01 July 2015

On Nathaniel Clyne

Liverpool buying a player from Southampton? What could possibly go wrong?

Okay. Now we've gotten that out of the way.

Liverpool really aren't messing around this summer. Nathaniel Clyne just became Liverpool's sixth signing, after Milner, Ings, Bogdan, Gomez, and Firmino. Liverpool have announced replacements for Colin Pascoe and Mike Marsh.

Last summer and last season demonstrated that massive player turnover can be very much a bad thing, but Liverpool at least seem to have a plan this summer. And Liverpool have addressed almost every area of the pitch so far – even if there's still some way to go at the sharp end – midfield improved, attack improved, goalkeeping improved, and now, defense improved.



Let's be honest. Clyne's not incredibly impressive going forward, competent but slightly overrated and preferring to cross once he gets there. He is, however, very good in the tackle, good at avoiding fouls, good at keeping possession. He is, however, terrible in the air. He is solid, but not spectacular.

And, like Milner, like Ings, like Firmino, Clyne is durable, excellent at avoiding injuries. He started 35 and 34 games in 2014-15 and 2012-13. He only started 25 in 2013-14, but that was mainly due to splitting time with Calum Chambers more than injury, missing six matches because of two minor injuries.

As you may have noticed, Clyne's aerial statistics are really bad. That those totals span all three of his Premier League seasons, have stayed consistent through three different Southampton managers, means they're probably not improving much. That's a bit terrifying.



His key passes map is also slightly vexing. Eight of Clyne's 22 key passes (36.4%) last season came from crosses. That total was 11 of 28 (39.3%) in 2013-14 and eight of 20 (40%) in 2012-13. That's a fairly high total. Last season, if he got within 18 yards of the byline, he often crossed, and that was especially true when he created chances. And, as I'm sure you may remember, Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool do not cross all that often, although that might change somewhat depending on which striker Liverpool end up buying.

And, to be fair, I suspect that was at least partly by Southampton's design, with Graziano Pelle as target-man. Only West Ham averaged more crosses per game than Southampton last season. Only Swansea attempted fewer than Liverpool. You may also remember Clyne wreaking havoc in the box in the first game of last season. He might not get forward as often as other fullbacks, but he can be capable once getting there.



I wish I had Steve Finnan's stats from around the time he joined Liverpool in 2003-04, his last season with Fulham and his first few with Liverpool. I bet there'd be more than a few similarities. Clyne's almost certainly better going forward – Finnan scored just once and made only 11 assists in his five Liverpool seasons – but both are/were solid, steady, defensive-minded fullbacks who kept it simple and safe and committed few fouls. Similar was true for Alvaro Arbeloa.

I remember a lot of Liverpool supporters spending those two players' tenure wishing for the spectacular. And we got that with Glen Johnson: a tremendous attacking right-back, arguably the best in the league for his first few seasons, then an utter liability for the last couple when his legs went. Given both Rodgers' philosophy and Liverpool's flaws, solid and steady is probably better for the club at the moment. And it's absolutely an improvement on what Liverpool had at right-back last season.



Comparing Clyne to other Premier League right-backs generally thought of as some of the best last season leads to the same conclusion. He's not the best at anything, but he's rarely the worst either. Clyne completed fewer key passes compared to the other five players, but that might well be a function of what Southampton – read: Koeman – required from its fullbacks. And yes, Clyne's aerial ability will remain a preeminent concern; it's not as if Liverpool are already competent at defending crosses or set plays. But Clyne's seemingly aware of that weakness – every single player he's compared to above, Liverpool or Premier League, attempted more aerial duels. Not even aerial duels per 90. In total. Either that, or Southampton went out of their way to protect him from that weakness.

But otherwise, there are few holes in his game.

Nathaniel Clyne's solid and steady, dependable and durable, consistent, fairly well-rounded, and still fairly young having just turned 24. If everything goes to plan – and, admittedly, that doesn't happen for Liverpool all that often – this should be the right back position nailed down for the next five to eight years.

£12.5m certainly isn't cheap. I can't remember many Premier League teams paying more for fullbacks in the past ten years: Johnson and Moreno for Liverpool, Luke Shaw and Calum Chambers from Southampton, Boswinga, Kolarov, Filipe Luis, and maybe Debuchy are all that come to mind.

But considering Clyne is a newly-established English international, considering the fees Southampton received for Shaw and Chambers and Lovren and Lallana, considering the rise in transfer prices thanks to the ever-increasing influx of TV money, £12.5m actually does kind of seem cheap, even for a player in the last year of his contract.

Welcome to Liverpool, Nathaniel.

25 June 2015

On Roberto Firmino

Here's your marquee signing. 23-year-old attacking midfielder-slash-forward-slash-just-get-him-in-the-final-third Roberto Firmino from Hoffenheim. Firmino is Liverpool's third Brazilian, joining fellow international Coutinho – who, yes, plays in a similar position – and Lucas. South American Game Night just got a lot more interesting.

£29m – well, £22m rising to £29m based on what's likely appearance- and performance-related clauses – is Liverpool's second-highest transfer fee (and let's not mention the first). It's the highest fee paid for a player from the Bundesliga. It's a lot of money.

It's also little more than half of what Liverpool would get for Raheem Sterling if they sell this summer. It's less than the fee Aston Villa seem to be sticking to for Benteke. It's less than what Liverpool paid for, say, Lovren and Borini combined: a player wholly out-of-favor and everyone's favorite scapegoat. Or Aspas, Luis Alberto, and Balotelli. Pick your combination of scapegoats, out-of-favor, and/or soon-to-be-sold players. Liverpool have all but set £29m on fire just to watch it burn many times before. Although that's not necessarily a reassuring sentiment.

Liverpool made £92.7m just from Premier League TV rights last season: £54.1m in equal distribution, £18.5m in merit money, and £19.98m in facilities fee. That's a lot of money. It's no coincidence that transfer fees have gone up every year.

As Paul Tomkins notes, Firmino's not even close to Liverpool's record signing after factoring in inflation.

But I doubt you're here for my half-hearted financial justification. That's not what I really care about, that's not what you really care about. What sort of player are Liverpool getting?

Well, for one thing, he's a player whose position we're not quite sure of. He's very much a #10 in a 4-2-3-1 at Hoffenheim, but also spent some time on both flanks and up front. He began his career as a defensive midfielder in Brazil, even if that was six years and three clubs ago. He's been used as a central striker, albeit kind of false-niney, for Brazil at Copa America, with Neymar/Robinho and Willian running into space beyond. He could play any or all of those roles – okay, hopefully not defensive midfielder, although Liverpool might still be in the marker for one – at Liverpool.

    

This will obviously continue to change as players are sold and one or two others bought – especially a striker, an honest-to-God striker – but you can see the side taking shape.

I have no idea where Firmino will play at Liverpool. It could be as the #10 in a 4-2-3-1, with Coutinho and another (whether Sterling, Lallana, Markovic, or Ibe) out wide. It could be as a false-niney striker. It could be as a support striker in the 4-Diamond-2. Maybe Firmino lines up wide, in either a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, using his on-ball drubbing ability and direct running to get into positions to either score or assist. Is he really just a replacement for Sterling? Actually, maybe, although I'd obviously rather see the two play together.

I really have no idea. I doubt you do either. Options. If nothing else, Brendan Rodgers loves options.







Okay, you're getting Coutinho's old shock collar.

Firmino's decent – but not great – in the box, both in the Danger Zone and out wide. He's a surprisingly competent in the air, scoring two of his seven goals with headers (one from a set play), with four right-footed goals and one left-footed. All of his league goals last season came from central positions, which isn't incredibly surprising.

But that's some horrific, horrific outside the box shooting, and it's not for a lack of trying. Five shots on-target from outside the area all season. 12.5% shooting accuracy. Good lord.

And that's not a good enough return for someone playing up front, even if it's still a better return than any of Liverpool's strikers last season. Maybe it's different in a better side, maybe it's different when playing up front on a more consistent basis, but color me skeptical.

So what about his playmaking ability?



That's a bit more like it. 68 chances created last season – only Sterling created more for Liverpool – with 10 assists. He doesn't cross much. He only created five chances from throughballs (none leading to an assist), but that was more a function (and failing) of Hoffenheim rather than the player, having played 12 throughballs as key passes (with five assists) the season before.

Key passes from deep, key passes from the byline, penetrating passes from the edge of the final third, laid-off passes around the edge of the box. He drifts a bit more to the right than left, but that's a good thing considering Coutinho prefers the exact opposite.



Well that's neat. Firmino leads in scoring contribution (buoyed by his assists), dribbles, and defensive statistics. Coutinho takes more shots, plays more passes and throughballs, and is better in possession. Sterling has the highest amount of key passes and a better shot accuracy (weak left-footed shots straight at the keeper still count as on-target shots). Lallana scores at a better rate, partly a function of playing less time than the other three, partly a function of taking fewer shots from outside the box. Everybody's better at something, some better at more things.

So Firmino put up good, but not great, baseline stats in a very mediocre team. Those stats suggest a very well-rounded attacking footballer, as we've been told by more devoted Bundesliga watchers. But last season was nowhere near his most impressive season.



Whoa. And now Bobby Firm leads in 12 of 18 categories.

What changed? Well, the short answer is "Hoffenheim." The 2013-14 Hoffenheim were free-scoring – only Bayern and Dortmund tallied more goals – but also conceded just as often – only the bottom three sides let in more goals. So 2014-15 Hoffenheim were determined to be more defensively sound, more defensive minded, in the hopes of improving on their ninth-place finish.

And it worked, kind of. Hoffenheim conceded 15 fewer goals. Hoffenheim moved up one place in the table, despite accruing the same amount of points as the season before. But Hoffenheim also scored 23 fewer goals than in 2013-14, Firmino nine fewer than in 2013-14. So it's no coincidence that the only category 2014-15 Firmino leads in the above comparison is tackles and interceptions. Although, Hoffenheim press more than Liverpool do, even last year's deeper, less adventurous Hoffenheim; let's be honest, despite the billing, Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool don't press in attack all that often. Although adding Firmino should help do so if Rodgers so desires.

A team that loses attacking flair and hopes to add a bit more defensive solidity? And it doesn't really improve the side; sure, they concede fewer, but not fewer enough to make up for the enormous loss of goals? This may sound familiar to some of you.

Firmino wasn't poor last season by any stretch, still better than Liverpool's comparable players in a number of categories despite playing in an inferior side. But he can be much, much better. You would hope, assume that he'll be better playing with Liverpool's better players.

He's versatile. He's durable, playing in 33 of 34 league matches in each of the last three campaigns. He was able to adapt to a very different league and country at a young age, hopefully demonstrating that another adaptation shouldn't be too difficult. With seven goals and 10 assists last season, and 16 goals and 11 assists in 2013-14, he had a hand in 35% and 32% of Hoffenheim's league goals in the last two campaigns. He just made a massive step up in becoming an important national team player, one of Brazil's bright spots at Copa America. And he's still only 23, to be 24 in October.

Yes, Liverpool paid a lot of money. Yes, I don't know what position he'll play. If it's attacking midfield, well, Liverpool already have a lot of those. If it's striker, I'll worry even more about his acclimatization to both position and league.

But Roberto Firmino still seems a very good signing, both future potential and realized potential. As Didi Hamann said, he's exactly the type of signing you worried Liverpool would be able to attract without Champions League football, and they made absolutely no hesitation in getting it done.

It's June 25. Liverpool have already signed five new players: Firmino, Milner, Ings, Bogdan, and Joe Gomez, all before July 1. And that's not counting Origi – like a new signing! – and that's not counting Nathaniel Clyne, rumored to become official next week, and that's not counting Bacca or Rondon or Benteke or whichever striker Liverpool decide on if Liverpool decide on one. It's a lot easier to get business done in a non-World Cup/Euro summer, but at this point last year, Liverpool had signed Rickie Lambert and were close on Lallana and that's it.

Liverpool seem to have a definitive plan this summer – even if that plan also includes neutering Rodgers, firing first-team coaches, etc. – and have struck early. It's a decisiveness that we haven't seen under Rodgers, in FSG's last few transfers, and it seems to be recognition of last summer and last season's failings. No screwing around, no endless monitoring and leaking to the press only to see other clubs jump in with both feet, no waiting until others are sold before spending.

And I'm a lot more interested in the plan for 2015-16 than I was after Liverpool's horrific finish to the season a month ago.

17 June 2015

2014-15 Liverpool Fixtures by Result and League Place

Since people who don't give the Premier League loads of money can't repost the full fixture list (*shrugs*), here's a couple of different ways of looking at it based off of last year's table: last season's league place and Liverpool's comparable result against that side.




FYI: as is standard for results comparisons, this season's three promoted sides (Bournemouth, Watford, Norwich in that order) replace last season's three relegated sides (Hull, Burnley, QPR). Also, dates obviously subject to change for TV schedules, cup competition conflicts, etc.

Well that's a suitably horrifying start. Last year's results for Liverpool's away schedule through November: loss, loss, loss, draw, win, loss, loss. Last year's results for Liverpool's first seven matches: five points. Good lord. Start your "Rodgers Out, Klopp In by November" jokes now.

Otherwise, it's actually not too bad. Not incredibly difficult fixtures after Europa League group stage matches: Norwich (H), Everton (A), Southampton (H), Palace (H), Swansea (H), West Brom (H). Six of the seven are at Anfield, with the one away match just across Stanley Park. A fairly easy December, including a home match on Boxing Day for the first time since 2011. A run-in where Liverpool won seven, drew two, and lost two of last season's 11 comparable fixtures, only facing two of last season's Champions League sides, both at Anfield.

If Liverpool can somehow survive the first three months, it should get a lot better. But that's a fairly big if.

15 June 2015

On Adam Bogdan

As of Friday, Adam Bogdan is Liverpool's third signing of the summer, the third out-of-contract player with Premier League experience, and will officially join the club on July 1. Just like James Milner, just like Danny Ings.

You've heard the jokes. Liverpool only signed Bogdan because he had an excellent game against Liverpool in the FA Cup: saving nine shots, keeping a clean sheet, and earning a replay. Which Bolton lost when Bogdan was replaced by Lonergan – because of an injury, because that seems to often happen to Bogdan – and Liverpool scored two late goals. It's the easy joke given the (probably rightful) criticism of Liverpool's transfer committee.

And, to be fair, while Bogdan clearly played well in that FA Cup match, Liverpool's shooting left something to be desired. Which, as you may remember, happened a lot last season.



The backup goalkeeper isn't going to make or break any club. But whether you're pleased with the transfer probably comes down to whether you think Liverpool need a straight replacement for Brad Jones or competition to potentially unseat Simon Mignolet.

Well, Adam Bogdan may be the compromise between those two poles, may be the best of both worlds.





Let's be blunt. Brad Jones was not good. He's certainly a nice guy. But he's a mediocre goalkeeper, at best. You can't help but remember Jones embarrassingly diving the wrong way for Rooney's opener at Old Trafford in December, the beginning of a 0-3 loss, Jones' first league start of the season. You can't help but look at Jones' record: 27 starts over five seasons, just 11 in the league. 1.3 goals allowed per game in all competitions, 1.45 in the league. Even when Mignolet was at his worst this fall and winter, Mignolet was still better than Brad Jones. And Adam Bogdan will almost certainly be better than that.

When available, that is. Bogdan has missed extended spells in the last two seasons, damaging knee ligaments in 2013-14 and both fracturing a finger and straining an ankle in 2014-15. All three have been "unlucky" injuries suffered in training, which makes you wonder whether it's a problem with the player or Bolton's training. He played just 851 minutes in the Championship last season, and played 2610 minutes – 29 matches – the season before. Which is barely more than Simon Mignolet played in the Premier League last season. That doesn't exactly bode well.

But, when available, how does Bogdan compare to Mignolet?







To be fair, one goalkeeper is facing Championship sides, the other Premier League sides. Championship-level strikers versus Premiership-level strikers. There is a bit of a difference.

But still, Bogdan faced one less Clear Cut Chance over the last two seasons, but saved two more than Mignolet. Bogdan saved more Danger Zone shots and a much higher proportion of shots from outside the box as well. Mignolet was more consistent zone-to-zone, Mignolet saved two penalties to Bogdan's one. And Liverpool allowed fewer shots on-target, fewer Danger Zone shots on-target; who knows how Bogdan will react to being less involved in the action. Their Goals Conceded per 90 numbers – Mignolet last season, Bogdan the last two seasons – were almost exactly equal. Which probably says more about Liverpool's defense than either goalkeeper.

Neither keeper is especially good with their feet: Mignolet's pass accuracy is much better, Mignolet makes more short passes and fewer longer passes. But that could well be due to the different styles of each team. Mignolet prefers to punch, Bogdan prefers to claim; ever since Pepe Reina, through the three different goalkeeping coaches and all the different keepers (Reina, Cavalieri, Doni, Jones, Mignolet), Liverpool seems to prefer its keepers to punch.



One is an established, if second choice, international with a good deal of Premier League experience. The other has mainly played in the Championship and has only recently became the second (sometimes third) choice for Hungary behind 39-year-old Gabor Kiraly.

Liverpool are clearly working within a budget this summer. Unsurprisingly. By adding Milner, Ings, and Bodgan, addressing need positions early, they've left funds for a big signing or two to come. A Maty Ryan, Mattia Perin, or Timo Horn would have been a sexier, more lauded signing, but also a more expensive one; the wages would be similar but there'd also be a transfer fee involved. Liverpool see challenging Mignolet as less of a need than the many other needs.

Adam Bogdan has the ability to be a perfectly capable backup keeper. Does he have the potential to be more than that? Yeah, maybe. He seems a very good shot-stopper, albeit against Championship opposition. He's only 27, just a few months older than Mignolet and still quite young in goalkeeper years, but with less experience and having had less of an opportunity to prove himself.

So, while my first instinct is to mock and to joke, like with Milner, like with Ings, this seems a decent bit of business. Not heart-stopping, press-stopping, I've got the vapors and we'll win the league business, but reasonable, okay that'll do, at least Liverpool are marginally improving business. This is the reality we live in.

Granted, Liverpool still has a lot of work to do this summer. Granted, Bogdan still has a lot of growing to do to displace Mignolet. But, looking at the statistics, you can see why Liverpool decided to go in this direction. And it certainly wasn't because of a single match against a misfiring, mediocre Liverpool team.

11 June 2015

Liverpool Top 10 Goals 2014-15

So this is a couple of weeks later than usual. Sorry about that. I could blame life, or work, or other Liverpool things I've been working on – all true – but the fact is that I haven't been in a hurry to relive last season. I'm sure you understand.

You can find previous Top 10 videos (at least the ones which haven't been taken down) by scrolling through here (otherwise known as the "videos" tag on this blog).



10) Gerrard 1-6 Stoke: As if we could leave Gerrard's last goal for Liverpool off, the lone bright spot during that damnable day. Sentimentality is easier when there aren't exactly ten superlative goals, but Gerrard still deserves every single bit of sentimentality.

9) Rossiter 1-0 Boro: Okay, just a little bit more sentimentality. We began with the old, we continue with the new. A 17-year-old Scouser, the most recent to be stuck with the "Next Gerrard" label, on his debut, less than 10 minutes into the match. And because this season was officially the worst, that would be Rossiter's only first-team appearance.

8) Lallana 1-0 WBA: Coutinho starting the move, Lambert also involved, quick feet from Lallana, lovely interplay with Henderson, a back-heeled assist, a weak-foot finish. Pretty much the ideal goal given Liverpool's summer transfers. Unsurprisingly, we didn't see its like very often.

7) Gerrard 1-1 Basel: "Over to you captain. Done it plenty of times before. Your club needs you again… OHHHHH GERRARD'S DONE IT, MAGNIFICENT FREE KICK. And Liverpool have a lifeline. Is history going to repeat itself again, as Gerrard provides something very, very special?"

No. No it would not.

6) Sterling 1-0 Southampton: This is on here because of Jordan Henderson. That's an amazing assist, and it's with his left foot. Liverpool's first goal of the season, 23 minutes into the season, seemed to bode well for the season. Ha. Ha ha ha.

5) Moreno 3-0 Spurs: Let's forget the defensive calamities. Let's just remember this, in just Moreno's second match. This was fun. This was when we thought Liverpool's full-back positions and Liverpool's defense might well be settled and might well be fixed. Oh how little we knew.

4) Coutinho 2-1 Bolton: And now begins The Coutinho Show.

3) Henderson 1-0 City: Well, okay, a brief interlude in The Coutinho Show because holy wow Jordan Henderson.

2) Coutinho 2-1 City: I went back and forth over whether this or Henderson's in the same match should be second. Similarly unstoppable, from almost the same area of the pitch. Coutinho's got slightly more precedent for wonder goals, but Henderson's started with Kompany's mistake and this won the match. So this edges it.

1) Coutinho 1-0 Southampton: But there's no debate over this one. Good lord. Pick that one out.


Honorable Mention: (Mostly for the assists)
• Sterling 1-0 Burnley
• Lallana 3-1 Swansea
• Sterling 1-1 Chelsea (League Cup)
• Borini 1-0 Villa
• Henderson 3-1 Leicester

08 June 2015

On Danny Ings

And now Liverpool have signed its second player of the summer. Like Milner, Danny Ings is Premier League-proven and out-of-contract, and won't officially be a Liverpool player until July 1. Unlike Milner, he'll cost a fee: maybe Burnley and Liverpool will be able to agree one, maybe it'll be decided at tribunal because of his age; either way, it'll probably be somewhere between £8-12m. Unlike Milner, Danny Ings a striker, the position that most desperately needs addressing. Which seems a good start.

So what are Liverpool getting?







As a reminder, here's the definition for each area:


Danny Ings is a Danger Zone monster.

All 11 of Ings' league goals came in the Danger Zone – the six-yard box and center of the 18-yard box – and only one was a penalty. They were fairly varied goals as well: four headers, four right-footed, and three left-footed.

54.6% of Ings' shots (including that one penalty) came in the Danger Zone. For comparison, just 35.2% of Liverpool's shots this season came in that area. For further comparison, 31.5% of Suarez's shots and 42.4% of Sturridge's shots in 2013-14 came in that area. And Ings put 49% of those Danger Zone shots on-target.

Aside from Ings' goals totals, those Danger Zone stats aren't entirely dissimilar from what Suarez and Sturridge did in 2013-14.



And Ings' totals came in a vastly, vastly worse side. For Ings' sake, we won't compare their respective stats from wide box and outside-the-box areas, although you can see Suarez and Sturridge's here.

With 11 goals – two more than Liverpool's top scorer, I'll remind – and four assists, Ings had a hand in 53.6% of Burnley's goals. Which, even considering how many minutes he played, is a pleasantly high total.

Danny Ings is a poacher. That's what he does. It's not all he does – he's a hard-worker, a good dribbler, decent at hold-up play and at setting up other players considering his position and the dearth of talent around him: you know, a typical Rodgers/FSG signing – but it's by far his defining trait. As I'm sure you remember, Liverpool did not have a poacher last season, at least not with Sturridge injured. Liverpool very much needed a poacher last season, very much needed their striker to get into those central, high-value areas. And now Liverpool have one, one that'll only be 23 next month, with only one season of Premiership football.

He's clearly durable, missing just three matches through injury, playing the full 90 minutes in 26 matches, subbed off before the 80th minute in just two league matches. Only one forward – Graziano Pelle of Southampton – played more league minutes than Ings.

Combined, Balotelli, Borini, Lambert, and Sturridge played 2909 minutes in the league last season, 126 minutes fewer than Ings did. So any statistical comparison between the five is fairly flawed from the start. Nonetheless, let's look.



Yep, Liverpool missed Sturridge last season, Balotelli was pretty horrid, and Lambert's simply not good enough. The stats suggest Borini might have deserved more time, but Borini's play rarely seemed to. Ings, younger than all four, was more well-rounded than all but Sturridge, who's a different class of striker. 'Kay.

There are, of course, inevitable concerns. But it's also hard to tell how many of those concerns are Ings' fault, and how many are due to being at Burnley, a team that tried hard but just wasn't very good.

Most concerning is Ings' shot accuracy, lower than all four Liverpool's strikers. He is accurate in the Danger Zone. Unfortunately, he's very not accurate from everywhere else, especially from outside the box.

Despite taking more shots than all but seven players in the league (Agüero, Austin, Pelle, Alexis, Kane, Lukaku, and Coutinho), Ings' 2.85 shots per 90 seems low, a fairly average total. More than 50 players averaged more shots per 90 in the league last season.

The 10-match goalless streak from February 21 to May 2, with Burnley fighting relegation, obviously worries. As does the fact that 10 of Ings' 11 goals – every goal except his header in a 1-3 loss at Manchester United – came against a bottom-half side: Everton, Stoke (2), Villa (2), Newcastle, QPR, Palace, West Brom, and Hull. Of course, Liverpool need help against bottom-half sides, dropping points against every single one of those clubs except QPR.

Once again, Liverpool are buying potential. Clear potential, but mostly potential nonetheless. It's a gamble, like Divock Origi will be a gamble. Liverpool will still probably try to add another striker, Liverpool still need to add another striker. They can't be reliant on addressing the multiple issues in front of goal with just Ings and Origi, two youngsters still very unproven at the highest level. Is he better than what Liverpool had this season? It sure seems so. But is he better enough? Ings could be a big upgrade if he continues to develop – that he makes a Harry Kane-style leap next season isn't wholly out of the realm of possibility – but right now it kind of feels like a marginal upgrade when Liverpool need a massive upgrade.

But as with Milner, it's a start, and you can see the logic behind the signing. It certainly seems textbook Rodgers and textbook FSG, and whether that's good enough is an entirely different discussion. However, it remains only a start, and it's another transfer which will have to be taken in the context of Liverpool's future summer business.

04 June 2015

On James Milner

James Milner is not quite officially Liverpool's first summer signing – yet to pass a medical, unable to sign until his contract with City runs out at the end of the month – but James Milner is Liverpool's first summer signing. As we've suspected for some time now.

Milner is not a replacement for Steven Gerrard. No one's replacing Steven Gerrard. But he kind of is, in a lot of ways.

It's another central midfielder who provides goals and assists, versatile enough to play multiple midfield positions with an excellent range of passing, an experienced international who's won trophies and titles at club level.

If, as expected, Brad Jones joins Gerrard and Johnson in leaving this summer, Milner will be the fourth-oldest player in Liverpool's squad behind Toure, Lambert, and Skrtel – and there's no guarantee that Lambert and Skrtel will be at Liverpool next season. Milner's played more Premier League matches than any other Liverpool player – 389 – with Toure (339), Skrtel (220), and Lucas (196) the next closest. Liverpool have a dearth of experience and a dearth of leaders, and that was the case even before Gerrard's departure; there's a reason why Carragher suggested that Milner might even be named captain a few days ago. Milner brings desperately needed leadership and experience to a squad already short on it before Gerrard's exit.



Milner fits into almost any formation Rodgers can conjure, and Rodgers conjured an awful lot last season. Noticeably, Milner makes a diamond midfield more feasible. Which is kind of a waste of Liverpool's surplus of attacking midfielders – only one, maybe two, of Coutinho, Lallana, Sterling, Ibe, and Markovic would start in that formation – but it's a formation that served Liverpool well in 2013-14. So, yeah, Liverpool would still have to sign at least two strikers and/or enhance Sturridge with some cyborg parts to make that work, but, you know, anything's possible.



It's safe to assume that Milner's coming to Liverpool with the promise of more time in central midfield than he'd get at City or Arsenal, but his versatility remains a large asset. He played seven different positions last season, everywhere across the front six. Options, etc. Brendan Rodgers loves options; it's the picking one from the multiple options which causes problems.

Milner only played 1744 Premier League minutes last season, 1359 in 2013-14, 1721 in 2012-13, 1579 in 2011-12. For a player with a lot of mileage on his odometer, he should have a lot of gas left in the tank. And despite not starting often, he's capable of going 90 minutes every week, freakishly fit and rarely unavailable through injury.

Milner's per 90 statistics have a lot of similarities with both Henderson and Lallana last season.



With more playing time (especially in central midfield) and Liverpool's squad rather than City's, I suspect his attacking stats – specifically goals, shots, key passes, and assists – would be a lot closer to Henderson. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

That said, there are still some fairly impressive numbers in there. Yes, goals, key passes, and assists most notably, but his dribbles, tackles, and interceptions also pleasantly surprised. And, as advertised, they suggest a talented, well rounded footballer.

Of course, there are concerns, because it wouldn't be Liverpool if there weren't concerns.

Even with the loss of Gerrard, central midfield isn't one of Liverpool's need areas. At least not a box-to-box shuttling central midfielder, like Henderson is, like Allen is, like Can seems to be. As tempting as it is to just write "SIGN A STRIKER THAT SCORES LOTS OF GOALS" over and over and over, this is the first signing of the summer, not the last. We hope.

Rumor has it – and you know I love putting stock in rumors – that Milner will become Liverpool's highest paid player at £150k/week. Which, fine, whatever, it's not my money, free transfers are always on higher wages, he turned down even more money from City, and he'll be a valuable member of the squad. But that's also the same amount that Liverpool and Raheem Sterling reached an impasse over. Free transfer or not, there isn't a universe where Milner merits more money than Sterling, especially given Liverpool's needs.

Also, as I assume you're aware, free transfer does not mean free. £150k a week comes out to £7.8m a year. That's not much less than Lallana costs when including both transfer fee and rumored wages.

And at 29, to be 30 in January, Milner's in his prime now, but Liverpool will be lucky to get a full four good years – the rumored length of his contract – out of him. If that £150k/week makes you blanch now, imagine it when the player's 32 or 33.

But that's some ways off.

Liverpool need help right now. Given where they are, Liverpool will have to pay over the odds for help right now, although it's a safe bet that FSG will continue to ensure Liverpool live within its means. And right now, James Milner makes Liverpool a better team. He's a player who chose playing time at Liverpool ahead of more money from City and Champions League football from City or Arsenal, which is no small matter. He's a player will improve Liverpool's squad for the next season or two in the worst case scenario.

Liverpool still have much, much work to do over the next couple of months, but this isn't a bad first step. However, it remains only the first step of many.

01 June 2015

Steven Gerrard's Liverpool Teammates [Infographic]



Self explanatory, really. That's a lot of names. 160 of them. And it only includes Liverpool players who actually played with Steven Gerrard. So, a handful of players who made a handful of Liverpool appearances – e.g. Richie Partridge, Samed Yesil, Brad Smith, etc – aren't on the list. And each player's tenure starts from when they actually played with a match with Gerrard: e.g. Insua's two matches in 2006-07 weren't with Gerrard, so his first season is listed as 2007-08. There are a couple more examples of this, but not as many as you'd think.

It is curious to see how many players survive for just a season or two. A lot, whether they're big-money transfers or academy graduates. It's also curious to see how many groups survive for just a few seasons, demonstrating just how bad Liverpool's transfers were that window (*glares at 2002-03, 2008-09, among others*).



Unsurprisingly, Jamie Carragher played the most matches with Gerrard, with Sami Hyypiä second. Each featured for 15 and 10 seasons alongside Gerrard respectively. But Daniel Agger actually played the third-most seasons with Gerrard – nine, from 2005-06 through 2013-14 – and only comes up 12th on this list with 183 appearances. Because injuries, of course; Agger made more than 30 appearances with Gerrard just three times in nine seasons. John Arne Riise, on the other hand, did that in all seven of his.