Liverpool always go through a rough patch of form, at least that’s what it sometimes seems like, watching on from season to season. Last year, a five week stretch from the start of January through the first week of February saw them lose three times and win just one game in six. Outside of that rut, they regularly looked dominant.
In 2013-14, during their last proper title challenge, they earned four of a possible 12 points from November 1st through to December 1st. That poor month and not a late slip was the real difference. A run of draws in December and January killed their title challenge in 2008-09, too. In 2001-02 it was a run of losses. It’s what Liverpool do.
Or at least what they seem to do. They don’t drop a point one month and three from one game the next. When they slip up, it’s in bunches. A dip in form—or a crater, even—and a run of bad results. They don’t usually do it in September, perhaps, but there’s nothing here to suggest the run they’re now on is anything more than that, a poor run.
Following the latest disappointing loss, some will point to Liverpool heavily outshooting opponents in recent bad results like that’s a bad thing. It’s not. Like a goal scorer out of form, it shows that Liverpool are mostly still playing well. They’re still getting chances, even if tactics and a certain softness at the back may make them vulnerable.
They’re vulnerable to the counter; to conceding cheap, soft goals. That’s impossible to argue against. Yet most weeks, most games, that really shouldn’t matter. At least in theory. Liverpool are leading the league in expected goals. Against Leicester yesterday they had 21 shots with an xG of 1.54 against Leicester’s eight shots for 0.38 xG.
To then lose 2-0, statistically, is an extreme outlier kind of result. It’s one that really shouldn’t happen, at least not with any regularity. So of course it’s worrying when it seems to with a certain depressing regularity week in and week out for Liverpool, but at the end of the day the point stands: this isn’t a Liverpool side playing badly.
They may not be at their fluid best here in September, but they aren’t playing badly—they’re still getting their chances and still outplaying their opponents most weeks. Or they’re outplaying them every week outside of one heavy loss to Manchester City, a game that only turned into a heavy loss after Liverpool went down to ten men.
The results have been tough to take, but they haven’t been a sign of a serious deeper problem—even if it would have been helpful to have got in a player like Virgil van Dijk over the summer to cut down on some of those quarter and eighth and tenth chances that opponents have seemed uncannily able to turn into goals in September.
Liverpool haven’t been playing badly, though. Even without any changes, the results should improve—significantly, even. If a few positive chances are made to correct a few outstanding issues, to tighten things up at the back, then the foundation is there right now for a sustained run of exceptional form and results in the coming months.
Despite recent stumbles, there’s nothing massively wrong or worrying about this Liverpool side. Disappointing, sure. A reminder of at least one major summer transfer failure, absolutely. But this isn’t a bad side or even a side playing badly. It’s a few bad results for a side still mostly playing well—a side mostly outplaying their opponents.
It’s the sort of stumbling, mildly perplexing run that Liverpool seem to go on at least once every season. It’s disappointing, and it may mean that as in 2001-02 and 2008-09 and 2013-14 the best this side can now hope for is a title challenge rather than an actual title. But it doesn’t mean the season is done, and it isn’t a crisis.