Sakho, Skrtel and Passing Stats

In Michael Cox (a.k.a. Zonal Marking)’s preview of France’s chances at the forthcoming World Cup, he noted the following about Liverpool’s £17m French centre-back.

Mamadou Sakho is good in the air and quick across the floor but poor in possession.

The end of that description didn’t sit quite right with me, so I took a quick look at the stats.

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From Norwich To Norwich

Liverpool were in desperate need of a victory at Carrow Road. Despite conceding two goals after establishing a lead, the Reds were able to prevail with Luis Suarez amongst the goals.

I am of course referring to the match in September 2012, when Brendan Rodgers secured his first league win as manager of Liverpool FC. As his 41st top flight victory occurred at the same ground, and secured qualification for the group stage of the 2014/15 Champions League in the process, I thought I’d briefly reflect on the journey between the two matches.

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Which Win At Old Trafford Is The Greater?

Following a fantastic 3-0 victory by Liverpool over Manchester United, the debate amongst Kopites has begun over whether this victory was better than the famous 4-1 win in 2008/09.

Whilst there is no way to settle it conclusively, I thought I’d take a quick look at the match stats and make a judgment that way.

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Liverpool 5 Arsenal 1: First Twenty Focus

It may have been two weeks ago now, but I can’t help thinking about the opening twenty minutes of the Reds’ monumental 5-1 victory over the then league leaders, Arsenal. It’s hard to recall a better twenty minutes that Liverpool have ever produced, to be honest.

As I had a spare couple of hours, I thought I’d pull together a few stats and graphics from that fantastic opening period.

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Getting Inspired At The Opta Pro Forum

At the thoroughly enjoyable Opta Pro Analytics Forum (a review of which is available on their site here), perhaps the most interesting presentation was given by Pedro Marques (Twitter), who is a First Team Match Analyst at Manchester City.

He gave amateurs like myself an insight into the type of analysis that the professional clubs carry out on opponents ahead of a forthcoming match. Perhaps the most surprising thing was that it didn’t look particularly advanced, or better than the work that many of the top fanalysts are currently producing (albeit with representatives from every other Premier League club there, I’d be amazed if he gave away all of their secrets). I wondered if I were capable of producing something similar?

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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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Everton 3 Liverpool 3: Stats Zone Analysis

After a frenetic, see-sawing Merseyside derby (which was Liverpool’s highest scoring league draw since the 4-4 with Arsenal at Anfield in 2009), I guess the most important facts from a Liverpool perspective are that they now have four points more than they had from the corresponding fixtures last season, seventy points from the last thirty-eight league games, and have only had more than twenty-four points from the first twelve games four times in the Premier League era.

Brendan Rodgers has now taken the same amount of league points (eighty-five) as Kenny Dalglish did in his second tenure, but in six fewer games. Overall, the Reds are doing pretty well.

However…

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Swansea 2 Liverpool 2: Stats Zone Analysis

After my first attempt at analysing a match via Stats Zone two weeks ago, I’ve again taken to the app to cast my critical eye over Liverpool’s 2-2 draw away at Swansea City.

Although I am happy enough with a point, as it maintains the Reds’ five point advantage over their corresponding fixtures from last season, there were many areas of the performance that left a lot to be desired.

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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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In Praise Of Jordan Henderson

During Liverpool’s 2-1 win at Villa Park on Sunday, I was surprised to hear the co-commentator Alan Smith award the man of the match honour to Steven Gerrard.

Sure, the Liverpool captain scored the winner (which was his second in three league games after three-and-a-half years without one) and acrobatically cleared a goal bound shot off the line, but overall I felt he didn’t contribute as much as Jordan Henderson did.

The Tomkins Times run a stats round up after every match (the latest of which you can read here, if you’re a subscriber), where they list the top three Liverpool performers for various stats. Surprisingly, Henderson didn’t feature anywhere, so it seems his performance was based on a solid performance in a variety of areas, rather than shining in one.

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Final Third Efficiency

After Liverpool capitulated to a 3-1 defeat against Southampton, I noticed that the Reds had completed their second lowest number of final third passes in the league this season: 58.

Although I didn’t see the match, my instant thought was “no wonder they lost, as you won’t create many decent opportunities from so few passes in the attacking third of the pitch”.

Which lead me to this thought: in order to win games you need to score goals. You therefore need to have as many shots on target as you can, and in order to create those you need to pass the ball well in the final third of the field. By dividing accurate final third passes (FTC) by shots on target (SoT), you can create a final third efficiency (FTE) figure for both teams, to see which team made the most of the ball up front.

Having looked up Liverpool’s stats for the 68 league games from the past two seasons, the findings suggest that a good performance in this metric will definitely lead to a successful team. Obvious perhaps, but I have now been able to quantify it.

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Carra’s Cameos

Whenever Jamie Carragher has been brought on in the last few minutes of games (such as during Liverpool’s recent 3-0 victory over QPR at Loftus Road), people online often question the decision as (for instance) it would perhaps make more sense to give Sebastian Coates some minutes and experience, or perhaps reward Jordan Henderson’s good form with some playing time.

Looking at the statistics for the Premier League this season on EPLIndex, it starts to become a bit clearer why it is Carragher who is summoned from the bench ahead of the others.

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Spain: The Through Ball Kings

This piece has been updated since it was first published on Tuesday 20th November.

I have noted previously on this site how Barcelona attempt far more through-balls than any other side in Europe, and whilst researching a forthcoming piece for The Tomkins Times via WhoScored, I couldn’t help but notice what happens when you sort this season’s Premier League players by the number of accurate through-balls per game they play:

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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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Statistics and Perspective

One of the lead stories on The Independent’s website is currently “Steve Gerrard: Everton are like Stoke, all they do is play the ball long”. The piece has the sub heading of “We were only team in derby trying to play, says Liverpool captain, but stats suggest otherwise”.

The writer then goes on to show why Gerrard is wrong, and at the bottom includes selected match stats under the title of “Dubious Derby Claim”. Amongst these are the figures for ‘Long Passes Attempted’, which they have as 47 by each side.

So Liverpool’s captain must be wrong in his assertion that the Blues are a long-ball side. Or so I thought until I checked the match numbers with EPLIndex.

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Barcelona, Alex Song, and Moneyball

I read an interesting article on The Tomkins Times today, which identified through balls as an important soccer metric which correlates with footballing success. Using the data on WhoScored, it’s easy to see why this belief was established, as Barcelona, arguably the greatest club side of all time, are streets ahead of other teams in Europe’s top five leagues.

Here are the figures from around Europe last season:

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Joe Allen: £15m Bargain

Joe Allen picked up his second man of the match award of the season in Liverpool’s 2-0 defeat by Arsenal on Sunday. Whilst that might be damning him with faint praise (the “best of a bad bunch”, and all that) after a poor showing by Liverpool, there is no denying that he has settled instantly as the indispensable heart of the Reds’ midfield.

Using EPLIndex’s Top Stats function, I have looked at where in the league Allen currently ranks on a number of key stats for midfielders. As it’s early days for the 2012/13 campaign, I have restricted the comparison to those players that have played all 270 minutes so far.

At present, Joe Allen is ranked:

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Reds Show Some Improvement Against WBA. No, Really

I didn’t see Liverpool’s 3-0 defeat at The Hawthorns yesterday (perhaps fortunately), but for a bad loss there were certainly some encouraging statistics.

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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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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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