Are Liverpool Better At Defending Set Pieces This Season?

It’s far too early to accurately answer this question of course, but I did a quick piece of research which was prompted by a Redmen TV video I watched:

This in turn had been inspired by a John Aldridge column in the Liverpool Echo, where the former striker spoke about recent Reds signing Joel Matip:

“I feel a lot more confident defending set plays because of him in the back four. Matip’s size and height means he’s winning those high balls in the box, he’s a real man mountain. He reminds me of Sami Hyypia in that respect, in how he likes to get his head on everything. We’ve looked susceptible from set pieces in recent times, now we look solid.”

Is this actually the case though? I’ve crunched the defensive set piece numbers for Liverpool in the Premier League since the start of last season, and I’m not convinced that it is.

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Two Goals Is Too Many; Liverpool’s Away Defence

As Liverpool slumped to a 3-1 defeat at Selhurst Park on Sunday, they racked up their fourth away defeat of the season, and sixth in total, with both of these loss figures matching their total for the whole of 2013/14.

Once Crystal Palace had equalised, it should’ve come as little surprise that they scored again before the end of the match; conceding two-or-more goals on the road has been a trademark of the Brendan Rodgers era at Liverpool.
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Javier Manquillo: Cross Blocking Beats

I wasn’t planning to write a piece on Liverpool’s new loan signing Javier Manquillo, simply because there is very little available data. The 20-year-old has only made sixteen appearances for Atletico Madrid’s first team, and seven of those were in the Copa del Rey (for which there are no detailed stats).

However, when having a look at his numbers from the nine games I could get information for, I found one particularly eye-catching stat that perhaps explains Liverpool’s interest in the young Spaniard.

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Dejan’s Defending; The Look of Lovren

Dejan Lovren, Southampton’s Croatian centre-back who they purchased from Lyon twelve months ago, is the latest player to be strongly linked with a move to Liverpool.

As defensive stats are hard to make use of, as a lot of the important aspects of defending (e.g. positioning, anticipation, marking etc) aren’t measured (or at least, the data isn’t available in the public domain), I’ve looked at some stats in a slightly different way to try to get more useful information out of them.

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Is Ben Davies The Answer At Left Back?

Liverpool were recently linked to Ryan Bertrand, though as I wrote here there was nothing in his numbers that could explain why particularly. The latest left back to be rumoured to be in Brendan Rodgers’ sights is Ben Davies of Swansea City, and as his raw numbers looked more favourable, I thought I’d dig a little deeper.

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The Curious Chase Of Ryan Bertrand

Whenever Liverpool get linked to a player, it’s usually the case that I haven’t seen them play too often. I’ll go to their page on Whoscored, see what their strengths and weaknesses are and have a look at the stats, and then delve a little deeper using StatsZone.

Normally, a quick look at a player’s numbers makes it clear why a team might be interested in signing them, but with Ryan Bertrand (who Liverpool are reportedly looking to sign) that doesn’t appear to be the case at all. What’s the attraction?

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Error Log 2013/14

In January 2013, I wrote a piece bemoaning Liverpool’s innate ability to cause themselves self-inflicted damage via defensive errors. Whilst the team’s form in this area improved over the rest of 2012/13, with the error per game rate dropping from 1.45 to 0.95, in 2013/14 the Reds unfortunately performed even worse than in Brendan Rodgers’ debut campaign.

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Brendan Rodgers’ Cross To Bear

Due to a fixture scheduling quirk that has been brought about by various teams’ cup involvement, Liverpool’s trip to Old Trafford this weekend is Manchester United‘s first home game in over a month.

Their last run out at the self-styled Theatre Of Dreams was a 2-2 draw with Fulham, which was notable for the Red Devils setting a new Premier League record for the number of crosses by a team in one game: eighty-two. Eighty-two!

Liverpool are widely perceived to struggle with crosses defensively, so I thought I’d take a closer look at this issue ahead of the match on Sunday.

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Why Liverpool Won’t Win The League

Paul Tomkins wrote an excellent free piece on this subject (which I recommend you read), which looked at various factors such as squad value, Brendan Rodgers’ lack of experience in such matters, and the need to have been close to the top in the preceding campaign.

However, having looked at aspects of Liverpool’s performance so far this season, it becomes abundantly clear to me why the wait for number nineteen will stretch on beyond this season.

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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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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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Kolo Toure: Liverpool’s New First Choice?

Following Jamie Carragher’s retirement, the signing of Kolo Toure on a free transfer immediately made sense to me; experienced, and with no shortage of ability, the Ivorian would make a fine replacement in the squad for the Reds’ legendary number 23.

But then I took a look at his statistics, as well as reading a few comments on the official Liverpool site, and I started to wonder if the former Manchester City man has actually been brought in to partner Agger at the heart of the defence in the majority of matches.

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Boxing Clever

A well-worn statistic that I often sprinkle liberally on here is that only one in forty-four open play shots from outside in the penalty box results in a goal. The vast majority of them are little more than ‘hit and hope’ efforts, in other words.

It’s all about being in the penalty box yourself, and keeping your opponents out, as a much healthier one in seven shots (excluding penalties) from within the goal area finds the back of the net.

Using data from WhoScored, I have been able to compile these figures for Europe’s top five leagues to create a ‘shots in the box difference’ (SIBD) metric. The good news for Brendan Rodgers is that Liverpool have performed exceptionally well at both ends of the pitch in this regard this season.

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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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Error Log

As Liverpool continue to struggle to make a push towards the top four, it’s very tempting to blame things that are beyond their control. The Reds have only been awarded one penalty in twenty-two league games to date, when they have averaged one every 6.9 league games in the previous ten seasons, and the Debatable Decisions website suggests that Liverpool have lost eleven points through incorrect refereeing calls and should at present be joint third in the Premier League table.

But some of the damage has unfortunately been self-inflicted. I’m referring to defensive errors, and compared to both the Reds’ own form in previous seasons, and the worst defences in the Premier League in recent years, the current Liverpool team is performing exceptionally badly. Continue reading

Liverpool’s Scoring And Defending Is Showing Progress

After the Reds bagged their second 3-0 win in a row against Sunderland tonight, I thought I’d have a look at how their attacking and defensive records compare to seasons past in the Premier League.

The good news is, that even after a difficult first half to the season, they are looking good.

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Defenders Of Our Faith

A first for Basstunedtored – a guest column! Andrew Fanko (who you can follow on Twitter here) takes a look at the defensive records of Liverpool’s current back-four combinations, and wonders if a previously untried pairing should get a run out…

Liverpool have already conceded 20 goals in their 13 competitive games so far this season, which is an average of 1.54 per game. You have to go back to the dark days of Graeme Souness and the 1992/93 season to find such a porous start to a campaign. We shipped 27 goals in the first 13 games of that season, including four at home to Chesterfield!

In the 19 interim seasons, the Reds have conceded an average of 11.6 goals in their first 13 games, which in itself is a per-game average of just 0.89 goals. So we’re conceding 0.65 more goals per game than we’ve been used to over the last two decades.

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Back Four Blunders, And Why They’re Happening

Liverpool finally got their first league win of the season at Carrow Road on Saturday, as they thumped five past hapless Norwich City. However, they maintained their average of conceding two goals per Premier League game this campaign at the same time, as errors by Reina and Skrtel enabled the Canaries to have a little something to chirp about.

Sadly for the Reds, whilst Suárez and co. bought their shooting boots along for once, the mistakes at the back were par for the course so far this season. A closer look at the figures shows just how much worse Liverpool have been defending when compared to last season.

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