For a team who score more counter attacking goals than most, Liverpool sure waste a lot of counter attacks.
I tweeted the above statement at half time during Liverpool’s 1-1 draw with Manchester City, and plenty of people concurred with it. While he probably missed it on my Twitter feed, Jürgen Klopp agreed with the sentiment after the match, when talking about how his side had wasted some good openings in the first half.
“Especially against City, you have to use your chances or create even more,” he said. “We had really top football moments but for the football we played in that period we didn’t have enough, 100%.”
It certainly wasn’t a disastrous attacking performance from a Red point of view. Liverpool had 10 shots in total, which is pretty rare for a visiting side at the Etihad Stadium. A team only reached double figures in five of City’s 19 home league games last season, and only in seven the year before.
Nonetheless, there’s no doubt that Klopp’s side should’ve fashioned more goal attempts than they managed to against their primary title rivals. Liverpool attempted 57 per cent of the game’s total final third passes in the first half, which is no mean feat against a Pep Guardiola team, but a pass or two fewer and a little more direct action may have proved more productive.
And it’s certainly worth Klopp pondering how best to coach his team out of this slight issue, as their counter attacking threat seems to have largely dried up in 2020/21.
Mohamed Salah’s Champions League goal which followed just 13 seconds after an Atalanta corner last week would suggest otherwise, of course. That has been the exception rather than the rule though.
In their league title winning campaign, the Reds were electric on the break. In the opinion of Opta, Liverpool generated 28 shots following counter attacks in 2019/20, 10 of which were converted into goals (via WhoScored).
Who can forget Salah sealing a 2-0 win over Manchester United on the break? Or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain putting West Ham to the sword at the London Stadium? You’ll certainly recall Sadio Mane’s goal against Crystal Palace, in Liverpool’s final game before they were confirmed as champions.
To put the Reds’ total of 10 counter attack goals into context, bear in mind that no side in the last 11 years – which is as far back as the data on WhoScored goes – has topped that tally in a single season, and Klopp’s side were the first to hit double figures since 2014/15.
Liverpool themselves had averaged just four per season for the preceding decade, so perhaps what they achieved last season was merely a particularly hot streak. If so, they’re clearly regressing to the mean this term as they are yet to score a league goal thanks to a fast break.
But they haven’t been taking shots following counter attacks either. In fact they’ve had just two in total, with one apiece against Leeds United and Arsenal. That now makes it five consecutive games without one, having never gone more than three matches without at least one shot on the break last season.
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Indeed, Liverpool had three counter attack shots in the space of 20 minutes at Turf Moor in their 3-0 win over Burnley last season, which is more than they have to show from their eight league matches so far in 2020/21.
With the pace, movement and inventiveness that the Reds possess at the front of their team, it is unlikely that their threat on the break has dried up for good. But as they won every league match in which they scored a counter attacking goal last season, it would certainly help if they could reignite this aspect of their attack after the international break.