Liverpool: Why Not Beating Top-6 Team This Season Is a Problem, and Why It Isn't
Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool team continues to improve apace in terms of both results and performances, but one statistic continues to loom large over the team: they have failed to win a Premier League game so far against a side placed higher than them in the table.
With two games in the past week against exactly such opposition, in Arsenal and Manchester City, that particular line was trotted out ad naseum by every presenter, commentator, fan and blogger in the football world—some with more glee than others when it still held true after a pair of 2-2 draws.
Liverpool lie seventh in the Premier League table, still within touching distance of securing European football once more for next season, but perhaps just too much on the peripheries to ultimately challenge for a Champions League place.
The difference in challenging for one, and actually attaining one, is looking like extremely fine margins for the Reds.
This is what makes the failure to beat the sides above them ultimately so important.
But after a season of transition, supposed poor displays and a failure to build a competitive squad with balance in all areas, Liverpool are still only a handful of points behind the teams who are supposedly far superior.
This is what makes the failure to beat the sides above them ultimately nothing more than a frustration which will be overcome, this season or the next, as Liverpool continue to grow as a team and add further acquisitions in summer.
Much has been made of Liverpool not beating any of Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal, Everton, Spurs or Chelsea—but not much is being said about the rest of those sides and their respective performances against each other.
So are Liverpool really doing that badly in this aspect of their season?
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As is obvious, since the Reds haven't won any of their nine games against those opponents they have picked up less points.
However, they have also been just as hard for the opposition to beat as some of the other sides—Liverpool haven't lost in these big games more than all the other challengers for the top four positions.
Arsenal and Spurs have both lost four games, the same as Liverpool, against top seven opposition this season—and the Reds have a better rate of avoiding defeat in these matches than Tottenham do.
The difference, of course, is that while Liverpool have drawn five of their games, Spurs have turned two of those games into victories.
It is fine, fine margins we are dealing with.
A wrong offside decision, given in the very last minute of the game between Everton and Liverpool, denied the Reds three points. With that win alone, which by rights Liverpool should have had, they would have won the same number of points as Spurs in these clashes this season.
Look further into the fixtures; individual late errors (from Martin Skrtel and Pepe Reina) have cost Liverpool victory over Manchester City after twice outplaying the reigning league champions.
Four points down the drain, in the final minutes of matches, because of lapses in concentration.
A two-goal lead against Arsenal was lost, as was a second-half lead against Manchester United at Anfield—albeit when the Reds were down to 10 men.
Fine margins, and a repetitive penchant for losing hard-earned points.
That it keeps happening this season for Liverpool points to a problem which needs to be fixed, but the starting point that Brendan Rodgers and his coaching staff have is that in all these games, Liverpool were the better side and led at various stages.
Adding a little more quality, ensuring a bit better organisation, making sure the team has that little more confidence to go the extra distance will all add up to ensure these draws end up as wins over the remainder of the season.
Of course, should it continue then Liverpool are doomed to stay on the fringes of things, for only in beating direct rivals do you not only ensure that your team picks up three points, but also that the opposition gain none.
You gain ground, and in playing catch-up, that's exactly what Liverpool need.
They still have a few more chances to put this statistic right before the end of the season.
It is not at all inconceivable that although Everton are half a dozen points clear of the Reds in the full league standings, by the end of the season Liverpool boast a higher finish and have a better record than the Blues in top-seven clashes.
Liverpool will face Tottenham, Chelsea and Everton themselves over the final months of the season—all at Anfield. Three wins from three will be far from easy to attain, but at the very least the Reds will seek to beat one of the London clubs and very much their local rivals.
Everton, on the other hand, face a full six more fixtures against top opposition.
As well as the trip to Anfield, they face Man United, Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea away from home with only Manchester City to visit their own ground. Quite possibly their good head-to-head record with top-seven sides thus far is because the majority have been played at Goodison Park—though they've still only won two from six.
Will Liverpool beat a top-seven side before the end of the season?
Not having beaten a top side yet this season has been a frustrating statistic for Liverpool so far, but mostly because they've deserved to do so on a number of occasions.
It's an annoyance and a hindrance to Liverpool's league positioning at present, but it doesn't have to be a statistic which defines their entire season.
On current form, the last eight league matches (against all opposition) shows that Liverpool have won exactly the same number of points as Chelsea and Arsenal and only one fewer than Everton.
If the Reds continue that recent improved form and remain unbeaten at home for the rest of the campaign, taking three points with regularity from their Anfield fixtures, then there remains the chance that one or two of those sides above them right now will be enviously looking up at the Reds themselves come the end of the season.
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