Premier League 2019-20: Are Liverpool riding their luck?
This Liverpool team is special. Only last season, they shattered the record for the most Premier League points in a season for a team that finished second. They also won 15 consecutive games while scoring 2 or more goals in each of them, something no team has done since 1960.
It has been 956 days since they last lost at home, and in their last 53 games in the Premier League, they’ve only lost once.
Liverpool were also the only team out of the 98 in the top 5 leagues last season to have never been down by more than one goal. That’s almost 60 hours of football in the toughest league in the world. The last team to achieve that was the Atletico Madrid side of 2015-16.
Liverpool have also never been more than a goal down this season. They’re one of 8 teams in the top 5 leagues who can boast of that (Leicester, Real Madrid, Inter and PSG are also part of this elite group) at this point in the season.
These stats make for compelling reading, but are they an apt representation of the underlying issues that plague the Liverpool side this season?
The disconcerting part for the club is that they are also number 1 in one other aspect. Out of all the 98 teams in the top 5 leagues, Liverpool have the highest difference between their Expected Points and actual points. That is to say, Liverpool have gathered almost 13 more points (which is more than any other team) than they have deserved.
Liverpool have outperformed a very essential metric using which top teams usually judge their performances. A run of unlucky or lucky results can paint a biased picture, but a stat like Expected Points can tell a club where it really stands.
According to the Premier League table sorted on the basis of expected points, Liverpool would still have a healthy position in the league but they would be second on the table to Manchester City.
When we delve a little deeper into the difference between Liverpool’s performances this year in contrast to last year, something else stands out: that Liverpool FC have spent much more time being a goal down this season than last season.
In terms of percentages, last season Liverpool FC were down by 1 goal 4.45% of the time. This season, that number has almost tripled to 12.94%.
Although it is a small sample, other metrics also depict the same worrying tale. Liverpool have been unable to control the games the way they did last season.
To better understand this metric, let’s analyze Tottenham Hotspur’s performances over the last 6 seasons (the year Mauricio Pochettino was made their coach). Under Pochettino, Tottenham’s performances in the league steadily declined from their peak season in 2016-17, when they finished 2nd.
As evident from the table below, Tottenham’s performances improved till the 2016-17 season, after which they struggled and started seeing an upward trend in the ‘Goal Diff -1’ column until he was sacked. This means that Pochettino’s team spent less time being 1 goal down in their 2016-17 season and progressively spent more time over the next 2 full seasons.
Similarly, Pochettino’s sides spent the most time being up by more than 1 goal in the 2016-17 season. When the Argentine took over at Tottenham, they were up by more than a goal for just 8% of the total time whereas in the 2016-17 season that ratio went up to almost triple - 22% of the total time.
A downward trajectory is visible over the next few seasons in the table above, something that was also evident through their performances in the league. These stats are backed up by their league positions.
During the 2016-17 season, they came 2nd and were 1 goal down only 11.4% of the time. In their dismal run this season, they were 1 goal down 21.1% of the time and were subsequently 10th in the League after 13 games.
Liverpool’s current team is undoubtedly a force to reckon with, but their performances have been ameliorated by the magic of the Kop and the charisma of Klopp. To win their first league title in almost 30 years, they need to have some continued good fortune or some serious upturn in performances.
Having lost the title after being 5 points ahead with 3 games to go back in 2014 (under Leicester City's current manager Brendan Rodgers), no one knows better than Liverpool that when your luck deserts you, even cold food burns.