After roughly 200 words of consternation, Jurgen Klopp finally admitted it a couple of weeks ago: This current team, the 2021-22 iteration of Liverpool, is the best team he has ever coached. « Let’s stop asking me about it, think about it, write about it, do whatever you want, but my opinion is clear: Yes, top squad, best I ever had, » he said.
That’s, uh, a pretty big claim! He won multiple Bundesliga titles with Borussia Dortmund and reached a Champions League final. Then he won a Champions League final with Liverpool and followed it up with not just the club’s first Premier League title, but a whopping 99 points from 38 games, the second-highest tally in league history.
When Klopp first conceded to the question, Liverpool were nine points behind Manchester City in the Premier League. The title race was all but over, and a Champions League title seemed like the only realistic trophy that could possibly match his assessment of his squad. Two weeks later, all of a sudden, a quadruple is in play. They’ve got the Carabao Cup already thanks to Sunday’s win over Chelsea. They’re still alive in the FA Cup with a midweek fifth-round home game with Norwich (stream LIVE, 3 p.m. ET, ESPN+), they’re cruising toward a place in the Champions League quarters, and they « control their destiny » in the Premier League.
Whatever happens in the three remaining competitions, Klopp knows this team and his previous teams better than anyone — and he’s right. So let’s take a look at eight numbers that explain why this is the best Liverpool team of the modern era.
In terms of points, it’s not close: You play to win the games, and sure, fine — whatever. Through 26 games, the 2019-20 iteration of Liverpool had won 25 matches and drawn one for a total of 76 points. That’s the most at that stage of a season, by seven points. For context, Manchester City won the league last year with 86 points, and Manchester United finished second with 74. This year’s version of Liverpool « only » have 60 points through 26 matches, the 19th-best total in league history and less than they had in 2018-19 (65), too.
But we’re talking pure team strength here, not just looking at standings. And across most sports, the degree to which you outscore your opponents is a much more accurate indicator of how good your team is than how many games you recently won or drew.
Through 26 games, Liverpool have scored 70 goals and conceded 20. Their goal differential of plus-50 is the third-best in league history, behind Manchester City in 2017-18 (plus-55) and 2018-19 (plus-52). In fact, when Liverpool won the league, their full-season goal differential was plus-52, just slightly better than where Klopp’s team currently is with 12 games still remaining.
Another way this year is different from the title-winning year: Liverpool have the best goal differential in the league this time. In 2019-20, City posted a plus-67 goal differential, while this year they’re at plus-47 despite playing one more game than Liverpool.
The FC crew disagree about whether it was the right call to bring on Kepa for the penalty shootout.
When it comes to assessing team quality, you know what’s even better than real goals? Expected goals, baby!
Stats Perform has advanced data for the Premier League going back to the 2009-10 season, and here are the 10 best expected-goal differentials through 26 games, in ascending order:
10. Liverpool, 2019-20: +31.25
9. Man City, 2020-21: +31.33
8. Chelsea, 2009-10: +33.47
7. Man City, 2012-13: +33.76
6. Man City, 2011-12: +33.88
5. Man City, 2018-19: +42.16
4. Man City, 2021-22: +43.35
3. Man City, 2019-20: +44.02
2. Man City, 2017-18: +44.82
1. Liverpool, 2021-22: +46.60
Two things: Manchester City’s run is incredibly impressive, and through 26 games, by this very powerful metric, Liverpool appear to be maybe the best Premier League team of all time. At least, they’re controlling the creation and suppression of chances better than any side ever has.
In that same news conference, Klopp made a point to say that Liverpool were not « the Harlem Globetrotters » although, well, they kind of are. At this stage in the season, they’ve created more xG than any team (72.81), while 26 sides have conceded fewer xG (26.21). It’s an unbalanced approach, but there’s a method to the madness.
Watch Liverpool legend Steve Nicol’s reaction to Kepa Arrizabalaga’s miss that secured Liverpool’s Carabao Cup win.
Liverpool have drawn opponents offside 112 times. It’s the most ever at this stage of the season, three more than Newcastle managed in 2010-11, but even that undersells it. The team that’s provoked the second-most offside calls this season is Manchester City, with just 64. In other words, Liverpool are drawing their opponents offside at almost twice the rate of any other team in the Premier League.
Of course, there’s a risk and reward at play here. As the actual goal and expected goal differentials suggest, Liverpool have figured out the right kind of imbalance. By pushing the backline way up the field, they’ve been able to generate an overwhelming quantity and quality of chances on the attacking end. And they’ve managed to keep things together on the defensive side by either drawing a flag or …
According to the goalkeeper analyst John Harrison, Alisson has faced 38 one-on-one situations this season. Unsurprisingly, Illan Meslier of Leeds was the only keeper to face more through Matchweek 26, with 49. But no one has been better in these moments than the Liverpool keeper. Harrison’s modeling suggests that the Brazilian has conceded 7.13 goals fewer than the average keeper would’ve if faced with the same set of one-on-one situations, easily the best figure in the league.
#PremierLeague 1v1 performance:#Alisson has been outrageous during 1v1s, saving over 7 goals more than an average #PL GK would be expected to 🤩#Sa & #Ramsdale have also been exceptional vs 1v1s🔥#Guaita & #Pickford are still struggling but their recent form has improved😯 pic.twitter.com/j6M0kYAHSt
— John Harrison (@Jhdharrison1) February 25, 2022
Liverpool didn’t just sign Alisson because he was great at saving shots; no, they signed him specifically because he was great at saving the exact kind of shots that they give up: breakaways stemming from the handful of through-balls that don’t get flagged offside, or a well-executed counterattack.
Per the site FBref, he has also made 37 defensive interventions outside of his penalty area, more than any keeper in the Premier League. And on the rare occasion that the opposition gets settled into Liverpool’s defensive third, he’s not too shabby there, either, as only two keepers in England have claimed a higher percentage (10.3) of the crosses they’ve faced.
The other main reason that Liverpool’s absurdly high line works so well: They employ perhaps the best high-line defender the sport has ever seen.
It’s hard to quantify the impact of a defender like Virgil Van Dijk, and honestly, his effect seems more spiritual than numerical. He’s not making a ton of tackles or interceptions or blocks. Instead, his positioning and languid pacing affects opposition play without a need to make a play on the ball. He influences all the action from afar. (Just ask Lautaro Martinez how he found it when Liverpool won 2-0 at Inter Milan in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.) Liverpool always seem totally in control when he’s back there.
But here’s a number that sums up the gigantic Dutchman’s impact. In his five seasons with Liverpool, the team has averaged 2.41 points per game in which VVD appears. That’s a 92-point pace over a full season. Only six Premier League teams have ever won more than 92 points in a season — and two of them were teams that included VVD.
Quite simply, whenever Virgil van Dijk‘s been on the field, Liverpool have been one of the best soccer teams of all time.
That’s the number of games Liverpool have lost when Thiago and Fabinho were both in the starting lineup. They’ve won 18 and drawn one out of those 19 games, and across those matches, they’ve scored 50 goals and conceded six. Extrapolate that out to 38 games and your head might explode: 110 points and a plus-88 goal differential.
In Liverpool’s two title-winning seasons, they did it with a purposefully unspectacular midfield of Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum and Fabinho. None of the three contributed quite as much to buildup play or balls into the box as you’d expect from a team as good as Liverpool. Instead, they covered for the full-backs, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson, and never lost the ball.
With Thiago out there, they now have one of the most forward-looking midfielders in the world — he ranks in the 99th percentile among midfielders for progressive passes, and 98th for progressive carries — and one of the most aggressive ball-winners: 79th percentile above for pressures, tackles and interceptions. Plus, the likes of Curtis Jones, Naby Keita, Harvey Elliott, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have all added their own attacking-oriented skillets to the mix when they’ve played, and Henderson’s passing range only seems to have increased with age.
Klopp has asked a lot more of Fabinho this year — his interception numbers have skyrocketed this season — but with the help of VVD and a stable of other top center backs behind him, he’s more than held up.
With more possession value emanating from the center of the field, you might think that Liverpool had become less reliant on their famous full-backs. Not at all!
Alexander-Arnold is leading the Premier League with 10 assists, along with teammate Mohamed Salah. Right behind them is Robertson with nine. They’ve both already surpassed their assist totals from last year (seven apiece) and they’ve now combined for 81 assists (42 for Alexander-Arnold, 39 for Robertson) since the start of the 2018-19 season.
Their balance, too, is as good as it hs ever been. Robertson stretches the field with his off-ball movement, leading all Premier League full-backs in progressive passes received, while Alexander-Arnold leads all Premier League players in progressive passes completed.
While Robertson is performing at roughly the same level he always has been, Alexander-Arnold has taken a massive leap. A right-back in theory, he’s actually leading all players in Europe in progressive passes and ranks third in passes into the penalty area, assists and expected assists. Instead of being crowded out by a more active midifield, Alexander-Arnold has been more involved than ever before.
Among players in the Premier League who have appeared in at least 200 minutes worth of game time, there are eight who average at least 0.7 non-penalty expected goals plus assists per 90 minutes, according to FBref. You’ve got Man City’s Phil Foden (0.76) and the now-at-Barcelona Ferran Torres (0.75), the mostly injured Leeds striker Patrick Bamford (0.74), and then all five of Liverpool’s star attackers: Diogo Jota (0.93), Salah (0.90), Roberto Firmino (0.77), Sadio Mane (0.74) and the recently arrived Luis Diaz (0.73).
The big difference between Liverpool and Man City used to be that the latter had an endless supply of elite attackers while the former — no offense to Divock Origi and Xherdan Shaqiri — suffered a massive drop-off from their top three. Now, if anything, the situation has reversed.
In addition to one of the best coaches of the 21st century, a world-class one-on-one shot-stopper, an impeccably composed behemoth of a center-back, an undefeated midfield pairing, and the best full-back duo in the world, Liverpool finally have the one thing they’ve lacked over the past five years. Not having it prevented them from keeping pace with Man City while competing on multiple fronts in previous seasons, and without it, they weren’t immune to a devastating injury crisis that tanked their performance last season. Now, they have the thing that allows you to still be in the mix for four trophies come the beginning of March.
Perhaps more than any other reason, Liverpool are as good as they are right now because they finally have depth.
Cet article est apparu en premier (en Anglais) sur http://espn.com/sports/soccer/insider/story/_/id/33393601/this-jurgen-klopp-best-liverpool-team-here-numbers-prove-it