‘What-Ifs’ Are Usually Worthless, But…

…occasionally they can provide genuine hope for the future.

Liverpool had a fairly disastrous start to their Premier League campaign this season, taking only two points from their first five games. Although the fixtures were 48% more difficult than the average for the whole campaign (based on the average of the opposition’s finishing position in the league last season) in fairness, the Reds were unable to get a win, and ended up making a false start in their quest to finish fourth.

In the four months between then and today though, their form has been significantly better, as the table below shows:

Continue reading

Woodwork Woes, And What-Ifs

A well-worn statistic doing the rounds at present is that Liverpool have found the frame of the goal twenty-one times in their first twenty-eight league games this season. That figure is the joint most in the top five leagues in Europe, tied with Barcelona, according to whoscored.com. The fact that their opponents have only found their woodwork four times in the league this season further exacerbates the feeling that the Reds have been unlucky to not win a few more games

In a season when Liverpool only have 33 goals in their ‘For’ column, being inches away from a further 21 goals has made a massive difference to their points tally.

Or so you might think. Whilst it has had an impact, it’s probably not as pronounced as you would assume. I have broken down Liverpool’s woodwork stats further to try to quantify this.

For starters, eleven of the goal frame hits have occurred in matches that the Reds won anyway. Whilst the wins may have been more comfortable, and an improved goal difference is always welcome, in terms of actual league points a little over half of the woodwork strikes have had no bearing on the points tally at all. That leaves ten that might have made a difference.

Those ten are therefore spread across the seventeen league games that Liverpool have failed to win this season. In eleven of these matches, the Reds did not hit the post or bar, which appears to leave six games where striking the frame of the goal might have cost Liverpool further points.

As one of these games was a 3-1 defeat away at Bolton Wanderers though, and the frame of the goal was only struck once (meaning the Reds would still have lost even had the shot gone in) we are left with just five matches:

The stand out match from these five is the home draw with Norwich City; Liverpool put nine of their twenty-one shots on target that day, plus found the woodwork three times, yet had only the solitary goal (and point) to show for their efforts.

The matches with Sunderland and Swansea only have one goalframe strike apiece, and thinking back to those matches shows how much difference in likelihood of scoring there can be between woodwork hits; Stewart Downing hit the bar from long distance against the Mackems, and realistically would have done very well to score from where he took the shot, whereas Andy Carroll really should have found the net with a point-blank header six yards out against the Swans.

The really interesting cases are Fulham and Arsenal. At Craven Cottage, we can see there was one of the four occasions this season that the opposition have found the frame of the Liverpool goal, and that if all three woodwork strikes in that match were goals then it would have ended as a 2-2 draw.

Similarly, a narrow defeat at home to Arsenal recently might actually have been a narrow win had a couple of shots hit the post and gone in, rather than rebounding to safety from a Gunners’ perspective.

In total, in the unlikely scenario that all woodwork strikes actually went in, then Liverpool would have ten more points than they have now. That would put them in 4th position, level on points with Arsenal but ahead on goal difference.

I think this is an unrealistic assumption though, as all teams hit the woodwork every so often. Pure speculation now on my part, but from the figures above I think it’s reasonable to say that the Reds should’ve beaten Norwich, had a point from Fulham and Arsenal, and the other two draws you have to take on the chin. That would mean an extra four points, which is perhaps a little more realistic. But then I can point out here that Liverpool also missed penalties in the Sunderland and Arsenal games, so who knows what points they should really have had.

Of course, goals change games, and had Liverpool scored earlier (or indeed, at all) in the above five matches plus the Bolton defeat, then the results could very easily have swung in their favour.

But ultimately, with all the airing that the statistic regarding Liverpool’s woodwork woes gets, I was very surprised to see how few games it has really mattered in. That said, if the Reds finish within ten points of fourth spot, a big part of me will certainly now be thinking ‘what-if’ about this season.

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

What If….Liverpool Were Scoring In Line With Their Previous Form?

There has been a fair bit of online teeth-gnashing following Liverpool’s disappointing 0-0 draw with Swansea City at Anfield on Saturday.

The logic seems to go that if the Reds can’t beat promoted sides at home (Norwich City also took home point recently don’t forget), then they can probably forget about making the qualifiers for next season’s Champions League.

Although Liverpool are second in the league in terms of the number of shots that they have had at the moment, the team’s shooting conversion rate, which is currently 7%, is only joint fifteenth best in the Premier League. Clearly not good enough for a team chasing a top four finish.

I read recently that if their conversion rate was 17% (the amount of shots that both Manchester clubs have dispatched into the net so far this season), then Liverpool would have 33 goals instead of the 14 they have in reality. Quite a difference, clearly.

All very good in theory, but how realistic is a 17% conversion rate for Liverpool? Take a look at this table, which shows the team’s success in front of goal over the last three seasons:Unfortunately, Liverpool were nowhere near close to a 17% hit rate even when they finished second in the league with peak-era Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard (on his way to winning the Footballer of the year award) banging the goals in, so it is unrealistic to think “what if they scored goals with 17% of their shots?” for this season’s Reds men.

Perhaps a little strangely, the conversion rate across the last three league campaigns is exactly 10.00% on average. This, therefore, is a more sensible figure to use for a “what if?” look at the season so far.

What if Liverpool had converted 10% of their shots in each league match this season? How would this affect the results?

In the table below, I have calculated how many goals they would have scored in this theoretical situation. It’s important not to view this as a serious statistical analysis, more a lighthearted look at what might have been. As it’s impossible to score a fraction of a goal, all figures have been rounded down.

As you can see, with a ten percent shot conversion rate in each match, then they would now have 24 points, which would currently put them fourth in the table.

Bear in mind, by rounding down the part goals, the team still only has 14 goals (rather than the 19 that a 10% conversion rate would give them), but by using an average it has obviously given them a better spread of scoring. In reality, in some games you score and some you don’t; the team’s rate has ranged from 15% against to Bolton down to 0% when obviously they have not scored.

It’s also hugely important to remember that this is all very theoretical, and no team could possibly score with a set percentage in each match.

But at the same time, I think this proves how close Liverpool can be to achieving their primary aim for this campaign. They had a total of 54 shots against Norwich and Swansea after all; not stretching it to say they should have won both games comfortably.

Put your shooting boots on properly Reds, and you might just make the Champions League yet.

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