Liverpool lost 2-1 at Brighton in FA Cup; Darwin Nunez potential analysed, Mohamed Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold drop-offs; injury issues, average ages and recent transfer activity; stats behind decline in form
Thursday 2 March 2023 12:50, UK
Liverpool suffered a 2-1 defeat at Brighton in the FA Cup on Sunday and now sit 21 points shy of league leaders Arsenal - so what's gone wrong?
Jurgen Klopp's side have already lost six times in the Premier League, with only 19 games played - which is more than they lost during each of their 2018/19, 2019/20 and 2021/22 seasons.
The Reds' defence appears to be the primary cause behind their lacklustre standing, having already conceded 25 goals - which is more than they shipped during the complete 2018/19 campaign and merely one shy of last season.
Dropping points has clearly been an issue, losing 28 this term - six points more than all of last season.
The graphic below highlights how Liverpool are only slightly off the boil up top - recording marginal dips for goals scored and expected goals.
The Reds have converted only 0.84 'big chances' per game this term - their lowest ratio since 2015/16.
Liverpool have been widely accused of dropping their customary intensity levels when pressing from the front and the statistics reveal how the average number of regains in the final third has nearly halved this season - dropping to levels on a par with five years ago.
They also appear to be retreating, recording their lowest average number of passes in the final third under the German, while regaining possession in their defensive third more than ever.
The graphic below shows how far upfield Liverpool typically start open-play passing sequences and shows how the side have retreated more than three metres this term and now rank behind Manchester City, Arsenal, Leeds, Newcastle, Chelsea and Brighton.
While it is difficult to isolate one issue as a primary cause, when success typically stems from holistic balance, the defensive metrics are most striking.
Liverpool are shipping 1.32 goals per game this season, which is their joint-worst ratio since Klopp's first term. The issue is even starker when it comes to expected goals conceded, rising to 1.46 per game - the highest ever under Klopp.
It gets worse: Klopp's team are facing 4.68 shots on target per game and only keeping clean sheets in one game out of four - also their worst ratios since the German took charge.
The maps below show every shot Liverpool have faced over the past two seasons and reveal how opponents are achieving a far higher proportion of accurate shots this term - with attempts on target marked in blue and almost matching the entirety of last season.
Critics often target Trent Alexander-Arnold's defensive abilities but his attacking talents are unquestionable. However, the full-back has failed to reach his full potential this season with just one assist to date.
The 23-year-old has hit double digits for assists in three of his past four seasons and his current drop-off represents a fivefold dip from last term.
However, his expected assist ratio almost quadruples his actual return, which, once again, highlights potential issues with team-mates finishing good opportunities.
The maps below show every chance Alexander-Arnold has created over the past two campaigns and highlights a dearth of long passes fired from deeper areas down his right channel this season.
Liverpool splashed a cool £85m to prise Darwin Nunez from Benfica in the summer and the Uruguay forward has blown hot and cold during his early days at Anfield.
He has taken 56 shots in the Premier League, hitting the target with fewer than half of those attempts and scoring only five goals.
Nunez should have netted more than seven times, according to expected goals - with his deficit of -2.43 ranking as the sixth-worst ratio in the division. Notably, much-lauded Arsenal forward Gabriel Jesus has a worse differential.
While many praise the broader attributes Jesus offers the Gunners, likewise, Nunez shows clear signs he can deliver the goods - provided his accuracy improves.
The chart below plots the average number of shots, non-penalty expected goal ratios and total fast breaks per 90 minutes for every player to have clocked 360 minutes or more in the Premier League this season and reveals how the 23-year-old is in a league of his own with prolific Manchester City striker Erling Haaland - but he also applies the afterburners far more frequently than the Norwegian.
While declines can be found across the board, it becomes abundantly clearer when Mohamed Salah suffers a dip in form. The Egypt forward has scored seven goals and created four for team-mates - representing a twofold dip.
One reason is a 25-per-cent drop for touches in the opposition box - plummeting from 11 per game to 8.3 - which ranks as his lowest season ratio ever in the Premier League.
Injuries played a large part in Liverpool's lacklustre start to the 2020/21 season and has affected this campaign in a similar fashion. Currently, the Reds have seven players sidelined - only Chelsea (10), Manchester United (nine) and Leicester (eight) have more players on the treatment table.
To compound matters, defensive kingpin Virgil van Dijk has seen a specialist after sustaining a hamstring injury but could return to action in mid-February, according to Premier Injuries.
Liverpool have been dealt another defensive blow after centre-back Ibrahima Konate was ruled out for up to three weeks with a hamstring injury.
It leaves Jurgen Klopp short of options and is likely to scupper any potential deadline day move for Nat Phillips.
Konate was injured in Sunday's FA Cup exit at Brighton and it is understood he is likely to miss upcoming matches against Wolves, Everton and Newcastle, with doubts currently over whether he will be ready for the Champions League visit of Real Madrid on February 21.
Liverpool recalled 21-year-old centre-back Rhys Williams from a loan spell with Championship side Blackpool last week to cover the possibility of Phillips leaving in this window.
Phillips, 25, has made just five appearances this season and, while Liverpool had no intention of pushing him out of the door, there was a belief he could move on with a number of clubs interested in him.
However, Konate's injury makes that scenario highly unlikely, with Joe Gomez and Joel Matip Klopp's only two fit senior centre-backs.
Liverpool's 'mentality monsters' have reigned supreme in recent years due to their intense pressing power, but the team has gradually aged beyond the prime average age of 27 for a side and now averages at over 28. Only Fulham, West Ham and Tottenham have fielded older teams this term.
But Klopp has invested in youth with Nunez, new signing Cody Gakpo, Harvey Elliott, Ibrahima Konate and Fabio Carvalho, while increasingly handing game-time to graduates such as Stefan Bajcetic.
Liverpool secured the signing of Netherlands forward Gakpo from PSV Eindhoven in a deal worth between £35m and £45m this month and the 23-year-old becomes the latest addition to Klopp's all-star firing line.
However, one of Liverpool's greatest achievements has been achieving their success while spending a comparatively low £717m on signings since the summer of 2016 - half the sum splashed by rivals Chelsea, while also less than Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal.
Arguably, the ageing side needs an injection of youthful energy in the middle of the park to maintain their high-intensity style - but the club has not spent a penny on midfielders since the turn of 2021.
Arthur Melo has clocked only 13 minutes for the Reds since signing on loan from Juventus in September last year after undergoing surgery on a thigh injury in October, while fellow midfielder Naby Keita has been handed recent game-time after recovering from a long-term hamstring injury - but his contract expires this summer.
Klopp must now prepare his side to face struggling Wolves at Molineux this weekend, before hosting the Merseyside derby in front of the Sky cameras on February 13.
Who will be on the move this winter? The January transfer window opened on Sunday January 1, 2023 and closes at 11pm on Tuesday January 31, 2023.
Keep up-to-date with all the latest transfer news and rumours in our dedicated Transfer Centre blog on Sky Sports' digital platforms. You can also catch up with the ins, outs and analysis on Sky Sports News.