I recently looked into whether Liverpool were better at defending set pieces this season (here), and the numbers suggested that they weren’t. The Reds then proceeded to let in dead ball goals against Hull, Swansea and West Bromwich Albion in three of their next four league matches. Either I might have a clue regarding what I write about on here, or I’m a jinx. You decide.
Anyway, that article was prompted by a John Aldridge column in the Liverpool Echo, and something he has said this week (here) inspired me to write another quick post. When talking about Liverpool’s performance at Crystal Palace, Aldo said:
The fact that we’ve found a corner taker is also a real positive. Our corners have been horrendous for a long time, I could never see us scoring from them. But Philippe Coutinho put in some really good deliveries and hopefully we’ll stick with him now… When we had Suarez and Steve Gerrard deliveries, you could see the percentage of goals getting knocked up.
Have Liverpool found a decent corner taker in Coutinho though? Or did the Reds benefit from some random variation at Selhurst Park?
The starting point for any such investigation is to see what consists an average performance. There were over 4,000 corners taken in the Premier League in 2015/16, so let’s begin with a look at how many of those resulted in goals or key passes.
We can see that it takes roughly six corners to create a chance on average, and of those 8% result in direct assists (which interestingly is roughly the same as the percentage of all chances that get converted too). It’s important to remember here that not all goals from corners are direct assists; the three that Liverpool conceded that I mentioned in the introduction were all from the second ball, and not the corner itself. We are interested in direct assists here though, to try to establish who should be Liverpool’s corner taker.
There are only three Liverpool players who have taken more than three corners so far this season: Coutinho (six), Milner (seventeen) and Henderson (twenty-eight). Let’s see how their corner stats from their careers (since 2009/10, via whoscored.com) rack up against each other and league average.
Milner finds a teammate most often.
Henderson creates a chance most often.
Coutinho gets an assist most often.
As always the data won’t tell us everything (speed and flight of the ball, short or long corner etc), but I wonder if Coutinho actually does take better corners, or if the assists just make it seem that way? It’s certainly fair to say that when any stat is over twice as potent as the standard rate (as Coutinho’s key passes – converted at 19% compared to a league average of just 8% – are) you would assume it won’t last. Lionel Messi converts shots at roughly double average rate, but he’s probably the greatest player of all time playing for one of the greatest teams of all time; is Coutinho the greatest corner taker of all time?!
It takes seventy-seven corners on average to generate an assist in the Premier League, yet the Brazilian has two assists from just six corners this season! Maybe he should be the Reds’ permanent corner taker, but I wouldn’t pin my hopes on loads more goals like we saw at Palace just yet.