Liverpool simply cannot score right now. That’s the upshot of the Pool Boys’ latest four-game winless streak, one that has seen the club go nearly six hours without slotting the ball into the back of the net in Premier League play. Seemingly overnight, all of the club’s many shooters have forgotten how to hit the target, and the resulting funk has dropped Liverpool into fourth place in this highly competitive, highly chaotic season.
The latest exercise in futility came on Sunday, when then-second-place Liverpool hosted still-first-place Manchester United in what was an entertaining, if frustrating, 0–0 draw. The top-line stats might seem to imply an easy Liverpool victory: The Reds had 66 percent of the possession, a passing accuracy of 86 percent compared to United’s 73, and a total shots advantage of 17 to United’s eight. But though Liverpool shot more often, the Red Devils shot better, hitting the target four times to Liverpool’s three, and arguably having the better chances on the day.
The biggest culprit for Liverpool’s scoring woes on Sunday was Roberto Firmino. While Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané struggled to even get a sniff of the ball in good positions from the wings, Firmino had his pick of runs into the box. However, in five attempts on goal, the Brazilian troubled United goalkeeper David de Gea only once. That’s not what you want from your No. 9, even one as versatile as Firmino.
Though Firmino was the most profligate Pool Boy on Sunday, the errant shooting during this dismal stretch extends to the whole team. In its last four games, Liverpool has picked up a mere three points. That’s three draws, against Man United, Newcastle and West Bromwich Albion, and a 1–0 loss to Southampton. Liverpool has scored just one goal in that stretch, a 12th minute Mané strike against West Brom. In that time the Reds have sent in 62 shots, only 10 of which have found the target.
Put another way, Liverpool’s one goal in 62 shot attempts gives the team a 1.6 percent conversion rate over the past four games. Extrapolated over the entire season, that would be more than twice as bad a rate as Burnley’s league-low four percent. Liverpool, the club that scored 85 goals last season and boasts the most-lauded front three in world soccer, has in the past couple weeks been worse at scoring than long ball, rough-and-tumble soccer merchants. It’s a small sample, but it’s still a testament to how bleak it has gotten.
The problem with Liverpool’s current set-up is that it requires at least two of the front three to be playing at levels at least approaching “good,” if not always great. One of the three can have a slump, but if all three struggle at the same time, the team becomes predictable and sluggish. Unfortunately, the bench doesn’t have any answers right now. This exact situation is why the club signed Diogo Jota in the summer, but the Portuguese winger is reportedly still a few weeks away from returning from a knee injury sustained in early December. Beyond Jota, Divock Origi, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Shaqiri all have their roles in the attack, but none of them bring the mixture of creativity, pace, and finishing that the usual front three do when in form.
If there is a solution on the squad, it might be from the midfield. Thiago, recently recovered from injury, was the best player on the pitch in Sunday’s match, and his ability to both relieve pressure and make incisive passes should open up space for the front three to move into better positions for better chances. Similarly, any time when Jordan Henderson can play in midfield instead of at emergency center back, as he did on Sunday, would bring a boost to the fluidity of the side going forward. And though his shooting was poor against United, Shaqiri does seem to thrive in that advanced central role supporting the front three.
This season is a mess for everyone, so it’s hard to fault Liverpool’s attackers for the goal drought, given the combination of England’s usual December traffic jam of fixtures and the further schedule crunching caused by the coronavirus. As is the case with Chelsea, drawing any long term conclusions—like, say, that Liverpool should replace one of the front three with someone like Jadon Sancho—from the events of this season doesn’t seem wise. Still, it’s clear that something is not working for Liverpool right now. Whatever the solution manager Jürgen Klopp settles on, he’ll have to put it into motion soon, or else Liverpool’s first title defense since 1991 will sputter out like its many shots did on Sunday.