Seven matches, seven wins. It seems pretty hard to find faults in how Liverpool have started the season, but there is a sense from Reds supporters that the team hasn’t yet found the scintillating level of performance that characterised their best games from 2017/18. There were shades of that in the 4-0 thrashing of West Ham on the opening weekend of the Premier League and the first half of Saturday’s cruise against Southampton, but in both cases the visitors to Anfield offered scant resistance. Since then, Liverpool have won four matches by a single goal and, even in the 2-0 victory at Crystal Palace, the insurance goal didn’t arrive until deep into stoppage time.
Are the Reds lacking the fluency and fluidity of last season? Perhaps, but a greater concern is that they’re failing to put teams to the sword when enjoying emphatic territorial superiority and creating the type of chances that we’re so used to seeing being buried. On the balance of play, Liverpool have deserved to win each of their matches so far, aside from maybe the hard-fought win at Leicester at the start of this month.
Astonishing as it may seem given their reputations, the Reds’ attacking players have come in for a bit of criticism in recent weeks. Roberto Firmino didn’t find the net in August, although three goals in four games since have silenced any barbs over his apparent lack of goalscoring product. Mohamed Salah was also copping a bit of flak for his comparatively meagre goal return, although he’s up to three for the season after the weekend, even if he has squandered opportunities that, earlier in 2018, he’d have scored without even having to try.
Let’s look at the Liverpool’s matches so far this season and examine the statistics behind their apparent profligacy. The graphs below show the positions from where Liverpool attempted shots, with gold dots indicating goals and silver dots representing all other shots on target.
Liverpool 4-0 West Ham
LFC 18 shots (8 on target, 3 blocked) and 65% possession; WHU 5 shots (2 on target, 1 blocked) and 35% possession
Liverpool shot straight to the top of the Premier League after the opening weekend, blowing West Ham away with a devastating display of attacking football to which the visitors had absolutely no answer. Firmino missed an early sitter but that was soon forgotten once Salah stroked home Liverpool’s opener on 19 minutes. The Reds bossed the game from the outset, although Sadio Mane’s strike to make it 2-0 didn’t arrive until first half stoppage time.
Once the Senegal hitman added his second eight minutes after the interval, it was a comfortable afternoon for Jurgen Klopp’s side. Goalkeeper Alisson Becker had the easiest of competitive debuts while Daniel Sturridge, who had become something of a forgotten man in these parts, came off the bench to score his first Liverpool goal since October 2017 in the closing minutes.
The key goal in this game was the one plundered by Mane on the stroke of half-time. Had Liverpool gone in at the break with just a one-goal lead, there would have been a sense of frustration, but that strike quelled the nerves and provided a platform for a cosy opening day win. Half of their shots on target ended in goals, something that would have pleased Klopp immensely.
Crystal Palace 0-2 Liverpool
PAL 8 shots (2 on target) and 37% possession; LIV 16 shots (6 on target, 6 blocked) and 63% possession
Clear-cut chances were harder to come by for the Reds at Selhurst Park against a Crystal Palace side who were resolute in defence (a trait which ensured that almost half of Liverpool’s shots were taken from outside the penalty area) and posed a threat in forward areas, not least when Andros Townsend rattled the bar with a first half effort that Alisson was getting nowhere near. This was a match where Liverpool needed to dig deep to grind out three points and grabbed both their goals at crucial times.
The first half was petering out to a goalless conclusion before Salah was felled in the box, giving James Milner the opportunity to break the deadlock from the penalty spot. Liverpool had opportunities in the second half to kill the game off, with Naby Keita missing a great chance and Salah surprisingly fluffing a one-on-one. That left the match on a knife edge going into stoppage time before a Liverpool counterattack ended with Salah teeing up Mane for the goal that meant the travelling supporters could finally relax.
Liverpool 1-0 Brighton
LIV 22 shots (8 on target, 7 blocked) and 70% possession; BRI 6 shots (2 on target, 2 blocked) and 30% possession
Liverpool twice defeated Brighton by four-goal margins last season and probably ought to have done so again at Anfield a month ago, but they made heavy weather of getting past Chris Hughton’s limited but diligent charges.
As against West Ham, Firmino squandered a gilt-edged chance early on, his header repelled by Mat Ryan, before Salah’s typically elegant footwork created an opportunity that he buried midway through the first half. Liverpool had 10 attempts to Brighton’s one in the opening 45 minutes, but the Seagulls’ impressive centre-back pairing of Shane Duffy and Leon Balogun were restricting the Reds to half-chances.
The home side should have been given the chance to double the lead from the penalty spot early in the second half, but Ryan’s clumsy collision on Firmino was somehow awarded as a free kick to the Brighton goalkeeper. Liverpool continued to dominate but could not find that second goal and they had Alisson to thank for ensuring that the visitors did not pinch a smash-and-grab equaliser in the dying minutes, the Brazilian superbly stopping Pascal Gross’ close-range header.
Liverpool preserved their 100% record with a first 1-0 victory in just over a year, but having registered 22 attempts, almost four times as many as their opponents, this was a match that should not have been dependent on Salah’s goal and Alisson’s late heroics to see the Reds home.
Leicester 1-2 Liverpool
LEI 12 shots (5 on target, 4 blocked) and 51% possession; LIV 10 shots (4 on target, 2 blocked) and 49% possession
Another win for Liverpool, although this was their poorest performance of the season so far. The Reds should have gone ahead inside three minutes, but Salah horrendously missed an easy chance from just inside the penalty area. Mane did find a route to goal in the 10th minute as Liverpool dominated the opening quarter, but from 25 minutes onwards they found themselves pinned back by a Leicester team exhibiting echoes of the fearless qualities that defined their shock title triumph of 2015/16, even without the suspended Jamie Vardy. When Firmino bulleted a header past Kasper Schmeichel on the stroke of half-time (preserving Liverpool’s happy habit of scoring just before the interval), it came somewhat against the run of play.
If some observers thought that goal would flatten Leicester psychologically, they were sorely mistaken. Claude Puel’s team were well on top after the interval, even if it did take a shocking lapse in concentration from Alisson to gift them a way back into the game on 63 minutes. The subdued Salah was withdrawn for the energetic Xherdan Shaqiri as the Reds went almost half an hour without even registering an attempt and they needed to survive a late onslaught to fall over the line for a fourth straight victory.
This has been the one match so far where Liverpool were perhaps fortunate to win, with Leicester edging the attempts and possession statistics. The Reds rode their luck and their performances had steadily regressed since the start of the season. With seven fiendish fixtures to come following the international break, it was widely accepted that improvement would be needed for Klopp’s men to keep their winning momentum going.
Tottenham 1-2 Liverpool
TOT 11 shots (3 on target, 3 blocked) and 60% possession; LIV 17 shots (10 on target, 2 blocked) and 40% possession
Despite Liverpool’s clear defensive improvement this year, memories of the 4-1 hammering by Tottenham last October were still raw when the Reds travelled to Wembley on 15 September. That day, a flying start from Spurs left Klopp’s team with a steep mountain to climb. This time it was the visitors who were much quicker out of the blocks, finding the net in the opening 40 seconds only for Mane to creep into an offside position.
Liverpool dominating games is nothing new, although not many would have expected them to be so much on top away to Tottenham, who were very poor on the day despite having far more of the ball. Indeed, the home side could have counted themselves grateful to be on level terms by the 38th minute, at which stage Georginio Wijnaldum’s header crossed the goal-line despite Michel Vorm’s best efforts at clawing it out. Such was Liverpool’s superiority that even a 1-0 interval lead felt disappointing.
The Reds had an early second half let-off when the in-form Lucas Moura wriggled clear of the defence and struck the post, before a combination of Spurs’ errors and Firmino’s opportunism saw the Brazilian striker double Liverpool’s lead on 54 minutes. There were further chances to put the game to bed soon afterwards, but the likes of Salah, Mane and Keita were all culpable of either slack finishing or flawed decision-making. Nonetheless, Tottenham didn’t look like getting back into the game, but a late goal from Erik Lamela ensured a nervy finish for the Reds. Indeed, Mane could easily have given away a last-gasp penalty when he caught Son Heung-min’s ankle, but it was overlooked and Liverpool held on.
It would have been robbery had Spurs been awarded a penalty for that incident and scored it, but Liverpool would only have had themselves to blame for not putting the result beyond doubt much earlier. Gary Neville was not exaggerating in co-commentary when he said that the Reds could have netted five or six. Had all their front three been on form and teamed up better, they may well have administered a repeat of the five-goal thrashing handed out to Spurs at White Hart Lane in December 2013.
Liverpool 3-2 PSG
LIV 17 shots (7 on target, 5 blocked) and 52% possession; PSG 9 shots (5 on target, 2 blocked) and 48% possession
A typically boisterous European night at Anfield saw Liverpool deservedly begin their Champions League group stage campaign with a win, although that was only because of Firmino’s stoppage time strike. The match was billed beforehand as a battle of the teams’ respective attacking trios, but Firmino was the only member of that celebrated sextet who scored and even that was off the bench, with Sturridge opening the scoring for the Reds with a header from Andrew Robertson’s inch-perfect cross.
A sweetly-struck Milner penalty put Liverpool into a deserved 2-0 lead, but an opportunistic goal from Thomas Meunier shortly before half-time meant that, as against Spurs, the Reds would have been deflated at the interval despite being in front. Klopp’s men picked themselves up again after half-time, though, and Salah thought he had restored the two-goal lead, only for referee Cuneyt Cakir to chalk off the goal because of a foul on PSG goalkeeper Alphonse Areola.
Sturridge then missed a header you’d have expected him to score and Salah’s touch was off, which meant that Liverpool did not make their superiority count on the scoreboard. When a slack pass from the Egyptian led to a breakaway Kylian Mbappe equaliser, it looked as if PSG would somehow escape with a draw. Indeed, the French champions were emboldened from being left back into the game and pressed for a winning goal they would absolutely have not deserved. A decisive goal did arrive and it was Firmino who got it, finishing with aplomb to send Anfield into raptures and leave PSG boss Thomas Tuchel bizarrely claiming that the result was an unfair one – Liverpool had almost twice as many attempts as the visitors.
If Liverpool can replicate the standard of performance they gave against the Parisiens in future games, the wins should keep coming. However, while Firmino’s goal made this a very satisfying victory, the winning margin should have been greater given how much better Liverpool were than their underwhelming opponents.
Liverpool 3-0 Southampton
LIV 12 shots (4 on target, 3 blocked) and 60% possession; SOU 8 shots (1 on target, 5 blocked) and 40% possession
Following four consecutive one-goal victories, Liverpool raced into a 3-0 interval lead which enabled them to glide through the gears after half-time against a Southampton side that offered precious little up top, their only effort on target arriving in stoppage time when quite a few of their supporters may well have already departed Anfield.
The Reds went in front in bizarre fashion inside 10 minutes, Wesley Hoedt unlucky to inadvertently direct the ball into this own net. A neat header from Joel Matip doubled the lead soon afterwards and, for the fourth time in just seven games, Liverpool scored in first half stoppage time, Salah ending his mini-drought with an insultingly easy finish. However, the Egyptian still needed to be alert to the second ball to finish the chance, proving that his strikers’ instincts are as sharp as ever.
The second half was essentially a non-event, although Liverpool had a goal disallowed for the third match in succession after Salah was deemed offside when coming back over the goal-line to plant the ball in the net. It mattered little as the Reds ambled through the afternoon, so much so that neither team even registered a shot from minutes 45 to 85. There were probably more goals for the taking, such was Liverpool’s comfort, but the steep decline in the tempo of the game was entirely understandable and indeed sensible given the tough fixtures that lie in wait, when the Reds will be challenged far more severely than they were against the Saints.
Liverpool’s season so far
In their opening seven matches, Liverpool have recorded exactly 112 shots (average 16 per game) and scored from 17 of their 47 attempts on target (match average 2.43 goals from 6.71 shots on target). Those figures are respectable in their own right, but there remains a sense that their goal tally could be in or around the 25 mark, especially when you look at how dominant they were against Brighton, Tottenham and PSG.
Results count more than anything and, in that regard, Liverpool are faultless so far. Also, with a sense that they have maintained an unblemished record despite some less than stellar performances, there is justifiable cause for optimism for Reds supporters ahead of a pivotal fortnight domestically and in Europe.
However, the frequent inability to kill teams off when they have backed into a corner is going to be punished eventually. Chelsea, who themselves have won six out of seven, and Manchester City, whose attacking riches need no elaboration, are exactly the type of teams who could make the Reds pay, and Liverpool face both of those clubs over the coming two weeks. Saturday’s chance conversion ratio was a notable improvement on previous games, but Klopp’s team still need to be more clinical if ambitious talk of major honours is to be realistic.