Liverpool’s performance in the opening 12 minutes of their defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers was so bad that the match was as good as over by then. There’s a cliché in football that 2-0 is a dangerous half time lead but the reality is that a team holding that advantage only loses around two per cent of the time.
The Reds have recovered from that position three times in the Premier League, throwing away leads twice. They would have likely got a point at best at Molineux after trailing by two goals at the interval, and even that is an optimistic view.
Things might have been different had they made more of their dominant start to the second half. Darwin Nunez missed Liverpool’s one clear-cut chance in the 66th minute but they might have halved the deficit before that. Sixteen minutes earlier, the Reds had a claim for a penalty when Andy Robertson deflected a Naby Keita shot and it was blocked by Max Kilman’s arm. Despite giving a penalty every 4.8 matches in his Premier League career, match referee Paul Tierney hasn’t given one to Liverpool in 22 games in all competitions.
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Opinion on whether a spot kick should have been awarded was inevitably split. Former Liverpool striker Neil Mellor, speaking on LFCTV’s Review show, asked: “What is the point of VAR if they can’t deal with a situation like this? The players are adamant that is a penalty and a red card.”
Dale Johnson of ESPN had a different view, noting the ball deflected off Kilman’s body first. “Even if the ball had hit Kilman directly on the arm, it's still unlikely it would have been a penalty because the player's arm is not making his body unnaturally bigger,” he wrote. “It's all about the arm position.”
Whether you think it should have been a penalty or not probably depends on which team you support. However, it highlights an important wider point, that the Reds have yet to be given a spot kick in the Premier League this season.
Since the start of 2017/18, a penalty has been awarded in the English top flight for every 163 touches in the box which occur. As Liverpool have had 677 so far this season (per FBRef), even an average return would be four spot kicks, yet they have had none. The only team in this period to get through a whole campaign without any was Burnley five years ago, and they only had 586 box touches anyway.
While this season has been extreme for the Reds, it merely continues a wider trend. As the data in the above tweet illustrates they have earned a penalty every 227 touches they have had in the box over the last six seasons, the highest rate of the division’s 13 ever-present clubs. In only 2018/19 did they receive a spot kick at an above average rate, and even then it was only by three so the margin was negligible anyway.
When it comes to Liverpool and penalties, Mellor is correct to question the value of Video Assistant Referees. In their 134 league games in which the system has been in place, the Reds have been awarded just three spot kicks following review.
All occurred last season and all were controversial in one sense or other. Reece James was penalised for a handball on the goal line which match referee Anthony Taylor should really have seen without need to check the monitor.
Diogo Jota then won two in the second half of 2021/22, in the final five minutes of matches against Crystal Palace and Watford. The former was called “one of the worst decisions I’ve seen this season” by Micah Richards while Hornets manager Roy Hodgson described the latter as “very hard to accept when a situation happens when literally nobody sees it,” even though that’s entirely the point of VAR.
Liverpool’s total of three spot kicks following video review is a long way behind the tallies of Manchester City, West Ham United (both 10), Manchester United (eight) and Brighton (seven). Where 28 per cent of Premier League penalties have been VAR instigated since the summer of 2019, the Reds’ proportion is just 16 per cent.
They aren’t being awarded to Liverpool on the field and the team at Stockley Park are not often intervening either. Maybe Mellor had a point.
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