Liverpool’s Goalscoring Subs Since 2008

Christian Benteke scored the first league goal of the Jürgen Klopp era against Southampton at Anfield, and in doing so became the most recent substitute to bag a goal for Liverpool. How have the Reds fared from the bench since 2008, and likewise how did their new manager fare at Dortmund for bringing on goal scoring and assist providing substitutes?

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Brendan Rodgers: Liverpool Elite

As the Liverpool title charge continued with a thrilling 3-2 victory over Manchester City, the result meant that Brendan Rodgers set a couple of memorable records. In doing so, in one way he joined the club’s managerial elite.

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Liverpool: League Leaders In More Ways Than One

As a statto, it’s always a joy to find a new source of football information that you’ve never seen anywhere else. It’s a rare treat these days, but today I stumbled across this.

It contains the data on how long each team in the Premier League has been leading and losing this season, and for previous campaigns too. I thought it was worth a look to see how Liverpool compare to their own past efforts, and those of other top performing sides too.

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Liverpool’s Most Successful Formation Is…

Last season, using data obtained from WhoScored, I wrote an article which looked at whether or not Brendan Rodgers was tactically flexible in 2012/13; the evidence suggested he was, and you can read the piece here.

The aforementioned stats website has the formation data, including results, dating back to 2009/10, so I have now compiled Liverpool’s statistics for the previous four seasons to see which set up has provided them with the best results. The answer may surprise you.

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Rodge and Hodge – A Little Context

I was lucky enough to be at Anfield yesterday to watch Liverpool draw 1-1 with Newcastle, and doubly lucky enough not to be soaked by the sprinkler!

It was my first opportunity to see a Brendan Rodgers team in person, and in truth the match panned out as I expected. I had tweeted prior to the match that the Reds had given away the 2nd fewest shots at home in the Premier League this season, whilst having the 5th most themselves, and whilst on the day Liverpool dominated possession and had more chances, they were not creative or clinical enough to secure the win.

Overall though, I’m still satisfied with how Liverpool have been playing this season, even if the results haven’t matched the performances. I was still surprised however to read that Brendan Rodgers has bagged fewer points from his opening ten league games in charge at Anfield than Roy Hodgson did in 2010/11.

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The Decline Of Pepe Reina

I read today (in this piece on The Tomkins Times) that Pepe Reina saved 69% of the shots he faced in the Premier League this season, which happened to be the average percentage figure for all of the ‘keepers who made at least ten appearances in 2011/12.

Pepe Reina? An average goalkeeper? Whilst that initially seemed surprising to me, thinking back it’s clear that he didn’t seem at his best last season, and indeed he hasn’t since Rafa Benitez left Anfield in the summer of 2010.

I have previously looked at Reina’s form as part of other articles (here and here), but I thought it would be interesting to assess his statistics now that his seventh season on Merseyside has concluded. Below is a table showing the trend of his Premier League save percentage across his time at Liverpool:

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England at Euro 2012: A Statistical Horrorshow

In my preview of yesterday’s match, I predicted that Italy would win 2-1 on the basis that they had the edge on England in the group stage statistically; more possession and shots, and fewer shots against.

I may have got the scoreline wrong, but the Azzurri easily dominated a poor England side as expected. With the Three Lions now heading home, I thought I’d look at their stats and consider what they mean for England.

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Euro 2012: Can England Reach The Semis?

Congratulations to England, who have surpassed my expectations for Euro 2012 by reaching the quarter finals (at least) for only the second time on foreign soil since the tournament first had a finals stage in 1980. But what do the stats say about how they have played, and whether they can progress further?

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Hodgson and England: The Stats Don’t Bode Well

As an English Liverpool fan, I have taken a keen interest in the news that Roy Hodgson is likely to be appointed the next England manager.

Whilst I was not a fan of him during his time at Anfield, I can also appreciate the good work he has done at Fulham and West Bromwich Albion over the last few years. Of course, the expectations at the latter two clubs are significantly lower than they are on the red half of Merseyside, so it may be easier to be successful with those teams.

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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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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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Kenny Dalglish and the Points Per Game Ratio

Points per game (ppg) is a simple but effective way of measuring the progress of a team. By looking at the points per game that teams have registered in previous seasons, we can estimate where a team might finish.

The table below shows the ppg a team has required to secure the top four positions in the Premier League, since it became a 20 team division in 1995.

To be clear, the figures quoted will not correlate to the ppg the team in that position actually got at the end of the season; rather it is calculated on the team winning one point more than the team below them, as if they’d got that amount then they’d still finish in that position. Of course, you can have the same points as the team below you and beat them on goal difference, but I have ignored that rare occurrence to keep things simple.

It’s clear from the figures above that the standard has risen overall during this period, although last season did see a significant dip at the top of the league. I would expect this to be an exception rather than the norm though, in view of how much money the top teams have invested this summer.

Based on previous seasons, 2.29 ppg will guarantee the title. In 2008/09, Liverpool’s best league season during this period, the Reds averaged 2.26 ppg; the only time in these 16 seasons that this has not been enough to win the league. Quite an achievement by Señor  Benitez.

Of course that is an unrealistic goal for Liverpool this season. Dalglish’s primary objective for this campaign will be a fourth place finish and a return to the Champions League (or it’s qualifiers at least). The highest ppg required to secure a top four placing in a 20 team Premier League season was 1.79 in 2009/10.

Obviously it’s too early this season to realistically judge Liverpool’s form in pursuit of this objective, though 2.00 points per game when your first two matches have included Arsenal away is still a decent start.

At this point in time, Roy Hodgson and Kenny Dalglish have both managed Liverpool for 20 league games in the Premier League era, so it seems as good a time as any for a comparison.

The current West Bromwich Albion manager’s tenure at Anfield was not a happy or successful one as we know, but the ppg method shows just how far from the top four his team was.

Hodgson’s 20 league games only yielded 25 points, or 1.25 ppg. Had this form continued for the whole of last season then the Reds would have earned 47.5 points. I’ll be charitable and round it up to 48; Liverpool would have finished ninth last season.

Dalglish has been much more productive, earning 37 point from his twenty matches, or 1.85 points per game. This would have guaranteed fourth place in all of the last 16 seasons.

In fact, as the table below shows, this would have been enough for even higher league finishes on 12 occasions. Remarkably, it was enough for the title itself in 1997.

So whilst we can not be sure that Liverpool’s league form under Dalglish will guarantee a top four finish this season, it’s safe to say that the Reds are on the right track at least.

Three points today against Bolton Wanderers will move Dalglish to 1.90 ppg for his 21 league games so far. In other words, enough to have finished first in the league last season. Look out Sir Alex, the King is coming for you.

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

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.

Pepe Reina vs The Goalkeepers’ Union

This article first appeared on The Tomkins Times on 9th June 2011

Earlier in the season, I wrote a piece about Liverpool’s defensive struggles. Although that side of the game (like all others) picked up under Kenny Dalglish, the Reds still finished with 44 goals in the against column, their worst posting since 1998-99 (interestingly, that was the last season that also featured two managers).

It could have been worse: extrapolate Roy Hodgson’s defensive record to a full season, and Liverpool would have conceded 51 goals. This would have been their worst figure in a 38 game season in the Premier League era.

Part of this article looks at the form and performances of Pepe Reina, and now that the season has ended, I thought it would be interesting to see how his form varied between the management spells of Roy Hodgson and Kenny Dalglish, as well as how that compares with his record under Rafa Benitez.

Clearly Pepe was performing better under Dalglish than under Hodgson. Of course that’s partly because the team was also performig better overall too – just as a goalkeeper isn’t solely to be praised for a clean sheet, he’s rarely wholly to blame for goals conceded.

I thought it would be interesting to compare Reina to the other first choice goalkeepers in the Premier League on various aspects, and rank them to see who has been the best this season.

Please bear in mind that this is not a particularly scientific analysis in any way; I have simply devised some measures of goalkeeping success based on the statistics I have available, and would be happy to hear suggestions on how to refine and improve it. I hope to update this once I have obtained more statistics for starters.

For the analysis I have selected the keeper that made the most appearances for each Premier League side. The one exception is Arsenal: they utilised no less than four goalkeepers this season, and none of them even made the 19 appearances required to constitute half a season. I have therefore included both Szczesny (15 appearances) and Fabianski (14) as they both reached double figures. This gives us 21 goalkeepers to assess.

Make a note of Reina’s average figures for a season under Rafa, it will prove rather interesting.

Clean Sheet Ratio

An obvious one really; the more clean sheets they record, the better a goalkeeper must have done. Clearly the players in front of the ‘keeper play their part here, but it’s too important a measure to ignore. The top five for this season are:

No surprising names in amongst that lot. Notice from above how Reina’s average under Benitez (51.65%) would put him top of this chart. Even just using his figures under Dalglish would push him up to 2nd place, with 44.44%.

Goals conceded per game

All goalkeepers concede goals, it’s inevitable. But who conceded the least in respect of how many games they played? There’s no guarantee that this will correlate directly to clean sheet ratio, as the number of goals conceded in other games could vary wildly. Again, the credit and blame don’t lie solely with the goalkeepers for this measure.

Another win for Joe Hart in this category, albeit tied with Chelsea’s Petr Cech. It’s interesting to see Asmir Begovic make the top five, as he only ranked 9th in the clean sheet ratio rankings. Clearly he didn’t concede too many goals on the occasions when he did concede, and it shows what most people would tell you about Stoke (after the throw-in thing at least) – they’re a difficult bunch to play against, and don’t take many heavy beatings.

Once again, Reina’s average under Benitez would see him top this year’s standings, and once again his figures under Kenny’s management would see him higher in the list (3rd with 0.94).

Save percentage

This measure is probably the most important of the ones I have devised, as more responsibility lies with the goalies themselves.

No goalkeeper can save every shot; some efforts are just too good, and some will deflect past them through no fault of their positioning or handling. But obviously you want your ‘goal tender’ (thanks for that phrase, Mr Gillett) to save the majority of shots that they face. Who came out on top here?

Birmingham City may have been relegated, but Ben Foster certainly did his part in trying to keep them up, and Asmir Begovic has enhanced his reputation once again with his showing here.

This is where Reina has struggled most on the various rankings, though surprise surprise, his average performance for Liverpool prior to this season would see him top yet another chart. Apologies for sounding like a stuck record, but his figures for Dalglish’s tenure would again lift him up to 3rd on this list, with 75.36%.

Pass completion

Perhaps not such an obvious measure of the quality of a goalkeeper, but I feel it’s an important one. A goalkeeper can often be the starting point of an attack (especially a counter attack following an opposition corner or free-kick for example), and it’s no good saving the majority of the shots you face if you hand possession straight back to the opposition; sooner or later you will come unstuck.

For once no sign of Joe Hart; he ranked 8th in this table. Credit to the now retired Edwin Van der Sar, who leads the way here.

This area has Reina’s best ranking for this season, and that’s despite spending half of the season being told to hoof it long, thus lessening his chance of a successful pass than if he just played it short to one of his defenders.

Kudos to Richard Kingson of Blackpool for making the top five. I can only assume their commitment to playing decent football has helped with his stats here, as he has probably been encouraged to play out from the back rather than go long too often.

Unfortunately I don’t have Reina’s passing statistics for the Benitez era, but as he was encouraged to generally play it short from the back, it’s fairly safe to assume he would rank well on this chart.

Penalty Saves

There were only 14 penalties saved this season in the Premier League, and some were saved by goalkeepers who didn’t play enough games to qualify for this study.

As I can’t therefore really rank the keepers, I have awarded five points (a purely arbitrary figure) for every penalty saved. Heurelho Gomes and Jussi Jaaskelainen lead the way here with two saves each.

Final Table

So how does the final table look? I ranked the goalkeepers from 1 to 21 on each of the four main categories, and then assigned points (1st place got 21, 2nd got 20 etc) to make the total. Where two keepers have the same score in a column, their stats were identical.

Congratulations to Joe Hart, an impressive achievement considering this has been his first full season as the established number one at Manchester City. Having a very expensively assembled team in front of him helps of course, but he tops three of the four categories, so it’s hard to argue with him as the winner.

It will be of little consolation to him, but Ben Foster is the ‘keeper who over-achieved most in relation to his team’s league standing. It’s clear where Birmingham’s troubles were though, and it wasn’t between the sticks (at their end at least) – 13th in the league for goals conceded, but 20th for goals scored.

At the opposite end of the scale, Scott Carson (formerly of Liverpool of course) finished both bottom of these rankings, and the furthest below his team’s league position. A clean sheet ratio of just 6.25% tells it own tale, so it was thanks to West Bromwich Albion’s attackers that they did not suffer a similar fate to Birmingham (they scored 56 league goals, only three less than Liverpool).

Perhaps a 6th place finish is a slightly disappointing result for Pepe Reina, though as I have alluded to throughout this article, his average performance under Rafa Benitez would likely see him top these rankings. Even solely under Dalglish, he would pick up an extra 16 points, and a respectable 3rd place finish. Coincidentally, he would have earned 16 less points based on his figures for Roy Hodgson’s tenure, and so finished 13th.

So a mixed season for our Spanish custodian, but Dalglish appears to have both he and the whole defence back on track. Let’s see if Senor Reina can top these standings next year – if he does, Liverpool have a very good chance of having a successful season.

Please take a look at my other articles, a list of which can be found here. You can follow me on Twitter here.

Liverpool’s Passing Success Rate 2010/11

As I have had a few enquirires regarding this, I thought I’d post the answer here.

In the Premier League in 2010/11, Liverpool completed 74.46% of their passes.

Interestingly, they completed slightly more under Roy Hodgson’s leadership (74.78%) than they did during the tenure of Kenny Dalglish (74.08%).

A more in-depth analysis of the statistics will be available in future, but hopefully this answers people’s main query for the time being.

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

21 July 2011 – My full analysis of these figures can now be read here.

Defence and Defence-ability

This article first appeared on The Tomkins Times on 21 January 2011.

Following the first two league games of the second Dalglish managerial era, something worrying occurred to me: in both games we had taken the lead, only to subsequently conceded twice and go behind.

Don’t panic, this is not a rabid, foaming mouthed ‘DALGLISH OUT’ rant; rather a look at how Liverpool’s defensive record has shifted for the worse overall this season. I don’t profess to have all of the answers as to why, but I’ll share some relevant statistics I have in the aim of encouraging smarter people than I to get to the bottom of it.

Dear oh dear. Liverpool have already conceded more than they did in four of the six Benitez seasons, and matched the average figure for a full season, despite still having sixteen fixtures to play. Indeed, if they carry on at the current rate, then we can see that they will concede around double the amount of goals that Rafa’s team did in their four best league seasons.

Liverpool have been on the wrong end of more hidings (e.g. conceded three or more goals) than in previous years too. This occurred in four of Roy Hodgson’s twenty league games (20%), yet this has only happened to Liverpool fifty times in 716 Premier league games overall (6.98%).

But why has this downturn occurred?

My previous article (Roy vs. Rafa: Endgame), suggested that this could be down to the Reds having less possession in games, and defending deeper. Another seismic shift has been the switch between zonal and man-to-man marking.

Last season, Liverpool conceded 16 of their 35 goals against from set-pieces (45.71%). So far this season, they have conceded 11 set-piece goals. If they continue the season at the same rate, then by the end they will have conceded 19.

Some people might think that the defensive problems are down to the absence (for very different reasons) of two key players this season: Jamie Carragher and Javier Mascherano. The loss in form of one Pepe Reina may have contributed too, so I have looked at these three player’s statistics to try and determine what impact these issues may have had.

Javier Mascherano

A lot of people assumed that Liverpool would massively miss the Argentina captain, and even more so once his replacement turned out to be a 30 year old Juventus cast-off. After all, he won the most tackles in the Premier League last season (144), and that was in the club’s least successful season of his time here. But how did Liverpool cope overall without him in the league during the three full seasons he had at Anfield?

Perhaps a little surprisingly, Liverpool earned more points and conceded fewer goals on average without Mascherano in the team. The interesting statistic here is that Liverpool only lost one of the matches they played without him in the side; a closer look reveals it was an away game at West Ham in January 2008, where Liverpool only lost 1-0 thanks to a last minute penalty. The Masch-less Liverpool were within one minute of an unbeaten league record, which is very impressive.

Mascherano missed an even split of fourteen home and fourteen away matches, and to give some context to the difficulty of these games, he missed two home games with Everton, two away at Arsenal, and one home game with Chelsea, but he did play in all six against Manchester United.

I can’t say conclusively that Mascherano has been missed (indeed I think he has), but the Benitez team certainly managed without him reasonably well; this year’s side don’t appear to have done so.

Jamie Carragher

The analysis of Carragher’s influence has to be slightly different, in light of the fact that he missed so few league games in the Benitez era; he played no part at all in just seven of Rafa’s 228 league games in charge (a mere 3.07%). Instead, I will present the statistics from so far this season, where he has missed seven league games already.

The evidence shows that Liverpool have earned less points and conceded more goals without Carra in the side; in fairness, they have also scored more goals too. Whilst seven games is clearly too short a spell to provide serious statistical analysis, when you consider the seven teams we have played, I think it’s right to be a little concerned about these defence stats:

Aston Villa, Newcastle, Wolves, Bolton, Blackburn, Blackpool and Everton.

It’s hard to foresee a much kinder run of seven fixtures at any point in any season, especially considering that four of the seven matches were at home, and yet we’re averaging over 1.7 goals a game against.

Of course this can’t all be down to the absence of Carragher, but at the same time whatever you might think about him (either on or off the pitch) it’s hard to argue that he knows how to organise a defence, and on a purely defensive basis, is probably still our best centre-back.

There’s also no doubt there’s some relevance in the facts that Agger is returning from injury, Kelly is a young lad trying to find his way in a struggling team, and Paul Konchesky’s mum does his talking for him. But as the only player who spanned the entire Benitez era, which was defensively sound by-and-large, Carragher was definitely doing something right.

Pepe Reina

José Manuel “Pepe” Reina Páez (thanks Wikipedia) is the goalkeeper who reached 100 league clean sheets faster than any other for Liverpool, and faster than any other Premier league ‘keeper aside from Petr Cech. In his five full seasons in England, he has won the Barclays Golden Glove award outright three times, shared it once more, and only missed out on a share of it by one clean sheet in the other season (hence Carra having a go at Arbeloa at The Hawthorns in 2009). In short, both he and the defence in front of him have done outstandingly well during his time in England.

Up until now that is. But not since the departure of Benitez, and what part has Pepe’s personal form played in this defensive dip?

Roy Hodgson and his goalkeeping coach Mike Kelly are alleged to have wanted Pepe to keep goal in a more English fashion. The stats suggest they have succeeded in this, as they appear to have made him worse.

What we can see from these stats is that Reina has conceded a goal for every 1.74 saves he has made this season, which is by far his worst figure since signing for the club.  This would explain why we’re conceding over a goal a game on average, because any team you play, no matter how good or bad or be it home or away, will inevitably have at least a couple of shots on goal. Back in 2006 he was making nearly four times as many saves between goals. In fairness, some of this will be down to the team giving away less chances than in some previous years.

Unfortunately I don’t have the stats for shots off target by opposing teams, else I could properly see how the number of chances Liverpool have allowed against them has changed over time.

The figures I do have show, rather worryingly, that if this season’s record carries on at the same rate, then Reina will have conceded 53.55 goals compared to 35 in 2009-10, yet the number of on target chances against him will be virtually the same (146.82 to 138).

Obviously a team’s defending as a whole is responsible for the number of chances they give away, but these statistics do seem to confirm that Reina has definitely seen a downturn in his own personal form this season. Whether that’s entirely down to coaching is impossible to say, but it can’t be a complete coincidence that his relative loss of form has occurred after a significant change in the club’s management structure.

As with every aspect of a team’s success (or lack thereof), there are so many different factors to consider that not one thing can be pinpointed as the dominant cause. That said, Liverpool’s previously impressive defensive record has seen a definite downturn, which needs to be arrested sooner rather than later.

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