portsmouth (11.19), 3-0 Wigan (12.03), 3-1 Everton (12.28), 5-1 Fulham (03.15), 3-1 Newcastle (03.19), 3-1 Everton (03.25), 3-1 Villa (04.24), 3-1 Portsmouth (05.07)
'04-05: 3-0 WBA (09.11), 3-0 Norwich (09.25), 4-2 Fulham (10.16), 3-2 Crystal Palace (11.13), 3-1 Newcastle (12.19), 5-0 WBA (12.26), 3-1 Fulham (02.25)