Liverpool's opponents averaged 11.4 shots per match last season; it's up to 15.3 shots per match this season. However, Liverpool also allowed 1.13 goals per game last season. That's down 0.67 goals per game this season. I'll probably do a bit more research on this later this week, but my initial assumption is that more opposition shots are coming from outside the box. Also, a fair bit of credit probably goes to Simon Mignolet.
The short version is that my assumptions were at least partly correct. Kind of. For a change.
Here are the locations of all 92 shots that Liverpool have allowed so far this season:
4 goals, 30 other shots on-target, 38 off-target, and 20 blocked. 42 from inside the box, 50 from outside the box.
Breaking those down into percentages so we can compare them to last season's totals: 4.4% of shots have resulted in goals, 32.6% in shots on-target saved, 41.3% in shots off-target, and 21.7% in shots blocked. 45.7% from inside the box, 54.3% from outside the box.
Last season, 9.7% of shots resulted in goals, 23.1% were shots on-target saved, 42.5% were off-target, and 24.7% were blocked. 47.3% came inside the box, 52.7% outside the box.
The table version for easy comparison:
So, an admittedly very small sample size, but Liverpool are forcing a slightly higher percentage of shots from outside the box, and Liverpool are blocking a slightly lower percentage of shots. More importantly, while more opposition shots have been on-target, Mignolet has saved a much greater percentage of them.
Great. Well, not great, because Liverpool are still allowing way too many shots. If these statistics hold for the rest of the season, Liverpool will concede around 582 shots, which is a mindbogglingly egregious amount. Only Villa, Reading, West Ham, Sunderland, and Fulham either surpassed or were near that total last season, which, yikes. But if Liverpool continue along this line, a slightly greater percentage of shots will take place from lower percentage situations, and Mignolet will save a much higher percentage than Reina (and Brad Jones, in seven matches) did. Which, hey, thank heaven for small favors.
In the same six fixtures last season, Liverpool allowed just 58 shots. 34 fewer than through these six fixtures this season. And, yes, conceded the exact same number of goals while taking four fewer points.
Four goals (6.9%), 10 other shots on-target (17.2%), 27 shots off-target (46.6%), and 17 shots blocked (29.3%). Just 24 shots came from inside the box (41.4%), while 34 came from outside the box (58.6%). So much for the "more shots from outside the box" theory.
Reina saved 10 of 14 shots on target – 71.4% – in these six fixtures, just six of nine (66.7%) from inside the box. Mignolet has saved 30 of 34 shots on target in these six fixtures – 88.2% – and 13 of 17 (76.4%) from inside the box.
That's the difference. That's the biggest reason why Liverpool are sitting in second, and why Liverpool have four more points than they did from these six fixtures last season. Because Liverpool could have easily dropped two points against both Stoke and Villa if not for the Belgian keeper.
Be concerned that Liverpool are allowing so many shots, especially from inside the box and good positions just outside the box. Be very concerned. It does not speak well of either Liverpool's defense or holding midfielders, even if Liverpool have been leading for long stretches during these six fixtures and inviting opponents onto them in order to open up more space for the counter-attack. And it's not as if Liverpool have faced a murderer's row of opponents during this stretch. But this has been a common complaint in this young season, and more shots are to be expected when Liverpool have had so much less of the ball than we're used to. Last season, Liverpool had an average of 58.2% possession in these six fixtures. It's down to 50.2% this season.
And to be fair, the opposition's shot location, if not the shots allowed in total, marginally improved with the change in formation in Liverpool's last match. Sunderland took 23 shots, but only eight came in the penalty box, many of those along the edges of the box.
Be concerned, but more importantly, be very appreciative of what Simon Mignolet's done so far.
Update: From the comments section:
The only thing I'd probe further is to see a first half comparison to address our parking buses protecting leads in some of the matches.
In these six fixtures, Liverpool's opponents actually averaged a greater proportion of shots in the second half than they have this season. But, to go deeper, what about game states, depending on whether Liverpool are ahead, level, or behind?
Liverpool were level for almost 75% of these six matches in 2012-13, compared to just 37.5% so far this season. Liverpool have trailed in just 39 minutes this season, almost all against Southampton. Which skews the comparison more than a little bit.
That said, the point which prompted this update is still valid. It's not surprising that an opponent will take more shots when behind, and Liverpool's opponents have been behind more than they've been level and ahead through these six games. But Liverpool's opponents are averaging fewer minutes per shot when Liverpool lead compared to the other two game states this season, and compared to all three game states in these six fixtures last season.