WE scored 101 goals in 2013-2014. That’s absolutely loads. A ridiculous number. I know someone who backed Liverpool to score the most goals in the League that season at 25/1. He lost. That was really, really funny. For me obviously, not him.
As good an attacking force as we were back then, it wasn’t all free-flowing attacking football — Liverpool were absolutely brilliant at set pieces. We scored 26 goals from set pieces that season and as I write this, after 22 games, Liverpool haven’t even scored 26 goals full stop. The difference is depressingly stark.
For all everyone will tell you of how we blew Arsenal away in that first 20 minutes, and by Christ we did, Liverpool were 2-0 up inside 10 minutes because Martin Skrtel got on the end of a free kick and a corner and put the ball in the net twice.
Would that glorious afternoon have unfolded in the same way without those two early goals? Arsenal certainly wouldn’t have been rattled after 10 minutes if the Slovakian put that ball into the Anfield Road end instead.
Skrtel scored two goals from set pieces in the first 10 minutes of one game yet two seasons later, in mid-January, Liverpool have by my reckoning scored a total of three goals from set play: Danny Ings at Goodison Park, Christian Benteke at home to Bournemouth and Skrtel again at Manchester City.
On The Pink (our immediate after-match reaction show for those not familiar with TAW Player) after the Manchester United game on Sunday, we discussed Liverpool’s ability, or lack of, to nick a cheap goal.
Set pieces are cheap goals. They’re a leveller.
You can practice them and you get loads of opportunities to get bodies into the box, create chances, and score goals. Any team can become good at them. A break of the ball, like Skrtel at Manchester City away, goes in your favour and you score.
Penalties aren’t included in the figure of 26 from 2013-14 either. We scored 10 of those. Taking some selectively, we got two at West Ham, we got three at Old Trafford, we got an injury-time one at Fulham, we got a point with one at home to Aston Villa, and we took the lead with one at Newcastle.
We got 11 points from this group of games and while I know this is a very basic way of looking at things, if you take the penalties away and strip the results down, it leaves us with a defeat at West Ham, a draw at Fulham, a defeat at home to Villa, a defeat at Newcastle and a solitary-goal win at Old Trafford.
That’s a seven-point swing. Liverpool wouldn’t have finished in the top three with those points taken away from the total of 84 won that season.
The season looks very different. I know there’s a huge element of Chaos Theory I haven’t taken in to account here, but for the purpose of my point we’ll just leave it as is.
What happened the season after? Liverpool lost Luis Suarez, who scored 31 goals, Daniel Sturridge got injured and Liverpool lost a large number of his goals, while the number of goals we scored from set pieces went down from 26 to six.
We scored 49 less league goals from one season to the next. One player took 31 with him, and simply by set pieces regressing from above average to below average, 20 per cent of the goals disappeared. That’s before we’ve thrown Sturridge into the mix.
How are you supposed to cope with that? We were basically FIFTY goals down before anything happened.
The point of this isn’t to decry Brendan Rodgers as lucky, or unlucky, as you could decide on both depending on your viewpoint and how you want to interpret the above.
My point is that, as good as we were that season, a great deal of randomness has effected how good we were in 2013/2014 and how much we’ve regressed since. If you take nine penalties and 20 set piece goals away from that side, how many points is it getting? It’s nowhere near 84.
Put simply, in 38 games that season we scored 26 goals from set pieces. In the 60 league games since, across two campaigns, Liverpool have scored 10.
The Reds scored a goal from a set piece pretty much every game and a half. Imagine that added to this Liverpool side. Imagine if you added somewhere between the two numbers. And that isn’t even taking penalties in to account.
Looking back, while that 2013-14 side was great, an inordinate number of set-piece goals and penalties played a huge part in what was (almost) achieved.
Eventually there becomes a point where this lack of goals from set pieces starts to turn towards the norm. Does anyone remember a league season where we’ve got to mid-January and taken one penalty before? We took only two in one half of football last season.
This side isn’t far away. Liverpool have lots of good footballers while lacking the brilliant footballer who can win games on his own, without the midfielder who can drag a team forward and will a victory to happen.
Parachute Steven Gerrard of 2008 and Luis Suarez of 2013 into this team and where does it finish? It’s better off. Give it another 15 goals from set pieces and penalties, where does it finish? Comfortably top four and probably in a title race given how this season has unfolded so far.
Back to the cheap goals.
If a team can go 1-0 up with a cheap goal it’s got a big foothold on a match. If it can go 2-0 up without doing any attacking it’s effectively three points without the strikers doing anything.
Does this Liverpool side look like one that can do something without a striker? Christian Benteke has bailed Liverpool out a few times this season — when is the rest of the team bailing him out? He plays and has an off day, Liverpool don’t win. It’s that simple.
Getting a few goals from set pieces helps this team as much as a player who wanders in and scores 15.
Truth be told, scoring 36 goals from set pieces and penalties is bordering on impossible to replicate. Liverpool haven’t. And then some. Scoring from two corners in five months is ridiculous given the team win about seven a game!
If Liverpool win 10 penalties next season and pick up an extra 15 points, the players might not necessarily be playing better, the manager might not be doing something better — it could just mean Liverpool players are fouled in the penalty area more times. It’s not inconceivable.
So, for as bad as Liverpool look at the minute, and as hard as the side has to work to score goals, it’s worth considering that Jürgen Klopp’s side don’t even need to be much better at football to find a bit of improvement because there’s a really simple starting place. Score more goals from set pieces.