It’s rare for a club to purchase two players from the same team during one transfer window, yet that is exactly what Liverpool have done by taking Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert from Southampton (and I have previously written about the players at length here and here).
This is good from an amateur analyst’s point of view, as it has enabled me to see how they linked up last season. I looked at the Suárez and Sturridge partnership here, so I thought I’d compare the Liverpool new boys with the Anfield heroes of 2013/14.
Of course, once you start comparing players from club-to-club, certain issues (such as tactics, score effects, and quality of teammate) combine to ensure that it can never be an entirely even playing field. The figures here can, however, act as a handy guide at least.
The first thing that was interesting to discover was that Lallana and Lambert created more chances as a partnership than Suárez and Sturridge did. The Southampton players created seventeen chances for each other, for a total of thirty-four, whilst Liverpool’s pair created twenty-eight, with fifteen from Suárez to Sturridge, and thirteen going back the other way.
It must be noted that the now-former Saints played 794 minutes more together than the Reds’ duo, meaning that Sturridge and Suárez edged the chance frequency battle, fashioning an opportunity every twenty-eight minutes as opposed to thirty-four. Even so, as Southampton took 117 fewer shots than Liverpool, you’d expect their players to create chances less often.
Regular readers will know that to simply look at the frequency of the chances is not enough though; I like to see where on the pitch the chances were created, as that has a massive impact on how likely it is that they will have been scored.
Using chance conversion rates from the Premier League, I can calculate the percentage chance that a player, duo or team’s chances would be scored (on average). However, as the scale for this percentage figure is rather unwieldy (from 3.6% to 15.2%, anyone?!), I have translated this into a rating out of ten.
A score of ten would indicate that every chance created was an open play opportunity in the centre of the box, down to a score of zero where the chances were all outside the final third, and so unlikely to result in a goal. The entries in the table below are sorted by this score.
There are thirteen different combinations: each of the four players individually, each combination in both directions as well as in total, and the overall figures for Liverpool and Southampton, plus one more.
The Reds had 133 chance creation combinations in 2013/14, and Luis Suárez was involved in the top six. My final combination on the below table is therefore Sterling to Sturridge, as with fifteen chances it was the top ranked one not to feature a certain Uruguayan striker.
As Steven Gerrard takes the vast majority of the set plays, and Suárez was often next in line but has now left, I have excluded set piece chances in the centre of the box from the below figures in order to see what happened in open play.
One final point. The average rate that chances are converted in the English top flight is 8.49%, which equates to a score of 4.23. Let’s take a look at the numbers.
Perhaps surprisingly, Southampton’s chances were better on average than Liverpool’s, and remarkably the Saints created the second best chances in the Premier League (when including set pieces) and their average chance quality was only 0.004% worse than the best side, Manchester City.
Brendan’s boys did at least make up for their relative lack of average chance quality by creating more than most, including eighty-two more than Southampton. Similarly, the chances that Lambert and Lallana created individually were on average better than those made by Luis Suárez, but the new Barcelona signing created more chances in total and hence has a higher expected assists tally.
As we can see in the bold lines above, S&S were a far more effective creative duo than L&L on average. But all is not lost, as the Saints’ pairing as a duo are above average for both the Premier League as a whole, and Liverpool (and without Suárez, this figure will surely drop too). Lallana to Lambert was a particularly strong combination, almost on a par with Suárez to Sturridge, so watch for that if both former Saints feature together regularly for Liverpool.
Kopites can also take immense heart from the fact that Lallana created higher quality chances on average than Suárez did (as did Lambert, but I don’t expect him to play so often for Liverpool as he did at Southampton). Lallana might not have fashioned as many opportunities as the Uruguayan striker, but then only Hazard and Nasri in the Premier League did last season, so there’s no shame in creating fewer chances when the quality was consistently high.
Brendan Rodgers will hope that whilst he can’t entirely replace Suárez’ contribution with one player, he can rely on Adam Lallana to maintain the chance quality level. In Suárez’ permanent absence, the England international will probably take a few set pieces too.
My main worry here is that Liverpool’s best remaining chance creation combination from last season is rooted to the bottom of the above table. That said, the limitations of my chance quality system mean that the expected assists figures for Liverpool are probably not as accurate as they might be.
As I don’t have the shot conversion figures by zone for Liverpool’s strikers, the expected assists are based on league average shot conversion when in reality the Reds’ strikers (including new boy Rickie Lambert) scored at an above average rate. This can be seen in the figures of the Suárez and Sturridge combination; whilst predicted to yield 3.1 assists, both players chipped in with four for a total of eight.
Brendan Rodgers’ team scored nine goals via counter attacks in 2013/14, which was the second most by any Premier League team in the last five seasons. As such, the key passes in these moves usually occurred a long way from goal, which makes them a better chance in reality than their location would suggest, so the fact that Liverpool created so many opportunities outside the final third isn’t as bad for them as it would be for other teams.
As for the Suárez to Sturridge combination, I doubt there was a stronger chance link up in the league last season. We can certainly expect Liverpool to suffer a creativity frequency drop in 2014/15; my hope is Lallana can prevent the quality drop from being quite as severe as we might have assumed.