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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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.

Stewart Downing: A Closer Look

Liverpool recently signed Stewart Downing from Aston Villa for a figure believed to be £20m, which made him the most expensive of the club’s summer signings.

The general opinion on his performances seems to be that whilst he started the season brightly, he has since faded. As he has yet to register a goal or an assist, his contribution overall has therefore been fairly minimal.

But what do the statistics say? How has he done so far for the Reds in comparison to his form last year with Villa, for which he was voted their fans player of the season?

As I mentioned when comparing his form to that of Ashley Young, Downing will have been purchased primarily to set up chances for the likes of Luis Suárez and (in view of his excellent crossing ability) Andy Carroll. Let’s take a look at how his crossing is shaping up so far:Whilst he is crossing less often than before, more importantly his crossing is more accurate than it was. He’s also better on average than the Liverpool team as a whole this term, with their crossing accuracy currently at 23.5%. As he was brought in partly for this particular skill though, that’s to be expected.

Downing may not have any assists yet, but of course that’s not entirely his fault. I have written here about how Liverpool have not been converting enough chances; had they scored more goals then there’s every chance the Teesider might have registered an assist by now. What is within his control is the number of chances he has created for his team-mates:

To the nearest minute, he is creating at the same rate. At Villa he took a fair chunk of the set plays though, which he hasn’t been doing so much at Anfield. With Gerrard returning to fitness, Downing’s opportunities to take the free-kicks and corners will decrease even further. So how is his open-play chance creation shaping up?

If he were to play 3387 minutes this season, and continue to create open play chances at the same rate, then by season’s end he would have created 63 chances in open play; in other words, enough to finish joint 13th in last seasons chance creation rankings for the Premier League, even before you factor in the occasional set play chance he may produce for Liverpool.

No problems with his creativity then, so how’s his passing generally?

He’s passing more frequently, and more accurately which is good to see. There may of course be a simple explanation to the improved statistics seen above – he’s playing in a more attacking team, and with better players. Whilst that is certainly true, that won’t automatically make him perform well, so I think he still deserves some credit for improving his figures.

Whilst a winger like Downing will never be in the real centre of the game, at the same time it’s important that he can put in a shift defensively. Not least because Liverpool have tended to play with a two-man central midfield, which has tended to leave space for the opposition. How’s he doing on this front?

Aside from a slightly lower tackling success rate, he has improved in every other aspect. In the interests of balance with my comments above, it’s probably fair to say that Liverpool should be on the backfoot less often than Aston Villa would be, so to see his statistics improve is encouraging.

As I mentioned in the introduction, Downing has yet to score for Liverpool, though it turns out his shooting accuracy isn’t hugely lower than it was before:

A little room for improvement there, but not a disastrous effort so far. On the whole, his performance (statistically at least) is comparable to last season, and better in quite a few key areas.

So why the unrest from supporters? Ultimately, fans expect to see an immediate return when £20m is invested in a twenty-seven year old from the same country. There will be less issues in regards to settling at the team than if a player was brought in from overseas, and twenty-seven is widely considered to be around the peak age for a footballer.

Not only that, but of course the expectation level at Liverpool will always be higher than at Villa. Whatever shape the Reds are in at any point, there will always be the ‘burden’ of five European Cups and eighteen League Championships to carry on their back.

Hopefully Kenny Dalglish will persist with Stewart Downing and the forwards can convert a few of the chances he creates into goals. All his good work so far this season will then be rewarded in the eyes of the fanbase, and the pressure will dissipate. Then we might really see a good return on the £20m.

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

Carroll and Crosses

In Michael Cox’s weekly chalkboard round up for The Guardian this week, he pointed out how Liverpool’s crossing had been poor in the draw with Manchester United at the weekend.

The suggestion was that without Andy Carroll on the pitch, there was often no-one for the wingers to aim for in the box.

Using the statistics for each of Liverpool’s league games this season, I thought I’d see if there was any correlation between the amount of time Carroll has played in a match, and how accurate the Reds’ crossing has been.

Broadly speaking there has been. It’s important to remember that the crossing accuracy figures are for the whole match, and not just the time that Carroll has been on the pitch though.

Similarly, the data is not available to show what percentage of the crosses the Geordie striker got himself on the end of, so it’s impossible to state definitively what Carroll’s influence has been.

But it does seem that if Carroll is not on the pitch, then Liverpool need to find a different way to feed chances to their other strikers.

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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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.

Will Meireles Be Missed?

This article first appeared on The Tomkins Times on 14th September 2011. Statistics sourced from EPLIndex.

The general consensus amongst Liverpool fans around the net seems to be that the sale of Raul Meireles is not a massive loss. Some think it was a mistake to sell him to a direct rival, but will he be missed at Anfield?

Kenny Dalglish does not seem to have taken to him as a player, so he would have likely spent most of this season on the bench. If that assumption is correct, then selling a player who will be 29 in March for a profit seems like a very sensible move.

At the same time, a lot of people thought the Portuguese international did well during his first season in English football. Not least when he scored five goals in six games during the fledgling stages of Liverpool’s revival under Dalglish, including the winner against his now new employers in February (pictured below). But how did his performance last season compare to those of the Reds’ summer purchases for midfield, as well as stalwarts like Gerrard and Lucas?

For an extra point of interest, I have also included Alberto Aquilani’s statistics from 2009/10, to give some context to a midfielder from overseas playing in the Premier League for the Reds for the first time. Where appropriate I have included the figures for the Liverpool team as a whole last season too.

Throughout this study, it’s important to remember that whilst all of the players are midfielders, they will obviously be performing different roles within that general position. Firstly, a look at the accuracy of their shooting:

Raul may not have had shots as frequently as some of his rivals, but he was way ahead with his accuracy. Although Charlie Adam was the most frequent with his shooting, his regular penalty and free-kick exploits will have helped a fair bit on that front.

Whilst shooting is important, a key role of most midfielders is to create chances for their team mates. Here’s a look at who did so most regularly:

As I’ve mentioned on here previously, credit here has to go to Steven Gerrard; most of his time last season was spent in the static midfield of Roy Hodgson’s team (he only made five appearances under Dalglish), and yet he created a chance for a team-mate more regularly than any of the other players studied here.

Whilst I have included the players’ chance conversion rate above, this obviously won’t be entirely down to the midfielders themselves. That said, it is interesting to note that of the seven chances Alberto Aquilani created, all but one of them resulted in goals.

Yes, one of his assists famously came off his back after he slipped over during Liverpool’s 4-0 win at Burnley in 2010, but it would be fair to say he had decent success at setting up his colleagues (albeit a little infrequently). Will Aquilani be missed I wonder…

One potential way to create chances is crossing. With Andy Carroll brought on board at great expense, it was widely assumed that this aspect of play could have a massive bearing on Liverpool’s tactics this season. How do the players compare in this regard?

The Portuguese man leads the way here, though the three new signings all rate higher than the average for the team as a whole, so presumably Dalglish and Comolli considered this stat not significant enough to warrant keeping Meireles on board.

One big criticism of Liverpool’s one-season-wonders Aquilani and Meireles was that they would frequently avoid tackles, to the detriment of the team defensively. How often did they attempt tackles?

They both rank surprisingly well on this front, though of course there are sadly no recorded stats for ‘tackles wimped out of”. Aquilani was perhaps unsurprisingly the least effective tackler, with Charlie Adam perhaps equally surprisingly being the most successful.

I could point out that Meireles had the highest success rate of the Liverpool midfielders of last season, but you may have seen an article on The Anfield Wrap suggesting that stats such as that are a waste of time. Perish the thought!

As well as tackling, a similar measure is that of the possession duel and/or aerial duel. In other words, a 50/50 on the ground or in the air. I would’ve thought the now-former Liverpool player wouldn’t have been too involved in this respect.

He may have had the second highest success rate, but clearly he attempted duels a lot less regularly than his colleagues. I’m sure a lot of Liverpool fans would point out that he was regularly successful due to avoiding a fair amount that he was likely to lose, or potentially get hurt contesting.

Meireles did spend some time in wide midfield, so of course it’s logical to see that central players like Lucas and Adam lead the way here. Kudos to the Brazilian for being involved in duels most regularly and winning the highest percentage.

How about passing? Midfielders are in the position that do the most of it, so who was most successful?

Probably no surprise to see Lucas top this list. Charlie Adam is perhaps a little unlucky to finish bottom here, as he was playing alongside a lower quality of player; whilst it’s early days for him at Anfield, playing with better players who are more likely to be on his wavelength has seen his passing accuracy rise to 76% in the league so far this season.

All players give the ball away; it’s inevitable. The less frequently it occurs, be it via a misplaced pass or a poor touch, is obviously important though. I have not included Aquilani here, as unfortunately the loss of possession statistics are not available for 2009/10.

Meireles doesn’t do so well here, but then neither do Gerrard or Adam; the more you try to play a key pass, then the more likely you’ll give the ball away.

To try and determine how Meireles fared overall against the other players, I have awarded points relating to their rankings in the different disciplines, and here’s how they all fared:

Step forward Raul Meireles, midfielder of the year.

Okay, clearly he wasn’t really, but it is interesting to see that averaging the different scores puts him top. If ever you wanted to see what Lucas brings to the table via stats, here it is; bottom in all of the creative aspects, and top of the bread-and-butter aspects of the game.

Will Meireles be missed? Only time will truly tell; I think Chelsea have got themselves a decent player for a reasonable fee, but then I thought they had got an excellent player at a fair fee with Torres, and look how that has gone so far.

Ultimately, selling a player who wanted to leave and making a profit on him, and getting rid of a player who will have little or no resale value when he next moves on is a logical business move. Let’s hope it proves a logical football move too.

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

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.

All I Am Saying is Give Carroll A Chance

A lot of Liverpool fans have been voicing concerns about how Liverpool play when Andy Carroll is in the side. With the £35m man up front, the Reds resort to hoofball tactics which would shame the likes of Bolton these days.

Or do they? In the seven league matches that Carroll played last season, Liverpool, on average, attempted 45.14 long passes (defined as a pass straight from defence to attack), and 45.86 in the seven matches he missed after he signed for the club.

Similarly, accurate long balls increased in number during the games Carroll missed, for an average of 30.14, as opposed to 27.71 when he did play.  Small margins granted, but those numbers would suggest that the Reds weren’t playing route one football just because Carroll was in the line-up.

Looking at last weekend’s match with Sunderland, Carroll won all of the nine aerial duels he contested, so is the issue him, or is it Jamie Carragher (as an example, but probably the club’s king of the long ball hoof)?

Does Carragher hit it long because Carroll is there? Because Kenny tells him to? Because there are lack of options close to him? Because he’s not a very good ‘footballer’? Probably a bit of all of these things, but to lay the blame at the Geordie striker’s door seems unfair to me.

I’m not going to sit here and say we played better in the league games Carroll played in compared to those that he missed last season, as it’s just not true. His case has not been aided by the dazzling five goal romps against Birmingham at Anfield and Fulham away, when he was entirely absent from the line up.

He has also only scored two goals for Liverpool so far. However, in the interests of fair play, I think some context is required.

Carroll featured in seven matches last season. These included matches against Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal and Spurs. Or four of the five teams who finished above Liverpool, if you prefer. That clearly is a disproportionately difficult selection of matches.

Twice Carroll was brought on as a sub when the Reds were already 3-0 up (Manchester United and Newcastle at home). Not impossible that the team or Andy himself would have scored more of course, but they were hardly busting a gut to do so.

Another of his matches was Arsenal away – not a happy hunting ground for Liverpool since the early days of the Premiership, when they won five times in their first eight visits. Since Titi Camara secured a 1-0 win in February 2000, the Reds have only scored nine goals in 11 league visits, and only scored twice once. Even then they were soundly taken apart by a Thierry Henry hat-trick in a 4-2 defeat.

So to blame Carroll in any way seems a little off when much better Liverpool teams than the vintage of 2010/11 have hardly done well at Highbury or The Emirates in recent times.

Carroll also had the misfortune of playing against West Bromwich Albion at The Hawthorns with Martin Atkinson as the ref. Big Andy complained about after being kicked from pillar to post, to which the referee laughed and told him to get on with it as he was a striker. Who is the ref for the Arsenal match today by the way? I wouldn’t expect miracles from Carroll today if I were you.

In short, I think the two key questions and answers on the Carroll debate are:

Has Carroll been a resounding success yet? No.
Has he had a fair chance to prove himself yet? No.

I’m going to keep the faith for the time being. The final key question is: will Kenny and the majority of the fanbase do the same?

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

Sub Standard? Rafa’s Subs Record

This article originally appeared on The Tomkins Times on April 12th 2010, and has since been added to the site’s ‘Best Of’

With thanks to Graeme Riley for providing the match statistics.

I started the research for this article three weeks ago, but after the criticism of Benitez for his decision to substitute Fernando Torres with 25 minutes to go away at Birmingham, it seems more pertinent than ever to try and assess how much success Rafa has with his substitutions.

Assessing the impact or effectiveness of substitutions can be a difficult task. Some changes that occur are enforced through injuries, or as a part of a re-shuffle following a sending off. Others are used to give a player returning from injury some game time, or to let a star performer milk the applause of the crowd and get some rest once the game is won.

But most are used tactically to try and improve or protect the result, and I am going to look at how successful Benitez is in this respect, as well as who Liverpool’s top performing sub is, and whether Andy Gray is right to criticize Benitez for not making substitutions before 65 minutes (and indeed if this is even the case).

It will probably come as little surprise to learn that Fernando Torres is Liverpool’s best performing substitute. A record of 4 goals from 14 sub appearances in all competitions gives a rate of 3.50 games per goal. But if you break it down to minutes spent on the pitch, then Torres as a sub actually has a goal rate of one every 71.5 minutes. This makes you wonder how good Liverpool could be with Torres on the pitch and a Torres equivalent to come from the bench with stats like that.

The well documented financial situation at the club makes this an impossibility. To give this some context, the Manchester United bench in the recent game with Liverpool featured the £30.75m striker Dimitar Berbatov; had United been chasing the game late on they could have brought him into play (alas they were not). Liverpool’s entire bench of seven subs that day only cost £43m, and that’s if you count Alberto Aquilani as a £20m signing, of which there is much debate as to whether this  figure is accurate or not.

So with an uneven match up like that, Rafa needs to make the most of his substitutions. My research suggests that he does. Using a simple system, applied to league games only, I can prove that Benitez does make effective use of his substitutions. I have focussed on league games only, as in 2 legged cup ties, a draw (or even a defeat) in a match, whilst not the desired result, can be suitable to get through, making the impact of a substitution harder to analyse.

When a substitute enters the field, there are three potential impacts upon the result: it can improve, stay the same, or get worse. Below is a table showing how Benitez has fared:

Put simply, when Benitez brings on a sub, the result improves 14.47% of the time, and only gets worse 5.95% of the time – nearly 2.5 times more gains than losses.  The vast majority of games (79.58%) fall into the no change category; the recent Birmingham away game being an example. Benitez made a controversial substitution, and whilst Liverpool didn’t win the game, neither did they lose.  In that instance the gamble didn’t pay off, but these figures show that the gambles pay off more than they backfire.

In six years, only once have all 3 points been lost following a substitution, and that was away at Tottenham last year, a game in which Liverpool had the chances to win comfortably, and only lost to a last minute goal. Whilst it is concerning that 80.15% of substitutions in losing games don’t result in any points being gained (and an alarming 100% for this season), the fact that Liverpool only drop points from winning positions following substitutions 5.52% of the time shows how difficult it is for teams to turn games around once that vital first goal has gone in and a lead established.

Whilst this method of analysis is simplistic, and doesn’t take in to account whether or not the team’s performance gets better without the result improving after a substitution (as is widely agreed occurred at Birmingham), it is at least factually accurate and is based upon results, the ultimate measure of success in football.

I have neither the time or the interest in carrying out this amount of research into other top teams to see how they fare, so don’t know if Benitez fares better or worse than other managers. But I’m certainly prepared to put my faith in someone with these statistics behind them.

Therefore, if Benitez is having this kind of success, does it really matter what time in the match he makes his substitutions? According to some people it does, and he should be making substitutions before the 65 minute mark when Liverpool are struggling. But is the 65 minute figure accurate?

It appears it is. I have compiled figures discounting 1st half substitutions, as these would be for injuries rather than tactical changes. Across all competitions, Benitez averages a first sub time (second half only) of 64.32 minutes. The pundits are broadly correct on this issue then. But are they right to criticise Benitez for it?

I have looked at the average first sub times for the opposition against Liverpool in league matches to see how Benitez compares to other managers.

Surprise, surprise, Benitez is criticised for something which other managers largely appear to also do. The season where Liverpool’s first tactical substitution was on average the latest after the oppositions, was the most successful league season the club has had in years. More relevant to this study, it was the year with the highest number of substitutions that turned losses to wins: six. The other five seasons combined have a total of one. So once again, these figures appear to vindicate Rafa’s decisions and methods.

It would take a lifetime to analyse the same information for all teams, but Rafa’s strategies do appear sound, successful and not dissimilar in principle to those of other managers. It will probably be too much to ask for anyone who is paid to analyse football to pay any attention to this however.

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