Liverpool have changed their identity but nobody seems to notice

Glen Johnson scoring on his home debut; photo by Andy Coan

Glen Johnson scoring on his home debut; photo by Andy Coan

Rafa Benitez is a defense first, cautious manager guiding a team without enough offensive weapons to be a true powerhouse. Or so goes the conventional wisdom. And so demolitions of Hull, Stoke, and Burnley are put down to Big Four dominance against weaker teams. Three goals away at Bolton and West Ham are just what those porous defenses should give up to a top side. Eighteen consecutive games without being shutout goes unremarked upon. All this because we know Liverpool is a defensive team, right?

Well, no. It’s amazing that Liverpool have transformed their identity into the Premier League’s most prolific attack without anybody noticing. Liverpool was the league’s top scoring team last year by nine goals—13% more than any other team—and was the only club to average at least two goals a game. Their goal difference last season was a remarkable plus 50.

Torres, Gerrard, and co. have even picked up the pace so far this season, topping the goal scoring charts by four goals through seven games and averaging more than three goals a game. Going back to the last time Liverpool were shutout (a disastrous 2-0 defeat at relegated Middlesborough last February), they have scored 56 goals in 18 games while notching 15 wins against only two loses and one draw. That pace would equate to a ridiculous 118 goals in a 38 game season, blowing away the current record total of 97 achieved by Manchester United in 1999-2000 season, a mark that is ten goals higher than the second best season total in the Premier League era.

Averaging three goals per match over seven games is not a big enough sample, but 18 is harder to dismiss, especially when it includes a trip to Old Trafford, Arsenal at home, and two games against Tottenham and Aston Villa. It is surprising that after topping the goal scoring charts last season and comfortably leading it again, so little attention is being paid to Liverpool’s staggering goal haul.

Liverpool’s goal-scoring form has survived the loss of Xabi Alonso and been aided by the signing of Glen Johnson and the emergence of Emiliano Insua who have brought attacking fullbacks into Liverpool’s first XI. But by far the most significant factor contributing to Liverpool’s success in front of goal has been the run of fitness of Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres. In this 18-game span, Gerrard has missed just three games and Torres only two, while they have each started all seven games this year.

Torres is the best striker in the world right now. While Leo Messi, Kaka, and Christiano Ronaldo each may be able to create more chances, nobody is better at finishing them as Torres. Gerrard has found his best position playing in the hole behind Torres. He has adapted well to sliding back a bit deeper to temporarily take over for Alonso until new signing Alberto Aquilani is fit, but Liverpool are clearly better when he is farther up the pitch.

Herein lies the problem for Liverpool. Torres has been notoriously injury prone during his time at Anfield and he has had a very taxing two years, with major international tournaments during the last two summers adding to his congested league calendar. Gerrard, at least, had a bit of a rest this summer, but of the two, he is clearly the more replaceable. Real questions persist as to whether Liverpool could survive a prolonged absence by one or both of their dynamic duo.

Going back to why I picked Liverpool to finish second this year, everything has to go right for them to win the league, first among them keeping Torres and Gerrard fit. I would argue that few teams would be unaffected by the loss of one player of Torres or Gerrard’s caliber, let alone both. But it is unquestionably true that Liverpool are the worst equipped of the main title challengers to survive a long injury to one of its top two players.

Yet leaving aside Liverpool’s title chances or their lack of depth, the fact of the Reds’ goal scoring prowess is remarkably absent from discussion of the start of the league season. It seems unlikely that they will keep up their record-obliterating pace. But it is time the pundits recognize that Liverpool are a genuine goal-scoring machine that could realistically score more goals than any other club ever has in a Premier League season.

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One Response

  1. […] I go on and on about how Liverpool are now such a potent offensive force, are scoring goals at a record pace, and haven’t been shut out in eighteen league games and you […]

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