If Liverpool complete the signing of Southampton’s Rickie Lambert, then they will own three of the four players who hit double figures for both goals and assists in the Premier League last season (and we can safely assume that the fourth, Wayne Rooney, won’t be moving to Anfield any time soon).
It’s funny how you can have an impression of a player in your head that turns out to be off the mark when you look into his facts and figures, and Lambert certainly fits the bill on that front as far as I am concerned.
Having not seen much of Southampton or Lambert play, I assumed he was an archetypal bruising English centre-forward, who was famed for his aerial ability as a typical target man. That’s certainly the reputation he seems to have, anyway.
Yet in reality, he hasn’t been used that way as often as you might think. Take a look at the following table of target men, sorted by the average number of aerial duels that they contested per appearance in 2013/14.
Clearly Southampton aren’t the most direct of teams in the Premier League, but I was still quite surprised to see that Lambert doesn’t contest that many aerial duels after all. More than Liverpool’s strikers do perhaps, but he’s certainly no mere target man, as partly evidenced by his pass accuracy being better than most of the chaps on the above list.
Although he only contested five aerial duels in the Southampton penalty box (winning two) he did make eighteen headed clearances, so he could prove a valuable asset at defending set pieces which is an area where Liverpool have struggled recently. Eighteen clearances may not sound like too many, but it’s five more than Suárez (five), Coutinho, Sterling (both three) and Sturridge (two) managed between them, so it definitely looks like the Scouse veteran could help out at the back more than his future attacking colleagues have been.
How about up front? Perhaps he doesn’t contest many aerial duels but shoots a lot via headers? Both of his international goals to date were with his head after all.
Lambert had nineteen shots from headers in the league last season (so essentially one every other game), scoring just once, and that isn’t that many more shots than Suárez (eleven) or Sturridge (ten) had with their heads.
Despite his reputation, the Saint actually favoured the refined approach of a through ball. In fact, only five players in the Premier League attempted more through balls than Lambert did in 2013/14 (Coutinho, Suárez, Silva, Ramsey and Wilshire), and nobody has attempted more than him across the two seasons that Lambert has played in the top flight.
Only 17% of them came off, which is a long way shy of the 50%(ish) mark that the top guys post, but as Liverpool play more through balls than any other team, Lambert would be more likely to play accurate passes through opposition defences with the likes of Suárez to aim for.
As Lambert notched a very creditable ten assists this season, I’ve taken a look at where the chances he created were received to see if he was fortunate to have set up so many goals or not.
Here’s a map of the six zones I use to assess chance quality.
I’ve added Lambert’s figures for the table I created for my look at Adam Lallana and Suso‘s stats, so let’s see how he compares to his potential new team mates. The expected assist figure is calculated by using the league average conversion rates for the six zones where chances are created.
Wow. The former Bristol Rovers man is not particularly renowned for his creative abilities, yet these figures paint a very different picture. Of the current Liverpool squad, only Luis Suárez fashioned more opportunities in the centre of the box, or did so more frequently than Lambert. I clearly should’ve paid closer attention to the following tweet a few weeks ago.
Of the seven players who had at least seventy-five shots last season, only two of them (Suárez and Rooney) had a higher shot accuracy than Rickie Lambert did (51%), and even then by just 2%. That said, excluding penalties he only converted shots at league average rate; ten goals from exactly one hundred shots.
As I recently compiled ‘big chance’ data for Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City, I thought I’d do the same for Lambert, to see how clinical he is with the best chances.
Clearly Lambert only has a small sample compared to whole teams or their opponents over a full season so it would be wrong to draw too much from the above figures, but they certainly suggest that when faced with a glorious opportunity, Lambert works the keeper and finds the net as well as anyone.
I do have some concerns with Lambert, however. He offers very little defensively (making just ten tackles and five interceptions in the whole campaign), he doesn’t win the ball back high up the pitch (having done so just ten times in the final third in 2013/14) and doesn’t seem able or willing to beat a man (completing just nine of the twenty dribbles he attempted).
In other words, he is unlikely to get the ball in a favourable position through his own endeavours (movement aside). But if the Liverpool midfield can find him with the ball, the above statistics certainly suggest he can cause havoc once he has it.
The signing of Rickie Lambert would not be the most heart racing transfer by any means, but the realities of Liverpool’s position is that they can’t outspend the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea so they have to out-think them.
To my mind this transfer falls into that category, as the Reds are picking up a proven Premier League performer for a minimal fee. Lambert will give his all to play for Liverpool, will accept a bit part role and has a lot of talent to offer too. It’s a clever transfer rather than a blockbuster!