No Quadruple But Liverpool Scoring Does Not Need Fixing

No Quadruple But Liverpool Scoring Does Not Need Fixing

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

That well known American dictum has been playing on my mind for the past couple of weeks, in the wake of Liverpool’s unsuccessful pursuit of football perfection in the form of an unprecedented quadruple.

Two domestic Cups and a spectacular parade did its best to wipe away any hint of failure, but defeat in Paris on the last day of the season certainly left one – at least temporarily – deflated and underwhelmed.

Fair enough. But what really took my mind to thoughts of breaking and fixing has to do with a point of view that has caught my eye – and my ire – over the last couple of weeks. This view has to do with the notion that Liverpool’s fortunes could have been different if only they could score more goals.

For one thing, Liverpool scored a lot of goals last season. Their total of 146 goals (2.32 goals per game) is the most scored in one season by any Liverpool squad in the history of the club. Mo Salah took home another Golden Boot, his third in five years, and scored more than 30 goals in all competitions.

Essentially, this idea goes, Liverpool’s attack just wasn’t good enough last season and that’s why neither the Premier League trophy – lost by one point on the final day – nor the European Cup – lost by a single goal in the final – were not part of the Liverpool parade on May 29th. Somehow, the fact that Liverpool failed to score in three finals has become proof of their failings in attack and, as such, proof that the club has a goalscoring problem that needs to be fixed.

I totally disagree with this point of view. It ain’t broke; it doesn’t need fixing.

For one thing, Liverpool scored a lot of goals last season. Their total of 146 goals (2.32 goals per game) is the most scored in one season by any Liverpool squad in the history of the club. Mo Salah took home another Golden Boot, his third in five years, and scored more than 30 goals in all competitions.

Both Sadio Mane and Diogo Jota also passed the 20-goal mark, and squad options like Taki Minamino and Divock Origi contributed significantly. Some of that total is down to the sheer number of games played – reaching three finals means they played the maximum 63 games possible. But, focusing solely on the 38 Premier League matches, Jurgen Klopp’s team scored 94 goals while racking up 92 points. Champions Manchester City scored just five more goals to pip them to the title by one point.

Secondly, Liverpool scored consistently over the course of the season – total numbers (and goals per game averages) can sometimes hide a drop off against certain opponents, or a run of poor form, but these were no flat track bullies. Over 63 matches in four competitions, Liverpool failed to score on just six occasions, a number that’s even more remarkable on closer examination.

In the Premier League, they failed to find the net just once – at Leicester in December (0-1) when Salah uncharacteristically missed a penalty, and then struck the bar from the rebound. One of those days. Liverpool dropped points in nine other Premier League games, but remarkably they scored two goals in seven of those games, and three goals in another. They led in five of those games too – twice by two goals.

It might seem a weird thing to say of a defence that let in a league best 26 goals this season but defending – keeping leads – cost Liverpool much more than goalscoring did last season, even if, to be fair, the defending was much better in the second half of the season when they only lost a lead once (Benfica, home, 3-3) over the last 32 matches.

The three finals aside – and more on that later – the only other scoreless games were a Carabao Cup semi final 1st leg at Anfield (0-0), and a 0-1 loss to Inter Milan in the 2nd leg of their Champions League Round of 16 clash, also at Anfield. That speaks to their goalscoring consistency.

Just for comparison, champions Man City (150 goals in all competitions) failed to score on three occasions in the Premier League alone.  It’s not a bad record, of course, but its still two more games than Liverpool’s tally. But since they won the title and failed to reach any finals – and so cannot be criticized for not scoring in finals – there have been no questions asked about goalscoring. And that’s exactly as it should be. Man City clearly had no problems scoring goals last season – and neither did Liverpool, even if they didn’t score in three finals.

About those finals, I find it a little strange – illogical even – to draw weighty conclusions about a team’s ability – in any department, but especially goalscoring – based on performance in cup finals. For one thing, it’s a small sample size, relative to the rest of the season. The evidence from a one-off game shouldn’t automatically negate a season-long record. But beyond that, cup finals tend to be tight, cagey, low scoring affairs, often decided by fine margins – the occasional Istanbul notwithstanding – especially when contested by teams of near equal quality (that is, no Watford!).

Does anything exemplify the nature of finals more than the fact that Chelsea and Liverpool shared six goals across two Premier League games last season, yet their two Cup final clashes had to be settled by penalties after four hours of football produced no goals?

In the previous season, 2020/21, both Chelsea (FA Cup and Champions League) and Man City (Carabao Cup and Champions League) played in two finals, and each scored just one goal over two games as all three finals ended 1-0. Real Madrid’s 1-0 win against Liverpool in Paris was the third consecutive Champions League final to finish with that scoreline. Two hundred and seventy minutes of Champions League final football featuring six of the best clubs in Europe and some of the finest attacking talent in world football has produced just three goals. Isn’t that something?

There is clearly a fine line between scoring just one goal and scoring none, and that can make all the difference. Liverpool failed to score in two domestic cup finals – that’s just fact – but its important not to lose sight of the bigger picture; they did not concede either and they did take home the two cups after winning on penalties.

Liverpool failed to score in Paris – that’s just fact – but context always matters; this was more down to a goalkeeping performance for the ages by man of the match Thibaut Courtois, than any attacking shortcomings on Liverpool’s part.

Let me put this another way: when Liverpool lost in Kiev four years ago, it was easy – logical even – in the light of Lloris Karius’ unfortunate meltdown, to make the case that Liverpool needed a new goalkeeper. I doubt anyone could make a similar case concerning Liverpool’s forwards after the Paris final.

Yet, Liverpool will start next season with a new striker on the books. Darwin Nunez, the 22-year-old Uruguayan has just signed for an initial 75m Euros from Benfica, a development that has only emboldened the view that Liverpool’s goal scoring somehow needed fixing after a record-breaking season. Its easy to conclude that a few more goals at certain opportune moments of last season would have secured the impossible quadruple – it was that close – and that the new arrival will spark a significant improvement on last season.

But – again – context matters. Nunez’s arrival is a welcome development, especially with regards to the continued evolution of a mature squad – even the best of teams should always look to refresh things – but its clear that his arrival has more to do with the impending departure of 30-year-old Sadio Mane (apparently Bayern Munich bound) and it’s not some sort of indictment of last season’s goalscoring performance.

Nunez’s arrival may yet make Liverpool’s attack even better than it was last season, that’s the hope anyway, but – make no mistake – Mane will be a hard act to follow, and last season – Liverpool’s highest scoring ever, remember – will prove a high bar to match.

The attack has its fix – but not because it needed fixing.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published.