Liverpool had a September to forget with Jürgen Klopp’s men winning just one of their seven matches. It came as a blow after an impressive start to the season, going five matches unbeaten in all competitions while putting on quite the masterclass in the 4-0 destruction of Arsenal at Anfield.
The drop-off is alarming. Not just dropped points but the decrease in goals being scored. They found the back of the net 14 times in the first five matches but managed just the eight goals in the following seven games.
The Reds had 52 shots in the matches against Burnley and Newcastle United but for all their efforts they added just the two goals to their season tally. This underwhelming run of form has left many supporters contemplating whether the decision to not bring in a striker this summer was a negligent one, and something that may haunt them as the season progresses.
There was talk that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Thomas Müller were being targeted but neither move materialised. Timo Werner was named as a Liverpool transfer target in May but the Merseyside club concentrated their efforts on his RB Leipzig teammate Naby Keïta.
Liverpool watched on idly as Manchester United and Chelsea spent £70million each on Romelu Lukaku and Álvaro Morata while Arsenal broke their transfer record to finally bring Alexandre Lacazette to the Premier League. There was plenty of quality on offer this summer, but nobody was coming cheaply.
Instead Liverpool parted with a club record £39million to sign Mohamed Salah from Roma. The former Chelsea man scored 15 in Serie A last season and arrived to supplement Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mané and Philippe Coutinho in the Liverpool attack.
The aforementioned trio bagged 37 Premier League goals between them last season. In theory the addition of Salah would get them a lot closer to the 50 mark, something necessary with the team vying for a top four finish yet again.
The Reds have scored 13 goals in their seven league games at a rate of 1.8 per game on average. That average over the entirety of the season would see them finish with 70 goals, eight fewer than last season.
However, the sample size is small and it’s worth remembering they were without Coutinho for the opening few matches and then Mané was suspended due to his red card against Manchester City. You would expect the goals per game average to increase the more time the quartet spend on the pitch together.
Just how reliable are Liverpool in front of goal?
The best to judge this is to look at expected goals (xG). While shots in general look at quantity, xG look at the quality of chances the players are having. The high number of shots in matches Liverpool have failed to win show lack of patience more than anything.
When analysing Liverpool’s xG for the campaign so far you see that Mané, Firmino and Coutinho are all outperforming their totals. Only Salah is down on his xG number of 4.43. However, as a collective the quartet are +2.38 on the xG model in terms of goals in the Premier League.
So in a way they’re more clinical than they're given credit for. But at the same time context is needed. Coutinho’s goals against Leicester City and Newcastle account for 1.42 of that positive score. Can Liverpool rely on the Brazilian curling home worldies the the majority of the season to keep the four attackers above their xG score?
Klopp himself even acknowledges that he doesn’t have the most prolific attackers: “We are not crazy. But I'm really happy. We have Roberto Firmino, maybe not 25 goals but ask anyone in the Premier League and they will say ‘What a player.”
Firmino’s average conversion rate since joining Liverpool is 12 per cent and this season he’s coming in at 13 per cent. It means, currently, he’s on target to get around 12/13 goals again which is becoming the norm for him.
Salah’s conversion rate at Roma was 18 per cent and this season it’s been two per cent down. Mané’s was 22 per cent last season and he’s coming in at 25 per cent this season. Coutinho’s conversion rate is 11 per cent.
It means the Liverpool attackers are very much relying on volume in order to find the back of the net. They’re by no means a goal every one or two shots but it of course depends on the quality of the chance.
But for even more context – Morata, Lacazette, Lukaku, Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus all have a conversion rate of 22 per cent or higher. They’re not needing as many chances to score as the likes of Firmino, Salah and Coutinho.
While Mané is keeping pace in terms of his conversion rate, he’s averaging just the 2.54 shots per game while the strikers are averaging 4.13 shots per 90 minutes.
Could Klopp tweak the system to get Mané into areas which enable him to have more shots?
He could be a goal a game player and with Salah doing what he does best from the right hand side there would be goals in the attack on a regular basis and the Reds wouldn’t need to go out and sign a more recognised and ruthless striker. Firmino would have to be sacrificed but he could play more as an attacking midfielder. There are enough goals in this quartet, it’s just about maximising their potential.