Three Questions With the Liverpool Offside

Michael Regan

I've slacked off on three questions a bit. Due to fixture congestion, Fulham playing squads where I don't know any bloggers, and my real life getting in the way; I just haven't had the time. I apologize for that. But I'm back and I hope you enjoy it.

For a while it looked like this match might not happen. But it's back on. I talked with Noel from The Liverpool Offside about Liverpool's season and the upcoming fixture.

CC: Goal differential may not be the be all end all, but Liverpool have a pretty impressive one right now. Do you think they are as good as the differential shows (second in the league)? Or do you think their position in the table is a better indicator of their quality?

Liverpool Offside: To be fair, I don't think two places between goal differential and table position is all that much of a difference, and that's exactly the kind of spread you get with most clubs reading down the table today—down to Aston Villa in 12th place, in fact, every club bar Tottenham has a goal differential that has them within two places of their true table position, as do 15 of the league's 20 clubs overall. Moreover, all of the current top four sides are, as of today, two spots off when comparing goal differential to table position.

If you take that as a normal spread, the only top half side that's all that interesting on the goal differential versus table position front are Spurs, who sit fifth despite having the eighth best goal differential. They're joined in the three places off club by West Ham, Stoke, and Crystal Palace as four of the five outliers in the league, and are mostly only interesting as the club with the largest differential in the top half. West Brom, 18th in the league but with the 13th best goal differential, are the real head scratchers.

All told, I don't think goal differential is an entirely poor way to judge Liverpool's quality, even if it doesn't tell the entire story. When it comes to table position versus goal differential, though, West Brom do look especially well positioned to move out of the relegation zone, and if they still go down while maintaining that goal differential it will be a massive surprise.

CC: Liverpool are scoring nearly a goal less per match and conceding more than a goal more per match on the road versus at home. Does the club set up particularly different on the road? If so, is there anyway Fulham could exploit it (especially with the small pitch at Craven Cottage)?

LO: Liverpool have certainly looked a more energetic side at home, but that's the sort of boost that often seems to have less to do with tactics than simple crowd support. The split between home and away also owes more than a little to playing seven of the nine other sides currently in the top half on the road over the first half of the season. In any case, home or away, this is a side that likes to play a controlled counter game, keeping the ball on the pitch but breaking quickly and in numbers, and the only way to stop them so far has been by limiting the space for them to break into.

From that point of view, a small pitch would certainly help were Fulham to approach the match similarly to the way they did Manchester United on the weekend—though that won't lead to Liverpool throwing hopeful crosses in. Liverpool will be relying on Fulham's home crowd and a need for points instilling at least a hint of adventure, and if it doesn't I expect plenty of seemingly aimless passing amongst Liverpool's defence and midfield that attempts to draw Fulham up the pitch inch by inch, opening up room to break into.

Success for Fulham means staying compact and forcing Liverpool to try to break them down in the attacking third while hoping Steven Gerrard becomes impatient and starts firing the kind of Hollywood balls that could lead to turnovers and counter opportunities.

CC: Finally, I think we're going to hear a lot about how these are the only two clubs not to have a nil-nil draw this season. Over or under on times it's mentioned before someone scores? Is it a sign of the impending apocalypse if the match does end nil-nil?

LO: I think a bigger sign of the apocalypse would be if Luis Suarez manages to go a third game without scoring. Though I suppose it's conceivable that would go hand in hand with a nil-nil draw.

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