Mignolet vs Reina: 2013/14

Ahead of Simon Mignolet’s move to Anfield last summer, I wrote this comparison of his and Pepe Reina’s form over the previous three seasons. The stats suggested that the Liverpool man was in decline whilst the Sunderland stopper was on the rise.

It was therefore interesting to see the image here on Twitter, which suggested that Reina had a better season performance-wise with Napoli in 2013/14 than Mignolet did with Liverpool. Whilst I don’t expect Reina to ever play for the Reds again, clearly the stats needed further investigation, so here’s what I found.

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Pass From Belgian To His Left Hand Side

I’ve been wanting to write a post on Simon Mignolet for a while, with a particular focus on his passing as this is where the pro-Reina camp say he doesn’t match up to the illustrious Spaniard.

As the Belgian stopper logged 100% passing accuracy in his last run out at Fulham, this seemed as good a time as any to have a closer look at his distribution data.

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The Pepe Penalty Myth

This article on Squawka looked at whether or not Liverpool have made a mistake in loaning out Pepe Reina. One particular line caught my eye:

“Napoli fans and team-mates will love that Reina is a good penalty saver”

It made me think; Reina arrived at Anfield in 2005 with a fantastic reputation for saving spot kicks, having kept out seven of the nine he faced during his final season with Villareal. Yet I can’t recall him saving too many for the Reds, so is the above quote accurate or not?

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Is Mignolet The Man To Replace Reina?

I recently wrote an article looking at which goalkeepers may be suitable to replace Pepe Reina if he were to leave (read more here). Using a simple analysis of short passing accuracy and save percentage, the suggestion was that Sunderland’s Simon Mignolet would not be up to the task.

However, as the transfer talk intensifies that the Belgian stopper will be heading to Liverpool, I thought I’d dig a little deeper to see if anything else suggests he could adequately replace the Reds’ Spanish custodian. Or, dare I say it, actually prove to be better.

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Replacing Reina

As rumours continue to circulate that Pepe Reina might be leaving Liverpool, I thought I’d look at the form of potential replacements who I have seen rumoured could be signing for the Reds (with the obvious priviso that some of the deals will probably have a cat-in-hell’s chance of actually happening!). I’ve also included Brad Jones, as he signed a new contract this season and so will presumably remain with the Reds in 2013/14.

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The Truth About Pepe Reina’s Errors

Following Pepe Reina’s part in Sergio Aguero’s equaliser for Manchester City in their 2-2 draw with Liverpool on Sunday, this tweet was in heavy circulation:

Reina‘s mistakes cost Liverpool 14 points this season. Without those faults, Liverpool would be in the 3rd place. (via Opta Stats)

Fourteen points sounds like a hell of a lot, so I thought I’d investigate. As with many ‘facts’ floating around on Twitter, it proved to be hugely far from the truth.

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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

Rodgers Requires Reina

I have written on here previously regarding how, in save percentage terms, Brad Jones should possibly be Liverpool’s goalkeeper ahead of Pepe Reina (whose form has declined year-on-year at Anfield).

In the Premier League this season, Jones has saved 69% of the shots he has faced whilst Reina has struggled and only saved half of the attempts on target that have come his way.

But the modern game, and especially Brendan Rodgers’ penchant for a passing, possession based football, requires a keeper to offer more than simply stopping shots.

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Brad Jones: Liverpool’s Number One?

Australian goalkeeper Brad Jones has not had it easy since he moved to Liverpool in 2010 for a fee of £2.3m. He has only made nine appearances for the club in just over two seasons, he made his debut in a disastrous cup defeat to League Two Northampton Town, and off the pitch he suffered the tragedy of losing his son Luka to leukemia last year.

Yet as Pepe Reina picked up an injury during the last round of international fixtures, Jones has been thrust into the spotlight at Anfield, and to be fair to the former Middlesbrough man he hasn’t disappointed as he has picked up two clean sheets out of two. But does he deserve to displace his Spanish colleague, and actually be Liverpool’s number one, rather than the substitute goalie who happens to wear that particular numbered shirt?

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Individuals Are Performing, Now For The Team

Following the latest international break, Liverpool resume Premier League action with a match against newly-promoted Reading at home tomorrow, and the Reds really need a win.

A painful statistic doing the rounds is that both Arsenal and Liverpool have won two league games at Anfield in 2012, and Brendan Rodgers needs the Reds to move onto three home victories sooner rather than later if the pressure on him is not going to start becoming unbearable.

However, using EPLIndex’s excellent ‘Top Stats’ function, I have looked at how certain members of the Liverpool squad are performing, and whilst the team as a whole may not have hit the heights as yet under Rodgers, the stats suggest that a number of players are in fact doing really well individually.

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Passing Progress

Liverpool concluded their pre-season preparations for the 2012/13 campaign with a 3-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen at Anfield on Sunday. Whilst I missed the game myself, I saw some very interesting and encouraging post-match tweets from @AnfieldIndex:

LFC Vs Leverkusen Total Passes: Total: 613 Accurate: 549 Accuracy: 89.56%

Comparing the above stats with Liverpool’s figures from last season illustrates how much more of the ball they’re now having.

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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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Liverpool’s Defensive Issues

After another two points were dropped yesterday against Norwich City at Anfield, a lot of the focus was on the wasted chances. Twenty opportunities were created (double the amount as in the recent matches with Everton and Manchester United), but the Reds only found the back of the net once, and paid for it when substitute Grant Holt equalised for the Canaries.

I have covered the chance conversion issue previously here. Whilst it is clearly still a problem, the team is having difficulty at the defensive end of the pitch too.  After all, you can afford to miss a few chances yourself if you can be confident of registering a clean sheet, but unfortunately for Liverpool, that’s not the case at the moment.

Take a look at the table below:

Whilst the percentage of chances conceded that have resulted in goals is lower than it’s been in any of the previous three seasons, the interesting thing here for me is the correlation between chances conceded per game and clean sheet ratio:

It might seem obvious that the two things would correlate, but it’s still fascinating to see that this is very much the case.

It becomes clear that Benitez had his defensive tactics spot on, though having a team featuring Alonso, Mascherano and peak-era Carragher wouldn’t have harmed either of course.

The chance creation rate for the Reds, currently at 12.8 per game on average, is the highest it has been since 2008/09 (14.6 per game) when they nearly won the league, so it’s clear that some defensive solidity has been sacrificed for a more attacking style.

Which is fine in theory, but with chances going begging up front, Liverpool could really do with tightening up at the back. Only two clean sheets this season, both attained when the opposition have had a man sent off, is not good enough for a team with Champions League aspirations.

Statistics sourced from EPLIndex. 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.

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.

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