While rambling through post-match statistics yesterday, I realized that Liverpool hadn't allowed an open play goal in any competition since Leicester scored two in two minutes on New Year's Day. That was nine matches ago. That was 780 minutes of football ago. That's fairly impressive.
Sure, Liverpool have still conceded four goals in those eight and a third matches: a corner at Wimbledon, a penalty against Chelsea, a free kick against Chelsea, and a penalty at Bolton. Liverpool have won only five of those nine matches, drawing three and losing one (albeit in extra time).
From the start of the season through the two goals conceded to Leicester on New Year's Day, Liverpool allowed 28 open play goals in 29 matches (as well as 10 set play goals and two penalties). That's an open play goal conceded once every 93 minutes. Nearly one every match.
I reiterate: Liverpool haven't allowed an open play goal in the 780 minutes since.
A lot more credit for that goes to Liverpool's defenders than Simon Mignolet. Mignolet has been increasingly better since coming back into the side, but he's only faced 11 open play shots on-target in those 780 minutes of football, from 48 open play shots in total: an average of one open play shot on-target every 70.9 minutes. The opposition's put just 22.9% of its shots on-target through those eight and a third matches.
Only two teams have taken more than six open play shots in a match during this stretch: Chelsea's 14 in the League Cup away leg and Aston Villa's 11. Chelsea put three on target, Villa four.
Liverpool's defenders and midfielders are limiting the opposition's open play opportunities and, at the same time, are making sure that most of those opportunities aren't from dangerous positions. Liverpool have allowed just two open play shots inside the six-yard box during this stretch: Azeez's second half injury time effort gobbled up by Mignolet (which was a clear-cut chance) and Wilkinson's effort against Bolton blocked by Can.
The opposition's Danger Zone (six-yard box + center of the 18-yard box) shot accuracy has been a paltry 28.6% during this stretch. For comparison, Liverpool put 49.6% of its Danger Zone shots on-target last season; this season – where, I'm sure you'll remember, Liverpool have very much struggled to score – it's 38.3% (league-only totals that admittedly also include set play shots).
And 50% of the opposition's shots have come from outside the box, where the opposition have put just 16.7% on target since Liverpool last allowed an open play goal.
That's not to say everything's rosy and Liverpool have finally solved the defensive issues which have plagued the side over the last three seasons. Aside from Chelsea, it's not as if Liverpool have faced a murderer's row. Leicester are 20th in the Premier League, Sunderland 14th, Villa 16th, and West Ham 8th but regressing. Bolton are a mid-table Championship side, Wimbledon are a mid-table League Two side.
Liverpool have only allowed 48 open play shots over this stretch, but 83 shots in total. 35 set play shots allowed – whether they're penalties, free kicks, or stemming from corners or free kicks – seems a pretty high total; it's one every 22.3 minutes. And yes, Liverpool have allowed those aforementioned four set plays goals.
But none of them came in the league, where Liverpool have yet to concede from any situation in the last 300 minutes of football.
Starting Saturday, Liverpool will have the chance to replicate this feat against much, much tougher competition. And all in all, it's still a remarkable improvement given what we saw during the first 20 or so matches this season.