2015 has seen a remarkable turnaround in the fortunes of Liverpool’s Premier League season. But there is evidence to suggest the improvement in the league form of Brendan Rogers’ side begun a few weeks earlier; strangely enough from the point that they lost 3-0 to Manchester United at Old Trafford.
What changed? Well although the match against their oldest rivals produced a miserable performance, it did mark the change in formation from 4-2-3-1 to the 3-4-3 set-up that has provided the 19-time English champions with the foundation for success in the new year.
In terms of playing style, the new formation seems to have encouraged the Reds to limit the number of long balls they attempted each match. In the period before the Manchester United game, Liverpool averaged 9.1 build-up moves classed as ‘long ball style’ per game, whereas in the latter part of the season that average is down to 4.9.
They also appear to be a goal threat from a larger number of scoring methods. After the sumptuous long range efforts from Jordan Henderson and Philippe Coutinho against Manchester City at the weekend, Liverpool now average 0.3 goals per game from shots taken outside of the box, this compares strikingly with the 0.1 average from the previous period.
Furthermore, Liverpool had not scored a single goal from a cross in the league this season in open play, up until the period following the Manchester United game. They have rectified this, with a total of four coming from crosses in the timeframe since.
Conversely, in defence they seem to have found an ability to deal with crosses more effectively. In the first period, Liverpool conceded an average of 0.20 goals per game from crosses – since the watershed moment at United, that figure is down to 0.08.
Of course, personnel is an influence as well. Mamadou Sakho has thrived in the new system as one of three centre-backs, usually playing with Martin Skertel and Emre Can. This could also be reflected in the data on ‘lost possession’. Previously, Liverpool conceded 0.73 goals per game by giving the ball away to the opposition, they have now decreased this number to 0.42.
Going forward, the return of Daniel Sturridge from injury has given their frontline added potency and forwards Coutinho (who has 4 goals and 4 assists since the formation change) and Adam Lailana seem to have found a new lease of life within the new structure. Chance creation has improved a result – since the United game the Reds create an average of 4.9 medium-high chances per game, compared to 3.2 prior to it.
If midfield star Raheem Sterling can rekindle the form which saw him linked with the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona earlier in the season, Liverpool could be returning to the competition which made them a global force – the Champions League.