Previous Match Infographics: Watford (a), Crystal Palace (h), West Brom (a), Stoke (a), Bournemouth (h), Everton (h), Manchester City (h), Burnley (a), Arsenal (h), Leicester (a), Tottenham (h), Hull (a), Chelsea (h), Swansea (h), Manchester United (a), Sunderland (a), Manchester City (a), Stoke (h), Everton (a), Middlesbrough (a), West Ham (h), Bournemouth (a), Sunderland (h), Southampton (a), Watford (h), Crystal Palace (a), West Brom (h), United (h), Swansea (a), Hull (h), Chelsea (a), Leicester (h), Tottenham (a), Burnley (a), Arsenal (a)
All match data from Stats Zone and Who Scored.
On April 1, Liverpool beat Everton 3-1 at Anfield. Liverpool sat third, just three points behind Tottenham, albeit having played one more game. Liverpool had a home record of 11W-3D-1L, and had just eight games left. It was the away matches which frightened: tough trips to grounds where Liverpool had recently or historically struggled. The home matches were supposed to be the easier fixtures.
Somehow, Liverpool have won all three of the away matches so far. But Liverpool have now taken just two of nine possible points from the first three of the four home matches, failing to win any of them. A late goal conceded to draw against Bournemouth, losing to Crystal Palace despite taking a 1-0 lead, and now an anemic draw against Southampton.
Liverpool have gone from pummeling sides at Anfield while hilariously failing away from home to grinding out away wins but unable to capitalize on Fortress Anfield. It's a strange end to a strange run-in to a strange season. Once again, if it's not one thing, it's something else. After fixing the kitchen sink, the dining room table collapses.
Incidentally, Liverpool remain without a home league win when Sadio Mané doesn't play. 11W-2D with Mané, 3D-2L without.
Aside from a handful of unsurprising, reoccurring defensive errors, the issues in these matches since Everton – both home and away, in wins, losses, or draws – has been Liverpool's attack.
Yesterday saw an unchanged XI for the fourth match in a row – the first time that's happened since January-February 2014.
Yesterday saw the same stuttering attack we've seen in the previous four matches, but without the one goal that Liverpool somehow managed in the previous three.
At least Liverpool took shots: 17, the highest total in this four-game run. And Liverpool put eight on-target. But they weren't good shots.
12 of Liverpool's 17 shots came from outside the box, by far the largest percentage this season. The only other match which comes close was the second of the season, the 0-2 loss at Burnley, where 17 of 26 came from outside the box. You remember that match, yes?
Liverpool also failed to create an open-play clear-cut chance for the second consecutive match. None at Watford, just Milner's saved penalty against Southampton. Liverpool had just one against Palace – Coutinho's blocked effort, where he probably should have dived for a penalty instead – and two against West Brom – Firmino's set play goal and Milner's wild miss. Four matches with the same XI. Just four clear-cut chances. Just one goal.
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
This Liverpool team remains mostly reliant on goals. Sometimes, the defense is good enough, whether against Watford, West Brom, and Southampton or against City and Tottenham. Sometimes, as against Palace, Swansea, Sunderland, etc., it isn't. But almost everything good this season – especially against sides outside the Top 7 – has come when Liverpool's attack is good.
Specifically, Liverpool need early goals. When Liverpool score in the first half, the league record is 16W-5D-2L (2.30 ppg). When Liverpool don't, they've 4W-5D-4L (1.31 ppg). A few matches aside (looking at you, Bournemouth), how Liverpool start often tells us how Liverpool will finish. Yes, Liverpool's substitutes have scored at surprisingly effective rates under Jürgen Klopp, more than almost any other manager or side, but Liverpool's starting XI usually needs to be firing from the off.
I am more than willing to admit that the fitness staff and management know more about Sturridge's ability to start than I do. Sturridge hasn't played 90 minutes in the league this season. He's started just four league matches, the last at Sunderland on January 2. He's completed just three full matches, all in the League Cup: the 2-1 win over Tottenham and both semi-final legs against Southampton. Where, incidentally, Liverpool also failed to score.
But it's hard to look past what Sturridge did in 21 minutes compared to Origi. Two shots (a strong run and saved toe-poke, then a shot from distance whistling outside of the near post), three key passes (more than any other Liverpool player), and one more pass completed than Origi despite the 45-minute difference in playing time.
During this four-game run, Origi's taken all of five shots (three on-target, one off-target, one blocked; none especially threatening), and created just two chances (both at West Brom). He managed none yesterday – no shots, no key passes. That's incredibly not good.
Sturridge's attempted passes came in slightly more threatening positions, but more notable is the passes received chalkboard. Almost everything Origi did, almost everything Origi does – aside from receiving the chip which led to Southampton's handball and Liverpool's penalty, and one in-box headed flick-on – came in the channels. Origi just can't do it centrally, at least not against these sides, at least not when Liverpool's dominating possession without reward.
I can't get a 30-second spell from the 41st minute out of my head, where Origi stood in the penalty arc the entire time as Liverpool passed across the top of the final third literally nine times. Firmino to Coutinho to Lucas to Can to Lucas to Coutinho to Lucas to Coutinho to Firmino to Lucas to Southampton. The move ended with a mostly aimless Lucas chip into the box that Origi was unsurprisingly nowhere near, easily headed clear by Stephens.
It is harsh to single out a barely-22-year-old striker when Liverpool's other starting attackers aren't doing much more. But Liverpool have looked disjointed and vastly less threatening almost every single time that Origi has led the line this season, the 3-0 win at Middlesborough basically the only exception. Sturridge, if anywhere remotely fit, offers something much different. Sturridge – you know, the selfish me me me striker – is much better at linking up with and setting up Liverpool's other attackers and Sturridge is far more likely to create something from absolutely nothing.
And if not Sturridge, because injury, because lack of trust, at least play Roberto Firmino there. But not Divock Origi, not from the start, not as the lone striker, not in matches like these.
At least the defense was good, again, even if Southampton offered next to nothing going forward.
Liverpool haven't held their opponents without a shot on-target in both league meetings since I started doing these infographics in 2012-13. Southampton are the only league side that Liverpool have held to no shots on-target in a league match this season, and they've done it twice; it also happened twice last season, the 1-0 win over Swansea and 4-0 romp over Everton.
All that said, Liverpool were Fraser Forster's first ever penalty save away from a similar feeling to the 1-0 wins at West Brom and Watford. Had Milner converted in the 66th minute – as he'd done in seven previous attempts this season – we're lauding another hard-fought, ground-out win. Liverpool would be three points ahead of City. seven ahead of United, and nine ahead of Arsenal, no matter those sides' games-in-hand.
I wrote last week about Liverpool's fine margins last week, what with Emre Can's jaw-dropping goal and Seb Prödl clear-cut chance crashing off the crossbar rather than the back of the net. Liverpool were on the wrong end of them this week. But, as it stands, Liverpool remain on the right side of them with two games to play, as much due to other's failings as Liverpool's successes. And just barely.