Liverpool: 2020-21 Season Review

Liverpool finished the 2020-21 season with a 2-0 win over Crystal Palace, securing Champions League qualification in what has been an injury-ravaged year for Jurgen Klopp’s side. Missing their three senior centre-backs – Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip – for large parts of the season, as well as a host of other key players, meant the make-up of Liverpool’s team has looked significantly different from the side that went on to win the Premier League comprehensively last year. Klopp has relied heavily on the nexus of senior players who were available, while some new faces have had to fill in the gaps left by those sidelined through injuries. This review aims to summarise the key developments to Liverpool’s squad during the 2020-21 season.


Liverpool played 52 games this season: 38 in the Premier League, 10 in the Champions League, two in the League Cup and two in the FA Cup. Below is a graph detailing the changes made per game to the starting line-up across the year. Klopp is not known as a manager that likes to tinker – unlike Pep Guardiola and Thomas Tuchel, for example. However, he does rotate heavily for cup games.

We see this trend in the graph below. During the first half of the season when Liverpool were navigating league, cup and European matches, Klopp was consistently making changes above his season average of 3.53. As the season progressed though, this changed. The three-game average was consistently below the season average during the second half of the season after Liverpool’s elimination from the FA Cup at the end of January. Albeit with a slight blip when they beat RB Leipzig 2-0 in the second leg of their Round of 16 tie.


But who were the players used the most by Klopp throughout the season? Well, the below scatter graph plots the availability and utility of Liverpool players this year in all competitions.

  • Availability is classed as the percentage of minutes a player was available for selection out of the total possible minutes in a season (out of 4,680 for Liverpool).
  • Utility is defined as the percentage of minutes played out of the total minutes available for selection.

As we can see from the graph below, thirteen players feature in the top-right quadrant that represents those with high availability and high utility. These are: Andy Robertson, Mohamed Salah, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Sadio Mane, Gini Wijnaldum, Alisson, Fabinho, Roberto Firmino, Ozan Kabak, Thiago, Jordan Henderson, Diogo Jota and Nathanial Phillips. Though it is worth pointing out that the latter five are cast away somewhat from the first eight, who are clearly the core group of players utilised most by Klopp this season.

Most interestingly, however, is that Liverpool have three players in the top-left quadrant that represents low availability yet high utility – a good sign that a starter has suffered serious injury problems. The fact that these three players are the Reds’ senior centre-backs – van Dijk, Gomez and Matip – highlights their problems in this position. It is the single biggest difference in Liverpool’s team make-up this year.


We see this pattern continue when looking at the total number of starts (as a percentage) and average number of starts before omission from Liverpool’s starting line-up for the 2020-21 season, detailed in the scatter graph below. Again, we have the same group of eight players to the right of the plot, who match up to those in the top-right corner of the availability vs. utility scatter graph.

However, we also have some outliers. Typically the graph points should curve upwards as squad players often start a fewer overall number of games as well as a fewer number of consecutive games, whereas starters enjoy longer spells in the line-up before omission. Yet in Liverpool’s graph there are four players outside of the trend: van Dijk, Kabak, Thiago and Henderson.

Interestingly, these players match up position-wise. Though he did not arrive at Anfield till the end of the January transfer window, Kabak filled the void left by van Dijk at centre-back, whereas Thiago filled Henderson’s gap in midfield when the English international suffered a groin injury in February. Essentially, these players were relied on heavily, but injuries prevented them from starting more games across the season.


What does this mean for their overall involvement in Liverpool’s season? Well, the below graph shows the percentage of minutes played across the entirety of the season and again highlights Klopp’s overreliance on eight players. Robertson, Salah, Trent, Wijnaldum, Alisson, Mane, Fabinho and Firmino were the ever-present figures in Liverpool’s team. Yet not a single one of those eight is an established centre-back.

If we adjust the figures to accommodate the fact that Liverpool play with two centre-backs, then the make-up of that position is as follows:

  • Together, midfielders Fabinho and Henderson played 31.27% of minutes
  • Nat Phillips – 18.43%
  • Rhys Williams – 14.45%
  • Kabak – 12.01%
  • Gomez – 9.50%
  • Matip – 9.25%
  • Van Dijk – 5.09%

Given the upheaval then, it is no surprise that Klopp relied so heavily on Alisson, Trent and Robertson as the stable figures in Liverpool’s defence. Their presence helped ensure that the Reds finished with the fourth best defence in the league, with only Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal conceding fewer goals. It suggests that Liverpool should recover well next season with the return of van Dijk, Gomez and Matip. Though it will take time for the trio to be back at their best, having a core group of players to support them will make the transition smoother.

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