Liverpool might be the only unbeaten team in the Premier League this season, and on their longest run without a loss in all competitions for 32 years, but thoughts can’t help but persist that they should be in a stronger position than they are.
The Reds had half a match against Chelsea when they were down to 10 men, then took the lead twice against both Brentford and Manchester City but ultimately drew all three games.
It means that with 18 points they have ‘only’ made their fifth-best start across the opening eight matches of a Premier League campaign. Liverpool had amassed 20 points by this stage in 1996/97, 2008/09 and 2018/19, and 24 in the season in which they won the title.
Not that bettering history counts for much, of course. Being ahead of the other 19 teams in the division is all that will matter when the final ball is kicked just before 6pm on May 22nd. The best way to ensure that this can happen is to have strong underlying numbers and in this regard, the Reds are bettering many of their past seasons from the analytical era.
The standard method of assessing performance these days is to look at expected goals, a mathematical model which assigns a value to a shot based on the historical likelihood of a similar opportunity resulting in a goal.
When it comes to their attack, Liverpool have rarely been better. Per Understat, Jürgen Klopp’s side have amassed 20.55 expected goals so far this season, the most they have mustered at this point of a full season under his command.
And this isn’t just an impressive return for the opening weeks of a campaign, but for any octet of matches full stop. Liverpool have had 220 previous batches of eight league games in the Klopp era, and their xG was greater than 20.55 for just five of them (and only two that didn’t start and finish in different seasons).
The defensive record isn’t quite so elite, but it remains in decent shape. The 8.16 expected goals the Reds have allowed their combined opponents is a definite improvement on the 10.06 that had been accrued at this point in 2020/21, but more than at this stage of three of the four campaigns prior to that.
However, as the attack is so potent the difference between the two figures at the front and back of the team is the best it has been after eight games of a Klopp season, and the best within a single campaign since the middle of 2019/20.
These numbers are important, but it’s also hugely relevant to look at how many shots on target a team has and allows. This more simplistic analysis also allows for a deeper dive into history, where expected goals have only been common parlance in more recent times.
Liverpool have fired off 61 attempts on target so far this season. It gives them a very healthy average of 7.6 per match, and their draw with City is the only game in which they’ve had fewer than six shots on target.
You have to look back 12 years to find the last time the Reds started a new season so strongly on this front, and back to the winter of 2018 for the last time they did this well in any stretch of eight games. It may seem hard to believe, but at no point in Liverpool’s 44-match unbeaten run did they have 61 shots on target across eight games.
The pattern in defence matches what we saw with expected goals — better than last season if not quite as strong as several of the years prior to that.
But in none of the previous 13 seasons did Liverpool have a better shots on target difference after eight games than that which they currently possess. Rafa Benitez, Roy Hodgson, Kenny Dalglish, Brendan Rodgers and Klopp himself all fell short of the standard the Reds have set in the early weeks of 2021/22.
And as previously noted it’s more important to better their current peers than the Reds of the past, and Liverpool have no worries there. Their shots on target difference of 37 is nine ahead of City and a stunning 31 clear of league leaders Chelsea. The Reds’ results have occasionally left a little to be desired but there’s no doubt their overall performance has been that of potential champions.