Football Features

“I don’t think we can close the gap this year” – 11 crushing stats behind Liverpool’s title defence

By CJ Smith

“I don’t think we can close the gap this year” – 11 crushing stats behind Liverpool’s title defence

Published: 11:15, 21 February 2021

When asked after the Leicester City defeat if Liverpool had just conceded the Premier League title, Jurgen Klopp responded: “Yes. I can’t believe, but yes. I don’t think we can close the gap this year, to be honest.”

Those words came after the Reds conceded three goals in seven minutes to surrender a 1-0 lead against Brendan Rodgers’ side, falling 3-1 away from home.

The result means Liverpool have now won just two of their last 11 Premier League matches and have slipped 16 points behind leaders Manchester City. But how did we get to this stage?

Here are 11 stats behind Liverpool’s failed title defence.

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1. Biggest points dip by defending Premier League champions so far

Remember when Roy Keane accused Liverpool of being “bad champions”?

Okay, so a little benefit of the doubt must be given to the Reds. After all, losing three centre-backs and a midfielder who can play centre-back to injury is far from ideal. And besides, it’s a weird year with weird things happening. Liverpool are the perfect case in point for that having won 7-0 and lost 7-2 in the same season.

But the fact remains that after 24 games, Liverpool have the worst points differential of any defending champion in Premier League history.

2. Klopp’s magic runs out

Considering this is Klopp’s fifth season in charge of Liverpool, and that he could only manage an eighth-place finish in his first campaign (albeit taking over from Rodgers already 11 games into the season) it seems incredible that this is the first time the Reds have lost four successive league games under the German, with the Everton defeat coming after they fell 2-1 against Leicester, 4-1 to Man City and 1-0 to Brighton.

Even in their worst runs under Klopp, Liverpool have always managed to grind out a win here, or steal a draw there. Not this time. Up next for the Reds is a trip to Sheffield United before they host Chelsea in a must-win game at Anfield.

3. Fortress Anfield falls

Remember Fortress Anfield? Liverpool’s great bastion of power which stood from April 23, 2017, when they lost 2-1 to Crystal Palace, all the way until January 21, 2021, when Burnley beat them 1-0. That defeat to the Clarets proved to be the bursting of a dam, with the Reds now on a run of four consecutive defeats on home soil, conceding eight goals and scoring just once (a penalty) along the way.

The defeat to City made Liverpool the first side to lose three straight home league matches in the following campaign after winning the English top-flight since Chelsea did so back in March 1956.

Now, of course, that record has been extended to four games, as many as they suffered during Klopp’s first 101 Premier League home games.

4. More home blues

But wait one second. Liverpool’s home woes get even worse. Prior to 1-0 defeats against Burnley and Brighton, the Reds also drew 0-0 with rivals Manchester United, thus completing a trio of games at Anfield without scoring a single goal. It was a run that lasted a massive 410 minutes until Mohamed Salah dispatched his penalty against Manchester City, and is the first time this has happened since October 1984. Liverpool did rally to finish second that season, although they ended the campaign a massive 13 points behind eventual champions and local rivals Everton. You can’t even see it getting that good for Liverpool now.

5. Toothless in attack

When Sadio Mane found the net in the 12th minute of Liverpool’s draw with West Brom on December 27, most would have been thinking that the Reds would go on and put a few more past Sam Allardyce’s men. Even with a 1-1 stalemate, nobody would have predicted Klopp’s side going 482 minutes without scoring another Premier League goal. After all, this is Liverpool, with their fearsome front three and buccaneering full-backs.

But that’s exactly what happened, with the Reds not enjoying another league strike until Roberto Firmino put his side ahead in a 3-1 win over Tottenham on January 28. It took 93 shots, but they finally hit the net.

Liverpool only managed two shots on target during that 1-1 draw with West Brom, compared to the Baggies’ three. And so for the first time since February 2018 vs Spurs, Liverpool took fewer shots on target than their opponent in a Premier League game at Anfield. A precursor of what was to come.

At home, their famous front three have taken 35 shots on home soil in the Premier League in 2021, with just seven finding the target and not a single one hitting the net.

6. Telling Leicester defeat

For so long, Klopp’s men have gladly carried around the title of “Mentality Monsters”, and with good reason. The Reds didn’t lose a single game in the Premier League after scoring first from that home defeat against Palace in April 2017, all the way until this latest setback at the King Power Stadium against Leicester. This is one blip that Klopp will be praying doesn’t turn into a trend.

7. Alisson’s poor form

Virgil van Dijk has so often been credited with turning Liverpool from nearly-men into behemoths, but the fact is, none of their recent success would have been possible without Alisson, either. The Brazilian is infinitely better than the likes of Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius in every single aspect.

However, for the first time since joining Liverpool from Roma, Alisson has started to show signs of weakness, already having made three errors leading to goals in the Premier League this season compared to just one for the entire 2019/20 campaign.

His horror show against Man City made Alisson the first Liverpool player to make two or more errors leading to a goal in a Champions League or Premier League game since Karius in the Champions League final against Real Madrid. The way he came flying out to attempt a clearance against Leicester, when centre-back Ozan Kabak had things under control, did little to allay Liverpudlian fears of a crisis of confidence.

8. FOURTEEN different centre-back pairings in the Premier League

Some of Liverpool’s collapse is purely down to rotten luck, of course. From the moment Van Dijk was injured against Everton back in October, Liverpool have tried 14 (fourteen!) different centre-back pairings in the Premier League alone, if you include those alongside each other after substitutions, as well as starters.

Having Joel Matip, Joe Gomez and Fabinho all land on the treatment table hasn’t helped either, of course, but to give you an inkling of just how bad their centre-back crisis has been, here are all 14 partnerships used:

  • Joel Matip & Fabinho (6 matches)
  • Nathaniel Phillips & Fabinho (3 matches)
  • Fabinho & Jordan Henderson (3 matches)
  • Nathaniel Phillips & Jordan Henderson (3 matches)
  • Virgil van Dijk & Joe Gomez (3 matches)
  • Joe Gomez & Joel Matip (2 matches)
  • Ozan Kabak & Jordan Henderson (2 match)
  • Virgil van Dijk & Fabinho (1 match)
  • Joe Gomez & Fabinho (1 match)
  • Joe Gomez & Nathaniel Phillips (1 match)
  • Joel Matip & Jordan Henderson (1 match)
  • Rhys Williams & Fabinho (1 match)
  • Ozan Kabak & Nathaniel Phillips (60 minutes)
  • Virgil van Dijk & Joel Matip (11 minutes)

The fact that Van Dijk and Matip managed just 11 minutes together is astounding. And we’re yet to see Ben Davies in action, so that number is likely to go up.

9. Slow starters

One of the greatest hallmarks of Klopp’s Liverpool over the years has been just how quick they are out of the blocks. The Reds would swarm their opponents right from the off, whether that be via a barrage of balls into the box from their full-backs, dizzying interplay between their front three, or a relentless high-press catching the opposition flat-footed. Naturally, this caught many off guard, leading to a flood of early goals. Like so much else from the floundering champions this, well, seems to have dried up too.

After scoring more first-half goals than any other Premier League side this season up until the end of 2020 (18), Liverpool have only managed one first-half goal since the turn of the year.

Burnley were bottom of this particular metric with zero goals netted in the opening 45 minutes, but they fired two past Crystal Palace within the opening 10 minutes recently, subsequently leaving the champions in their rearview mirror and bottom of the pile. They also conceded within three minutes against Everton on Sunday, with the early horror show moving to the opposite end of the pitch, too.

10. Unwanted firsts

So, back to that 7-2 thrashing vs Aston Villa. That was obviously shocking for a number of reasons, not least because of just how defensively ruthless Liverpool had been over the 18 months prior. But that momentous evening in early October also made them the first reigning English top-flight champions to concede seven goals in a single league match since Arsenal did so against Sunderland way back in September 1953.

11. A bad luck charm?

When Liverpool signed Thiago from Bayern Munich in the summer, it was seen as the rich getting richer, the strong getting stronger.

After all, the Spaniard had just pulled the strings for a Bayern side which sealed the treble, while he had lifted a league title in nine of his last 10 seasons for the Bavarians and Barcelona combined, including an uninterrupted sequence of success in the last eight campaigns.

However, despite some graceful passing, things just haven’t got going for Liverpool with Thiago in the side as of yet, with the Reds losing seven of their 15 matches featuring the Spaniard across all competitions, winning just five (33.33%).

Jamie Carragher recently called him a “defensive liability”, although it is admittedly harsh to blame everything happening to Liverpool right now on one player.