Liverpool major change since Virgil van Dijk red card is already proving Jürgen Klopp plan right


When the nominees were announced for the 2023 Yashin Trophy, the prize presented to the best goalkeeper in the world, it was baffling that Alisson Becker was not among the 10 men in contention. The Brazilian was statistically the best shot-stopper in Europe’s big five leagues last season and was so while stationed behind an outfield that frequently offered him very little protection.

If you were disappointed that Liverpool finished fifth in the 2022/23 Premier League, try to imagine where they would have been had Alisson performed at even an average level, much less below par. It’s enough to make you grateful for Thursday afternoon games in the Europa League.

At face value, little has changed this season. The Reds have conceded in all but one of its five league matches, needing to come from behind to win three of them. Yet a look at the underlying data shows that the campaign breaks into two almost even sample sizes with wildly different figures.

Nothing seemed different when Liverpool got its season underway at Stamford Bridge. Opta has a metric called ‘big (or ‘clear-cut’) chances’, which it defines as opportunities where “a player should reasonably be expected to score, usually in a one-on-one scenario or from very close range when the ball has a clear path to goal and there is low to moderate pressure on the shooter.”

They deemed that Chelsea had five big chances in its 1-1 draw against the Reds, with Liverpool and its supporters grateful that Alisson hit the ground running in 2023/24 by saving three of them. He kept one out the following weekend when Bournemouth had three after Alexis Mac Allister’s red card had presented the Cherries with a man advantage. The Reds conceded 2.7 big chances per game last season and were averaging four after two matches this term.

An error from Trent Alexander-Arnold enabled Anthony Gordon to open the scoring in the following fixture. However, something strange then occurred, and not just a red card for Virgil van Dijk three minutes later.

Liverpool has played over four hours of league football since going 1-0 down to Newcastle and in that time the clear-cut chance count in its matches is 10-0 in its favor. Darwin Núñez sealed a dramatic win from one at St James’ Park, before the Reds amassed five and four without reply against Aston Villa and Wolves respectively.

This remarkable run needs to be put into context. In only four of its 52 matches last season did Liverpool not allow a clear-cut chance, and none of the instances occurred in consecutive fixtures. Bear in mind too that the current streak has been compiled with the club’s first-choice central defenders collectively playing for about 10 minutes (plus stoppage time in Ibrahima Konaté’s case).

Even so, there are caveats to apply. Matheus Cunha would’ve had a clear-cut chance against the Reds last weekend had he actually taken a shot and not used a combination of his head and stomach to do something else instead. There’s also the fact that Opta’s classification is subjective, and while it double checks its data, what one person might consider a big chance the official data provider might not.

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