Liverpool lack killer instinct despite being Premier League’s top scorers
Liverpool maintained their status as the Premier League’s highest-scoring team when James Milner’s sixth successful penalty of the season sealed a 1-1 at Manchester United on Sunday.
Milner’s spot-kick took the Reds to 49 goals to stay top of the scoring charts after Arsenal had drawn level on 48 the day before, and they remain in the top four thanks to their 1-1 draw at Manchester United and Manchester City’s heavy 4-0 defeat at Everton.
It may seem fairly knee-jerk to complain about Liverpool’s finishing when they’ve still got more goals than anyone else. The fact remains that the second half against United saw numerous breakaway chances to secure the three points squandered — and often pitifully so.
David De Gea should have been tested far more than he was but was only extended by Milner’s usual super-cool efficiency from 12 yards.
It probably doesn’t help that Jurgen Klopp has hit on a style of play which benefits greatly from having a forward line of attacking midfielders rather than out-and-out strikers.
Divock Origi played for an hour and tried his best but it was only when Philippe Coutinho replaced him that the Reds began to create some real opportunities in United’s area.
Sadly that’s where it all broke down, letting a struggling home side off the hook after a late equaliser was created more by pressure than skill.
Daniel Sturridge, Klopp’s only other legitimate striker, doesn’t seem to fit into Klopp’s ethos either. It was hard not to imagine the England man on the end of the chances that Georginio Wijnaldum, for example, squandered.
Yet Liverpool with Sturridge are often far less creative and certainly lack the full-on pressing game that helps create the panic and mistakes in opposition defences in the first place.
Roberto Firmino is Klopp’s front player of choice and the term “false No. 9” is apt for the Brazilian, given he works hard but only scores a goal every 296 minutes.
This is therefore one of Klopp’s major conundrums.
Opponents of this theory will point to games like November’s 6-1 win against Watford but on that day Liverpool created nearly 30 chances against a side that was almost beaten before the match began.
In the players’ goal-scoring table there are plenty above Liverpool’s best — Sadio Mane with nine goals. He’s currently averaging 184 minutes for every league goal, which doesn’t even make him the best non-striker.
Players like Dele Alli, Eden Hazard and Theo Walcott have a better average and there have been times when Mane has missed chances that looked easier to score.
In tight games where the number of chances are drastically reduced Liverpool are therefore at a disadvantage because of a lack of clinical finishing.
They’ve done well to get 1-1 draws at both United and Tottenham Hotspur, two rivals for Champions League places.
The fact they only had penalties to show for their good play in either match suggests work needs to be done on their finishing before they can reap the fullest rewards for their overall good play.
Generally even the best midfielders are only expected to chip in about eight to 10 goals a season.
With fellow title rivals able to call on strikers such as Diego Costa, Harry Kane and Alexis Sanchez it leaves Liverpool handicapped as tiredness creeps in and games become tighter as a result.
Before despair sets in it should be noted that Klopp’s Liverpool has an extraordinary record against the other teams in the top six.
One dismal 0-1 defeat at home to Louis van Gaal’s United last season is Klopp’s only loss against the powerhouses of the Premier League since joining Liverpool. Even that was swiftly avenged by knocking them out of the Europa League weeks later.
City did win the League Cup final against Liverpool last term but only on penalties and have now lost three straight league games to Klopp.
That should certainly place any criticism of Liverpool within context, if their top scorers tag hadn’t done so already.
The point at Old Trafford was gutsy and welcome, given the selection posers Klopp was presented with especially in defence.
There is one way Liverpool could make a lack of clinical finishing academic — and that’s to learn how to tough out such close games and hold on to what they have.
On the available evidence that does not appear a likely outcome. Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s goal was the eighth equaliser Liverpool have conceded all season, after conceding 13 last season in the Premier League alone.
This is the Klopp style and often against United there was a headstrong urge to play the quick counter-attack pass instead of sometimes keeping possession and running down the clock.
These are all minor adjustments — perhaps allied with improving the squad in the transfer window — which if fixed might change Liverpool from a good side into a very good side that could actually win the Premier League.