Is a lack of firepower in danger of derailing the Anfield side’s hopes of securing Champions League football?
Liverpool have had an on and off season already this year, lying 7th in the table with only 6 wins from their 14 games. Although they have lost less games than title runners Chelsea and Arsenal, (both of which lost their games at home to Liverpool), the reds have drawn 5 of their matches. And in reflection, all of those games should have resulted in 3 points for Dalglish’s men.
Game one saw a poor 2ndhalf performance against Sunderland, which allowed Seb Larsson to snatch a point from Liverpool, who were dominant in the first half and yet only scored a single goal. Rivals Manchester United then came to Anfield in October and left with a point, which will please Sir Alex Ferguson after seeing his side being outplayed for most parts of the game, with chances for Suarez and Skrtel going begging near the death. Liverpool’s third draw was a hint of Déjà vu, as the Merseysiders once again through away a one goal lead, this time to a superb Grant Holt header, and again Liverpool missed chance after chance. Then came another home draw, where Liverpool failed to break down the Welsh resistance of Swansea City, who had chances of their own through Mark Gower. Their most recent stalemate was against table toppers Manchester City, with both teams having a handful of chances, and Joe Hart pulling out some stunning saves.
So Liverpool’s home record is pulling them back. Although all 3 defeats have come away, (Stoke, Tottenham and Fulham), what used to be Fort Anfield is now being challenged. Premiership new kids Swansea and Norwich have taken a lesson from Blackpool’s book, and gone to big stadiums with a no fear attitude. Suddenly the “This is Anfield” plaque isn’t scaring opponents, but more reminding them that they can make a name for themselves here. All of the draws they easily could have won, but failed to put away their chances.
Going back to matchday 1 at home to Sunderland, the home side had 14 attempts at goal. However, only 3 of these were on target, meaning their shot accuracy was a weak 21.4 %. One of those 11 shots of target included a penalty, which was blazed over the bar by Luis Suarez. In their next draw against United, the Reds had 5 shots on target, with 6 off and 4 blocked, making a shot accuracy of just 33%. Next week was Norwich, where overall Liverpool mastered 29 attempts at goal. Unfortunately for them only 9 were on goal, with a total of 20 shots being blocked or missing the target. This time a shot accuracy of 31% wasn’t enough to beat the Canaries. The 0-0 draw with Swansea saw King Kenny’s men only get 5 of their 25 attempts on goal, and another 20 shots blocked and wide lead to a shot accuracy of a terrible 20%. Their final draw against Manchester City saw the Reds play well and once again feel aggrieved not to take all 3 points. 6 of their shots were on target from their 17 attempts, resulting in an improved accuracy of 35%.
Overall Liverpool’s shot accuracy has been poor this season, averaging at just 31.5%, which is one of the weakest in the league. But how can this be when Liverpool spent over £100 million on the attacking likes of Adam, Henderson, Downing, Carroll and Luis Suarez? The ugly truth is that Liverpool have been wasteful of their chances this season. Suarez has had the same amount of shot as the league’s top scorer Robin Van Persie. However, the Dutchman has put 32 of his 53 shots on target compared to Suarez’s 23 from the same amount, but the Arsenal striker has tucked 14 of those away. The Uruguayan has only scored 4 premiership goals, meaning he has scored every 281 minutes. We have to compare Suarez with other Premiership strikers, and his shot accuracy is lower than most. Van Persie, Agüero, Dzeko, Rooney, Yakubu, Ba, Adebayor, Sturridge, Balotelli, Dempsey and Van der Vaart have all got a shot accuracy of over 50%, most of which hitting the 60 mark.
It gets worse for his teammates. Carroll’s 2 lonely goals mean he scores every 363 minutes, which is one every 4 matches. Charlie Adam has also scored 2 goals, but has had more game time than the ex Newcastle striker. Another former Toon player, Craig Bellamy, has only had 6 premiership shots at goal all season, scoring one of them.
So the first thing we can see is that Dalglish is not entirely sure who he wants to partner Suarez up front. As well as Carroll, King Kenny has rotated with Bellamy, and also Kuyt and Downing, both who are yet to score a Premier League goal this season. So the problem Liverpool are having is that Suarez has not been accurate enough this season, along with his partner, whoever it is. But what’s the fix?
The obvious suggestion is to practise shooting during training, but do changes need to be made? Whilst they are on the training field I think the majority of Liverpool fans would say they need to work hard to learn how to play with Carroll. In reflection, Carroll was bought because there were hours left of the window, and Bayern Munich refused to sell Mario Gomez. If Dalglish had a day or two to replace Torres, I believe he would have bought someone different, who fits Liverpool’s style of football more. But the players have still failed to adapt to play football that benefits Carroll’s attributes.
I know a lot of fans will be saying that it will change when Steven Gerrard returns to full fitness, and they are partly right. Captain fantastic will improve Liverpool greatly, but where to play him first. Some fans will believe to play him just behind Suarez, as Gerrard’s creativity and distribution will link well with “the Gunslinger” and they would create a good partnership. But with Lucas injured for the rest of the season, does Dalglish play him in the centre of midfield with Charlie Adam, letting the Englishman spread the ball out wide and up to Suarez, as well as allowing Gerrard to control the midfield and help defend. This will split opinion all season, but if anyone knows the right formula, King Kenny does.
With less than a month until the January Transfer Window is open, do Liverpool spend more of John Henry’s money for another striker? We know from the summer that Bayern’s Mario Gomez has interested the club before, but could the Reds really steal the incredible German? Or is there some other striker catching the gaffer’s eye? Newspaper rumours at one point suggested David Villa was unhappy at Barcelona and wanted to come to Liverpool. But before fans start celebrating, they should know that the newspaper that suggested this was a free paper commonly found on the tube, and not a reliable source for true sport rumours. I’m sure Dalglish has some ideas, but he will also be deciding if he wants another new face in the team.
This will divide fans once more, with some wanting a new face, and some saying that he needs to trust his players and be confident in them. But one thing they can all agree on is that, just like the stats are proving, Liverpool’s shot accuracy is too weak for a team wanting Champions League football. You can’t score goals without shots on target, as the players are realising. If you’re a fan of the current squad or one who wants new attacking players, now is the time to get behind the team and be supportive, and not to show your true feelings. Like Carroll or not, we all know he needs confidence, and part of this comes from the support of the fans. January will show us what Dalglish does, and the strikers have just a couple of weeks to persuade him that they can do the job themselves.
Follow Dan Eyre on Twitter @Dannye7