Stewart Drowning In Expectation

Anfield. Tuesday night, at about ten to nine. The last home game of a topsy-turvy season for Liverpool.

Stewart Downing is about to attempt to bag his first Premier League goal for the Reds in much the same fashion that a goal-less Peter Crouch did against Portsmouth in November 2005; a penalty. A free shot, from twelve yards out.

Downing strikes the ball. The keeper goes the wrong way, the ball is inside the post… Continue reading

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.

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.

Downing vs Young: 2010/11

Rumours continue to persist that Liverpool are planning to snap up Stewart Downing from Aston Villa, whilst their Lancashire rivals Manchester United are planning to raid Villa Park for Ashley Young.

Both are England internationals, and are of similar age (Downing turns 27 next month, whilst Young will be 26), so a comparison seems reasonable. Not to see who might get the better deal of the two clubs, as that’s impossible to say. But are Liverpool going after the right ‘Villain’?

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