Are Liverpool Taking the Wrong Type of Shots?

When Brendan Rodgers got the Liverpool job, he brought in a very Spanish-Dutch style of play. Possession is everything. All offensive and defensive work starts with the ball. When you are without the ball you need to win it back as quickly as possible. Rodgers has already spoken about his desire to see Liverpool play and win through domination of the playing zone. “Death by football” was his direct quote.

The Spanish style popularized by Barcelona and La Roja also accepts the Total Football idea of only requiring one strategy. When Barcelona are losing, they don’t throw balls into the box without thinking. They continue their strategy of passing around the opponent. If your Plan A is good enough, you won’t need a Plan B. Rodgers has supported this notion too, in shooting down the idea that he would seek to recall Andy Carroll from West Ham in January due to Liverpool’s lack of strikers. Liverpool’s manager said throwing on a large center forward in the dying moments of the game was a tactic that reeked of desperation, and wasn’t one he wanted to impart on his side. It’s the right message. Ninety nine times out of 100, Barcelona’s plan works. Occasionally Chelsea or Celtic will win but that always requires a huge amount of luck on their part. For example Chelsea only progressed in the Champions League last season because of Messi’s uncharacteristic penalty miss.

So Liverpool’s strategy is quite simple — keep the ball, rest with the ball. Recycle possession and tire your opponent. There should be constant movement by offensive players so that when a defender makes a mistake, it’s punished. The theory behind this is that constant possession in the opposition half should lead to better chances, chances closer to the opposition goal. Chances that are easier to finish. For example, lots of Barcelona goals are simply tap-ins resulting from getting behind the opposition defense and squaring the ball. When you’re dealing with a Liverpool side who struggle to finish their chances, creating high quality scoring opportunities is paramount.

Yet for all the possession football, the results have stayed largely the same as last season. Liverpool still largely outplay their opponents, taking eight more shots a game, but they don’t score nearly enough. So far Rodgers’ possession football seems to have taken hold, with Liverpool averaging 58% possession, but their dominance is often sterile. Too often it seems that they play tidily in non-threatening areas but lose their composure in the final third.

Scoring Stats after 10 Matches

Team Goals Shots Shots Per Match Shots on Target Shooting Accuracy Shots Per Goal
Man City

18

190

19

65

34.2%

10.6

Man United

26

156

15.6

59

37.8%

6

Arsenal

15

166

16.6

50

30.1%

11.1

Tottenham

17

178

17.8

60

33.7%

10.5

Newcastle

12

122

12.2

36

29.5%

10.2

Chelsea

22

147

14.7

57

38.8%

6.7

Everton

19

200

20

63

31.5%

10.5

Liverpool

13

189

18.9

44

23.3%

14.5

It’s easy to see that when compared to their rivals for the lucrative Champions League places, Liverpool are an anomaly. The lowest shooting percentage by far, and the most shots required to score a goal. They’ve only scored one goal more than Newcastle, and even Alan Pardew has admitted his side has started the season quite poorly. Liverpool have been playing reasonably well, with a reasonably healthy squad. They’re just not reaping their rewards.

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