It’s our year this season – no mention of that in my vicinity!!

16/11/2019 Planet FPL

With the third and final International break of the year upon us I thought it was an ideal time to write my latest article on Liverpool for The PlanetFPLPod.

Already pundits and the Twitter community alike are under the impression that Liverpool have already more or less wrapped up the Premier League this season following their victory over City at Anfield last Sunday. Do I believe this? Quite simply – No! There are too many games left in the season for me to even entertain that idea. Ask me again in March and I may have changed my opinion but right now my feet are firmly planted to the floor. The lead is 8 points over Leicester and Chelsea and 9 over City. There are still 26 matches left to play (78 points available) so there is potential for lots to happen over the remainder of the season. Yes City have their problems defensively but I wouldn’t be surprised if they got 20+ wins in the next 26 matches. Leicester and Chelsea have been doing extraordinarily well but I still think that City will be the main challengers come the later part of the season.

So where does this leave us now from an FPL perspective looking at the upcoming fixtures for the Reds? Lots of talk on Twitter about tripling up on Liverpool and should it be Mane or Salah plus 2 defensive options or even Salah, Mane and 1 defender? There can be arguments made for either strategy so I’ll put forward my thoughts on each

Salah Vs Mane

At the time of writing Mane has 35.2 % ownership whilst Salah has 27.1% ownership. There is also now only £0.2m difference in price with Mane having risen to £12.1m whilst Salah has dropped to £12.3m. At the start of the season I firmly believed that Salah was worth the extra £1m spend over his team mate. Obviously, as we all know Salah has been carrying an ankle injury ever since the Leicester game when Choudhury decided to cynically hack him down. This is obviously a huge factor in the ownership of each player as many FPL managers are rightly concerned around Salah’s injury.

Form wise you can’t argue that Mane is the better option and if like me you swapped Salah for Mane early you have reaped the rewards. I wildcarded in GW 8 and at the time Mane was £11.6m and Salah was £12.5m. Since then Mane has scored 38 points which is exactly double Salah has produced over the same period – 19 points. Lucky I guess!

So going forward who is the better option?

This ankle injury for me is a worry and these kinds of injuries in my opinion are difficult to shake off especially given the way Salah plays and his strengths – sharp turns, acceleration and taking on opponents. This was highlighted in the City game when he tried to dribble past Fernandinho and again aggravated the injury after an aggressive but fair challenge from the City man.

Given Mane’s superior form and Salah’s injury I would confidently say that Mane is the better option but I would be very reluctant to double up on the Liverpool wingers until we know more about the Egyptian’s injury. Recent news has told us that he has been assessed by the national team doctors and pulled out of the upcoming matches. He has also had a cast/boot put on his ankle. That being said, if Salah’s injury is not too serious and he is good to go for GW 13 then I would still opt for the double defensive cover for the upcoming Game weeks.

I know lots of managers are toying with the idea of losing the likes of Sterling or De Bruyne to bring in Salah or Mane for an attacking double up. For me this is madness. Do we really think that City are that bad? I am pretty sure that City will again score the most goals over the course of the season and not having offensive coverage for them seems a risky strategy. Yes they have a difficult run of fixtures but surely City are fixture proof (especially from an attacking perspective). Looking at the teams stats courtesy of City are top in all statistics relating to the probability of scoring goals. See the table below.

  Man City Liverpool Chelsea
Shots 258 199 204
xG 35.39 27.31 26.47
Big Chances 56 39 38
Goals 35 28 27
Chances Created 199 155 157
Big Chances Created 46 33 28
xA 32.52 23.62 21.49
Assists 32 24 23

Where have the clean sheets gone?

A lot has been made about the lack of clean sheets that Liverpool have managed so far this season especially given the 21 they racked up last season. The injuries to Alisson and Matip have probably had an impact on this but I’m not entirely convinced that this is the reason the clean sheets have dried up. Yes Alisson is a phenomenal GK and any team would miss him in the back line. He simply instils confidence into his team mates by his sheer presence. He has great positional sense and supremely confident with the ball at his feet. Matip on the other hand is much better on the ball than Lovren and Gomez but I would argue he is a better defender than either of these. I have said for a long time now that I’d be confident with whoever partners Virgil at the back as he makes others around him look/perform better.

What has been most frustrating for Liverpool defensive owners is that only a single goal has been conceded in all 10 games they have conceded in -2 clean sheets.

I did a bit of digging into Liverpool’s clean sheets from last season to try and figure out where it has all gone wrong. Is it the higher defensive line? Is it the swapping and changing of VVD’s Centre back partner? Is it Alisson’s injury? Is it the midfield 3 in front of them? Or is it the opponents?

Looking at last season’s clean sheets there are a couple of consistencies. Alisson, VVD and Robertson started all 21 games when they kept a CS. However, in those games there is a really variation in the other 2 players in the back line. These included TAA, Lovren, Matip, Milner and even Fabinho (partnered VVD at CB away to Brighton). This season there has been more consistency in the back line and the midfield 3 than last season so maybe this isn’t the issue.

As previously mentioned Adrian came in for 7 games due to Alisson’s injury and other than the clanger at Southampton I don’t think he was really at fault for any of the other goals he conceded. He did keep 2 clean sheets in this 7 game period whereas Alisson hasn’t managed to do so in the 5 he has played. So maybe it isn’t Alisson’s absence.

Is it the opponents they have faced? This could be the answer. 12 of Liverpool’s clean sheets last season came home and away against 6 teams – None of which Liverpool have faced so far this season. On top of that in the corresponding fixtures last season to who Liverpool have played so far this season (omitting the newly promoted clubs) they only kept 3 clean sheets. These were City at home, in a 0-0 draw, where Mahrez missed a last minute penalty. Newcastle at home, a 4-0 win. It could have been a similar story this year if it wasn’t for an absolute worldie from Jethro Willems. And finally the 0-0 draw away to United. In these 9 games the record reads scored 19 and conceded 6. This season the record is scored 21 and conceded 8. Not too dissimilar.

Yes, I am aware that this is a new season but it is definitely something to consider given their record against the teams they have played this season in the corresponding fixtures last season. Let’s not forget that Liverpool have played some tricky matches this season against some of the highest free scoring clubs. City, Leicester, Chelsea, Tottenham, Villa, Burnley, United, Arsenal and Wolves are the highest scoring clubs so far this season. Liverpool have faced them all in the opening 12 games bar Wolves.

Looking at the upcoming fixtures there is reason for optimism in my opinion with regards to the likelihood of clean sheets. In the corresponding fixtures last season for Liverpool’s next 7 opponents they managed to keep 6 clean sheets, boasting a record of scoring 17 and only conceding 1 goal. Only Leicester managed to score in a 2-1 Liverpool win at the King Power. Incidentally 5 of these 7 opponents failed to score against Liverpool both home and away last season (10 clean sheets).

Another theory I explored was if teams were ‘having a go’ more when they face Liverpool believing that even if they ‘park the bus’ they will inevitably be breached, especially at Anfield. The 2 newly promoted clubs Norwich and Aston Villa are 2 prime examples of this. Without looking at stats I can’t really remember any games? (apart from United) where teams have been reluctant to attack us. This wasn’t the case last year where very often teams would sit really deep and hope for a counter attack or a set-piece to nick a goal.

As we all know stats can be manipulated in several ways to show a bias in the outcome but in Liverpool’s next seven matches I would expect 4+ clean sheets. So those who have stuck to the Liverpool defensive triple up (If there is anyone left) may finally benefit from their persistency.

Robertson V Alexander-Arnold

If tripling up on Liverpool is not your intention then you probably have the dilemma of who to select as your defender – Robertson or Alexander-Arnold. From an FPL perspective there is very little in it. Robbo has 57 points whilst Trent has 52 points. They have played 90 minutes in all 11 games, both have scored a goal and both have 4 clean sheets. Robertson has 2 extra bonus points whilst Trent has 3 more bookings. This is where the 5 points difference is accounted for.

Form wise Robertson is clearly ahead having scored once and had 4 assists in the last 8 games. Trent on the other hand has only had 1 goal and 1 assist over the same period. With Trent’s value rising over the opening weeks to £7.2m he is £0.2m more expensive than the Scot. Week after week the community is growing more and more frustrated with TAA given the amount of chances he is creating but not reaping the rewards. In my mind the £0.2m extra for TAA is worth it and if both stay fit for the duration of the season I have no doubt that he will outscore his team mate by 20+ points. From the eye test and the underlying stats Trent remains an absolute machine with double digit hauls seemingly just round the corner. Why not have both?

I for one am seriously considering bringing in Robertson to accompany Trent and Sadio. My only slight reservation is the blank GW 18 when Liverpool travel to Qatar for the World Club Cup. If you still have your Wildcard in hand then this is easier to navigate but I will try to do this by taking a couple of hits or just benching my Liverpool assets for this GW.

Others to consider for the Christmas period

Alisson (£5.9m) – I have mentioned in a previous article that I don’t think Alisson is a consideration. At £5.9m I think he is too expensive to consider and I would rather pay a little extra for VVD or risk one of the cheaper defenders of Lovren, Matip or Gomez depending who is fit and flavour of the month.

Keita (5.8m) – A lot was made pre-season as to whether the Guinean could step up and make 1 of those midfield slots his. Again an injury hit season as limited him to just 14 Premier League minutes so he is definitely a No.

Oxlade-Chamberlain (6.2m) – A lot like Keita this had potential to be a break out season for the Ox following his own injury woes. He has only started 2 games in the PL so far this season but has shown glimpses of brilliance in the Champions League scoring 3 goals in his last 2 appearances. He is one to watch and could be a cheap option if he can stay fit and manage to break into the starting XI.

Firmino (£9.4m) – Again I have previously spoken about Firmino, in particularly his streakiness. As a Liverpool fan I absolutely love Bobby and his influence on this team is often understated. However, With the likes of Jimenez, Vardy and Abraham all being cheaper and more consistent I feel Firmino is better left and a Liverpool slot used on 3 of the following players  Alexander-Arnold, Robertson, Van Dijk, Mane or Salah.

In conclusion my advice would be to double up in defence and choose one of either Salah or Mane, but probably Mane.