Liverpool’s woes explained by drastic change in open play goals/xG

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Liverpool’s 0.25 expected goals total was just the second time the Reds have been held under an expected goal this season, and their worst day since putting up 0.28 in a 1-1 draw at Brighton on Nov. 28.

The performance Thursday was uninspired against a Chelsea team full of fortitude under new boss Thomas Tuchel.

But are the Reds unlucky or simply a bit too predictable?

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The play that got us thinking about the difference between injuries and luck was Chelsea’s goal on Thursday. Antonio Rudiger’s long ball lifted the lid on Liverpool’s defense and Mason Mount waltzed atop the 18 as Fabinho was slow-to-react and Trent Alexander-Arnold was a mile away.

“It decided the game,” Klopp said, via The Liverpool Echo. “It was a ball in behind our last line, he cut inside and in the end we don’t defend the right space because he scored after going inside and shooting.

“So we don’t have to be in the six-yard box, we have to be there where he wants to shoot. We were not there and that is the goal we conceded. Our situations we didn’t use and that is pretty much the explanation for the result.”

Forget for a moment the fact that Fabinho should be in the midfield (and maybe even Alexander-Arnold, too, or at least at wingback with better support centrally).

The killer thing here is that Liverpool was undone not by a set piece or a funny bounce but by getting cooked in open play.

So when we talk about luck — or maybe even irony — that’s part of it. On Thursday, Sadio Mane swings and misses at a ball he puts home 75 percent of last year, one of the most clinical and fortunate finishing seasons on record.

Mane has seven goals and three assists this season, compared to 9.26 xG and 5.17 xA.

Last season? He scored 18 times with seven assists when xG and xA expected 14.58 and 7.24.

Through 27 games, Liverpool has scored six times off corners and conceded five, adding another goal off free kicks while conceding three.  They’ve won six penalties, scoring them all, while conceded eight (allowing four).

Last year over 38 games, it was 11-2 on corners, 6-4 on free kicks, and 5-1 (?!?) on penalties.

As for open play? Largely the same as last season in terms of chances produced and conceded. As for finishing and seeing opponents finish? Big difference.

[ MORE: Tuchel hails ‘courageous’ Chelsea win at Anfield ]

Of the 10 teams arguably involved in the top four fight, only Man City (329) has more shots in open play than Liverpool’s 317. City (138) is also the only team to allow fewer shots in open play than Liverpool’s 171, though Chelsea is right behind the Reds.

Liverpool is behind Man City, Man United, and Leicester City in goals scored in open play, but again second in expected goals. But they are seventh in goals allowed in open play, and sixth in xG conceded.

So, yeah, there’s some luck involved here but could it be as simple as the Virgil van Dijk absence, too (Hint: Yeah, it could).

The Reds are basically allowing the same amount of dangerous chances in open play as last year, but this year they are going behind the keeper. Their xG production is down a little, but their conversion is way worse and last year they buried almost every expected chance in open play.

So when the other factors — corner kicks, free kick set pieces, and penalties — are going decidedly in the opponents’ direction, relatively speaking, you get a team whose numbers are top four caliber but whose table position in Europa-riffic.

Liverpool in open play per PL match, 2020-21 v 2019-20

Open play shots:  11.74 – 12.00

Open play shots allowed: 6.33 – 7.05

Open play goals: 1.25 – 1.65

Open play expected goals: 1.52 – 1.63

Open play goals allowed: 0.85 – 0.68

Open play expected goals allowed: 0.86 – 0.87

Liverpool in other situations, 2020-21 v 2019-20

Corner kick goals for: 0.22 – 0.28

Corner kick goals against: 0.19 – 0.05  

Free kick goals for: 0.04 – 0.15

Free kick goals against: 0.11 – 0.11

Penalties awarded: 0.22 – 0.13

Penalties conceded: 0.30 – 0.03