EPL

Liverpool fire more Anfield blanks to set unwanted Premier League record

By Sports Desk March 07, 2021

Liverpool slumped to a sixth successive home defeat on Sunday as relegation-threatened Fulham claimed a 1-0 win.

The worst part for Jurgen Klopp's beleaguered side was the fact that, from the moment Mario Lemina put the visitors ahead at half-time, the writing was on the wall to an extent.

The Reds' slump includes January's 4-1 defeat to Manchester City, when Mohamed Salah scored from the penalty spot.

That was the only defeat where they have found the net, with the losing run immediately preceded by a 0-0 draw against Manchester United.

It means, following 16 attempts without reward against Fulham, Liverpool have racked up 115 shots since they last scored from open play at Anfield in a 1-1 draw against West Brom on December 27.

That amounts to the longest run of open-play shots without scoring at home since Opta began collecting the exact times of shots.

Portsmouth (114 in January 2008) and Manchester City (101 in August 2007) are the only other two clubs to have chalked up this unwanted century.

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  • Foden must keep showing it on the grass – Guardiola Foden must keep showing it on the grass – Guardiola

    Pep Guardiola shrugged off the suggestion Phil Foden's sensational form proves he was right to slowly ease the youngster into first-team action, insisting football is only about the present.

    Manchester City prodigy Foden made his Premier League debut in 2017-18, playing five times in total. While his talent was obvious, Guardiola was cautious with his development, opting to drop the attacker in and out of games, sometimes causing ire in the media.

    A total of 13 league appearances followed in 2018-19 before Foden truly began to establish himself last season, making 37 appearances across all competitions.

    Guardiola's cautious approach has seemingly paid off, with Foden one of City's most impressive players this campaign.

    The 20-year-old has played 41 times in total, including 29 starts. He is joint-second – alongside Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling – in City's scorers' list with 13 goals, behind Ilkay Gundogan (16); Foden's latest strike coming against Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday.

    His tally of nine assists is bettered only by Kevin De Bruyne (16), with the Belgian (99) and Riyad Mahrez (75) the two City players to have created more chances than Foden (65).

    But asked if he can take credit for Foden's development, Guardiola insisted the England international must continue to prove himself in every game.

    "It's not about what we believed in the past, it's about what they show on the grass," Guardiola told a news conference ahead of City's FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea on Saturday.

    "So, footballers have to show every single day. The journalists will talk a lot about the past, or the future. In football it's about the present.

    "In the present it doesn't matter what we have done, it's what we do today. Everybody is involved, talking and talking. The players have to talk on the grass.

    "It's the only way they can protect their position and win in the present and in the future. It's as simple as that.

    "Phil in that case, everything we get right now is on the grass, not in any other situations. He's going to continue being there depending on his performance, not on what he has done so far at a young age. You have to every game win something to stay in the position and playing every day."

    While Foden is thriving, one player whose form has been called into question in some quarters is Sterling, who only came on for a brief cameo towards the end against Dortmund.

    Guardiola, however, disregarded the suggestion it had to be a choice between Foden or Sterling for a spot on the left.

    "If you know a bit the trajectory of this team selection, then the answer is obvious," said Guardiola, who also confirmed Sergio Aguero will not be fit to feature at Wembley.

    "Of course they can play together, they have played many times together. Phil can play in five positions, Sterling in three positions. Everyone can play in a few positions, so it depends on them."

    Sterling has created fewer opportunities than Foden this season (45), though he has the same amount of assists, having crafted the same number of Opta-defined "big chances" (12) and both are over-performing their expected assists to a similar degree.

    Foden has a slightly better shot conversion rate – 16.1 per cent compared to 15.7 – though has attempted two fewer (81 compared to 83) attempts than the former Liverpool winger.

  • Los Angeles Chargers: How Herbert and Co. can ascend in 2021 Los Angeles Chargers: How Herbert and Co. can ascend in 2021

    Despite playing in a disappointingly empty new SoFi Stadium, few teams managed to electrify more than the Los Angeles Chargers last season.

    Even the most ardent Chargers fan would admit that, prior to 2020, there hadn't been much appetite for the franchise in Los Angeles.

    It will be interesting to see to what extent that has changed if fans are allowed in stadiums in 2021, following a record-setting rookie season from Justin Herbert.

    Herbert silenced all the doubters who questioned the Chargers for taking him with the sixth overall pick, delivering a remarkable campaign that earned him the Offensive Rookie of the Year award.

    It still was not enough to stop the Chargers from enduring a season defined by gaffes and late-game heartbreak, head coach Anthony Lynn paying with his job despite a four-game winning streak to end the year 7-9.

    Fuelling further optimism is the appointment of Brandon Staley as Lynn's replacement.

    Staley earned widespread plaudits for what he did as the defensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Rams in 2020, building a reputation as one of the most innovative defensive minds in the game.

    He will hope to get the most of a defense stacked with blue-chip talent while offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi is tasked with helping Herbert to the next step in his development.

    What can that duo learn from the Chargers' performances of last season? Using Stats Perform data we look back on a 2020 campaign that left Chargers fans excited about what this team could become.

    Offense

    Herbert went into his rookie season being seen as an inferior quarterback to Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa. As a rookie, he outperformed both, becoming the only quarterback in NFL history to throw for 4,000 yards in a season having not played the opener.

    He came in for Tyrod Taylor after the Week 1 starter had his lung punctured by a team doctor who was administering a painkilling injection.

    That error proved serendipitous for everyone but Taylor, who had to play the role of the onlooker as Herbert racked up the second-most passing yards by a rookie quarterback in NFL history. Herbert's 4,336 trailed only Andrew Luck, who racked up 4,374 with the Indianapolis Colts in 2012.

    Herbert was also second all-time among rookies with his completion percentage of 66.6, falling shy of Dak Prescott who connected on 67.8 in 2016. Where Herbert did set rookie records was in completions (396), passing yards per game (289.1), passing touchdowns (31) and 300-yard games, of which he recorded eight.

    Yet for all the remarkable exploits of the sixth overall pick, finishing drives and scoring points remained an issue for the Chargers.

    They ranked 21st in red zone touchdown efficiency and in average red zone points, putting up 4.79 per trip inside the 20-yard line of their opponents.

    Many will see the departure of Lynn, heavily criticised for his play-calling and game management in key situations, as a significant step towards the Chargers improving in that regard.

    But Los Angeles will also look for more from the running game. An injury-affected season for Austin Ekeler hindered the ground attack, which was 30th in yards per rush (3.83) and tied 27th in touchdowns (12).

    Too often Herbert led the Chargers into the red zone only to see the drive end in a field goal or a stop for the defense. While Ekeler being at full health would help, the onus will be on Lombardi to ensure their issues inside the 20 are less frequent in 2021.

    Defense

    As is so often the case with the Chargers, misfortune was a critical factor in their defense not realising its potential.

    They lost Derwin James for the season before a ball had even been snapped, the All-Pro safety sidelined following torn meniscus surgery.

    It was also another year in which edge rusher Joey Bosa did not play a full season. Had both of those stars been available for the entire year, the Chargers might not have ranked so poorly in opponent scoring efficiency.

    The Chargers ranked 23rd in that respect and 21st in opponent touchdown efficiency, with an inability to create turnovers playing a role in their issues.

    They generated 19 takeaways in 2020, putting the Chargers tied for 22nd in the NFL, though that number was only three fewer than Staley's Rams defense registered last season.

    However, the Rams scored 15 more points off takeaways than the Chargers and were significantly better at creating negative plays for opposing offenses overall.

    The Rams forced 88 negative plays for minus 441 yards, ranking seventh in the league, while the Chargers were 30th with 72 negative plays for minus 222 yards.

    Yet Staley should be confident he can create a similar formula to what he had with the Rams, with Aaron Donald wreaking havoc up front and Jalen Ramsey an eraser in the secondary. Bosa and James are excellent candidates to fill those roles for the Chargers.

    Los Angeles will need to add talent around that duo for this defense to realise its potential, but the Chargers do possess the resources with which to do that.

    Offseason

    The Chargers used what financial resources they had, in a year where the salary cap was reduced, to beef up the offensive line and ensure Herbert will have the benefit of better protection.

    Corey Linsley was signed to a five-year, $62million deal that was more than justified after a 2020 season in which he was named first-team All-Pro, having allowed a pressure rate of 2.8 per cent last season (NFL average: 4.9).

    The versatile and underrated right tackle Matt Feiler arrived on a three-year deal from the Pittsburgh Steelers while another tackle, Oday Aboushi, was brought in on a one-year contract.

    Los Angeles will hope Jared Cook can help fill the void left by tight end Hunter Henry’s departure to New England. Cook produced a big play on 31.6 per cent of his targets in 2020. The league average for tight ends is 26.1 per cent.

    Further help for Herbert, who suffered the ninth-most sacks in the NFL (32) last season, may come with pick 13 in the draft if the Chargers choose to spend it on a long-term solution at left tackle.

    However, with Casey Hayward and Melvin Ingram still on the open market and Rayshawn Jenkins having left for Jacksonville, cornerback, edge rusher and safety are all areas Los Angeles could target.

    After hiring a defensive mastermind at head coach, better support from that unit and cleaner pockets for their franchise quarterback will be the keys to the Chargers going from upstart to playoff team in Staley's first season.

  • Leipzig star Konate responds to big Liverpool 'rumours' Leipzig star Konate responds to big Liverpool 'rumours'

    Ibrahima Konate has cast fresh doubt on suggestions he will leave RB Leipzig to join Liverpool at the end of the season.

    The 21-year-old French defender is said to have a €40million (£34.8m) release clause in his contract and reports have claimed the Reds may activate that.

    However, Leipzig sporting director Markus Krosche last month told Stats Perform News the move was "not an option" for Konate to consider.

    Now, Konate has spoken on the matter, telling German newspaper Bild: "I have a contract until 2023. And contracts are there to be fulfilled.

    "There are often rumours in football and many believe them immediately. I or my agents did not get a call from Liverpool.

    "I also have big goals with RB Leipzig: to get the best possible result in the Bundesliga, reach the cup final and the Under-21 European Championship with France."

    Leipzig, sitting second in the Bundesliga, were facing a home assignment on Friday against Hoffenheim as they looked to put pressure on leaders Bayern Munich.

    Unlike Liverpool, whose hopes hang in the balance, Leipzig appear certain to be in the Champions League next season.

    Yet they will lose one star French defender when Dayot Upamecano defects to Bayern Munich at the end of the campaign, and to see another depart might be considered a body blow.

    Konate is already thinking about life at Leipzig after Upamecano leaves, insisting he wants to be appraised on his own merits rather than compared to the future Bayern star.

    "I don't want to be Dayot's successor. I'm me," said Konate. "We both came to Leipzig in 2017 and played well together here. Unfortunately, our paths are now parting. I'll let Dayot have his new job and continue doing my thing here."

    Injuries have got in the way of Konate's progress and he has played in just 11 Bundesliga games this season, starting five times in the competition.

    In that time he has achieved a duel success rate of 68.66 per cent, which is the third highest among defenders with more than 500 minutes on the pitch this season in Germany's top flight. Opta defines a duel as a '50-50 contest between two players of opposing sides'.

    Konate has also won 23 of his 26 aerial challenges in the Bundesliga during the current campaign, and three of four tackles.

    On the tackles front, Konate has good examples to follow in the Leipzig ranks of players with strong success rates. Among defenders with over 500 minutes of action in the Bundesliga this term, Lukas Klostermann ranks first in the league with a 92.31 per cent rate (12 of 13 tackles won), while Upamecano is fourth with 81.82 per cent (27 of 33 won).

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