Connect in the back of the net

It was the great Johan Cruyff who stated a Goal Difference of +50 will always place a team in the mix for a league title. Whether the team is defensive in style and scores 70 but only concedes 20, or alternatively and with total disregard for the defence, attacking as hell e.g. 101 for, 50 against! While there is no definitive guarantee of silverware, it certainly acts as a good barometer.

Cruyff himself finished a runner up in 1985/86 with Ajax despite scoring 120 and having a GD of +85. Title talk is definitely something all Liverpool fans want to be genuinely talking about in the coming years, yet a top four place is what we hope to achieve first, then consolidate.

Back to reality and Klopp is beginning to realise the task he undertook is bigger than first thought. The fixture pile up in particular has been a real eye opener, mixed with an injury list that I certainly can’t ever remember being as long. Striker shortages and a shortage of confidence have been major factors in such a profligate season in front of goal, which has seen Liverpool creating plenty of chances but crucially having a dreadful shot conversion rate.

Klopp’s start has been far from spectacular but is still ahead of his predecessor from the first 10 games of the season where we saw only 8 goals, three of which came at home to relegation elect: Aston Villa.


Top four scoring expectations

So what is the most goals a team with top four aspirations should be looking to score? As many as possible obviously, but is there a defining number? Over the 23 Premier League seasons to date the top four teams have averaged 1.84 goals per game (GPG). That equates to 70 goals over a 38 games season (77 over a 42 game season). Clearly, and I must stress this, it is not essential to finish in the top four with more than 70 goals scored.

In fact, of the 92 teams who finished 1st – 4th since 1992/93, only 51% of teams have scored more goals than 70 in the campaign. The flip side is that 94% of the teams who achieve the magic 70 goals scored (or more) have finished in the top four. While balance is always essential, a strong attack can be a catalyst for success if that many goals can be attained. If not conceding stops you from losing, then scoring a shed load certainly raises the chances of winning.

Table of teams finishing outside the top four scoring 70 goals or more

Season Team GF GA GD Position
2007/08 Villa 71 51 20 6th
2009/10 Manchester City 73 45 28 5th
2012/13 Liverpool 73 43 28 7th

The table shows how extremely rare it is for a team to reach 70 goals, full stop. Only three teams reaching this target have failed to attain a top four place, with two of the three using it as a platform to improve: City on their way to winning their first championship in 44 years in 2011/12 and a Luis Suarez inspired Liverpool would come agonizingly close to clinching our first title in 24 years.

While conceding less than 34 goals was achieved by relatively small clubs, scoring 70+ has only ever been accomplished by the top teams. Aston Villa fans must think it’s a lifetime ago since Martin O’Neill had them trying to crack the top four. It’s worth pointing out the Leicester are currently on course for a 69-goal season. I think it’s safe to assume they’re getting at least a top four place this season.


Low scoring rate

Historically, when it comes to Liverpool, we have been relatively low scorers if 70 goals is the marker for a top four side. I was surprised to find that we’d only reached the 70 goal mark in five of the 23 seasons. Those were a Fowler-Collymore inspired 1995/96, the treble season, Rafa’s title challenge of 2008/09 and the 2012/13 and 2013/14 seasons under Rogers.

If comparing to the best team throughout this period we unfortunately have to look down the East Lancs Road and see that Manchester United only failed to break the 70 goal mark in six of the 23 seasons. Fortunately, two of those were in the last two seasons with a third looking increasingly likely. With an early ‘bounce’ seen with most new managerial arrivals, compared to other Liverpool managers Klopp’s record isn’t great, although it is extremely early days, and far too early to judge.

Manager Games Goals Scored Goals Scored Per Game Average Goals Over 38 Games
Dalglish (part season) 18 35 1.94 73
Rogers 122 232 1.9 72
Houllier (part season) 26 49 1.88 71
Houllier 216 354 1.63 62
Benitez 228 371 1.62 61
Evans 172 280 1.62 61
Dalglish 56 82 1.46 55
Klopp 15* 22 1.46 55
Souness 115 164 1.42 54
Hodgson 20 24 1.2 45

*As of 23/01/16

With Liverpool averaging 1.57 GPG (60 goals) across the Premier League era, it’s easy to see why Dalglish was given the full time job after Hodgson’s sacking. He not only brought the feel good factor with him, but also goals galore. Unfortunately, it was short lived as his one full season back only yielded a terrible 47 goals. By far, the lowest in the past 23 seasons and it’s what ultimately cost him his job. Rodgers’ goal scoring recorded looks very admirable.

While he deserves credit for scoring two 70+ goal scoring campaigns, his figures are massive skewed by the 2013/14 season. Take that out and he drops to 1.55 GPG (55 goals), which isn’t anything to shout about. Houllier and Benitez rank just above the Liverpool average, but with their quality defences to boot, it was a recipe for success.

It would be wrong to point any fingers at Klopp at this early juncture in his Liverpool reign as he has encountered numerous problems in attack. Our only genuine top class centre forward is seemingly made from glass. Our Premier League Proven™ £32.5m summer signing has been struggling really badly in the system Klopp employs, often making a lamppost look more mobile.

Injuries to Ings, Coutinho, Origi and Henderson have exacerbated the goal scoring problems and with Firmino finally showing glimpse of his talent, this season was always going to be a settling in period. And when we do get a chance, our shot conversion rate of 11.9% is better than only Aston Villa!


What does the future hold for Liverpool under Klopp?

It’s difficult to compare performances over different leagues, yet we can see from his results in Germany that he improved Dortmund both defensively and attacking-wise massively. He took over a team which since its last title, seven seasons prior to Klopp’s arrival, had averaged 1.49 GPG (50 goals for) and 1.25 GCPG (goals conceded per game; 42 goals against) over the course of a 34-game Bundesliga season.

In Klopp’s seven seasons with Dortmund he averaged 1.97 GPG (67 goals for) and 1.04 GCPG (35 goals against). These massive improvements are why he won two league titles and reached a Champions League final. They’re the reasons why he was so highly coveted and it’s why we should feel lucky that a club in our current situation can still attract a manger of his quality.


Building from the back

It’s clear that there are problems at both ends of the pitch. Which does Klopp prioritise? Personally, following conventional wisdom (which isn’t always the correct thing to do), building from the back would be a sensible approach.

It worked for our two most successful mangers in Houllier and Benitez, yet Rodgers has come closest to winning the title with brilliant attacking football.

Klopp improved the defence and attack simultaneously at Dortmund so maybe it doesn’t need to be a choice? Whatever Klopp chooses to do, I know that aiming for 70+ goals and conceding 34 or less will see us break into the top four at a canter.


Written by Chris Steel

Follow Chris on Twitter @chris7steel

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