After failing to beat Manchester United in the league this season despite having 62 shots across both games, we look at Liverpool’s finishing and if their inefficiency could cost them the Premier League title.

Such is the closeness of the Premier League title race, Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool have very little margin for error, if any.

The former two eased to victories on Saturday, with Man City scoring four in a win at Crystal Palace from 18 shots, while Arsenal hit three goals from 20 shots in a comfortable victory at Brighton and Hove Albion.

However, on Sunday, Liverpool had a problem with their finishing. No, that doesn’t mean they weren’t sure which fork to use for their fish course, but that they struggled to make the most of the chances they created. Jürgen Klopp’s side dropped two points in a 2-2 draw at Manchester United despite having 28 shots at Old Trafford.

It cost them top spot in the Premier League, with the overwhelming consensus after the game being that Liverpool had been too wasteful, only coming away with two goals and a point despite having chances that totalled 3.67 expected goals (xG).

The visitors had 15 shots to zero in the first half against a United side who appeared to be there for the taking. But much like their FA Cup defeat on the same ground just three weeks prior, Liverpool failed to make their dominance count on the scoreboard.

Luis Díaz did put them 1-0 up, but it proved to be a slender lead as Bruno Fernandes capitalised on an errant Jarell Quansah pass to equalise with United’s first shot of the game. Kobbie Mainoo’s excellent strike then put the hosts ahead, before Mohamed Salah levelled with a late penalty.

As you can see from their zones of control graphic from the game, Liverpool dominated most of the pitch, but were guilty of failing to find the net from numerous promising attacks.

Dominik Szoboszlai was unable to score despite having two big chances in the first half, with United goalkeeper André Onana making a superb save from the first.

Liverpool zones of control v Man Utd

“Being 1-0 up at Old Trafford and having a 15-0 shooting stat is incredible,” Klopp said after the draw. “It says to me immediately again there is probably something around the finishing, it was either exceptional goalkeeping – which was the case for one situation for Dom Szoboszlai, [which] was an incredible save – but besides that we should and could have been calmer and clearer in moments.”

It was the third time this season that Liverpool were unable to beat their old rivals despite dominating on the shot count. They somehow managed to draw the reverse fixture 0-0 at Anfield in December despite having 34 shots, meaning they scored just twice from 62 attempts across both league games. No team has had more shots against a single opponent in a season on record in the Premier League (since 2003-04).

They were also held 2-2 in normal time in the FA Cup at Old Trafford last month after having 23 attempts, before going on to lose 4-3 in extra-time.

Football can be a very strange game at times, when you consider that all three of those contests have come in a season in which Liverpool are challenging for the title while United are struggling to stay in the conversation for Champions League qualification.

Last season, when Liverpool failed to secure a top-four finish and United were having an impressive first campaign under Erik ten Hag, Liverpool won their Premier League clash at Anfield 7-0, scoring their goals from just 18 shots and 2.55 xG.

Liverpool v Man Utd 22-23 stats

So, is it just a problem Liverpool have got with Manchester United?

They went to Old Trafford having won their previous two games – 2-1 against Brighton and 3-1 against Sheffield United – though both contests at Anfield did again feature a lot of attempts.

Liverpool had 30 shots against Brighton, with Salah scoring the winner with one of his 12 attempts at goal. Klopp said after the game that his team played well until they got close to goal when they were “in a bit of a rush”.

They had another 29 shots against Sheffield United, requiring a stunner from Alexis Mac Allister to take the lead again after Chris Wilder’s men had brought it back to 1-1, with Cody Gakpo neatly heading in a late third.

Across their last three games, Liverpool have scored seven goals from a total of 87 shots, at a conversion rate of 8.0%. Their average across their 31 Premier League games this season is 11.5%, which shows it has been more of a problem in recent games rather than a general one, but they are trailing both title rivals Man City (12.7%) and Arsenal (14.5%) for shot conversion.

Indeed, of teams in the top half of the Premier League table, only Manchester United (10.2%) and Brighton (11.0%) have a worse conversion rate than Klopp’s men.

Liverpool are still the league’s second-top scorers with 72 goals in 31 games, behind only leaders Arsenal (75). That could be due to the sheer volume of their shots. Klopp’s side have attempted 629 in total (including blocked shots), 70 more than the next most (Man City – 559) and 112 more than Arsenal (517), who have recorded the third-most.

Liverpool have only scored seven more goals than Newcastle United, though, despite attempting 197 more shots.

Premier League top 10 finishing stats 23-24

You could therefore argue that this points to Liverpool looking for quantity over quality when it comes to chance creation. But their average xG per shot in the Premier League stands at 0.11, the same as City and just 0.01 lower than Arsenal. The key for their title rivals is that they are both overperforming their xG to a greater extent, with City doing so by +7.0 and Arsenal by +12.7 – more than any other team. Liverpool have only overperformed their xG by +0.2. Eleven teams in the Premier League have done so to a greater degree.

As the below graphic shows, Liverpool have largely overperformed against their xG in recent years, barring a big dip in the middle of last season, though they won’t want any more days like Sunday, which produced an underperformance of -1.67.

Liverpool rolling xG difference since 21-22
Viz by Jonathan Manuel

Looking back at each of Klopp’s previous eight Premier League seasons in charge of the Merseyside club again points to an apparent concerted effort to increase shot volume, even if that has somewhat been at the cost of efficiency.

After 31 games this season, Liverpool are averaging 20.3 shots per game, the most in a league season so far under Klopp. They are on course to beat their previous highest shot total in a league campaign, in 2021-22 (729 – 19.2 per game) when they ran Manchester City very close in the title race.

You might therefore assume the other season they narrowly missed out on the title (2018-19) and the year they won it (2019-20) wouldn’t be far behind. But that’s not the case. In fact, those two seasons saw Liverpool attempt the fewest shots they have in the Premier League under Klopp. In 18-19 they averaged just 15.1 shots per game, which rose slightly to 15.6 in 19-20.

However, their shot conversion rate was significantly better, up at 15.5% in 18-19 and 14.4% in 19-20, as opposed to 12.9% in 21-22 and just 11.5% so far this season. Liverpool have only had one full season under Klopp where they have had a worse conversion rate, which was their chaotic 2020-21 campaign (11.2%).

Shooting stats under Klopp PL only

Despite that, due to the volume of shots they’re taking, Klopp’s side are still on course to score 88 goals this season, which would better their title-winning season in 19-20 (85 goals) and would be just one shy of 18-19 (89) and six fewer than 21-22 (94).

It could be that the coaching staff have recognised the overall finishing ability of the team has reduced with ageing players and player turnover down the years and feel they can maintain or better their goal numbers by increasing the quantity of shots.

That brings us to the individual output of Liverpool’s attack.

We had a look at the shot efficacy of Klopp’s forwards in January where data showed that Diogo Jota is statistically the team’s best finisher. The Portugal international has been out injured since the win at Brentford in mid-February, and Liverpool have missed him.

In their six Premier League games without Jota, Liverpool have scored 13 goals from 157 shots, a conversion rate of just 8.3%, while they have underperformed their xG by 3.4.

Of Liverpool’s main five forwards in the Premier League in 2023-24, Jota has the best shot conversion rate by some distance, scoring nine goals from 36 shots (25.0%), ahead of Salah’s 17 goals from 91 shots (18.7%). It should be mentioned though that the Egyptian’s conversion percentage since his return from the Africa Cup of Nations and injury is just 11.5% (3 goals from 26 shots).

Then it’s a drop to Cody Gakpo’s 13.3% (6 goals from 45 shots), Darwin Núñez’s 11.0% (11 goals from 100 shots) and Díaz’s 10.0% (8 goals from 80 shots). In the case of Gakpo, though, it should be pointed out that he has played around a quarter of his league minutes this season in midfield.

In fact, Jota is the only Liverpool forward who is overperforming his personal xG (9 goals from 4.4 xG), with Salah underperforming by 0.9, Gakpo by 0.3, Díaz by 2.3 and Núñez by 3.9.

It’s just as well, then, that Jota is now back in training.

Liverpool forwards PL only stats 23-24

A lot of the talk since Sunday has been about how Liverpool are also missing former players Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino, who shone alongside Salah in recent years. Mané averaged a shot conversion rate of 18.6% in the Premier League during his time at Anfield, while Firmino’s was 14.3%. Only Jota and Salah are averaging more than either of them this season.

That said, when comparing Arsenal’s forwards, it’s interesting that none of them can match Jota or Salah for shot conversion percentage either, with Leandro Trossard leading the way with 17.8% (8 goals from 45 shots), but their high number of set-piece goals in particular has helped their xG overperformance.

As far as Man City are concerned, Erling Haaland has a shot conversion rate of 19.6% (19 goals from 97 shots) but fellow forwards Julián Álvarez (8 goals from 86 shots – 9.3%) and Jérémy Doku (2 goals from 39 shots – 5.1%) are way down. Phil Foden’s 14 goals from 90 shots (15.6%) has been a big help for Pep Guardiola’s men, though.

The main issue for Liverpool seems to have been in games against the traditional ‘big six’, or most of them at least. Their two games against Chelsea produced five goals from 41 shots (12.2% shot conversion), but given their struggles this season you could argue they shouldn’t really be included when discussing the ‘big six’ for now.

In Liverpool’s seven games against Man City, Arsenal, Tottenham and Man Utd, they have not won any (D5 L2), scoring just twice from 27 shots against City (7.4% shot conversion), twice from 23 shots against Arsenal (8.7%), once from 12 shots against Spurs (8.3%), and twice from 62 shots against United (3.2%), all well below their overall average. And two of their seven goals in those games were penalties.

Of course, it should be harder to score against better teams, but the difficulty Liverpool have had in finding the net in these big games has cost them a lot of points.

All that said, Liverpool have otherwise scored plenty of goals this season, and so it feels a bit harsh to be critical of their finishing. In fact, in their Europa League campaign they have been lethal in front of goal, scoring 28 goals from an xG of 19.2, with a shot conversion rate of 19.7%, the highest of any team in the competition who have played at least five games.

Whether a shot goes in is about technique, timing and ability, but it of course often requires some luck, too. You can hardly look at Núñez’s recent goal against Sheffield United and put it down to an improvement in finishing, even if his instinct to press the goalkeeper was spot on. Sometimes you need the wind to be going the right way, the goalkeeper to make a mistake, a defender to mistime a block, or a beach ball to be in the right place at the right time, otherwise known as ‘Darren Bent-ing’ it.

As Klopp said after the United draw: “The same boys that missed a few chances today are the boys who brought us 71 points.” Liverpool remain very much in the title race, but there is so little room for error left now.

Liverpool don’t have to score from every chance, but they must ensure they find a way to score enough. They have been doing that for the vast majority of the campaign, and the return of Jota could be just the boost they need.

They must also be given credit for continuing to regularly fashion so many chances despite being without their chief creator, Trent Alexander-Arnold, who has played just 215 Premier League minutes since the turn of the year. The England international is also now back from injury, along with goalkeeper Alisson.

If Liverpool can keep them and other key players fit during the run-in, who knows? Perhaps Klopp can ride off into the sunset with another Premier League title. That would be quite a finish.

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