Liverpool owe a debt of gratitude to Emre Can for ‘over-performing’ this season – while the club’s goals output and what is needed to secure a top-four spot is analysed in this week’s Red Letter.
- The number of points Liverpool have with three games to go. The year man landed on the moon. The amount of times I’ve watched Emre Can’s goal-from-another-planet against Watford.
“It was a worldie goal and worthy of winning any game,” said the fit-again Adam Lallana. And, thankfully, our defence made sure it did by keeping a second straight clean sheet on the road. We’ve only managed two previous back-to-back away shutouts under Jurgen Klopp so the timing was ideal.
It completed an excellent four days in which our rivals tossed away points and allowed us to put a top-four finish back in our own hands.
I talked about the lame Manchester derby last week and both United and City made it four dropped points out of six with weekend draws. Both were unexpected as they were heavily odds-on to beat Swansea and Middlesbrough respectively.
It’s the forgotten side of this daily mental battle about whether we’ll blow it or not. Forget Liverpool messing up, our rivals our just as capable of it….
Arsenal’s 2-0 loss at Spurs was a lot more predictable although just as welcome. There was just a creeping doubt after wins over Leicester and Man City that they may somehow smoke and mirrors their way to a top four but surely not now.
After the door was left open, we still had a job to get through given that the bouncers standing guard were big and muscular Watford.
It was hardly a classic but last season, under Klopp, we’d been bullied in this fixture and crashed to a morale-sapping 3-0 defeat.
This time, they didn’t even have three shots on target, never mind about scoring three goals although Sebastian Prodl crashing his shot against the woodwork in injury-time was a reminder of how fine the margins are.
Still, we smashed the crossbar too and on LFC TV they said Lallana’s thumped left-foot dropping volley would have been a goal-of-the-season contender had it gone in. I guess we couldn’t have two in the same match.
Can scored the first ever goal for Liverpool under Klopp – a tap-in equaliser in a Europa League game against Rubin Kazan. It was a nice story that a fellow German had got the ball rolling as he was an unexpected source. The midfielder hadn’t scored in 348 days and his only other goal in 49 appearances that season came in the 6-0 away drubbing of Aston Villa.
Liverpool’s goals output analysed
That poor output was why I scribbled in Can for just two Premier League goals when I did my predictions of how many each Red would net this season. You can read this article here.
That sensational over-head kick was Can’s fifth PL goal of the campaign so he’s surpassed expectations and is now playing probably the best football of his Anfield career. It’s crucial we tie him down to a new contract as we’ve got a serious player here.
Having checked Can’s ‘actual v predicted’ goals, I couldn’t help but revisit the numbers I’d pencilled in for the rest of the LFC squad.
So, who, like Can, has surpassed goalscoring expectations? And who has seriously underperformed?
Here’s the list, running from biggest revelations to biggest flops. Can, with a +3 count, is the joint leader. Before you scroll down, it’s easy to guess who will be bottom.
+3 Sadio Mane (scored 13, predicted 10)
+3 Emre Can (scored 5, predicted 2)
+3 James Milner (scored 7, predicted 4)
+1 Dejan Lovren (scored 2, predicted 1)
= Adam Lallana (scored 7, predicted 7)
= Georginio Wijnaldum (scored 5, predicted 5)
-1 Roberto Firmino (scored 11, predicted 12)
-1 Philippe Coutinho (scored 10, predicted 11)
-1 Divock Origi (scored 6, predicted 7)
-1 Nathaniel Clyne (scored 0, predicted 1)
-1 Alberto Moreno (scored 0, predicted 1)
-1 Mamadou Sakho (scored 0, predicted 1)
-1 Sheyi Ojo (scored 0, predicted 1)
-2 Joel Matip (scored 1, predicted 3)
-3 Jordan Henderson (scored 1, predicted 4)
-3 Marko Grujic (scored 0, predicted 3)
-4 Danny Ings (scored 0, predicted 4)
-10 Daniel Sturridge (scored 2, predicted 12)
Total: scored 71 (includes 1 own goal), predicted 89
Full credit to Milner’s nerve and technique from the spot but it’s Can and Mane who deserve highest praise having netted 18 between them from open play.
Lallana and Wijnaldum have done well to hit their numbers while Firmino and Coutinho are just a goal away from meeting the far from unambitious targets I hoped for.
Origi is only a goal shy too and it’s hard to be too critical of a few others. Ings and Grujic, for example, haven’t started a game between them.
There are some areas of disappointment though. Take out spot-kicks and our full-backs (Clyne, Milner, Moreno) haven’t managed a single goal between them. Given how high they operate up the pitch, that’s not good enough.
But, of course, the main reason why my extremely lofty final total of 89 is still 18 short is the Sturridge shortfall.
The striker has made five starts and 12 appearances from the bench so a huge part of the problem is the lack of game time.
And yet, it’s more than that. I still think he’s one of the very, very best finishers in the Premier League and I’d always his minutes per goal numbers to be similar to that of Harry Kane (104 minutes per goal), Sergio Aguero (124 mpg) and Romelu Lukaku (125 mpg).
Sturridge has totalled 579 minutes on the pitch this season so I’d have expected him to have scored five (115 minutes per goal).
In his glorious 2013/4 season, Sturridge banged in 21 goals at a rate of one every 108 minutes. Even last year, when he was also sidelined for lengthy spells, he was good for a Premier League goal, eight of them, every 122 minutes.
There’s still time though.
What do Liverpool need to finish the job?
I said last week I reckoned we needed nine points out of 12 to make the top four. Three have been banked at Vicarage Road so that leaves two more wins.
The optimist in me is thinking we win all three (home to Southampton, away to West Ham and home to Middlesbrough), finish third and go straight into the group draw without needing a fingernail-biting two-legged qualifier.
The darker side reminds me that we haven’t scored in three games against Southampton this term.
Last season we smashed Southampton 6-1 at St. Mary’s in the League Cup with Can setting up Sturridge’s first with an absolute peach of a ball curled from the outside of his right-foot.
Can has done his bit in recent times with winning goals in two of his last eight games. That should be the job of Sturridge and, just maybe, the England striker has a massive part to play in these final three games.
I checked his record and Sturridge has scored six goals in the seven games he’s played for us in the month of May.
One more please Daniel, one more. It could be worth millions….
By Dave Tindall