Are Liverpool's over-30 stars as effective as they once were?

Virgil van Dijk is being dribbled past more by opponents this season than in the previous three and Mohamed Salah is averaging just TWO shots per game… so are Liverpool’s over-30 stars as effective as they once were?

  • Liverpool beat Newcastle in midweek thanks to Fabio Carvalho’s late winner 
  • But his team-mates in their 30s have been questioned at times this season 
  • Virgil van Dijk has been criticised for the roles he has played in conceding goals 
  • Jordan Henderson and Mohamed Salah have looked off the pace too for Reds 

Liverpool’s fortunes may not appear as bleak as they did a couple of weeks ago but Jurgen Klopp’s side still do not resemble the outfit that has pushed Manchester City all the way in recent seasons.

A last-gasp victory against Newcastle at Anfield means the Reds are fifth in the Premier League table, with Fabio Carvalho – who only turned 20 earlier this week – scoring a 98th-minute winner.

But it is his team-mates who have just entered their 30s who have had the most questions asked of them so far this season.

Fabio Carvalho’s goal saw Liverpool beat Newcastle but his older team-mates have struggled

Virgil van Dijk was hammered by Jamie Carragher for his role in Jadon Sancho’s goal in their loss at Man United and was also criticised for the clumsy nature in which he gave away a penalty in the 2-2 draw at Fulham. 

Mohamed Salah registered his first assists of the season against the Magpies but some Reds fans were worried that he made no contribution to any of the nine goals scored against Bournemouth. The Egyptian himself has scored just twice this term.

Captain Jordan Henderson has also not appeared quite at his normal level and has now added to the injury crisis at the club after picking up a ‘serious’ hamstring injury against Eddie Howe’s men.

Liverpool remain five points behind a rampant Man City despite two wins from two, with players who have formed the spine of their side in recent years now entering the final few seasons of the peak of their careers.

So are the trio mentioned above – all critical in the 2019-20 title-winning season – still as effective as they once were. 

Sportsmail crunches numbers provided by Opta to take a look….

Players who have formed the spine of their side in recent years are now entering the final few seasons of their peak

Carragher hammered van Dijk’s defending as lacking intensity in the defeat at Manchester United last month.

But the statistics do not necessarily suggest there has been a drop off in that department from the Dutchman so far this term.

While the statistics for all of these comparisons look at an average of the various figures from the first five games in relation to the three previous seasons, they do shine a light on how little seems to have changed for van Dijk.

No doubt the 0.4 average with regards to how often he is being dribbled past per 90 minutes this term is higher than any of the last three seasons, with that figure at exactly zero in 2020-21.

Virgil van Dijk has been criticised for his defending away at Fulham and Man United this term

But he is averaging 0.6 tackles per game – level with the 2019-20 title-winning season and more than the 0.5 last season –  while his average of five aerial duels is only bettered by the 6.6 he managed three seasons ago. 

That has given him an aerial duel success of 72 per cent, not quite at last season’s tally of 77.5 per cent but far clear of the 63.2 per cent he recorded in 2020-21.

His ability to play the ball out of the back has also not dwindled, with his average passes per 90 minutes up at 90.4, higher than in any campaign since 2019-20.

He has attempted more passes in both halves than in any other recent season but his accuracy numbers are slightly down on previous campaigns at 76.5 per cent in the opposition half and 92.7 per cent in his own half.

The statistics are even more telling for captain Henderson, who could now be out for a prolonged period of time.

Jordan Henderson could now be out for a prolonged period of time with a hamstring issue

The passes he has attempted overall per 90 are well down at 69.6, well below the 95.7 in 2020-21. 

That leads to a decrease in the number of passes and the accuracy of them in both halves in comparison to the last three campaigns. For example, his accuracy in his own half of 87.9 per cent is commendable but not in the 90s which he has managed since 2019-20.

But there is no discernible downturn in his work off the ball, making 1.1 tackles per 90, which is close to the 1.2 and 1.3 he has achieved recently, while he has yet to commit an error leading to a goal or be dribbled past.

However, a little bit more still can be read into Salah’s struggles through the statistics collected.

The man who was the joint-winner of the Golden Boot last season currently has a minutes per goal ratio of 225, well above his next highest of 152 in 2019-20.

That can no doubt be explained by the fact he has been attempting fewer shots this season. He is averaging just 2.8 per game so far this season, well below last season’s 4.5 and the next highest of 3.7 in 2020-21.

He has therefore managed just 0.8 shots on target per match this season, a sharp decline compared to the three he was averaging in 2021-22.

There is unsurprisingly a drastic drop in his big chance conversion stats, currently standing at 25 per cent, with figures in the other three seasons all above 40 per cent.

It does not appear to be as a result of a lack of trying however. Salah is attempting 4.8 dribbles per game, above the 4.4 of last season while the numbers in the previous season failed to surpass three. 

The number of shots Mohamed Salah is averaging per 90 minutes this term has fallen sharply

The dribble success rate however stands at 33.3 per cent, which is the lowest of any of the three previous seasons and well off the 53.2 per cent he managed in the triumphant 2019-20 campaign.

It is therefore a mixed bag when it comes to the statistics suggesting how effective the Liverpool trio are compared to successful recent campaigns.

But regardless, Klopp will certainly hope that on the eye their performances improve if they are to challenge for the biggest prizes again this season. 

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