Liverpool wrapped up their pre-season campaign with a 2-1 win over Swindon Town on Sunday, which featured a ‘debut’ goal by Christian Benteke. I thought I’d take a quick look at which Reds have created chances or had a shot most frequently in the last five matches of the summer.
We keep hearing (from Jose Mourinho, mainly) that Liverpool are challenging for the title due to them not having to play in Europe (as if Champions League income doesn’t help with that particular ‘chore’, but let’s ignore that for now).
Whilst it is true that the other teams in the top four have played more games than the Reds this season, I thought it’d be interesting to break it down per player to see what the extra workload is. After all, these teams have bigger squads as they have more money to spend, so what difference do the extra games make per man?
Maxi Rodriguez finished last season in surely the best form of his entire career. In his final four starts for Liverpool he scored seven goals, including two hat-tricks. Not only that, but he was in the match day squad of eighteen for every single league game last season, aside from the final day defeat at Villa Park, so it seems that he was a good player to have at the team’s disposal throughout the season, under both Roy Hodgson and Kenny Dalglish.
Yet this season he has largely been frozen out, and I can’t think of any logical reason why.
So far in the league, he has only featured in seven of the matches, has not completed any of them, and has played less minutes than seventeen members of Liverpool’s squad (to give that some context, the only players who have featured less are Coates, Shelvey, Flanagan, Aurelio and Doni; none of whom are better than second choice in their position).
Which if Kenny thinks the players he has selected have been playing better than Maxi has been would be fine by me, but there is very little evidence to suggest that this is the case. For starters, check out the minutes-per-goal statistics for the Liverpool squad in the Premier League this season:
I have included every player who has scored, plus Stewart Downing on the basis that he has often taken a place in the side that perhaps could have gone to Rodriguez. Whilst he is behind one of the out-and-out strikers, Maxi has still found the net more regularly than his fellow midfielders. When we look at the shooting accuracy figures, it’s clear to see why:
Once again, it’s Rodriguez and Bellamy who are leading the way, with the likes of Henderson, Kuyt and Downing once again lower down the rankings than the Argentine they have been keeping out of the side.
“There are a couple I’ve been told by people in the game. If you’re looking for an attacking midfielder, a great stat is pass completion in final third of the pitch. The best players are really good at that”.
(23/03/12 Update: In this interview, Rafa Benitez talks about what statistics are key and says “The main thing for me is passes per game, passing accuracy and in particular final third passing accuracy“).
Maxi comes into that category of player, so how does he fare against his Reds colleagues?
It’s probably no surprise to see the familiar pairing at the top of this chart, as with the previous two.
There’s an obvious counter-argument to the findings in these statistics; Maxi and Bellamy have played less than the other players listed, and with a smaller sample of figures there is more opportunity to post better percentages.
Whilst that is true, it’s not as if the other players keeping Maxi out of the team are performing nearly as well, and in a season when Liverpool have a woeful scoring record (just 1.11 goals per league game at the time of writing), to my mind it seems ludicrous not to give Rodriguez more game time.
Unless of course Kenny knows something about Maxi that we don’t, which is entirely plausible. But I believe that Rodriguez could give the Reds an injection of nous and game intelligence that has been sorely lacking of late, and which the team is currently crying out for.
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:
- 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.