Can Can Do What Lucas Can?

Liverpool are currently heavily linked with a move for Bayer Leverkusen’s twenty year old German midfielder Emre Can. A quick glance at his stats on WhoScored revealed a very similar level of output to Lucas Leiva, and as the Brazilian is currently the Reds’ last choice midfielder, it seems logical to me that Can may be his replacement. I have therefore taken a closer look at the figures to see how they compare.

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Game 29 Proves Significant

League matches don’t get much bigger for Liverpool than their next one: Manchester United, away. As chance would have it, the meeting happens to fall on the fifth anniversary of the weekend when the Reds returned home along the M62 with all three points following a fabulous 4-1 win at Old Trafford.

Thanks to the home match with Sunderland being postponed, the United away fixture is Liverpool’s twenty-ninth league game of the campaign, just as it was in 2008/09.

Out of curiousity, I decided to see which matches have been the twenty-ninth in the seasons in-between, and it turns out you won’t have forgotten any of them. They have all proved to be significant; some for good reasons, others not so much.

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Why Keegan Comparisons Need Revising

Liverpool and Newcastle United played out what is widely regarded to be the greatest Premier League match of them all in 1996, with the Reds winning 4-3 thanks to a last-minute Stan Collymore goal.

The Reds’ latest frantic victory, which was also a 4-3 home win, lead to inevitable comparisons between the current Liverpool team and Kevin Keegan’s kamikaze Toon side of the mid-1990s. In his match report for The Times, Tony Barrett said:

This was the day when Liverpool stirred memories of Keegan’s Newcastle United by serving up a slew of reasons why their unlikely title challenge could yet be maintained and just as many why it may not…. Being great entertainers, à la Keegan’s Newcastle, will win Liverpool many admirers, but whether it will allow them to end a 24-year wait for a league title, or end up costing them the chance to do so, remains to be seen.

Of course, Barrett is mainly talking about the one match, so I’m not going to have a pop at him here, but he touched on a theme that does seem to be in the air at the moment yet is not actually that accurate.

It’s not that Liverpool aren’t entirely like Keegan’s Newcastle; they’re actually a more extreme version of those maverick Geordies.

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Second Half Slump? Controlling The Result

Liverpool returned to the top of the Premier League with a 3-1 win over Crystal Palace at Anfield. The problems that have dogged the Reds this season were evident though, as they delivered a below par performance in the second half of the match as usual.

In their seven league matches in 2013/14, Liverpool have yet to trail at the half time break, leading in six and drawing the other. In view of this, it’s not surprising that they’ve been on the back foot in the second period as they have had something to protect rather than a game to chase.

Viewed through this reality, I’m going to show that they’ve had better control of their second halves than you might think.

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What A Difference A Year Makes

Liverpool beat Manchester United today to go top of the league at the end of a Premier League weekend for the first time since 11 January 2009. In doing so, they earned three points more than they did in the corresponding fixture last season, meaning that after just three matches, they are five points up on 2012/13.

It is natural to compare a team’s form with the previous season in order to try to assess if they have made any progress. However, in the case of Liverpool, the difference in peformance between the calendar years of 2012 and 2013 is worth a closer look, simply because it is so pronounced.

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Cissokho’s Coming For Your Place, Jose!

Liverpool have signed Valencia left-back Aly Cissokho on loan for 2013/14, and so I have taken a look at his statistics compared to those for his direct competitor for a first team berth, Jose Enrique.

From what I’ve seen, the twenty-five year old Frenchman could well walk straight into the Reds’ first team.

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Sinclair vs Sterling

With Stewart Downing having packed his Anfield bags and joined Liverpool Mk II with Joe Cole and Andy Carroll at West Ham, attention turns to who Liverpool might bring in to replace him.

Whilst fans may be dreaming about the likes of Willian joining as the Reds potentially profit from Anzhi’s financial crisis, the far more likely option is Scott Sinclair signing from Manchester City. The bookmakers have drastically cut their odds with regards to this transfer happening, and of course he worked with Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers in his former life at Swansea City.

I personally hope that the Reds are NOT in the market for Sinclair, and here’s why.

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Mkhitaryan vs Eriksen: Champions League Showdown

I recently wrote a piece which looked at the Champions League stats of Liverpool target Henrikh Mkhitaryan (and you can read it here), but it only had figures from this season.

Following publication of the article, I received several requests for Christian Eriksen’s stats, as he is also rumoured to be on Brendan Rodgers’ radar, and supposedly cheaper to boot (at £15m, compared to £25m for his Armenian counterpart).

Thanks to a tip-off from Dan Kennett, I have located and compiled the figures from Champions League football for both players for the last three seasons. It’s still a small sample, but hopefully it might add a little something to the transfer debate.

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Ashley Williams, Or…

Liverpool’s defence will need some major reconstruction during the summer; Jamie Carragher is retiring, and both Martin Skrtel and Sebastian Coates appear to be decidedly out of favour.

If you believe what you read, then Ashley Williams of Brendan Rodgers’ former club Swansea City is the primary target, and looking at his stats on WhoScored, it’s easy to see why.

The Welsh international is ranked sixth in the Premier League for interceptions per game, fourth for clearances per game, and top for blocked shots per game; in many ways, he’s exactly what Liverpool are looking for.

But he wouldn’t be cheap; the Swans trousered £15m when Joe Allen moved to Anfield last season, and no doubt the Capital One Cup holders would look for a similar amount for Williams. I have therefore looked at the defensive stats for Europe’s big five leagues on WhoScored to try to find the Reds a bargain.

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Brendan Rodgers: The Right Appointment?

As Liverpool’s season appears to be petering out, there is lots of talk online that perhaps FSG hired the wrong man last summer, or indeed that they shouldn’t have fired Kenny Dalglish in the first place.

I’m going to look at if Liverpool have improved on last season, and also at the form of the other names that were in the frame to be appointed as manager at Anfield last summer, to try to see if Rodgers really is the right man to lead Liverpool forward.
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Swansea Stats: Brendan’s Bravery Shines Through

This article first appeared on The Tomkins Times on 11th July 2012. Statistics are for Premier League games only, and were sourced from EPLIndex and WhoScored.

Brendan Rodgers’ Swansea City earned numerous plaudits for their style of play in 2011/12, and the manager has subsequently been rewarded with his first big football management role. But what exactly was it about his management of a smaller team like Swansea that convinced John W Henry and co. that the Ulsterman was the right man for the enormous job at Anfield? I have taken a look at the Swans’ statistics to try to find out.

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Quantifying Progress, From Roy To Kenny

This piece first appeared on The Tomkins Times on March 15th 2012, and the stats included are correct up to and including the match away at Sunderland on March 10th.

After a series of poor league results, including three defeats in a row for the first time in nearly a decade, stern questions are being asked of Kenny and his team’s management of Liverpool, probably for the first time; were the most suitable players purchased in the summer, have the tactics been right, and so on.

Things have been so bad lately that Dalglish’s recent league form has matched that of his predecessor’s; Roy Hodgson recorded an average of 1.25 points-per-game at Liverpool, and the Reds have the same figure from their previous sixteen matches this season too (though as the first eleven games this term yielded 1.73 points-per-game, things haven’t reached Hodgson-esque levels overall just yet).

I wrote a brief piece for EPLIndex recently which demonstrated that only on very few occasions this season have Liverpool been bested by their opponents at various match statistics, illustrating that, even if the results haven’t always been quite what is desired, at least the performances have generally been good.

But there was no comparison to other teams in that article, so whilst the numbers were good, were they any better or worse than anyone else, or what had come before at Liverpool?

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Roy vs Kenny: 20 Game Comparison

Following a request on Twitter for this information, below is a graph showing the vital three statistics for Liverpool’s first twenty league games in the last two seasons: goals for, goals against, and points won, all measured on a per-game basis.

Twenty league games was the full extent of Roy Hodgson’s tenure in the Anfield hotseat, hence why that is the length of time studied here in order to compare it with Kenny Dalglish’s first full season in charge.

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The Challenge Facing Jay Spearing

Following the sad news that Lucas Leiva will miss the remainder of the season after sustaining an anterior cruciate ligament injury in Liverpool’s recent Carling Cup quarter-final victory at Chelsea, Kenny Dalglish faces an enormous dilemma: just who can fill the current player-of-the-year’s boots?

Perhaps a replacement will be drafted in during the forthcoming transfer window, but before that can happen the Reds have six league games to negotiate in December, and that’s before you consider a triple-header with Manchester City in January.

Whilst some might opt for Jordan Henderson as the temporary replacement for Lucas, my money would be on Jay Spearing. I’ll be honest and admit I was never that convinced by the young scouser during his early appearances for the team, though he changed my mind on that front over the closing months of last season. But how do his stats from last season compare to Lucas’ for this campaign?

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Myths #3: Hodgson’s Liverpool Record Compares Closely To Dalglish’s

I have recently been reading tweets that suggest that Kenny Dalglish has barely improved on Roy Hodgson’s record for Liverpool, despite having a lot more money to play with.

MoosaMUFC14 pointed out: “LFC under Dalglish (PL, FA and EL): Played 33, won 16, drawn 9, lost 8. Hodgson: Played 29, won 13, drawn 8, lost 8.”

Whilst DylanMUFC14 (I assume they must be teenage brothers) said: “Dalglish has improved #LFC’s League, FA Cup & European results by just 6.8% on the Roy Hodgson era,despite spending £91.85m more..”

Blimey, and I thought Dalglish had been doing a much better job than Hodgson. How wrong I was.

Or was I?

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Luis Suárez: Sharp Shooter?

There has been lots of talk amongst Liverpool fans about how wasteful in front of goal Luis Suárez has been of late. I’ve taken a look at the stats to see if that is the case.

To give his form some context, I have compared it to that of Fernando Torres whilst he was at Liverpool; perhaps not the fairest of comparisons due to their differing styles of play and ways that they are involved in a game as a whole, but as Liverpool’s primary goal-getters over the past four years it’s valid to compare them.

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Liverpool FC’s Squad Availability 2010/11

As I have often mentioned, and as anyone with half an eye on football would have noticed, Liverpool were far more effective in the league last season under Kenny Dalglish than they were under Roy Hodgson.

I will be taking a look at what players were available to both managers for league matches to see if this had an impact. Did the managers get to put out onto the field the players they’d have liked to?

I have discounted matches that occurred during the transfer window for the start of both manager’s reigns, as a multitude of players either left (e.g. Mascherano and Torres) or joined (Konchesky, Carroll and Suárez for example) during these periods.

In all of the below tables the players are sorted in order of the percentage of the available of minutes that they played. A match is counted as 90 minutes, no injury time is included.

To register in the ‘matches selected for’ column, a player made the bench as a minimum, but may not have actually played. This would indicate that a player was at least ‘fit’ (though perhaps not 100% match fit) to play. Of course players will miss matches through being rested, or dropped outright too.

The ‘difference’ figures shows where players have been selected for matches but not played the full 90 minutes; the higher the figure in this column, the greater percentage of their time they spent on the bench, or were subbed off early.

Let’s start with Roy’s team:

What can we learn from these figures? Here are my key observations:

  • Not even Hodgson rated Christian Poulsen once he’d actually played for the club. In the squad for all but one of the games, the Dane only played just over a quarter of the available minutes.
  • The difference was even more pronounced for recent Anfield departee Milan Jovanovic. People may say he was a flop on Merseyside, but did he really get a fair crack of the whip? It appears not.
  • Roy clearly had no faith in the youngsters. Players like Kelly, Spearing and Shelvey, who would all play more frequently (and more importantly on the whole play well) under Dalglish barely got a sniff during Hodgson’s reign.
  • Fernando Torres was misused by Hodgson. He only scored five goals in this period, despite featuring in 16 out of a possible 17 games. What Benitez wouldn’t have given for that level of turn-out from the Spaniard, especially in 2008/09.
  • Player of the season Lucas Leiva wasn’t as highly rated by Roy; the young Brazilian stayed on the bench for three games and was subbed off early twice, an unthinkable scenario under Dalglish.

Now let’s have a look at the figures for Kenny’s team, which covers a total of 14 matches, with observations below:

  • Kenny was more consistent with his squad – seven ever presents to Roy’s four, though of course that will always be easier with three fewer games. This was also likely to the Scot having to deal with more injuries to key players than his predecessor; certain players couldn’t be rested.
  • Where Roy had Torres as 3rd most utilised and Gerrard in 7th, Kenny could only field Carroll (who was Torres’ replacement, as if you need reminding) enough for 12th place and Gerrard for 14th, a distinct disadvantage. Dalglish did of course know that Carroll was injured when he signed though.
  • As I’ve mentioned here previously, Dalglish did not rate Joe Cole, but also was he not keen on David N’gog – the two players spent a combined 2249 minutes on the Liverpool bench in this period. Splinters (as OptaJoe might say).
  • The likes of Gerrard, Kelly and Agger had little difference between the number of matches available and the minutes they played. In other words, they played the whole time that they were not injured. An indicator for next season (injuries permitting) that they will be first team certainties?

Here is the overall list, so features all 38 league games:

  • Congratulations go to Pepe Reina and (more impressively) Martin Skrtel, for playing the whole season.
  • Credit goes to Maxi Rodriguez – aside from the final match of the season, he was in the squad for every single other game, yet played under 2/3 of the available time. Did anyone hear him grumble? Not that I’m aware of, clearly he’s a top pro.
  • For a reported £210k per week, Liverpool only got 1257 mins of league play out of Joe Cole and Milan Jovanovic. Only 18.38% of what they could have played between them, a very poor return on the money.
  • Raul Meireles, on the other hand, did appear to be good value – he made 33 out of a possible 35 squads after he signed. An impressive figure considering it was his first season in England, and also as he could easily be accused of not having the ‘fight’ for English football if his tackling is anything to go by.
  • Although I have argued previously that Daniel Agger should be kept by Liverpool, these figures show that his injury record has to be a major concern. Three players who were only at the club for half of the season played more minutes than him for starters.

Although the figure isn’t listed above, probably the key statistic from last season in this respect is that Andy Carroll, Steven Gerrard and Luis Suárez were only on the pitch together for 15 minutes, and that was when the Reds were 3-0 up at home against Manchester United. A lovely position to be in of course, but not one that required the variety of attacking gifts that those three players possess.

If Liverpool can keep those three fit, plus with the addition of consistently fit players like Stewart Downing (who has averaged 34.4 appearances over the last five seasons, according to OptaJoe), Charlie Adam (only missed three league games in the last two years), and Jordan Henderson (only missed six in the same period), then the Reds might be able to settle on a fairly consistent line-up, which can only be a plus for the new season.

Please take a look at my other articles, a list of which can be found here.

Pass and Move vs Pass and Hoof: Liverpool’s Passing Statistics 2010/11

This article first appeared on The Tomkins Times on 12th July 2011. Stats sourced from Anfield Index unless stated. All figures quoted are average per Premier League match.

One of the most surprising statistics from the season just ended is that Liverpool passed the ball more accurately under Roy Hodgson than they did under Kenny Dalglish.

Sure, it was a 74.78% success rate for Roy compared to 74.08% for Kenny, so not a lot in it, but Hodgson still takes the honours.

The Reds were far more successful under Dalglish (1.83 points per game) than they were under Hodgson (1.25) though, so how can we explain these passing statistics?

I will be looking at various aspects of passing to try and explain this slightly curious phenomenon.

No doubt Roy Hodgson, king of the hoof, instructed his team to make more long passes than Kenny Dalglish did, right?

Well yes, but not by much at all. Unfortunately the stats for unsuccessful long passes are not available, but I’m sure you can guess who I think would come out on ‘top’ there.

One very fascinating discovery from the passing statistics is the lop-sidedness of Liverpool’s play last season. If ever you want proof that the Reds need a decent left sided midfielder, and hopefully new signing Stewart Downing will fill that gap, then this should help:

I can only assume that a lack of quality options on the left side of the pitch lead Liverpool to switch play to the right side rather than the left around 18 times more every match. This must surely have lead to a degree of predictability that the opposition could benefit from? That said, if I had the choice of passing to Konchesky or Johnson, I know who I’d pick.

As Andy Carroll has been brought on board at great expense to be a target man, it’s logical that Liverpool will need to make the most of their crossing. How did they get on in this respect last season?

Worryingly, the Reds were more successful at crossing under Roy Hodgson, before Carroll had even come to the club. I’m sure Damien Comolli is aware of this fact, and also that Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam, both of whom have recently been acquired by Liverpool, found teammates with 24.38% and 23.47% of their crosses respectively last season, above the average for the Liverpool squad.

As I mentioned here, Pepe Reina’s form in goal improved under Dalglish, but how about his kicking accuracy?

It did improve once Roy Hodgson’s goalkeeping coach Mike Kelly had been removed from the premises, but not by a massive amount. I suspect quite a lot of these kicks would have been shorter under Dalglish’s management, and so more likely to reach their intended target by default.

In terms of the direction of the team’s passing, I was quite surprised by the following figures:

Roy Hodgson’s team played a higher percentage of their passes forward, and a lower percentage backwards than Dalglish’s. Clearly, the differences weren’t huge, but I’m sure most of you reading this would have assumed it was the other way round, much like I did.

One theory I’ve heard (and, in principle, agreed with) regarding Roy’s higher passing success rate was that his team passed it around at the back under little pressure (which improved their statistics) before hitting it long.

Whilst that may be the case, it’s surprising to see that Roy was slightly ahead in both halves of the pitch, and not just the defensive end. These figures do not include goal kicks and throw-ins, though I wouldn’t expect them to alter the percentages hugely.

To try and break it down further, I used The Guardian’s chalkboard data and divided the pitch up into six sections as per this example:

Section 1 includes Liverpool’s goal area, through to section 6 where the opposition’s goal is to be found. Here’s a breakdown of where on the pitch the team attempted passes under the two managers, and likewise for completed passes. Please bear in mind that these figures will not match the above defensive or attacking half ones, as they also include goal-kicks and throw-ins.

These statistics tie-in a bit more with what we saw from the pitch itself; Roy Hodgson’s team were making significantly more passes than Kenny Dalglish’s in the defensive half of the pitch. As a lot of these would have been attempted under relatively little pressure, Roy’s side were able to complete more passes too.

Perhaps the most revealing information of this whole study can be found by looking at the average pass completion rate for each of the six zones:

As you can see, the figures are fairly similar for every zone apart from the most attacking one (area 6), where Kenny’s team completed almost 7.5% more passes. This probably goes a long way to explaining why they scored an extra 0.74 goals per game on average.

Of course, this great a variety of statistics can be used to prove pretty much whatever you like. But in virtually all of these comparisons, the differences between the two managers are fairly small.

Except the passing success rate for the final sixth of the pitch where Kenny romps home, and for me that’s the key fact here. Roy’s team could knock around the back all they liked; Kenny’s team put it in the opposition net.

Advantage Dalglish.

Please take a look at my other articles, a list of which can be found here.

Goal Involvement: The Top Six

Following an excellent article on The Tomkins Times regarding the goal involvement for each Liverpool player, it was suggested that it would be interesting to see how the Liverpool players compare against their rivals from the other teams that finished in the top six last season.

Whilst the original study looked at all goal involvement (including passes in the build up to a goal) across all competitions, this will be solely based on goals and assists in the Premier League, as that information is far more widely available.

102 different players scored a goal and/or provided an assist for a team-mate for the top six last season. Where players (such as Andy Carroll or Fernando Torres) have played for two teams this season, the figures quoted are their total for both sides, to allow them a full season of data (injuries permitting of course).

Goals

Robin van Persie takes the honours here, though his tally was boosted by a couple of penalties, which helped him get past Berbatov into first place. Interestingly, discounting the spot kicks would make it a dead heat between those two.

Whilst Andy Carroll is seventh, the majority of his goals and pitch time were in the black and white of Newcastle United. In fairness though, his performances for Liverpool would still put him in ninth on the above list, with his two goals in 446 minutes of game time.

Liverpool’s highest placed representative for the season as a whole is Maxi Rodriguez, who scored a goal every 204.3 minutes, which landed him 16th place.

Although Michael Owen made a minor contribution to United’s title success, with three players in the top four (and Wayne Rooney just outside in 13th), it’s easy to see why they had such a good season.

Assists

Technically, first place should belong to Chelsea’s young Ryan Bertrand, who picked up one assist in the 33 minutes of league football he played last season.

Ignoring him due to his lack of game time, we can see that Cesc Fabregas, who was a lowly 48th on the goals list, leads the way here from Nani.

It’s perhaps surprising to see Didier Drogba make 5th place here, as he was only 23rd on the goal scoring chart. I’m sure this hasn’t been the case for the majority of his Chelsea career.

The Reds’ highest representative was Jonjo Shelvey, who came in at 13th place with one assist from 321 minutes of match time. It should also be noted that Luis Suárez came in at a highly creditable 19th place for his first half-season in England, after assisting a goal every 367.33 minutes.

Goals + Assists = Total Goal Involvement

As this is the key measure of this study, I have included the top twenty players (again ignoring Ryan Bertrand – sorry Ryan!):

Congratulations go to Robin van Persie, the only player to be involved in a goal more than once every 90 minutes played. Even discounting penalties, he would still lead the way with an impressive 76.87 minutes per goal involvement.

Again, Andy Carroll’s tally has been boosted by his Geordie exploits; for Liverpool alone he would drop to 24th place.

Dirk Kuyt therefore takes the Liverpool player of the season award on this ranking, as he did in the original study. It’s also encouraging again to see Luis Suárez grab a top twenty berth.

Again, Manchester United can boast a very good showing; six of the top twenty. It’s interesting to note that Manchester City managed to finish 3rd in the league, yet only have one representative in this table. An injury to (or the departure of) Carlos Tevez could impact them in a big way next season.

I’m sure you’re wondering about the whereabouts of PFA Player Of The Year Gareth Bale. He finished 47th in this table, behind (amongst others) our own Joe Cole, who finished in 43rd. Who would have ever thought that would have happened?

UPDATE: 3rd January 2012 – As Joe Cole is on the verge of leaving Liverpool, I tweeted that he had scored or assisted in the Premier League more frequently than Gareth Bale did in 2010/11. This was subsequently questioned, so here are the figures:

Player Club Goals Assists Total Minutes Played Minutes Per Goal Or Assist
Joe Cole Liverpool 2 1 3 794 264.67
Gareth Bale Tottenham Hotspur 7 1 8 2451 306.38

The statistics used in this article were originally sourced from The Telegraph, but I have today verified them via EPLIndex, WhoScored, ESPN Soccernet and the official Premier League website.

So it’s official – Joe Cole IS better than Gareth Bale!

Please check out my other articles, and follow me on Twitter or via Facebook. Thanks.

Downing vs Young: 2010/11

Rumours continue to persist that Liverpool are planning to snap up Stewart Downing from Aston Villa, whilst their Lancashire rivals Manchester United are planning to raid Villa Park for Ashley Young.

Both are England internationals, and are of similar age (Downing turns 27 next month, whilst Young will be 26), so a comparison seems reasonable. Not to see who might get the better deal of the two clubs, as that’s impossible to say. But are Liverpool going after the right ‘Villain’?

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