Liverpool’s title challenge: Eze’s Dion Dublin moment, xG and The Last Dance

Liverpool’s title hopes took a major hit with their 1-0 defeat to Crystal Palace, and here Andy Campbell assesses what the numbers say about their challenge.

I’m like the Adele of football writing, minus the talent and wealth.

Fuelled by angst, popping up with a welcome / unwelcome (delete according to personal taste) new track at my lowest emotional ebb before slinking off back to my residency at Caesar’s Palace…the slot machine at my local rather than the more celebrated Vegas version.

Unexpected setbacks are often the most painful. If they arrive at inopportune moments, they can carve themselves into your psyche, gnaw at your bones and leave unwanted scar tissue.

Dion Dublin at Anfield, the ridiculous fucking beach ball at the Stadium of Light, Federico Macheda’s excruciating injury time winner at Old Trafford, Demba Ba desecrating L4, Robin Olsen’s only appearance for Aston Villa in 2021/22 arriving on the last day of the season at the Etihad.

Did the classy Eberechi Eze just add himself to that list?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, April 14, 2024: Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold (R) looks dejected after the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Crystal Palace FC at Anfield. Crystal Palace won 1-0. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

At this moment, Eze’s contribution looks closer to Dublin’s goal for Coventry than Ba’s heart-breaking intervention. Opportunity missed as opposed to the title being ripped from our paws.

One we all look back on with a huge sense of frustration, tinged with sadness and melancholy compared to the most gut-wrenching incidents.

Momentum has been lost at a pivotal moment against a merciless rival, who would gleefully raise a champagne drenched trophy to our misfortune come Sunday evening, May 19.


The underlying data

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, March 10, 2024: Liverpool's Luis Díaz looks dejected after missing a chance during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Manchester City FC at Anfield. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

More telling than recent results are the underlying performances that re-affirm what many thought at the start of the season. Data and eye test backing each other up. This squad isn’t ready to win the Premier League, they’re simply not the finished product.

Occasionally erratic in front of goal, undermined by poor touches, decision-making and indecisive execution; slightly too generous defensively in a game of minuscule margins, coughing up needless early goals.

Brilliant and breathtaking but unable to exert sufficient control across games in the manner of Klopp’s vintage sides, too often left frantically searching for spectacular solutions to the problems of their own making.

You’re going to get bitten by the hungry toddler eventually. Atalanta and Palace were the toddler tag team that took more than a nibble last week.

*2023/24 so far. Statistics via

Extrapolating the goals against they’ll concede around 37 by season’s end.

All three versions noted outperform their xGA, which is baked into Klopp’s high-risk recipe. He trusts his elite centre-backs and goalkeeper to go above and beyond, confident they’ll exceed any predicted metrics by virtue of their unique skill sets and his own distinctive playbook. Like a terrifying rollercoaster in the Florida sun, with a multitude of safety measures invisible to those not privy to the design.

In short, you might need a nervous poop afterwards but the only thing really in danger was your shorts. We could absolutely do with Virg’s lads not throwing in the first goal so often, but it’s not what’s going to ultimately undo our ambitions.

Unfortunately, despite the large tally of goals scored, the xG for this season’s team stands out for the wrong reasons and in stark contrast to Klopp’s best seasons.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, April 14, 2024: Liverpool's Diogo Jota sees his shot blocked during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Crystal Palace FC at Anfield. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Liverpool’s exciting team continues to create an abundance of chances. They score a bundle but miss far too many as we all know. And these are the M&S of misses, stunning and surprising to the extent they induce hysterical, eye-bulging, manic laughter…in a bad way to be clear!

Football is such a low-scoring game. That’s typically the difference at the end of a season. You’re either walking through a guard of honour trophy in hand, under cascades of confetti and song, or facing polite applause as you trudge off mumbling about next season. Those squandered chances matter.

Nunez is a force of nature yet he’s wildly unpredictable. Diaz at 27 isn’t likely to become the ruthless and meaningful finisher Mane was, although I appreciate we’re not talking like for like roles. Gakpo has struggled, not helped by the variety of positions he’s been asked to fill. Ironically, he’s shown promise in the last two outings.

Jota continues to thrill as an elite finisher but one held back by regular and frequently serious injuries. Salah was sensational before his injury. Not the fleet-footed Egyptian King of old running down the wing, but still offering a dangerous outlet and end product. Since coming back he’s struggled, but then so have the team as a collective.

There’s a conundrum within this.

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - Thursday, March 7, 2024: Liverpool's Darwin Núñez (R) celebrates with team-mate Luis Díaz after scoring the second goal during the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 1st Leg match between AC Sparta Praha and Liverpool FC at Stadion Letná. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Would Liverpool create as many chances without Diaz’s lung-bursting, pressure-releasing running? What about Darwin’s ability to occupy opposition centre-backs with his raw, defence-stretching talents and clever movement? How about the measure of influence and control Salah typically brings on the left?

Will a new manager continue developing the attack or will it set us back without the maestro conducting from under his cap?

None of this is to paint our squad as plucky underdogs – there’s enough talent to win major trophies but Klopp started this race at a disadvantage, akin to an F1 team leader, thankfully not one like Christian ‘Girl Power’ Horner.

Shiny new tools and an untested engine in the garage at Kirkby. An F1 supercar blessed with explosive acceleration and power but combustible, lacking precision and uncertain it would cope under pressure. Jurgen wasn’t helped by bits falling off the car throughout the season. Indeed, it could be argued that the injuries were more costly than we initially realised.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, April 14, 2024: Liverpool's Harvey Elliott and Alexis Mac Allister look dejected after the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Crystal Palace FC at Anfield. Crystal Palace won 1-0. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Many of the players that carried us through the loss of Trent, Salah, Jota, Alisson, Robertson, Szoboszlai and endless others now look exhausted. Mentally and physically, we collapsed against Atalanta then Crystal Palace.

The compactness that defines Klopp’s best sides deserted the team. Players being left isolated and the opposition thriving in gaping holes between the lines was an undesirable feature from earlier in the season.

Those problems have reared their ugly heads again at just the wrong time like a Gary Neville-headed hydra blocking our path to fortune and glory kid. Desire, attitude and even understanding the tactical ask aren’t the issue here. Fatigue might be.


So, where does that leave us?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, April 14, 2024: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp before the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Crystal Palace FC at Anfield. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The title race is rapidly skewing towards Guardiola’s inevitable forces of darkness. The Etihad Death Star lolling into view, rebranded with a lucrative new sponsorship deal ready to obliterate the light, well Red in this case.

Arsenal‘s defeat switched back on the life support for Liverpool and we’re only two points off the top with six to play, the monitor showing a pulse. Goal difference is negligible.

Some fans, carrying those aforementioned scars, will understandably say it’s over but Klopp and his players won’t.

It doesn’t really matter whether you’re deemed good enough to win, just grasp the opportunity presented.

Klopp will apply balm to the players’ open wounds, re-energise the squad and ask them for one last dance. Let’s hope he took it personally.

* This is a guest article for This Is Anfield by Andy Campbell. Follow Andy on Twitter @Campbellinho19. To submit an article for consideration, contact [email protected].