Jurgen Klopp managed his seventh match in all competitions for Liverpool with the loss to Palace, and though anyone who’s taken a statistics course will deny this as a reasonable sample size, it’s what we have to start and parse out whether there’s a statistical grounds backing up the new optimism surrounding the side, or if it’s just Rodgers 2.0 with a German accent.
The obvious first glance goes to the record, where Liverpool is coming off their first loss for a 3-3-1 record under Klopp for 1.71 points per game, as opposed to Rodgers’ 4-5-2 for 1.54 points per game. This does include all competitions so the strength of opposition varies, though Rodgers’ best result is probably the tie against Arsenal while Klopp has already produced the 3-1 assault on Chelsea (albeit a struggling one).
The eye-test impression Rodgers’ side left was that of a tentative, unconfident, and generally nervy outfit. Aesthetically, it seems as though Klopp has Liverpool playing on the front foot, testing the opposition’s defense, and being surprisingly solid in the back. Surprisingly, this isn’t borne out in the numbers completely, with Rodgers’ team averaging 18.72 shots with 6.81 on target per game and Klopp’s averages being a comparable 19.57 shots with 4.86 per game on frame. I was genuinely surprised to see Rodgers’ team average more attempts on target. I wonder how much the Sturridge game against Villa impacts this, with the team shooting 21 times with 12 on target for what may have been the closest Dan Sturridge has come to looking like his 2013-14 form.
It seems like the true difference Klopp has been making has been on the proverbial other side of the ball. Opposition have averaged roughly two less shots per game in the Klopp era, with on target attempts dropping from 3.36 under Rodgers to 3.0 per game. This comes into play when you look at goals scored plus/minus, where through eleven games Rodgers’ Liverpool were outscored by 3 goals as opposed to Klopp’s having outscored opponents by 3, seemingly small margins, but the actual numbers are 10 goals for, 13 against for Rodgers and 8 for, 5 against for Klopp. Klopp’s numbers extrapolated to match Rodgers’ eleven games see his side with roughly a plus 5 goal differential.
A lot of this can be attributed to the midfield where players like Emre Can and Lucas Leiva are noticeably getting up and down the pitch and helping control play. In the last seven games Liverpool have averaged 60.71% possession of the ball, never having less than 51% of the share. Under Rodgers, Liverpool averaged 54.82% of possession, but also had games where they only controlled for 44% and 34% of the time.
It’s only seven games but clearly Klopp is coaching the team to control the game through possession, and that may be what forms the basis for consistency going forward. It’s worth noting that Liverpool have faced both a quality Tottenham side that’s finding their form and Chelsea, who are stumbling but still have one of the most talented rosters in the league since Klopp took the reins. With Liverpool getting healthier by the day, it seems like the attacking numbers will only improve with the addition of Christian Benteke, and the eventual returns of Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge.
Only time will tell if this is an emotional burst based on Klopp’s arrival, but I suspect this is more a stylistic adjustment than a passing anomaly. If Klopp can continue to get his side to control the ball, they just may continue to push towards the top four, and even more importantly, a new era of Liverpool football.