ESPN posted a pretty interesting article detailing the crazy bad luck Liverpool have had this season. I would have just linked to it, but they stuck it behind the "insider" wall, so F them.
There is a common theme across team sports when it comes to offense: The closer you can get the ball to where you need to go, the more successful you will be. In basketball it means getting shots near the hoop. In football it means starting your possessions in good field position. In hockey it means getting the puck close to the net. And so on.
In soccer, it's no different. The teams that set themselves up with the most opportunities close to their opponent's goal will almost always be more successful than those that don't. This seems simple in theory, but in practice it's quite difficult. Obviously opponents will not just allow a team to set up shop inside their penalty area and hope for the best. It wouldn't be much of a game if they did.
It requires a certain amount of teamwork to penetrate a defense, but more importantly, it necessitates quality athletes and decision-makers on the pitch. Once you make it to as high a level as the Premier League, it becomes less about the X's and the O's and more about the Jimmys and Joes. This is seen clearly in the correlation between spending and winning in the EPL, which is higher than in any of the major American sports leagues.
Then, of course, there are always teams that buck the trend.
Liverpool entered the season having spent most of the $80 million it received from Chelsea via the Fernando Torres transfer on a potpourri of new players. In came Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam, joining Andrew Carroll and Luis Suarez, who were signed less than a year ago. Off the field, the Reds were doing everything necessary to win.
But in an unpredictable manner, Liverpool has endured arguably its most forgettable season on the field as a member of the Premier League.
The Reds are in eighth place, behind archrival Everton, and miles away from the side they thought they would be entering the year. The Reds have been great outside the EPL, winning the League Cup and are set to face Chelsea in the FA Cup final on Saturday, but in the league their results have left a lot to be desired.
So naturally, you would think the Reds have been poor at getting good looks close to the goal, right?
As it turns out, they have been staggeringly efficient at getting the ball near their opponent's goal and keeping it away from their own. While the top three in the table -- Man City, Man United and Arsenal -- are also the top three in passes completed into the penalty area, it's Liverpool that comes in surprisingly at fourth. The Reds have completed 570 passes into the box, 226 more than Newcastle, despite trailing the Magpies by 16 points in the current table.
Even more unbelievable, the Reds have allowed the fewest number of completed passes into their own box in the entire league.
So how can a team that is so good at penetrating defenses and at not being breached itself be so far out of contention?
For starters, the Reds have had been incredibly unlucky. They have had a league-high 29 shots denied by the woodwork, 10 more than any other club. Conversely, their opponents have hit the post only six times. This is the biggest spread in the big-five European leagues.
Certainly this has adversely affected the Reds' results, but the real reason they are stuck in the middle of the table is their dreadful shooting inside the area. So far this season, Liverpool has scored on a mere 9.1 percent of its shots inside the penalty box, nearly two full percentage points behind the next-worst squad and more than five percentage points off the league average. For context, if Liverpool would have converted its shots inside the box at the league-average rate, it would have scored 19 more goals this season, a 44 percent increase in scoring.
On the other side of the field, Liverpool's opponents have been finding the net on a league-high 18.2 percent of their shots. If Liverpool's opponents had converted their shots inside the box at the league-average rate, the Reds would have allowed seven fewer goals this season.
All together, if Liverpool and its opponents had been scoring at the league-average rate on their shots inside the penalty area, the Reds would be plus-31 on goal differential, solidly in third place behind the Manchester squads.
As a good example of Liverpool's struggles in the penalty area, look no further than the team's struggles on penalty shots. To date, the Reds have been awarded five penalties (right at the league average, for those conspiracy theorists out there), but have converted only once. Meanwhile, their opponents have also been awarded five PK's, but have been successful four times. If we flipped teams, that would have been a six-goal swing toward the Reds in only 10 shots.
There is little the Reds can do this late in the season to change the trend. Surely winning the League Cup/FA Cup double will give them momentum heading into next season. But a domestic campaign of wasted chances will stay with this team for a long time.