Liverpool’s disconcertingly poor start to the season has been summed up in their away form.
Jurgen Klopp’s men head to Amsterdam on Tuesday night to take on Ajax in a crucial Champions League clash and they desperately need to stop the rot.
A win will confirm their place in the round of 16, but defeat takes them into the final day, where they may need a point against high-flying Napoli to advance.
Coming off a 1-0 loss at Nottingham Forest will hardly fill fans with confidence, so how bad is their form away from home and what is going on?
Mo Salah and company have been struggling away from home in all competitions
|games played||victories||raffles||Losses||goals for||goals against||Win %|
Rangers was the anomaly
The facts make for grim reading. Liverpool have only won one away game all season.
They absolutely thrashed Rangers last time out in the Champions League at Ibrox, beating them 7-1, but that result is a rare shining light.
Aside from the latest loss to relegation-threatened Forest, Liverpool were beaten by Arsenal in a game in which they were beaten, outplayed by Manchester United at Old Trafford and handily thrashed by Napoli.
Roberto Firmino had a field day in Liverpool’s only away win this season at Rangers
Draws at Everton and Fulham underscore the struggles of an almost unrecognizable side that was chasing a quadruple last season.
Their away winning percentage after seven away games is a dismal 14% compared to 86% in 2021-22.
That is by far the worst record at the same stage of the season since Klopp took over.
So what’s wrong?
No control from midfield
At Anfield, the Reds have tended to have a stronger control of games. Failures in concentration and a high line exploited by the opposition has led to occasional missed opportunities, but overall, there is control of the match.
Thiago is a big part of this. He pulls the strings and offers a constant output to turn up the tone.
With Liverpool dominating possession and teams happy to sit deep at Anfield, they are happy to dictate play.
Away from home, fans encourage teams to push higher up the pitch and Liverpool’s usual iron control of the match has weakened or, in some cases, evaporated altogether.
Jordan Henderson offers some solidity but has been lacking in Liverpool midfield
The 4-1 loss to Napoli was perhaps the most obvious example of this. A starting midfield of James Milner, Fabinho and Harvey Elliott was overrun and dominated.
Napoli played through the lines like a knife through butter, exposing Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold in particular, who seemed oddly dejected.
Liverpool’s rise in midfield has been crucial in taking the excitement out of away games in recent years.
But once the crowd senses blood and confidence rising in the opposition, it’s hard to regain that authority in the middle.
The worst moment of Fabinho’s career at Liverpool
An integral part of any away performance is the team’s defensive midfielder. In his best moment, Fabinho is arguably the best player in the world in his position.
He has dominated the starting role since joining the Monaco Reds, but this season has been his worst run.
One key stat is revealing. In 90 minutes, his interceptions have more than halved since the last period.
Fabinho’s drop in form is hurting Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp has benched him on occasion.
He’s averaging just 1.07 this season compared to 2.18 before.
Some of the Brazilian’s lower production can be attributed to the team’s overall slump and inconsistent partners in midfield.
But there is no doubt that he is far from his prime and Liverpool need to get their general midfielder back, especially away from home.
Absence of Konate and loss of Van Dijk
Ibrahima Konate finished last season playing as one of the best central defenders in the world.
Quick, confident on the ball and a physical presence, teams had a hard time combating their partnership with Virgil Van Dijk at the heart of the defence.
But injuries have kept the Frenchman out of nearly all of Liverpool’s games so far this season.
A knee problem in early August kept him out for more than two months but there is light at the end of the tunnel and he could be involved.
Ibrahima Konate was brilliant last season but has been injured for most of this term and Virgil van Dijk’s level has dropped from his usual high standards.
He has been sorely missed and while Joe Gomez has returned to form, there have been occasional lapses in him.
The Napoli match in particular stands out as one to forget. Joel Matip has also been battling nagging injuries and a lack of consistency at the back has hurt Liverpool.
Van Dijk, usually so imperious, has also had wobbly moments and looks a notch below his usual standards. His failure to shut out Jadon Sancho for the first match at Old Trafford was a clear illustration that he is not himself.
The capacity, of course, is still there. Gomez and Van Dijk managed Erling Haaland incredibly well in a 1-0 win at home against Manchester City, but they need to find that standard more consistently, particularly away from home.
|per game||Home||Liverpool all competitions 2022-23||Far||per game|
|0.9||7||Expected goals against||14.36||1.4|
|20.4||163||Total shots (including blocks)||109||15.6|
|7.3||58||shots on target||43||6.1|
|3.1||25||Opposite shots on goal||36||5.1|
|42.5||340||touches in opp box||246||35.1|
|14.1||113||10+ passes of OP sequences||111||15.9|
|N/A||39.37||Average start distance||33.24||N/A|
Decline in all areas compared to Anfield
Some level of increased performance can be attributed to the added motivation of playing at home.
But the difference between Liverpool’s numbers on their travels compared to Anfield is bigger than you might expect.
Expected goals dropped from 2.2 to 1.5 and expected goals conceded went up from 0.9 to 1.4.
Liverpool concede an average of 1.9 goals per away game and while this is higher than expected and should stabilize over time, it shows how fragile the defense has become.
Klopp has a lot to fix before a big game between Liverpool and Ajax
The Reds were beaten on the road against Napoli and Ajax could smell blood
Averaging two goals against every game on the road makes life incredibly difficult and should be Klopp’s main area to fix.
To some extent, Liverpool accommodate Alexander-Arnold to allow him to make a difference in the attacking third, but that has always been the case and the defense has been sensational at times with him in the team in recent years.
Liverpool’s press is also less effective away from home.
They win on average 9.4 high turnovers compared to 11.5 at Anfield. And rivals are also averaging five more shots per game when Liverpool aren’t home.
Liverpool’s problems this season are well documented and away form in particular brings those weaknesses into the spotlight.
Ajax will look to expose those flaws on Wednesday night in what is shaping up to be a major test for last season’s losing finalists.