The Liverpool year in review

Steven Gerrard (Getty Images)
Steven Gerrard (Getty Images)
This will not focus on solely the 2013 calendar year, as New Year’s Day 2013 fell in the middle of last season’s match week 20, leaving some clubs to play only 37 league games in 2013.  Instead I’ll look at the last 38 games so that we’re comparing apples with apples, and have a full season worth of games to consider and to compare with full seasons for some perspective.

All those City losses on the road in the latter half of the year have cost them top spot, and look firm favourites now for the 13/14 title as their squad depth and ruthlessness at home should see them through.  But I wouldn’t count Arsenal out yet…

A continued and disturbing lack of goals for Everton and Spurs see them needing to rely on tight wins time and again, and while such battling mettle is fine in the short term they lead the mini-league in point-hampering draws and don’t seem out of the woods just yet.  With difficult Januaries for both clubs on the horizon, one of them may just slip too far out of the congested race for a Champions’ League place to have much say in their own fate.  Spurs too are struggling to keep clean sheets, and a side with a 0.5 goal difference per game (normally perfectly fine for a CL place) should be seen as an outsider in a league where 5 of their rivals are all scoring more than an extra +1 goal difference per game over the last 38.

Liverpool continue to push the boundaries of what constitutes outlier behaviour.  In the 13/14 season they have hit the woodwork TWICE as often as the next club, coming on the back of 3 consecutive seasons of hitting the woodwork the most.  I guess it’s encouraging that the players are getting themselves into the position to actually hit the goal frame so often, and when allied with scoring a staggering 87 league goals over the last 38 games (10 more than the club’s highest ever full season in the EPL era) suggests the club has fearsome attacking potential.  However it’s also obvious that goals and goal difference don’t count if you can’t get the right results: Manchester City sit 4 places and 8 points higher on that table with the same GD and 1 goal fewer.  It is remarkable that the third most prolific goal scoring side, Chelsea, have scored a massive 16 goals fewer than Liverpool over the period (while conceding exactly as many goals but with 5 fewer clean sheets) yet have garnered 5 more points, enough to take the CL place were this an actual season.  Liverpool need to cut out their tendency to concede twice against the better equipped clubs if they want to break into the top 4.  They can take heart that goal difference is typically an indicator of a club’s potential, as goal difference follows league position within a place or two, but should be aware that the shortage of strength in depth could well cost them a place in the top 4 despite the sublime form of Luis Suarez.

It is important to remember that the 12/13 season saw Spurs finish fifth with 72 points.  This was the first time a club scoring more than 70 points failed to qualify for the Champions’ League via their league position.  But as one can see Liverpool over the last 38 fixtures have the same 72 points yet sit an incredible SIXTH on the table.  It really is that tight for the CL places this season!

Side shows: Tim Howard with the Golden Glove, Luis Suarez with the Golden Boot, manager of the year Arsene Wenger.  An interesting spread.

Here’s an interesting stat: the last time Liverpool won an away game against any of the sides in the current top 8 that Howard Webb handled was 26 October 2008, when we beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge to end their ridiculous unbeaten home streak; it is also the only such win.  In the games between Liverpool have drawn 2 and lost the other 6, most under clouds of controversy (mainly penalties given vs not given).  It’s become fairly clear that Webb is swayed not only by the home crowd, but also by the occasion (and not just in games involving Liverpool).  His decision to not even card Eto’o for his straight-red opening challenge on Henderson yesterday is just another example of his inability to make the big calls in important games.  It is human to not want to spoil the spectacle by dishing out an early red card that will likely influence the result, but his refusal to leave unpunished several heavy challenges (Oscar’s two-footed scissor challenge on Lucas is a no questions asked straight red as well, even if there remain only 30 seconds on the clock), the “team fouling” of Suarez, and never mind ignoring both legitimate penalty calls for Liverpool – Suarez again! – as well as that for Chelsea when Lucas was not penalised for taking Hazard down, suggests he is simply unable to avoid the pitfall of coming into a game with pre-conceived notions.  Despite the typical British media fanfare over Mourinho’s cowardly attack on Saurez, the player has in fact been one of the standout players this season in terms of both ability and conduct, so any bias Webb may have had regarding the player’s inability to remain upright when in contact should never have been present.  It begs the question: is it better to bottle a call by not issuing a deserved red card, or bottle a call by incorrectly issuing a red card?  Given that Howard Webb regularly makes game-changing gaffs that favour the home side, if he is the FA’s top referee then surely the English game is in danger of becoming a parody.  However, when he has refereeing abominations like Lee Mason and the thankfully departed Mark Halsey for company, I guess it’s hardly surprising that he’s top.

On the whole, Liverpool can feel disappointed to have slipped from top of the table to fifth in only 72 hours, but they should feel encouraged by their goal scoring feats, solidity at the back against the lesser clubs, and that scoring 36 or more points in the first 19 games of a season is something they’ve only done 5 times before in the EPL era.  While it’s likely they will become the first side that was top at Christmas to finish outside the top 2, Brendan Rodgers’ work in progress is definitely making strides in the right direction.
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