Why cutting down on crosses isn’t the answer for Liverpool – Opinion

There are a whole host of potential reasons as to why Liverpool’s usual method of producing goals just isn’t working out for them at the moment.

Ranging from the injury to key man Virgil van Dijk to Trent Alexander-Arnold’s poor form, there are a mire of excuses that the club could bury themselves in, but the fact of the matter is that something has to change.

Our current approach of pinging hopeful crosses into the box, as if we had former signings Andy Carroll and Christian Benteke looming over the keeper, just isn’t going to cut it – or so some claim.

The closest the Reds came to scoring in the Burnley defeat – beyond Origi’s one-on-one with Nick Pope – was when Andy Robertson and Bobby Firmino linked up with a lovely one-two in the 18-yard box, offering the Brazilian a generous sight of the goal.

It’s a moment in which you’d have expected a top Premier League striker to at least hit the target, but sadly the No.9 fluffed his effort and the ball fizzled harmlessly out of play.

Now, can you remember a situation in that match in which a cross led to a genuine goalscoring opportunity? It’s a somewhat unfair question, of course, given that our right-back had a particularly torrid time with his crosses on the night.

Nonetheless, you’d find few who’d argue against the fact that Liverpool’s fullbacks remain two of our most potent threats going forward.

That being said, recent critique has boldly claimed that we can’t continue to rely on crossing going into the second-half of the season, particularly against sides who play the low block as effectively as Sean Dyche’s Clarets.

Advising Liverpool to cut out crossing from its style of play is virtually akin to asking a leopard to change its spots – the two are very much part and parcel, as is demonstrated by the club’s stats from the current and prior season.

This term, Klopp’s men have registered 461 crosses, 36 more than West Ham, who come second in the list; in 2019/20, we were just under Manchester City’s winning total of 914, only 18 crosses shy, according to the Premier League’s statistics.

Last term, Alexander-Arnold (382) and Robertson (210) were responsible for over 66{3851c0879557ceb6c70cddb6630c7df9a9750acfd53fffec21979e603af26faa} of the side’s crosses, a figure that has admittedly dropped (52.36{3851c0879557ceb6c70cddb6630c7df9a9750acfd53fffec21979e603af26faa}) this season.

But let’s dive a little deeper into this: in 2019/20, the English fullback (81) and Robbo (41) registered a combined total of 122 successful crosses, according to figures from Kickest, meaning that only 20.6{3851c0879557ceb6c70cddb6630c7df9a9750acfd53fffec21979e603af26faa} of that 66{3851c0879557ceb6c70cddb6630c7df9a9750acfd53fffec21979e603af26faa} figure actually found their target (or at least one of their teammates).

That shouldn’t frighten you, as according to research conducted by Soccerment, “the average cross accuracy [across Europe’s top five leagues] is 23.5{3851c0879557ceb6c70cddb6630c7df9a9750acfd53fffec21979e603af26faa}.”

Now, I know what you’re thinking: that’s a hell of a lot of numbers you’ve just thrown so recklessly at us there. But hear me out.

Given the seemingly inexplicable impotence of our forward line in recent weeks – and the much-celebrated importance of our fullbacks to our attacks – you’d be forgiven for thinking Trent and Robertson are to blame.

Fast-forward to this season, however, and the numbers are quite intriguing, to say the least.

Our No.26 (40) has nearly reached his total from last year, whilst Alexander-Arnold (26) has floundered at the halfway mark, producing a combined total of 66 successful crosses… from 310 attempted (174 and 136 respectively) – that comes to 21.29{3851c0879557ceb6c70cddb6630c7df9a9750acfd53fffec21979e603af26faa}.

The percentage score is actually higher than the score amassed last term; even more intriguing is the fact that Trent’s success rate for crosses has dipped ever so slightly from 21.20{3851c0879557ceb6c70cddb6630c7df9a9750acfd53fffec21979e603af26faa} in 2019/20 to 19.11{3851c0879557ceb6c70cddb6630c7df9a9750acfd53fffec21979e603af26faa} in 2020/21. Fascinatingly, our Scot’s rate helped pick up the slack, rising from 19.52{3851c0879557ceb6c70cddb6630c7df9a9750acfd53fffec21979e603af26faa} in 2019/20 to 22.98{3851c0879557ceb6c70cddb6630c7df9a9750acfd53fffec21979e603af26faa} in 2020/21.

For a player undergoing his worst spell at the club, savaged for his allegedly limited impact from the wing this term, you’d have thought that Trent’s crossing accuracy would have taken a more notable hit, no?

Let’s compare these figures more broadly.

If we combine the success rates of both fullbacks’ crosses, season-to-season, we end up with a score of 20.6{3851c0879557ceb6c70cddb6630c7df9a9750acfd53fffec21979e603af26faa} in 2019/20 compared to 21.29{3851c0879557ceb6c70cddb6630c7df9a9750acfd53fffec21979e603af26faa} this season!

Robbo may be picking up the slack, but our fullbacks have actually improved, in combination, from the prior term.

I’ll be the first to say that their value is indicated by more than just their crossing ability of course, but it does arguably dispel the myth around Trent and Andy’s crossing success and, in turn, raises questions about what our forwards have been doing with the balls sent their way.

It’s a lot to take in, and even then I still feel like I’m just scratching the surface of the statistics and the alternative questions that arise.

For instance, is it possible that the successful crosses haven’t been placed in as dangerous areas as the prior season?

Paradoxically, statistics can be massively illuminating whilst also blinding one to the truth of their eyes.

We’ll be paying close attention to our crossing this Sunday, though I have a feeling the tie with Manchester United will only serve to further prove that the flaw in Liverpool’s approach is largely unrelated to our propensity for crossing.

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