If it weren’t for Manchester City, Liverpool might not look so bad this season.
Media narrative might be important here: although Liverpool haven’t been brilliant at all times this year, they have often dropped points whilst being the better side.
The first thing you’ll point to about Liverpool’s problems this year will be their defence, and it’s clear that has to get better. The much-vaunted attack, with Sadio Mane, Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and arguably the signing of the summer Mohamed Salah, doesn’t seem to need any work, but the defence has needed a top centre-back for months.
And yet, when you look at the games in which Jurgen Klopp’s side have dropped points this season, you start to see that it’s not quite that simple. Of the 20 goals they’ve conceded this season, 12 of them have come in just three away games – defeats against Manchester City and Tottenham and a draw on the opening day at Watford.
That points to three very bad days rather than a systematic failing on the part of the Reds’ defence, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t problems. The other side of the coin is the fact that, excepting those three games, four of Liverpool’s six other draws this season has come as a result of conceding just one goal. That tells us two things. One is that, should Liverpool have been tighter at the back in each of those winnable draws, they’d be eight points better off and sitting in second. The other, strangely, is that they’ve often been profligate in attack, because although one goal is enough to win a football game, when your defence is receptive to a hastily thrown together counter-attack as Liverpool’s is, you’ll often need two.
And so as we move into 2018, there is no doubt at all that Liverpool’s biggest task is sorting out their defensive problems, especially given how prone they have become to drawing games they should be winning. But perhaps it’s also up to Klopp to use this new year to get the most out of the top quality attackers he has at his disposal. Because although Liverpool certainly don’t lack talent in attacking areas, they do often fail to find the net when tasked with breaking down stubborn opposition.
If they could get that right, the defensive problems wouldn’t be much of an issue. Taking away those three outlier games where the Reds’ defence capitulated, they’re conceding at a rate of less than one per game. If they can score at a rate of more than two per game, as they’ve been doing of late, then those problems will seem particularly insignificant.
Ironically enough, it might not be the defence, then, that stops Liverpool from having a very good season indeed.