It can be easy to look at Liverpool’s form so far in 2019, with 11 points dropped in nine league games after only dropping six in their first 20, and feel as though now that they’ve fallen behind Manchester City in the title race the odds are very much against them.
It can be easy to look at City’s expensive depth and regained confidence in the new year, when they have dropped just three points in those same nine games, and see them as very, very heavy favourites. Jordan Henderson, though, isn’t interested in any of that.
“It doesn’t feel like a defeat,” was the captain’s response following a draw against Everton on Sunday that saw the stumbling Reds fall a point behind resurgent City, losing their slim final cushion in the title race with nine games now left to play in the 2018-19 season.
“We wanted to come here and get three points. I think we deserved three points. But we couldn’t get the ball in the back of the net. I think if we score one or two goals it is perfect and everyone goes, ‘That’s a good performance away from home in the derby.’”
It wasn’t, perhaps, a bad performance for the Reds on the road against their local rivals, but by the chances they created their edge also wasn’t quite so clear cut. By the numbers, the Reds could have expected to score 1.1 goals to Everton’s 0.3 on Sunday.
It’s an edge that means if they played the game out ten times Liverpool might expect to win six or seven, but with chances—and the expected goals metrics used to measure them—it’s worth remembering that, at the end of the day, it’s an adding up of distinct incidents.
That 1.1 is the sum of individual chances. Each chance on its own likely won’t be a goal. And each chance, like Mohamed Salah clear on goal shooting at a perfect height for Jordan Pickford to get an arm to it, is often worth less than many would intuitively expect.
Salah’s, for instance, probably wouldn’t be expected to lead to a goal more than 25% of the time. It’s the sort of chance players miss more often than not. It’s just that in games where enough chances are created, the misses are easy to overlook at the end of it.
Once those chances are past, too, that they have been missed—or taken—doesn’t make it more or less likely any subsequent chance will be converted. Liverpool, in the end, probably should have scored once on Sunday. But by the hour mark, things needed to change.
Because by the hour mark, they had already created two-thirds of their chances, or about two-thirds of an expected goal—and failed to convert. From that point, continuing to play as they had and creating a third of an expected goal more wasn’t going to be enough.
If in the final thirty Liverpool—as they did—created chances worth a third of an expected goal, it would give them a one in three chance of turning the draw into a win. And all the while Everton could hit the lottery by converting a low percentage chance of their own.
Over the season, expected goals tend to even out. They mostly add up. And over the past three games against Everton and Watford and Manchester United, in fact, Liverpool have out-expected-goals their opponents 3.9-1.2 while actually outscoring them 5-0.
Against Watford the edge was 2.3-0.4 and Liverpool’s finishing ran hot—but they created enough that even if it had been cool, a loss or draw would have been hard to envisage. Against Everton—and even more so United where it was 0.5-0.5—that wasn’t the case.
Liverpool did enough against Everton that, more often than not, they would have won the match narrowly. But they didn’t do enough to make it anything like a sure thing—especially past the hour mark when they still needed to score and hadn’t yet done so.
If there’s a positive to take from it, perhaps, it’s that for the third game in a row they kept their opponent’s xG well below one. That won’t win them the league—not without creating more—but it’s a strong foundation, and at least for now they’re still in the title race.
“I can’t remember them having a clear-cut chance,” Henderson added. “We defended well. There were pressure moments in the game, set-pieces and stuff, but we coped well with that and I think we created enough to win the game.”