Red Letter: Verdict on a tough September; time to play a true No.9?

Date published: Thursday 28th September 2017 8:58

Dave Tindall reflects on a tough September for Liverpool and hits back at the critics of a Jurgen Klopp side that has been “built for goals”.

So, September has become ‘everyone laugh at Liverpool’ month.

Apparently, Jurgen Klopp is under pressure, our defence is the worst in the world and we’ll officially win nothing this season.

What’s more, it’s now become de rigueur to blast our previously celebrated forward line.

So far this week I’ve read we should be “ashamed” of scoring 12 goals in six Premier League games given the amount of chances we’ve had while ex-Man Utd midfielder Paul Ince (he was never really our player, was he) says it’s actually the forwards, not the defence, who are letting us down.

Let’s stop that there. For starters, scoring two goals per game (12 in six) works out at 76 for the season if we keep that rate going. That’s just two less than the last campaign when we were fourth top scorers and that after being overtaken by Spurs because they scored 13 in two dead games at the very end and by Man City who netted five on final day.

This Liverpool side is built for goals and that hasn’t changed. Two a game in the Premier League, three in two Champions League matches which featured a missed penalty…. hardly a crime is it.

The criticism, of course, is that we should score more and no LFC fan would argue with that.

And, yet, here’s a thing – why is creating chances being used as a stick to beat us with? Is it not an admirable trait?

In the world of hipster stats, it’s almost seen as far more desirable to have a high conversion rate rather than actually do the bloody thing that football is meant to be about – score goals.

Team A: Ooh, swoon, they’ve converted 25% of their chances this season and scored 20 goals. How wonderfully efficient.

Team B: They’ve scored 25 goals (five more than Team A!) but only converted 12.5% of their chances. Useless wasteful b*stards.

It’s the sort of thinking you get about golfers. The guy who challenges infrequently and yet performs well in the final round when he does get in contention is praised for his bottle. The player who is up there all the time but doesn’t win that much is seen as mentally weak even though he actually wins more than the first bloke.

Sure, it’s massively frustrating at the moment but give LFC credit for creating all these chances in the first place. Yes, they’re not all golden ones and taking pot shots from 30 yards is a failing of ours. But there’s enough clear-cut opportunities being carved out to realise that, over a season, there’ll be a reversion to the mean and we’ll put plenty away.

To create a chance and have a shot generally means you have the ball in the first place if I’m not wrong. And, if that’s the case, there’s less chance of your opponent making opportunities of their own.

Possession was once seen as the thing to have before Holland humped Spain 5-1 in the 2014 World Cup to highlight a paradigm shift and ‘prove’ that counter-attack was king. These days analysts can’t wait to point out occasions when a team has two thirds of possession but loses/draws although, of course, they’ll completely overlook all the times when a side has lots of the ball but wins. Current possession stats leaders? Top-of-the-table Man City.

Now, it appears that folk are sniggering at chances created unless you convert a certain number of them.

These Champions League stats also paint a good picture of what’s happening to us right now: Liverpool have conceded just 10 shots in their two games so far, the fewest of all participants. 30% of those chances have been scored, the highest of all 32 teams.

The argument that many of our chances are rushed and snatched while we allow rivals to create what Opta call “big chances” has some traction without doubt.

So, I guess, you can go into one of two camps: those that think us missing chances and letting in soft goals is a fundamental flaw or those who think Klopp’s underlying philosophy of creating lots of scoring opportunities is working but needs tuning.

Things change so I’m very much on the positive side of things.

IT’S NOT ALL BAD, REMEMBER MAN CITY’S RUN LAST OCTOBER!

If you think our September is bad, take a look at last year’s results and check out Man City’s October stats.

From September 28 to October 26 last year, City played six games, won none, drew three and lost three. They scored five goals and let in 12. It included a 3-3 draw at Celtic and 1-1 home draws with Everton and Southampton.

A year on and City are now 10/11 for the title. Fortunes change.

In our six-game September slump, we’ve won one, drawn three and lost two. We’ve scored seven and conceded 13.

It’s miserable and the goals conceded column is worthy of the word shameful but don’t harp on about the attack when that run included one half played with 10 men after Sadio Mane’s sending off at Man City and a blank at Leicester with a striker starting his first ever game in English football.

This Liverpool frontline is the same as last year’s except with the addition of Mo Salah.

Yes, the speedy Egyptian winger who has scored six goals in his 10 games as a Red. That’s not bad is it when, let’s pluck a name out, Luis Suarez has scored two in seven for Barcelona this term. Or, if you want to go ultra-modern, Kylian Mbappe’s three in eight for club and country.

So, who exactly are people pointing the finger at? It can’t be Salah. If he bags another at Newcastle on Sunday he’d actually be the first ever Liverpool player to score in five of his first seven Premier League games for the club. Mane had three in five games before his sending off at the Etihad, Firmino has four in 10 while Coutinho has netted in his last two matches since being welcomed back.

Add Salah to what we already had in place and we’ll score plenty.

A big part of the problem, to me, is one of comparison.

IS THE LACK OF A TRUE NO. 9 AN ISSUE?

A huge theme of the 2017/18 campaign so far is the goal-happy centre-forward – strikus prolificus to give him his latin name.

Harry Kane, Romelu Lukaku, Sergio Aguero and Alvarto Morata all seem to be banging them in at an alarming rate.

Because we haven’t got that same out-and-out goal-getter, somehow our collective misses look worse as a deadly No.9 would probably have put them away.

But, let’s not forget, Kane didn’t score in August before normal service was resumed and he’s only got the same number of Premier League goals as Salah so far.

We’re the joint third top scorers in the Premier League season, with two more than Tottenham. We’ve gone to Watford and Leicester and scored six times on grounds where we’d netted a combined two goals in four matches in the previous two seasons.

If we keep creating bundles of chances, we’ll be fine. We’re talking about a ‘problem’ that is temporary not permanent, as was Kane’s August drought.

The real issue, as every true LFC fan knows, is at the back not the front. Klopp’s big task, and the promised land for most managers, is to keep scoring lots of goals and creating chances whilst not shipping them at the other end.

The failure to strengthen at the back remains Klopp’s Achilles Heel and so far he’s shown he can’t compensate through organisation.

Talking of which, we travel to Newcastle at the weekend to face a Liverpool manager who won a Champions League final with Djimi Traore in the side. Fancy coming back as defensive coach Rafa?

Anyway, if September was a damp squib, there’s every reason to look forward to the month ahead. We haven’t lost a Premier League match in October since 2010, a run spanning 23 games.

Turn your calendars, start afresh and watch us start the new month by beating Newcastle. And if we need 30 chances to score three goals, I don’t bloody care as long as we take all three points.

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