11 June 2019

Liverpool Goals Scored and Conceded 2018-19

Previous Seasons: 2017-18, 2016-17, 2015-16, 2014-15, 2013-14, 2012-13, 2011-12

Could Liverpool keep up last season's insane scoring pace? Almost. And "almost" was pretty damned good considering last season's ferocious nonsense.

So, yeah, Liverpool scored 20 fewer goals than in 2017-18, playing three fewer games. But Liverpool scored more in the Premier League this season, with 89 goals compared to last season's 84.

And Liverpool's scoring – in the league, in Europe – was still extraordinarily good.

The difference in scoring between this season and last is the Champions League. 47 goals in 2017-18, 24 goals in 2018-19. Liverpool scored 24 goals in just four CL matches last season: 7-0 Maribor, 7-0 Spartak, 5-0 Porto, 5-2 Roma.

But Liverpool won the Champions League this season, after falling at the last hurdle last season. Because goals scored – while incredibly, incredibly fun – aren't the end all, be all. You need to be decent at the other end of the pitch as well.

Liverpool were more than decent at the other end of the pitch.

We know the attack wobbled at times. Early in the season, adapting to 4-2-3-1 and Salah as a striker, and in late January-February, those in-the-end-costly 1-1 and 0-0 draws. But the defense rarely did.

And, for what it's worth, xG tracks quite closely in attack all season long. And xG allowed stayed surprisingly consistently all season long.

That mid-season rise in goals allowed, to barely above a goal-per-game average for a couple of games, is so noticeable because this defense was historically great for the vast majority of the season.

Incidentally, it remains hilarious that Liverpool almost won the league in 2013-14 with that many goals conceded.


2018-19 saw Liverpool's best defense in at least 13 seasons. Because, unsurprisingly, I have caveats for the above chart. Well, really, just one caveat.

That caveat is that it could be longer since.

2018-19 saw the fewest Liverpool goals in a league campaign since 1978-79, when Liverpool won the league conceding a hilariously low 16 goals in 42 games. Otherwise known as "40 years ago." 2005-06 was close, and damned good, and maybe better because Liverpool conceded fewer in all competitions while playing that many damned games, but I'll also remind that 2005-06 saw Liverpool start the Champions League at the first qualifying round, conceding three in six games against the likes of TNS, FBK Kaunas, and CSKA Sofia. Without those games, Liverpool's average that season is 0.732, barely worse than this season's. For what it's worth.

Anyway. Recent history.

Liverpool actually allowed more shots in the Premier League in 2018-19 compared to 2017-18 – 307 this season to 283 last season. Liverpool allowed 310 in 2016-17. So, par for the recent course, I guess.

But Liverpool allowed 53 clear-cut chances in the league last season, with 25 scored. An average of 1.4 per game, with nearly half going in and only 36% of those on-target saved. They allowed 54 in 2016-17, with 26 scored – 1.4 per game and 37% saved. Liverpool allowed 39 clear-cut chances this season – down to 1.02 per game – with only 11 scored and 56% of those on-target saved by Alisson.

Yes, there are a few concerns. 12 of Liverpool's 38 goals conceded – 31.6% – came from set plays. Which is a vastly higher proportion than recent seasons. And 12 conceded from set plays is almost exactly in line with recent seasons; Liverpool conceded 13 in both 2016-17 and 2017-18. But when the goals conceded total drops precipitously, it's slightly surprising when the amount of set plays goals conceded remains the same. At the same time, Liverpool can still be picked apart on the counter, even if far less often, with fast break goals given up against PSG, Wolves, and Fulham. We still got a handful of notable defensive errors, even from Alisson and van Dijk.

But at this point, it's nit-picking.

The opposition's scoring less, and a lot has to do with the opposition finding it harder to get good chances in good locations, which had very much been a problem in past seasons. The opposition doesn't get many shots, but those that they do are good chances in good positions. Not so much this season. But at the other end of the pitch, Liverpool are getting more and more in those good positions.

More Danger Zone goals in each of Klopp's seasons, with an absolute mountain in this one, both in proportion and total. Far fewer from outside the box, especially this season (how's Barcelona, Phil?). And the opposite is mostly the case for the opposition. Fewer Danger Zone goals, because fewer Danger Zone chances. Outside the box goals remained fairly consistent, because they aren't many and even the likes of Karius and Mignolet usually saved those. And there are more wide box goals because there were more wide box shots. That's what Liverpool usually gave the opposition, when they gave them anything.

In case you wanted more statistical validation, I got Liverpool's xG per shot this season as 0.137 versus 0.119 last season, with xG per shot allowed at 0.096 this season compared to 0.114 last season. And I love statistical validation because it makes me feel smart.

And, also, Liverpool's opponent didn't score a single penalty all season long. I can't remember that ever happening before. With only Mahrez missing from the spot. So they're not only talented and resilient and well-coached, they're clever and lucky. It's a very good combination.

This Liverpool attack and this Liverpool defense were a pretty good combination.

A few other assorted notes:

• I complained about how many late goals Liverpool conceded last season – both right before halftime and in the final few minutes. There were a lot fewer this season, even when considering how many fewer goals were conceded in total. And Liverpool could not stop scoring in those final few minutes. 32 goals between the 76th and 90th minutes, nine more than any other 15-minute block. Seven of those 32 came in the 90th minute or added time. And 20 of those 32 came with Liverpool behind, level, or only ahead by one goal, crucial late goals to win or cement the game, or at least take a point.

• This is the first season that I can remember when Liverpool almost had as many left-footed goals as right-footed goals. There's Salah, of course, but also a surprising six from Mané and a handful from Shaqiri and Sturridge. And also a higher proportion of headed goals than usual too, with another surprising return from Mané, as well as van Dijk et al. Of course, you're gonna score headed goals with Robertson and Alexander-Arnold crossing the ball.

• Not a ton of prolific assist-scorer combinations this season. Firmino to Salah, Salah to Firmino, and Mane to Salah last season all dwarfed this season's combinations. But I guess that's not surprising when Robertson and Alexander-Arnold are tops in assists, and not only do they rarely if ever score themselves, they spread the wealth; Alexander-Arnold set up nine different scorers, Robertson eight.

03 June 2019

Visualized: Liverpool 2-0 Tottenham

Previous Match Infographics: Wolves (h), Barcelona (h), Newcastle (a), Barcelona (a), Huddersfield (h), Cardiff (a), Porto (A), Chelsea (h), Porto (h), Southampton (a), Tottenham (h), Fulham (a), Bayern Munich (a), Burnley (h), Everton (a), Watford (h), Manchester United (a), Bayern Munich (h), Bournemouth (h) West Ham (a), Leicester (h), Crystal Palace (h), Brighton (a), Manchester City (a), Arsenal (h), Newcastle (h), Wolves (a), Manchester Utd (h), Napoli (h), Bournemouth (a), Burnley, Everton (h), Paris St-Germain (a), Watford (a), Fulham (h), Arsenal (a), Cardiff (h), Red Star Belgrade (h), Huddersfield (a), Manchester City (h), Napoli (a), Chelsea (a), Southampton (h), Leicester (a), Brighton (h), Crystal Palace (a), West Ham (h)

Match data from WhoScored, except average position from the SofaScore app. 

It is more than fitting that we end this campaign with a defensive masterclass.

2016-17, 2017-18, Liverpool sides defined by the heights hit in attack. Salah, Mané, Firmino just tearing' shit up. Liverpool sides that were tremendously fun. But Liverpool sides which won fuck all.

That ain't this Liverpool side.

It has been a long process getting Liverpool's defense to the level where an early goal can mean 88 minutes of defensive shell and that defensive shell actually holding firm for said minutes.

Yes, yes, Premier League only, because that's what I've got on-hand, but the Champions League has seen similar. The shots allowed this season have been vastly less threatening, the opposition are putting fewer on-target, and Liverpool's goalkeeper has saved more of them. This shouldn't be news to anyone who's seen Liverpool this season and last.

There's Virgil van Dijk. Alisson Becker. But, again, team. Joël Matip starting the season as fourth choice but finishing with an admittedly half-fit Harry Kane in his pocket. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson, in attack but also at the back. Fabinho. Gomez for the first half of the season, Lovren when fit and needed.

On Saturday, there's Van Dijk's last man tackle on Son's break in the 75th minute. Alexander-Arnold's crucial block on Dele Alli in the 54th minute. Alisson's eight saves, all of them after the 65th minute. Liverpool may well not win without those moments. There are a lot of defensive moments like that we can point to all season long, whether Napoli in the group stage or Barcelona a few weeks ago or etc etc etc.

There have been multiple reasons for the defensive improvement. Here's one.

Otherwise known as the guy who made eight saves between the Tottenham's first substitution and Liverpool's second goal.

And while we've seen the most statistical improvement in the Premier League, Liverpool's defense has been better in the Champions League this season as well. A bit. Just nowhere near as much compared to the league improvement.

I'm more than willing to credit that to the opposition. Liverpool's run last year was easier, even if easier is very much a relative term. The group included a side which ended up seventh in La Liga, a side which finished third in Russia, and the second-placed Slovenian side; the knockout rounds had Manchester City, but also Porto (1st in Portugal) and Roma (3rd in Italy). We had Liverpool's goal-average insanely boosted by 7-0 wins over Spartak and Maribor, but there were more impressive five-goal performances against Roma and Porto.

This year, we had the mega-rich runaway Paris St-Germain, Italy's second best side in Napoli, and Serbian Champions Red Star Belgrade in the group; the German winners, Spanish winners, and Portuguese runners-up in the knockout rounds. No European fixture is truly easy, etc, but that's an awful lot of league winners that Liverpool had to beat to lift this trophy for the sixth time.

There isn't a ton to analyze from Saturday's match because of Liverpool's early penalty. It truly defined the game, and led Liverpool to play quite a bit differently than I expect they would have without scoring in the first few minutes. Had Liverpool's attack played like *that* in a match that stayed 0-0, who knows.

But that penalty also led to a match which demonstrated just how far Liverpool have come at the back. And that's more than good enough for me.

So Saturday was and wasn't in keeping with a lot of what we'd already seen this season. Sure, that was Liverpool's least possession and lowest passing accuracy in a match this season. We saw few dangerous opportunities on the break, no shots or key passes from Mané, probably not helped by a disjointed and not match-fit Firmino. We got far more shots from distance, in proportion and in total, than is usual this season.

It was also very hot, very humid, and there had been three weeks since either team played a competitive fixture, and it showed.

But we got a fairly lucky Liverpool goal and a Liverpool set play goal. An early goal and a late goal. And some very good defending in between. Yep, this season's Liverpool does that.

Liverpool scored first and shut up shop. Tottenham couldn't break through until making substitutions, starting by sacrificing midfield for attack with Moura for Winks, with just six shots for the opening 65 minutes then ten in the final 25, including all eight on target.

But Liverpool had already made its substitutions. Klopp, more proactive than usual in the heat and after a three-week layoff, brought on Origi for the counter that was always coming and Milner for fresh legs and pressing and midfield compactness and experience.

And, yes, Tottenham could have equalized with better finishing or worse goal-keeping. Lucas Moura did have a clear-cut chance, put off-target rather than needing to be saved. We've seen shots from where Eriksen's free kick was taken beat previous Liverpool goalkeepers. Tottenham are a good side and Pochettino's no fool. But Liverpool were prepared for what was coming, planned accordingly, and saw everything out. Unlike the meeting at Anfield two months ago, where Liverpool were pushed back and back and back by Tottenham's changes and were lucky to stay at 1-1 and somehow even got 2-1 at the death. It is good to be lucky, better to be good, and best to be lucky and good.

This Liverpool side did it. Thankfully, because I don't know if I could have taken another "so close, yet so far" moment.

This was Liverpool's fourth final. Losses in the League Cup and Europa League in Klopp's first season, the loss in last season's Champions League. They'd yet to lose in a two-legged European tie, whether 2015-16, 2017-18, or 2018-19. This was the first time that Liverpool had been favored in a final. And Liverpool were coming off a league campaign where they'd scored the third-most points in Premier League history and only finished second. And had three weeks to think about it. Liverpool were in dangerous of becoming 1970s Netherlands at best – bridesmaids rather than brides, remembered for fun sides and beautiful football and not winning with it. And that's seemingly a best case scenario.

But that did not happen.

This Liverpool side deserved far, far more than nearly. This Liverpool side is far, far better than nearly. Promised finally fulfilled. And you can't help feeling that it's only just begun.

01 June 2019

Liverpool 2-0 Tottenham

Salah 2' [pen]
Origi 87'

It was a game governed and decided by a contentious second-minute penalty. It was a game played in 90º heat. It was a game played 20 days since these sides last played a competitive fixture, because sure let's wait until June. Incidentally, this is the first time that Liverpool have ever played a competitive match in June.

And I do not care, because Liverpool just won the Champions League, for the sixth time in the club's history.

I almost feel bad for Tottenham. We're less than 27 seconds in. Liverpool are in a dangerous position, a chip over Tottenham's back line finding Mané with a modicum of space in the penalty box, albeit wide and deep. So Mané goes for the cross, as Sissoko – who's marking him – has his arm raised, ostensibly directing a team mate. And Mane's cross is off both chest and arm and the arm's in an unnatural position and sure it's a penalty who knows what a penalty is anymore.

Salah scores and it's 1-0 before we've even drawn breath. And from there, Liverpool play accordingly, especially given circumstances with weather and potential fatigue and the fact it's between two sides who know each other as well as two sides can. Liverpool went full Tony Pulis: soak up pressure, look long. This Liverpool, Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool, went full Pulis in a Champions League final.

And it worked. It bloody worked. I can't even.

It worked despite Liverpool completing their fewest passes in a half this season in today's first half, despite Liverpool's lowest passing accuracy of the season. The order of the day was long balls to Salah and Mané, especially with Firmino not at his best after that injury a few weeks back. And there were half-sights every now and then, but Liverpool rarely had the ball, as much by design as Tottenham necessity. Most importantly, no one really had chances for the first two-thirds of the match outside of the penalty.

It worked because Virgil van Dijk and Joël Matip were absolute mountains, especially Joel Matip – who had Kane lurking around him more often than not, even if it was a half-fit Harry Kane.

It worked because Alexander-Arnold and Robertson know how to defend as well as attack. Today's tempo and tenor restricted both in the opposition half, but both did as needed at the other end.

It worked because Alisson made eight saves – all in the final 20 minutes – even if most were routine and all were expected.

It worked because Tottenham's substitutions and alterations didn't affect the match as they did in the previous meeting at Anfield, with Klopp acting first and practically: Origi for Firmino and Milner for Wijnaldum. Meanwhile, Lucas Moura, Dier (because of injury to Sissoko), and Llorente did little to change proceedings. Well, the game became more open as Tottenham threw more and more forward, but Liverpool like it when the game becomes even more.

It worked because a set play finally came off, albeit not until three minutes from time. Van Dijk's shot's blocked, the ball's not fully cleared, and it falls to Origi. Divock Origi, on the left side of the box. Divock Origi, smashing the ball across and past Lloris with his left foot. Divock Origi, who scored with all three of his Champions League shots this season: the first goal in the semi-final second leg, the fourth goal in the semi-final second leg, and the game-killer in the final.

Again, I can't even.

"I can't even" an awful lot with this team. It worked because this team is a damned team. It is a fully oiled, fully organized all consuming machine: from a defense unrecognizable to that of a year or two ago, a still unheralded and underrated midfield that almost always does what's asked of it, that front three, and a surprisingly deep bench when almost everyone's available.

It is a team that nearly broke records in the Premier League if not for one of the most expensive and dominant sides ever. And it is a team that finally won a European final after harshly falling at the previous two hurdles.

It deserves this. Every single one of them deserve this. And the more that's to come.