Striker Light: Send For Gerrard?

Whilst no Liverpool fan would particularly wish to re-live the horrors of transfer deadline day, the fact remains that the club is facing something of an issue regarding its striking options (and that’s putting it mildly). But could the answer to their problems already be on their books?

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Patience Required

Whilst I’m a frequent advocate of football fans showing patience (be it towards a newly assembled side, an under-performing £35m striker, or following a narrow, undeserved defeat), following Liverpool’s 1-1 draw at Sunderland my plea is for the Liverpool team and their star striker to show more patience themselves.

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Rodgers Stopped Suárez, Can He Get More Out Of Him?

Now that the conclusion of the transfer window (plus some idiocy by someone at Anfield) has left Liverpool with only two recognised senior strikers, it is of paramount importance that Brendan Rodgers is able to maximise their goalscoring potential.

As one of them (Fabio Borini) is largely unproven at the highest level, the bulk of the burden will fall upon the shoulders of Luis Suárez. I noted in a previous article that two of his five league appearances last season where he failed to create a single chance for a team-mate came against Swansea City, so it seems that the new Liverpool manager certainly knows how to nullify Suárez; can he make the most of him?

I have reviewed Suárez’ stats against Swansea, and they do show that his performances were below average for the season as a whole. In fairness to the Uruguayan hitman, the whole Liverpool team did not put in their best performances against the Jacks last season, so I have also included the team’s stats to give some context to how Suárez fared against the south Wales outfit. Firstly, a look at the passing figures:

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Luis Suárez: Pantomime Villain

Team GB were victorious over Uruguay in the Olympic football tournament tonight, winning by a goal to nil. The main talking point on Twitter during the game seemed to be Liverpool striker Luis Suarez.

Every time the Uruguayan captain touched the ball, boos rang around the crowd. Aside from the ban he served for racially abusing Patrice Evra (despite no evidence that he did ever surfacing), there seems to be a widely held belief amongst football fans that Suarez is a cheat.

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Evra-gate: The Impact On Suárez’ Performance

In a recent interview on Uruguayan television, Luis Suárez revealed the anguish he suffered after being accused of racially abusing Patrice Evra in October 2011:

“It was so hard what happened to me. I don’t show my emotions in the field, you know, but outside I do it ­I cried a lot with all the Evra stuff. The trial week was so complicated for me. My wife and I cried a lot during that week…I had to go to Manchester in a taxi for the trial. I got up at seven in the morning and I came home at nine at night. I was exhausted, I was so tired. I wanted to cry, and kick all the things around me”.

Reading that got me thinking about whether or not Suárez’ form was affected during the ten game spell between the fateful match with Manchester United, and the start of his ban. The figures suggest that the mental turmoil the Liverpool number seven was under did negatively affect his performance.

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Luis Suárez: A Creator, Not A Goalscorer

It’s safe to say that Luis Suárez certainly had an ‘interesting’ 2011/12. After starting it by becoming a Copa America champion, as the domestic season unfolded he saw controversy follow him around, as it has continued to since his goal-line handball in the quarter-final of the World Cup in 2010.

As well as the heavily debated ‘Evragate’ and subsequent ban, he also received a further one game ban for giving the Fulham fans at Craven Cottage an unsuitable hand gesture (to put it as politely as I can).

One thing he didn’t do though, and that he was expected to, was score a bagful of goals. Continue reading

Shot Placement: The Suárez Show

I have written previously for The Tomkins Times on how Liverpool’s poor shot placement is the major reason behind the poor scoring record this season. During yesterday’s 3-0 win over Norwich City at Carrow Road, we saw exactly what difference better shot placement can make.

To recap my earlier piece, Liverpool have been hitting too high a proportion of their shots to the low-centre of the goal. As the goalkeeper is usually stood in that area, shooting there makes the chances of a goal being scored so much lower than in if the ball is put in the corners. Obvious perhaps, but proven in the above piece using four seasons worth of Premier League data.

All three of Luis Suárez’ strikes against the Canaries were put into the corners of the goal:

Considering the distance that they were all from, which was far from point-blank even for the first two goals, that’s impressive. Even the Reds’ other shots-on-target, which were both by the much-maligned Stewart Downing, were placed towards the corner of the goal:

The really interesting thing about yesterday’s match for me was that, in terms of overall performance, it was no better than has been seen in many of Liverpool’s games this season; it just had the addition of massively improved finishing which made all the difference.

To prove how much difference the quality of shooting made, I compared some of the other match statistics from yesterday’s match with those in the twelve league games that the Reds have lost this season, and it makes for very interesting reading.

Liverpool’s performance against Norwich City featured:

  • A worse shots-on-target ratio than in seven of their twelve defeats;
  • Fewer shots-on-target than occurred in five losses;
  • Less ball possession than in seven of the league matches that Liverpool have lost;
  • A lower passing accuracy percentage than was posted in seven defeats; and perhaps the most important of all:
  • Liverpool created less chances against Norwich City than in nine of their twelve defeats.

Let me reiterate that: Liverpool created more chances in 75% of their league defeats than they did in their latest 3-0 win. If ever you want a simple statistic to prove how important shot placement is, that may will be it.

More of the same at Wembley next Saturday evening please Reds!

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

Luis Suárez: Sharp Shooter?

There has been lots of talk amongst Liverpool fans about how wasteful in front of goal Luis Suárez has been of late. I’ve taken a look at the stats to see if that is the case.

To give his form some context, I have compared it to that of Fernando Torres whilst he was at Liverpool; perhaps not the fairest of comparisons due to their differing styles of play and ways that they are involved in a game as a whole, but as Liverpool’s primary goal-getters over the past four years it’s valid to compare them.

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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.

Suárez vs Torres: New Kids On The Block

This piece first appeared on The Tomkins Times on June 2nd 2011.

Now that Luis Suárez has firmly cemented his place as the current darling of the Kop, I thought it would be interesting to compare his initial impact to that of our last talismanic striker, one Fernando Torres. They were similar ages (Suárez being the older by a year) and were both playing in the Premier League for the first time, so a comparison seems reasonable.

The status of the club could not have been much more different for the arrival of the two hitmen though.

Torres joined a club who had finished 3rd in the league the previous season, and had just lost a Champions League final (somewhat unluckily in many people’s eyes), with a successful manager who had bedded in well over his first three seasons.

Suárez, on the other hand, joined a team with a caretaker manager who’d been in charge for just four league games. A team that had finished 7th the previous year, had been in the relegation zone as recently as three months prior to his arrival, and were more familiar with Rabotnicki and Trabzonspor than Milan and Barcelona.

The timing of the two players’ signings is worth considering too.

Fernando Torres signed in July 2007, so had a decent pre-season with his new club. He had also had a free summer, something he hasn’t enjoyed since, so it could be strongly argued that he was fresher then than he has been at any point in the intervening four years.

Luis had played in the World Cup until the 10th July, and only joined his new club in late January, so was thrown in to the fray having barely met his new team mates.

Suárez played 1101 minutes of league football for Liverpool this season, so I looked at the stats for the same length of time from the start of Torres’ Anfield career.

So how did they get on?

The two situations certainly favour the Spaniard, but did it pan out that way? The best place to start is with a look at their goal scoring and assist tallies, as these are probably the key measures of a striker’s success.

As you’d probably expect, Torres has a clear edge on goals, having played as an out-and-out front man, whereas Suárez usually plays the role of the support striker.

Whilst both players had a mixture of opponents in terms of difficulty, in the interests of fairness I should point out that three of Torres’ nine goals came against a Derby County side which is statistically the worst that the Premier League has ever seen, so he is perhaps fortunate to be so far ahead.

Suárez also didn’t have any cup games to find any form in; Torres scored a morale boosting hat-trick away at Reading in a league cup match during his equivalent period.

The assist tallies are similar, but as Paul Tomkins noted here, they don’t tell the full story with Suárez. For example, he also won a penalty against Newcastle, and he is only credited with one assist against Manchester United, despite being the final LFC player to touch the ball prior to each of Kuyt’s three goals that day.

Let’s take a look at a few more stats. Regarding tackles won, the Guardian chalkboards (where this info is sourced from) defines them partly as where a player retains possession when someone tries to tackle them but fails. So by retaining possession they are deemed to have ‘won’ the tackle, even though they themselves haven’t tried to tackle anyone (if that makes sense!).

There are probably not too many surprise revelations here. I was surprised that Suárez had more shots than Torres overall, though perhaps not that he didn’t get as many on target; his shooting has been somewhat wayward on more than one occasion since joining.

It’s interesting to see that Torres gave away more free-kicks than he won in this period. One key difference that struck me between his initial time at the club and more recent times was his lack of petulance in those earlier days.

The statistics here show clearly that he did not always win the challenges he went for and was most likely wrongly penalised on occasion, yet I don’t recall the constant backchat to referees which seemed a common theme of the last two seasons or so.

Clearly most of the stats show that whilst Torres was the better out-and-out striker, Suárez brings more to the team overall. The passing stats really hammer that point home – the Uruguayan attempted nearly twice as many passes and completed over twice as many more, so has clearly been far more involved in the overall play than the Spaniard.

So maybe what they both provided was what the team needed at the time; Torres was the world class striker the team had lacked for a number of years, whilst Suárez was the creative genius that a struggling team was crying out for, in order to make things happen after a period of poor football (though Dalglish had started to turn this around shortly before Suárez arrived).

Of course, what all Liverpool fans now want to see is Suárez continuing his fine form in tandem with a fit and firing Andy Carroll (see here for my analysis of his performances for Newcastle this season). That really would be something to get excited about.

As for Torres. . . since his move to Chelsea, Martin Skrtel has scored as many goals as he has, and that says it all. Liverpool definitely got a lot more for their £20m in 2007 than Chelsea got for their £50m in January.

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