As always, match data from Stats Zone, except shot location from Squawka and average player position from ESPN FC.
Swansea, Newcastle, West Brom, Watford, Leicester, Sunderland, and now West Ham. It has been a month of Groundhog Days.
Sure, there have been a few differences in each: three narrow victories, one frustrating draw, three humiliating losses. West Brom scored via set plays, Newcastle scored via an own goal from a cross and a via counter-attack, Watford scored via set plays and counters, West Ham scored via counters and crosses. Liverpool, thankfully, kept clean sheets against Swansea, Leicester, and Sunderland – incidentally, the three matches that Liverpool won. Every match saw Liverpool struggle to score goals, but Swansea (h), Newcastle (a), and Watford (a) saw Liverpool struggle to even take shots.
But there have been more similarities than differences.
Liverpool dominated possession and passing in each, by frighteningly similar amounts, especially in the last four fixtures. Each match saw Liverpool struggle to score, if not struggle to shoot. Troubled to a similar degree, Liverpool made a similar amount of tackles and interceptions in each. But more than a few matches saw Liverpool vulnerable to counter-attacks, crosses, and set plays, no matter how much possession Liverpool had, or how little the opposition had.
The biggest difference at West Ham was the amount of shots that Liverpool allowed West Ham: 18, the most (by five) that any opponent has taken against Klopp's Liverpool. The second-most of the league campaign, behind Arsenal's 19 back in September. More than double the amount of any two other matches over the last month combined.
West Ham took more shots inside the box than Klopp's Liverpool had allowed any other opponent in total. West Ham's 10 shots on-target were double what Liverpool – either under Klopp or Rodgers – had allowed in any match this season, with Arsenal, West Ham (h), and Watford all putting five on-target.
xG map for #WHUFC-#LFC. One of the best attacking performances against Kloppopool (with related poor LFC defense.) pic.twitter.com/20RXCDVYJW— Michael Caley (@MC_of_A) January 2, 2016
West Ham's 2.0 Expected Goals by Michael Caley's metric is, by far, the highest that Klopp's Liverpool have allowed. Liverpool have allowed more than 1.0 in just two other Premier League and Europa League matches: 1.5 against Southampton and 1.6 at Watford. Both matches featured an opposition goal which nearly registered 1.0 by itself: Mane on the goal line for Southampton, Ake on the goal line for Watford. Incidentally, both came from set plays.
But West Ham did it with both volume as well as good – but not great, and only one clear-cut – chances.
14 of West Ham's 18 shots came inside the box, with 10 in the Danger Zone. Comparatively, 14 of Liverpool's 23 shots came from outside the box. But Liverpool inevitably felt the need to force matters after conceding another early goal to West Ham, and with West Ham now even better positioned to sit deep and block predictable Liverpool shots. West Ham could pick and choose their moments, and could play to their obviously strengths, which they did to excellent effect.
Seven West Ham shots came from crosses: four from Carroll, three from Antonio. Six led to headers, including both goals. Only one of those seven shots – Antonio in the 17th minute – was off-target. And that came from 12 crosses in total. Meanwhile, Liverpool attempted 33 crosses (sigh), and were successful with just eight.
Of course, just to stick the knife in a little farther and twist it a little more, Andy Carroll put all five of his shots on-target, scoring the game-sealing second. Andy Carroll won eight of 14 aerial duels, including all three in Liverpool's box. Christian Benteke put three shots off-target and had two blocked: his two headers blocked, his right- and left-footed efforts off-target. Christian Benteke won just two of 13 aerial duels, including none of the three in West Ham's box.
But we've both ranted about and excused, to a certain degree, Benteke's performances over the last month. He's not played especially well, and was especially disappointing on Saturday, but none of Liverpool's attackers have played especially well over the last month. Unsurprisingly, Philippe Coutinho had yet another very Philippe Coutinho shooting performance: none of his six shots found the target (five blocked, one off), with all six from outside the box. Over his last three matches, he's put one of 17 shots on-target (nine off-target, seven blocked), with 15 of the 17 from outside the box. At least those two are taking shots?
But we've ranted about, and not excused, Liverpool's attack and Liverpool's attackers over the last month, the last six months, the last 18 months. With these players against this type of opposition, I just don't see much changing, at least in the near future. Liverpool have had plenty of chances to prove otherwise since the start of December, the league cup match at Southampton notwithstanding. You know, the one match that Daniel Sturridge actually started.
Coutinho can play better, Firmino can continue adjust to English football, Ibe will mature, who knows what Benteke's capable of, etc etc. But getting players fit – Sturridge especially; Ings, Origi, Henderson, and Milner to lesser degrees – and adding more quality either in January or the summer seems the most likely solutions.
Thankfully, this should be the end of this Groundhog Day run. On paper, Liverpool's upcoming fixtures are even more difficult than the last often-miserable month: twice against a resurgent Stoke, Arsenal, and United. But I'll be glad for the change. Those sides – even United – will at least attempt to play football, will come out to attack Liverpool.
They'll each present Liverpool a host of problems, but at least they'll be different problems.