The Reds finally returned last weekend with a subdued performance against Everton as the Merseyside Derby saw it’s third consecutive 0-0 at Goodison Park. LFC Transfer Room writer Liam Grimshaw (@LFCLiamGrimshaw) takes a look at the performance from Liverpool after many months absent from the pitch, compared to other breaks.
Following the return of football across Europe over the last few weeks, it’s been evident that the vast majority of players have taken at least one game to get back to anything like their best. This was once again on display in the derby, which saw only one real chance created – and even that was for the home side as Tom Davies hit the post late on.
This raises the question, is there any real need to worry for Jurgen Klopp and his men? Realistically, no. There are still eight games remaining and only five points needed to secure a first Premier League title. However, many fans are of the opinion that the Reds always seem to be slightly off the pace on the back of a long break, so lets take a look and see if the numbers support that claim.
It’s worth noting that I have used a sample size of three games following an international break as most Liverpool players represent their country, and therefore still feature in competitive games during the international breaks. However, after the winter break, I used a larger sample size as it’s more reflective of the break we’ve had over lockdown.
2018/19 Champions League final – won
The last game of the 2018/19 Premier League season came on 12th May, meaning both Liverpool and Spurs had a three-week gap between their last league game and the Champions League final. Looking back on the game, it’s clear to see neither side was at their best, and the Reds were able to use their early goal advantage to soak up pressure for the vast majority of the match before Divock Origi’s late goal confirmed number six.
As this was just one game, it’s difficult to come to a conclusion, so let’s take a look at how the Reds have coped on the back of breaks throughout this season.
Combined xG: 1.26 – 1.18
2019/20 September international break – two wins, no draws, one loss
After the first international break of the season the Reds welcomed Newcastle United to Anfield and were dealt a fright following Jetro Willems early strike. Luckliy, the Reds dominance proved decisive as a Roberto Firmino and Mo Salah masterclass earned a 3-1 win. An undeserved loss to Napoli followed before the Reds conquered Chelsea at Stamford Bridge thanks to some clinical finishing.
Combined xG: 4.75 – 3.69
2019/20 October international break – two wins, one draw, no losses
The second international break of the season saw Liverpool return to action against Manchester United, and for all United’s defensive efforts, Adam Lallana managed to salvage a late draw for the Reds. Following this minor slip-up, they instantly returned to winning ways starting with a 4-1 dismantling of Genk and a 2-1 win against Spurs.
Combined xG: 6.01 – 3.61
2019/20 November international break – two wins, one draw, no losses
The Reds returned from the second international break with a 2-1 win at Selhurst Park; a scrappy late Firmino goal enough for the three points. A 1-1 Anfield draw against Napoli followed, before a hard-fought win against Brighton following Alisson’s late dismissal.
Combined xG: 4.42 – 2.61
2019/20 winter break – three wins, no draws, three losses (excluding the FA Cup game against Chelsea)
Earlier this season the Premier League introduced the first ever winter break, something that Klopp has consistently pushed for. Following the break fans expected to see the Reds fully rested, fit and raring to go, but that’s not what they got. The first game back after the break was a 1-0 win away at Norwich, where the Reds struggled to breakdown the team at the foot of the table. It took an impressive finish by substitute Sadio Mane for Klopp’s side to walk away with all three points. Three days later the Reds fell to a 1-0 loss against Atletico Madrid, another game which the Reds struggled to create any chances of note. In fairness, it’s more expected to struggle away to Atletico than it is to Norwich.
The Reds returned to winning ways against West Ham in a 3-2 win that flattered the visitors, before suffering their first league loss of the season to Watford, this was followed by another home win against Bournemouth. The last game before lockdown saw arguably one of the best performances of the season, which ultimately, and rather unfortunately, ended in elimination from the Champions League at the hands of Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid.
Combined xG: 10.8 – 6.67
Looking back on international breaks this season, Liverpool haven’t looked at their best, but have still been the dominant team and deserved to win (evident in the Newcastle, Man United and Crystal Palace games).
However, the return from the winter break raised a few question marks. Opportunities were few and far against both Norwich and Atletico Madrid. Having (undeservedly) fallen behind to West Ham at home, it took a late Sadio Mane goal to secure the win. The bumps in the road didn’t stop there, the loss at Vicarage Road could be considered one of the worst performances under Klopp, the team created no chances (the highest xG from a single chance in the game was 0.07) and looked far from convincing at the back. Due to the dominance of this Liverpool side, even when creativity is lacking, they still dictate proceedings and play the game at their pace – this simply wasn’t the case at Vicarage Road.
Following the loss, the home games against Bournemouth and Atletico represented a return to form for Klopp’s side, which was roughly 3-4 weeks after the winter break ended.
Based on performances coming after a break this season, the results are generally what you’d expect, however the performances often leave a lot to be desired. Once again the effects of a long(er than usual) break were evident against Everton, we’ll have to wait and see whether the team looks sharper against Crystal Palace on Wednesday.
Fortunately the league is all but wrapped up for Klopp’s side thanks to their blistering form before lockdown, so any upcoming bumps shouldn’t leave fans worrying too much.