Liverpool team stats from Man U loss to Man U loss - not yet ready to "move up in weight class?"

There is no question that Liverpool improved in recent months compared to their dismal start to the EPL season. It has often been said by experts that the 3-4-3 formation instituted in the 3-0 loss to Man U at Old Trafford last December was the start of the good run of form for the team.

Last Sunday's loss to Man U at Anfield marked a return to concern about the team. And indeed, they do have issues going forward with Gerrard out due to the red card banishment and what appears to be a likely retroactive red card sanctions for Skrtel. The loss of Skrtel is probably the more substantive concern as he has been a key defender in the back three. Giving Gerrard a proper send off to retirement was already tricky to navigate given that there are some match ups where the team would benefit or at least not be hindered by his presence. But there are possible other situations where he could be a liability. In a way, not having the option of plugging him into the next three games might actually make things easier for Rodgers.

The international break comes at a good time to allow the team to rest and heal from injuries big and small. Additionally, the Rodger's brain trust will need to think about what to do about the attacking front. It appears that the return of Sturridge while in some ways a plus has been a negative for Sterling. They will need to find a way to get both operating at top level at the same time if they are going to make a push for the fourth position (unlikely) or hold onto fifth which will be a real contest against Tottenham and Southampton.

In the image above, I have tabulated Liverpool possession, shots, and goals. Have also divided up the opponents into three categories. Tier 1 would be the traditional top teams of the EPL like Chelsea, Man City, Arsenal, and Man U. I've added Beskitas in that group as they pretty much mauled Liverpool in the second leg of the Europa match. In tier 2, I've put the mid-table EPL teams that are 10 or higher on the table. And tier 3, the teams are EPL 11 or lower and teams from lower leagues that Liverpool encountered in cup competitions.

The really obvious thing to note is Liverpool's record against the respective tier's of competition:
Tier 1: 2 wins, 2 draws, 4 losses
Tier 2: 5 wins, 0 draws, 0 losses
Tier 3: 8 wins, 4 draws, 0 losses

Simply put: Liverpool is beating the teams they are expected to beat.

Other interesting stats to note:

In regards to possessing the ball, Liverpool clearly takes control of it against Tier 3 competition as they should. But against tier 1 and 2 competition, on average it is close to 50% and when you look at specific games, more often then not they actually lose the time of possession stat. They average close to 50% due to four matches where they got over 60% possession in matches against tier 1 and 2 opponents. Otherwise, they are consistently out-possessed to various degrees against tier 1 and 2 clubs.

But of course, what do you do with possession?

Interestingly, they consistently outshoot their opponents. Even against tier 1 opposition, they outshoot the other team on average by 5.3 shots/game. The number climbed to 8.1 shots/game against tier 3 teams. In regards to giving up shots, they surrender an average of 10.3 shots/game. This average holds pretty much regardless of the competition level. What I don't know is the quality of the shots. We all know not all shots are equal: some were easy saves by the goalie while others require a maximal effort from the goalkeeper. Also, some shots are logged as official shots that probably had no/low possibility of being a goal. But clearly, Liverpool faces similar number of shots regardless of competition level but the tier 1 clubs turn those shots into goals (1.4 goals/game) while tier 2 and tier 3 get less results (0.6 goals/game and 0.5 goals/game). This would be consistent with better offensive talent at tier 1 teams being more "clinical" with their opportunities. Perhaps, in future "research," I'll need to look at how Liverpool's shots for and shots against stats stack up against other EPL clubs to see whether their numbers are typical or not.

But how does Liverpool fare on the goal scoring side of the stat sheet?

Interestingly, Liverpool scores the most goals against tier 2 clubs (2.4/game). Against "inferior" opponents in tier 3, they average 1.4 goals/game. Not surprisingly, they score the least against tier 1 teams, where they average only 0.9 goals/game.

The low goals scored against tier 1 is expected. Tier 1 teams have better defenders and goalies.

But what is surprising is the performance against tier 2 teams. One could suspect that because tier 2 teams are better than tier 3 teams, Liverpool is more aggressive on offense with them. So even though they have less possession and fewer shots against tier 2 teams compared to tier 3 teams, they score more goals probably due to greater urgency to score.

Against weaker tier 3 teams, they gain possession by a wide margin and they vastly out shoot them but it seems that in the end, they don't always cash in their opportunities. Perhaps, knowing the other team is less likely to score on them, they don't have the same "killer" instinct to score. Also, perhaps the starting XI is a weaker line up in these situations to rest star players and to try out new ones. It has been a frustration for fans to see Liverpool do nothing in the first leg of cup contests forcing a replay.

After all this statistical mumbo jumbo, I'd say that Liverpool is doing what it expected of them. Fans will be fans and will want them to do better, of course. But on the positive side, they consistently beat the teams they are supposed to beat getting the occasional draw when they slip up. When fans really go out on the ledge is when the team starts losing to teams they aren't supposed to lose to like they did earlier in the season.

When they "move up in weight-class," not surprisingly, they struggle. The "moral victory" you can say for Liverpool is that when they "move up in weight-class," three of their four losses have been by just one goal and they have on two occasions gotten a win.

Gerrard's red-card fiasco was a disappointment. His actions denied Liverpool a chance to see if they could have equalized with a full-side with a more urgent mind-set. Perhaps they would have equalized. Or perhaps, they would have been beaten in a counter-attack. Unfortunately, fans, coaches and team didn't get to find out.

The next EPL match up against Arsenal will be another such test of whether the team is truly ready to "move up in weight-class."

UPDATE: Dave Usher over at ESPN gives his view that something needs to be changed tactically.