Liverpool

Liverpool have fixed their defence...and show no sign of weakness

 • by Sam McGuire
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Liverpool’s record-breaking 2018/19 Premier League campaign was built on solid foundations.

In their 38 league matches, the Reds conceded just 22 goals, one fewer than champions Manchester City. Jürgen Klopp’s charges kept a remarkable 21 clean sheets. While it is something of a flawed stat in general, the fact they needed just one goal in 55 per cent of their matches to win explains why they eventually finished with 97 points. 

However, this once near-impenetrable backline was porous in the early stages of the 2019/20 season. The Premier League leaders kept just three cleans sheets across all competitions in the first 22 matches, and one of those was against MK Dons in the Carabao Cup. 

No matter how dominant they appeared to be, clean sheets eluded them. Adrián performed admirably while filling in for the injured Alisson but goals kept being conceded. 

Virgil van Dijk of Liverpool celebrates

The Brazilian’s return was supposed to bring an end to this. The former Roma man is an elite shot-stopper. He returned to the starting XI for the trip to Old Trafford on October 20 but had to wait until December 7 for his first shutout, during the 3-0 win over Bournemouth.

That wasn’t cause for concern, though, with the Reds winning eight of the nine matches their No.1 appeared in between his return and his first clean sheet. But it was a source of frustration for the reigning European champions. 

Yet since the 5-2 victory over Everton to kick off December, Liverpool’s first-team have kept eight clean sheets from their nine matches. The 5-0 Carabao Cup defeat to Aston Villa isn’t being counted for obvious reasons. 

This run has seen the Reds claw back the goal difference on Manchester City, with Klopp’s men now having a positive difference of 35 to City’s 32. Liverpool’s goals against per 90 average in the Premier League has dropped from 0.93 to 0.7. However, it is still up on the 0.57 from last season, but only ever so slightly now. 

The Reds have played five times in the league since they last conceded. On average, they’re allowing the opposition to have 5.4 shots per 90. Prior to this run, that average was 10.47. 

Their expected goals against (xGA) has dropped from 0.99 to 0.48 while their post-shot expected goals against is now at 0.22 per 90, down from 0.65 after the Everton match.

Liverpool haven’t just stopped conceding goals, they’ve stopped giving up chances altogether.  The number of shots conceded in the penalty area has dropped from 6.8 per 90 to just three. 

What could have been a tricky festive period for the Reds, with the volume of games increasing coupled with injuries to key players, has seen them become even more authoritative. 

Klopp’s side are having more shots now – 16.5 up from 15.2 – and they’re dominating the ball. This goes some way to explaining why they’re facing fewer efforts – their opponents aren’t having as much possession.

Liverpool’s attempted passes per 90 have risen from 561 to 733. The best form of defence is often to attack and, in this instance, the table-toppers are looking to dominate the ball to nullify the opposition while creating better chances.

Liverpool’s open-play expected goals per 90 have climbed to 2.08 from 1.67, while post-shot expected goals per 90 now come in at 2.15. It is worth reiterating that the sample size is only five matches but the current numbers suggest the form shown by Klopp’s men is much more sustainable than it was earlier in the campaign. 

The signs are ominous for those looking to chase down the leaders. Liverpool may have been fortunate in certain games to open up the lead but that advantage, on current form, is justified.

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