Stop me if you've heard this one before: Liverpool are dominating possession and creating great chances in and around the box. The Reds have created more corners and set pieces as well, but have yet to break the deadlock. Then the opponent gets a corner on a rare foray into Liverpool territory and immediately converts to take the lead against the run of play.
Give or take a few details, we've seen this story repeat itself over and over throughout the years, including our most recent match against West Brom. The Actual Baggies created almost nothing from open play, but scored both goals on set pieces, and a third was (correctly) disallowed for being offside.
In reality, the Reds have "only" conceded about 32% of their goals from set pieces. One in three goals might seem like a lot, but it's only marginally above the league average of 28%.
This stat on its own would not be too much to fret about. Set piece goals happen. In the melee that regularly takes place in the penalty area, chaos reigns, and a few balls will be sent goal-ward, just based on the law of averages.
Defensively, there is certainly room for improvement, and this should not be overlooked. However, the bigger concern for me is the offensive side of the set piece equation.
It's no great mystery that we scored a lot of goals in 2013-14, and have been more anemic since. But an overlooked part of that success was our rare aptitude at set pieces. Liverpool scored nearly 26% of their total goals from set pieces, accounting for an impressive 26 goals (most in the league by 6). Incidentally, 6 is the total of set piece goals from all of last season, accounting for a scant 12% of total goals scored. No surprise that West Brom and Crystal Palace topped last year's list with 19 set piece goals each.
This year? Although Liverpool are converting more of their set piece chances--20%--that's still just 4 goals out of 20. Moreover, their opponents have scored twice as many against us as we have against them. Even more disconcerting is that Liverpool have created the most corners in the Premier League with 117 so far in the campaign, while conceding the 8th fewest in the league.
A great deal of finger pointing gets leveled at our Belgian goalkeeper for our defensive trials on set pieces, but the fact that Liverpool are struggling on both sides of the ball points to a bigger problem of winning headers and physical duels in the box.
In today's game, set piece goals are a great equalizer. If Liverpool can become merely average at attacking and defending set pieces, it would go a long way toward the overall success of the club.
This post is dedicated to long-time set piece advocate, Alexi Lalas.