Come at Us, Bro!
By Darius Thigpen
Over the past few years Liverpool have completely reinvented themselves — to the point you hear pundits say “they aren’t the same attacking side” or “they aren’t as imperious as they were a couple seasons prior.”
Those sentiments simply aren’t true.
Despite how differently teams now choose to play Liverpool, the Reds are still every bit the powerful attacking side they were when they shocked the world en route to the Champions League Final in Kiev.
There is a perception that Liverpool don’t take their chances as well, that something is just off, and that a magical signing will fix everything. It will take Liverpool to the heights of goal scoring that the squad achieved two seasons ago.
Though we enjoyed the roller coaster of years past, the reality is that Liverpool haven’t tapered off in attack from years past.
Liverpool were insanely fun to watch in 2017/18 with results like the early four-nil drubbing of Arsenal at Anfield and a few one-sided results against the likes of Swansea, Brighton, Watford and a seven-nil against Spartak in the Champions League group stage. But it’s the second half of the campaign, from December on that truly stands out from that season.
That’s when you have a five-nil result at Porto in the Round of 16 and the results that encapsulated the season in Liverpool topping Manchester City in the Premier League and then smashing them in the Champions League.
The thing is, Liverpool’s attack is more productive now than during that thrilling run.
In the Premier League during the 2017/18 campaign the Reds netted 84 goals with a 2.21 goals per match average. They scored 89 for a 2.34 average last season and with 23 goals through 10 matches this season are on pace for 87 goals this year. That’s after having already played the three teams to round out the top five of the current EPL table after Manchester City.
With a goals against average of 1.00 in 2017/18, 0.56 GAA last season (despite a brief injury crisis at center-back last winter), and an average of 0.80 this season (with only three appearances by Alisson in goal), it stands to reason that Liverpool could put up similar numbers to what they did last campaign. You know, when the team set a club record for points, finished second in the Premier League, and won the European Cup?
Not a terrible return.
So, why the difference in aesthetics? It’s the opposition’s fear of Liverpool’s attack.
Clubs like Liverpool are used to smaller teams playing a low-block, formations that becomes eight in and around the penalty area when defending. The difference is that now even the big clubs are asking all 10 outfield players to get on board and park the bus.
Manchester United never really committed numbers forward and were content to sit back, allowing Liverpool 68% possession at Old Trafford.
Tottenham, a top-four finisher and runners-up in the Champions League, time wasted after scoring in the first minute in front of the Kop and conceded 68% possession to Liverpool as the Reds outshot Tottenham 21–11 with a 13–4 edge in shots on target and more than double the number of completed passes (631–298).
Even going back to last year at Anfield, Manchester City were as conservative as they’d been all season. The teams combined for 13 shots with just four on target between them in October 2018.
This is not a new trend. Liverpool have earned at or above 58% of the ball each year since the 2015/16 season. What is new is how Liverpool take a mature approach when given time to create, increasing the shot accuracy from 37% two years ago, to 39% in 2018/19, up to 41% through 10 games this season.
To accomplish this, Liverpool have taken fewer shots overall and noticeably fewer goals from outside the box have resulted (though Liverpool this season have already matched the five such strikes they racked up last season).
Of course, it can’t be understated just how much injuries have capped Liverpool’s potential these past 10–12 months. Not only did they have to deal with injuries at the back, but the midfield never truly hit stride in the way we’ve seen more consistently so far this season.
Fabinho wasn’t integrated into the side until late October and we only saw glimpses of Naby Keita’s brilliance due to injuries. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain essentially missed the entire season and neither Jordan Henderson nor Gini Wijnaldum were freed to play the attacking roles they relish. This year, Klopp has endless options and countless creative combinations at his behest.
Sure, it can be frustrating to watch at times due to how teams have chosen to play against Liverpool. But we should revel in the fact it has generally made it easier for this vastly improved back line to defend as Liverpool have built an early 12-point lead over fifth-place Arsenal, who are just eight points ahead of the relegation zone at the time of writing.
If you want to see the type of free-flowing football and the “scoring for fun” magic that Jürgen Klopp’s men conjured up in the 2017/18 season, then look to the opponents, not Liverpool.
Shout at them, “Come at us, bro!”
It may not be as eye-catching as the 4–3 win against Manchester City at Anfield or as awe-inspiring as a 4-nil takedown of Barcelona on a special European night, but these 2–1 results and grind them down wins equal three points all the same. This Liverpool team is just as, if not more, special compared to the last two amazing seasons we’ve witnessed.