Flat Track Failures

This piece first appeared on The Tomkins Times on 24 August 2012. 

Fellow Tomkins Times subscriber Neil Mundy recently wrote an interesting piece looking at how important a team’s performance against the other top sides is if they wish to finish in the top four, or win the league.

Using statto.com‘s Group Comparison function, I have looked towards the other end of the table in order to try to establish how relevant a team’s record against the bottom seven cannon-fodder is. As Liverpool’s primary aim this season will be to finish fourth, I have focussed my research here.

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Robin van Persie: 2011/12 Distorts The Picture

As a Liverpool fan, I wouldn’t normally write about other teams or players. However, the news today that Robin van Persie will not be signing a new contract at Arsenal (and so only has one year remaining on his current deal) set Twitter alight, so I thought I’d look up his Premier League statistics.

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Rodgers’ Rocky Road?

In an interview published on the club’s official website yesterday, new Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said:

“The first game I look for is the first game, and I won’t look much further than that, to be honest”.

With the release of the fixture list today for the 2012/13 season, it appears that Rodgers may need to look beyond the first fixture sooner rather than later after all. 

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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

1-0 To Someone Else

As I have discovered how many 1-0 wins each side has had in the Premier League to date, I’ve added a postscript to this piece from last season.

As the cliché goes, a great team can win 1-0 even when they haven’t played well. “1-0 to the Arsenal” was a mantra that won championships after all. It might be a cliché, but it’s also true. 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.

Nineteen Wins Required

Whilst Liverpool have had a reasonably successful season, what with reaching the FA Cup final as well as winning the Carling Cup, a relatively poor league campaign (with the Reds currently sat in eighth) has left all around the Anfield Road still feeling a little underwhelmed. As owner John Henry said back in August:

“Our main goal is to qualify for the Champions League, if we don’t it would be a major disappointment”.

Safe to assume that Mr Henry won’t be entirely impressed with an eighth-placed finish then. But what do Liverpool need to do to improve upon this season, and bring Champions League football back to L4?

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Liverpool Are In The (Right) Zone

I noticed an interesting statistic regarding ‘action zones’ whilst browsing on WhoScored recently; no team in the Premier League has had a higher proportion of their actions (e.g. passes/touches) in the attacking third of the pitch this season than Liverpool have (thanks to Dan Kennett for clarifying that WhoScored mean the attacking third of the pitch, rather than the ‘opposition half’ as they confusingly list it as).

What is even more impressive is that Barcelona are the only team across the top five leagues in Europe (taken in no particular order as Spain, England, Italy, Germany and France) who can out-do Liverpool at this statistic. As WhoScored hold these figures for the two seasons prior to this one, I have collated the data for the Premier League to see how Liverpool compare to their rivals, and what this might mean for the future.

Liverpool’s figure of having 32% of their action in the attacking third has only been bettered by two out of fifty-nine other teams in the last three seasons, and only by 1% at that. Similarly, only three teams have had a greater difference between the percentage of action in their attacking and defensive thirds than the Reds in this period too, and again only beating Liverpool’s figure (6%) by a single percent.

So whilst Liverpool have undoubtedly had their troubles with scoring goals this season (they currently rank joint 23rd out of sixty teams in terms of goal difference), they are at least using the ball frequently enough at the right end of the pitch, which is hugely encouraging.

I have plotted the data of ‘goal difference per match’ against ‘difference between the attacking third and defensive third’ to illustrate the general correlation between the two sets of numbers:

Whilst there is positive correlation for this data as you would expect (with a Spearman’s Rho of 0.573), this season’s Liverpool side are an outlier as their goal difference is only currently 0.12 goals per game. Whilst we can only speculate at what goal difference Liverpool could have had this season with better finishing, the graph suggests that it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think they should be at around 1.00 per game based on how much more of their play has been in their attacking third rather than their defensive third.

That would obviously equate to +38 for the whole season, and surely a place in the top four as a result. Although I can’t make a claim that Liverpool have always used the right pass in the final third this season, and their finishing certainly requires some work, the above figures show that the Reds have been on the right line overall with their play this season.

If they can maintain this general dominance on the pitch, and score the amount of goals that this generally appears to bring, then 2012/13 could be a very interesting season indeed at Anfield.

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

Shot Difference and Goal Efficiency

There have been numerous articles this season, both on this site and elsewhere, pointing out how poor Liverpool’s shot conversion has been this season; indeed, at the time of writing, the Reds lie dead last in the division for this statistic, with a meagre 9.0% of their shots finding the back of the net.

I have previously covered here how Liverpool have been dominating their opponents in the majority of league games this season, but I have now devised some further (admittedly simplistic) measurements to assess how much control all of the Premier League teams have had over their matches.

It seems logical to me that if you have more shots than your opponents, then you can be considered to have controlled a game, as you have been on the offensive more often than they have; whilst there can be exceptions to this on an individual match basis, I think that by looking at the figures for the entire season most anomalies should be ironed out.

It doesn’t mean that you are the most effective team of course, as goals for and against will always determine that, but it should give a simple indication whether a team is doing a lot of things right or not. Here are the figures for shot difference for the Premier League season so far:

It’s interesting to note that only seven of the twenty teams have had more shots than they have conceded, and also that high-flying Newcastle United (currently fifth in the table at the time of writing) are not one of them, but more on that shortly.

From a Liverpool perspective, it’s very encouraging to see them third in the table. I’m not suggesting this measure is the be-all-and-end-all; most people would laugh at the notion that Liverpool have had better control of their matches than likely league champions Manchester United after all. But to have had more shots and given away less shots than them certainly offers some encouragement on how the team has played overall this season.

As I mentioned earlier, how many goals a team scores and concedes will always be the most important factors on a team’s season, and so I have created a simple ‘goal efficiency’ metric.

To be successful, a football team needs to score as many of their shots as possible, whilst conceding as low a percentage of the opposition’s attempts on goals as possible. Therefore, by looking at the difference between the two conversion percentages, we can see how efficient a team has been at both ends of the pitch using one figure. The table below contains these figures, and helps to explain why certain teams appear to have over- or under-achieved in the league this season:

Whilst Liverpool are an encouraging joint eighth for opposition conversion percentage this season, their woes at the other end of the pitch have given them a very disappointing goal efficiency of -3.7, and seventeenth place in the Premier League by this measure. They are also the only team in the top-half of the actual league table who appear in the bottom-half here. Whilst not as inefficient as Liverpool, the table also demonstrates why Chelsea and Arsenal have had relatively poor seasons by their own high standards.

The table also illustrates why the likes of Sunderland, Newcastle and Swansea are on course to over-achieve their expected league finishes this season; all three teams have had less shots than Liverpool, and given more away to their opponents too, yet the conversion percentages are more in their favour and so they have reaped the benefits point-wise.

If Liverpool had maintained their shot conversion percentage from the previous three seasons (13.5%), then they’d have scored eighteen more goals at this point, and also be joint eighth in the above table with a goal efficiency of 0.8%. Obviously they’d be higher in the real table too, so whilst they have been far too open in central midfield at times this season which has allowed opposing teams more space to shoot, the poor form demonstrated by Suárez, Carroll and co. appears to have damaged them far more.

Whilst signing a lethal, dead-eyed striker wouldn’t solve all of the problems the Reds are having on the pitch, it certainly seems that it would go a long way to improving the team’s results and league position. Here’s to a more efficient Liverpool team in 2012/13.

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

Wasting Chances – Liverpool 2011/12

Watching yesterday’s match with Wolverhampton Wanderers, I was struck by how many chances Liverpool wasted. They weren’t all open goal tap-ins, but nonetheless the Reds were hanging on for a 2-1 win, rather than putting the Wolves to the sword. This also wasn’t the first time I’d thought this, with the opening match against Sunderland being another prime example.

Whilst it is still early days this season with only six league games completed, here is a look at how Liverpool’s shooting accuracy this year compares to the last three seasons:

Obviously it’s not an entirely fair comparison to other seasons, as the away games so far have all been at the more difficult end of the spectrum for example, but it gives us an idea of how the team is doing. The fact that the team is almost 8% less accurate than last season must surely be a slight cause for concern though, even allowing for the small sample size.

It’s surprising to see that Liverpool’s most successful season of the period in terms of overall performance, when they had Fernando Torres (the best striker in the world at the time), featured their lowest accuracy for shooting. That said, they did have over 100 more shots than in the other two full seasons, so it stands to reason that they would miss a lot too; as the figures show, the team always puts more shots off target than they do on goal.

How about chance conversion? It’s easier to notice a chance is missed when watching a game, rather than thinking specifically about shots being on or off target. Unfortunately the data for 2008/09 isn’t available, but I still have the last two seasons to compare the current form with.

The team is performing below the rate for the previous two seasons, which were virtually identical to each other, by about 3%. As this years tally is only 78% of last years figure, then clearly Liverpool have been wasting chances in the early stages of 2011/12.

If they’d have carried on with the same conversion rate as last season, then based on the chances created they would have scored two more goals.

Impossible to say when they’d have been scored, but they might have earned an extra two points against Sunderland, or earned a point from the Stoke match; likewise, they could have been against Bolton, Wolves or Arsenal, which would have made no difference to the points tally, even if the games themselves might have been more comfortably won. All ifs, buts and maybes though of course.

How are Liverpool comparing on these metrics to their Premier League rivals this season? Firstly, shooting accuracy:

Liverpool come in twelfth, and no team below them has outscored them so far. Scary to note that Manchester United have had more shots on target than some teams have had shots in total, though of course Arsenal’s capitulation at Old Trafford helped them greatly there. Credit to Bolton; they have scored as many as the Reds, despite having 25 fewer shots.

The Reds are ranked tenth at present on the chance conversion measurement, so clearly there’s some room for improvement here too. It’s interesting to note that this doesn’t correlate that clearly with the shooting accuracy statistics; the likes of Aston Villa and Blackburn are a lot higher on the chance conversion list than they are on the shooting one. Of course, with small samples like these, any fortunate or flukey goals would skew the figures a fair bit, so it will be worth checking the figures again at the end of the season.

Although Liverpool have started the season reasonably well (1.67 points-per-game at the time of writing), they’ve definitely not been converting as many chances as they could have based on previous years. They’ll need to improve their points-per-game average to finish in the top four, so sharpening up their shooting boots is an absolute must.

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

Update: After posting this, fellow stat-head Red Dan Kennett advised me that Liverpool have so far this season converted only three of their twelve clear-cut chances (25%), whereas last season the team converted 44% (34 out of the 77 they had). Whichever way you look at it, Liverpool are not making the most of their opportunities, and with Everton and Manchester United to come next, there’s no better time to resolve this issue.

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.