Fifty-One Match Comparison

I know what you’re thinking; why on earth would anybody compare two teams over a fifty-one game period?

Fear not, there is method in my madness. Ahead of the Merseyside derby on Sunday, Liverpool have played fifty-one games in all competitions this season. This just so happens to be the total number of matches they completed in 2011/12. So how do the records compare?

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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 FC 2011/12 In Stats: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

This article first appeared on The Tomkins Times on 20th May 2012. Statistics are for Premier League games only, and were sourced from EPLIndex and WhoScored.

Has there ever been a more confusing season for fans of Liverpool FC than this one? The match statistics have generally been positive, performances mixed, and results all over the place, so every fan you ask has differing views on whether Dalglish deserved to have his contract terminated.

I will be presenting the numbers for different aspects of play, to try to establish who has performed well in which areas, and how the team as a whole performed in 2011/12. I’m sure you will have read quite a few of these stats before, but this is an attempt to flesh out the story of the season through all of the numbers available. To start, some interesting stats about the season as a whole: Continue reading

Kenny Dalglish: Best Opening To A Premier League Career By Any Liverpool Manager

Whilst idly scrolling through my favourited tweets, I stumbled across an old one from Italian football writer Gabriele Marcotti. It certainly struck a chord with me in view of this week’s events:

Dalglish: 44 league games in current stint. 74 points. More than Rafa (65), Houllier (63), Evans (68) + Souness (68) at same stage.

Dalglish must have been doing a good job then. When was that tweet posted? Continue reading

Kenny Goes, Who Comes In?

Kenny Dalglish has today been sacked as manager of Liverpool football club. For me, this was the wrong decision (as I have previously explained in detail here), and he should have remained in charge for 2012/13 at the very least.

Despite winning more trophies in the last three months than Harry Redknapp has won in the previous four years, or Arsene Wenger has in the last seven, Dalglish’s contract was terminated. If a sentence ever demonstrated how finishing in the top four has become the be-all-and-end-all in football, that might well be it. Continue reading

Kenny Dalglish Should Remain As Manager. Here’s Why…

Having not seen any of the recent defeat to West Bromwich Albion, I’m not best placed to comment on it. However, a look at the stats shows that Liverpool dominated the match, with 63% possession and thirty shots to the Baggies’ nine. On that basis, it seems to be similar to numerous matches from earlier in the campaign when Liverpool’s profligacy in front of goal cost them the points that their general play deserved.

But a defeat it was, and to Roy Hodgson of all people; such a result was guaranteed to crank up the ‘Kenny Out’ brigade, and so it has proved. Of course, some people say the match showed why Kenny should remain in charge, in view of the above match statistics and the performance generally. Fans will always be split into optimists and pessimists after all, and I currently find myself in the former of the two camps.

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Lies, Damned Lies, And Statistics

Things are so bleak at Liverpool right now that the vultures in the media are circling, ready to write their obituaries for the second Kenny Dalglish management era at Anfield.

The Guardian posted ‘Ten facts to put Liverpool’s dismal league campaign into context’ on Monday, and whilst the facts are not incorrect, I’m not sure that there’s enough of the context they speak of to paint a fair picture. Here are some examples:

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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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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.

Arsenal 0 Liverpool 2 – How important was the sending off?

Liverpool beat Arsenal 2-0 last weekend, and staked an early claim for a place in the top four. But until Emmanuel Frimpong was sent off in the 70th minute, the match was fairly even, with the young Gunner who was making his debut playing well (a few hot-headed moments aside).

But what impact did the red card have on the match? The statistics show that Liverpool’s passing was markedly more accurate against the ten men; nothing unusual in that, with them having more space to play in and less opposition players trying to stop them, but I took a look at the Guardian’s Chalkboards to try to quantify the difference.

Here’s a comparison of where on the pitch Liverpool attempted their passes before and after the dismissal of Frimpong:

The big difference between the two chalkboards above is that Liverpool actually attempted some passes in the Arsenal box following the sending off, something they’d not managed earlier in the match.

It’s important to remember that immediately following the sending off Kenny Dalglish made a double substitution: Luis Suárez and Raul Meireles replaced Andy Carroll and Dirk Kuyt. The impact of this can be seen on the chalkboards.

The two most attacking wide squares accounted for 7% of the teams attempted passes whilst Carroll was on the pitch. Safe to assume that quite a few of these passes may have been crosses towards the big man.

The figure for the same areas dropped to just 2% after his substitution. Liverpool also increased the percentage of their passes in the two squares directly in front of the home team’s penalty box; from 7% to 9% after the substitution.

This was demonstrated in the central play in the build up to both of the team’s goals. Frimpong’s self imposed absence lead to space in the middle of the pitch, and Dalglish exploited that superbly with a tactical and personnel switch.

I have also taken a look at where on the pitch the completed passes originated from:

As you would expect, these figures mirror the changes seen with the attempted passes – less out wide and more through the middle. Perhaps the key thing here is the 1% figure in the right half of Arsenal’s penalty box on the second chalkboard, as this is Meireles’ assist for the second goal which wrapped up the three points.

Liverpool’s passing accuracy stats are the best way to sum up the difference the sending off had on the outcome of the match:

Up to 70 minutes – 377 passes attempted, 281 completed –


70 mins to end – 168 passes attempted, 144 completed –


Quite a difference. In 22% of the match (the final 20 minutes), the Reds attempted 31% of their total passes, and logged 34% of their total completed passes.

Sending off + double substitution = massive difference to result. Kudos to Kenny for making Frimpong’s foolishness benefit his team.

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

Promise and Potential

There has been much debate over the quality of Liverpool’s performance in their opening league match of the 2011/12 season against Sunderland.

The classic ‘game of two halves’ cliché was wheeled out after the Reds contrived to follow a half of dazzling and quick paced attacking football with one of leaden footed hoofing towards their giant Geordie up front.

However, something people have perhaps been overlooking is the youth of the starting XI Liverpool fielded last Saturday. It turns out that it was the joint second youngest of all of the 20 Premier League teams that started during Matchday One (as they have to call it seeing as it in fact covers three days).

The Reds’ eleven clocked in at just 25 years and 4 months old on average. The only team younger than them last weekend was Manchester United at 24 years and 5 months, and the scale runs through to Fulham at a positively AC Milan-esque 31 years and 3 months old. Wonder which of their former managers bought in so many old players?

Rhetorical questions aside, this demonstrates that Liverpool fielded a very young team on Saturday. Of course, it would be fair to point out that Steven Gerrard and Dirk Kuyt (who are both 31) will likely start most weeks when fit for the rest of the season.

By the same token though, players such as Jay Spearing (22), Martin Kelly (21), and Jack Robinson (17) played their parts towards the tail end of last season as Kenny Dalglish took the team to heights that had seemed impossible under Roy Hodgson. You know, like the top half of the table for starters.

But back to the Sunderland match. It’s not just a question of age, but also of familiarity. Liverpool fielded four debutants, and one of them (José Enrique) had only been at the club for one day.

Of the other starting players, the likes of Flanagan (with just seven previous league appearances for Liverpool),  Carroll (seven injury plagued or unfit appearances for the Reds) and Suárez (a seemingly unlucky 13 previous appearances, if his penalty is anything to go by) are hardly established in the first team yet either.

So only four of the starting eleven players had more than half a season at Anfield under their belts. You can’t throw a new team together and expect a sparkling performance.

And yet, in their first half at least, that’s exactly what we got. With only minimal extra luck, Liverpool could have been three or four goals to the good at home, against a side playing with ten men. Three points in the bag no question.

In that context, it was a spectacularly good opening 45 minutes to the season, and I believe a foretaste of what is to come from this bunch of hip young gunslingers over the next nine months. Only time will tell, but then time is very much on this team’s side.

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.