If you had seen the scoreline of Liverpool’s visit to Manchester City earlier in the week without having watched the match, you would have been forgiven for thinking that it was a bit of a mauling.
In reality, the contest was a perfect summing up of each respective side’s season so far, and Kenny Dalglish found exactly the right word to describe the difference between the sides when interviewed immediately after the game: clinical.
Man City were, Liverpool weren’t.
On the balance of play, Liverpool coped well with City. Stewart Downing could have opened the scoring for the Reds even before Sergio Aguero’s speculative strike dipped under the body of Pepe Reina to make it 1-0 early on.
And Liverpool’s play continued to impress even after going behind and looked capable of getting back into the game until Yaya Toure doubled the home team’s advantage.
From that moment on, Man City didn’t need to take risks pursuing further additions to the scoreline and while Liverpool tried desperately to find a way back into the game, there was the absence of a cutting edge up front, as there has been all season.
There have been contentious decisions along the way, such as disallowed goals scored by Andy Carroll against Sunderland, which would given Liverpool a 2-0 lead in a game eventually finishing 1-1, and Luis Suarez at Fulham, wrongly chalked off for offside with Liverpool in the ascendancy and the scores level. A late Fulham goal sent Liverpool back to Merseyside without even a point.
That game at Craven Cottage also included the controversial sending off of Jay Spearing, but Liverpool benefitted from an equally poor decision during the Merseyside derby when Jack Rodwell was wrongly dismissed.
Liverpool can’t complain about their league position or points tally based on a couple of costly errors by the officials though. Every team will suffer some injustices over a season, even if not all prove to be costly.
Nor can Liverpool claim that they’ve been on the end of too much bad luck. Sure, they were unlucky not to claim stoppage time goals against both Norwich and Man City thanks to world class goalkeeping in denying winning goals for Suarez and Carroll respectively.
Instead it is down to the quality of the team’s finishing. It’s not bad luck to miss four out of five penalties, with four different players guilty of failing from the spot, and although hitting the post or crossbar can often be deemed unlucky, it certainly can’t be said for a club to achieve such a feat no less than 18 times in half a season. That is clearly more an indication of inaccurate finishing than simple misfortune.
Yet there have been many positives throughout the season for Liverpool. Their general play and ability to create chances has been impressive to the point that in almost every game in which they’ve drawn, they would have been worthy winners.
The same can even be said of their defeat to Stoke, in which Liverpool failed to put away any of their 20 shots at goal and went down to a penalty scored at the other end, Stoke’s only shot on target in the entire match.
Indeed in Liverpool’s 20 league matches so far, just three have involved them enjoying less possession than their opponents, only four games have resulted in Liverpool having fewer shots on goal, and only three game saw the Reds register fewer corners than the opposition.
Statistics don’t always tell the whole truth but in Liverpool’s case they show up exactly where Liverpool’s weakness has been and the reason why they are competing for fourth place rather than the title: the team is simply not clinical enough in front of goal.
If the problem isn’t addressed quickly, it threatens to undermine the undoubted progress being made under Dalglish.