24 June 2011

Infographic – How Liverpool Scored

55 right-footed (71.4%)
12 headers (15.6%)
8 left-footed (10.4%)
2 own goals (2.6%)

Two thoughts.

First, it helps explain why so many of Liverpool's supposed transfer targets are left-footed. At least two attacking midfielders/forwards/wingers and a starting left-back (along with perennial favorite Charlie Adam) seem to top Comolli's summer shopping list.

Second, it helps explain why Carroll – a gargantuan header with a saccharine bullet left-foot – was worth a king's ransom. Liverpool needs left-footers and Liverpool needs dominant headers. The club got both for the (steep) price of one player.

Last season's headers came from Ngog (3), Kuyt (2), Kyrgiakos (2), Carroll, Gerrard, Jovanovic, Maxi and Skrtel. Six from forwards, three from midfielders, and three from center-backs; seven from set plays and five from open play. Only four headed goals came from open play crosses. The left-footed strikes were scored by Meireles (2), Carroll, Jovanovic, Kuyt, Maxi, Suarez, and Torres. Only two of those players – Carroll and Jovanovic – are predominantly lefties.

As a comparison, the high-water mark that was 2008-09:

60 right-footed (56.6%)
21 left-footed (19.8%)
21 headers (19.8%)
4 own goals (3.8%)

Memories. Painful, wonderful memories...

20 June 2011

With Gerrard, Without Gerrard

Click for full-size in new window

Statistically insignificant. Well, for the most part.

2010-11 was the first season when Gerrard missed more than 10 of Liverpool's league games since his debut campaign. Over the last 12 years, Gerrard has been absent for 81 of Liverpool's 456 Premiership matches: just 18%. 17 of those absences came this season, almost all after Dalglish bloodlessly seized power in January.

Prior to that, 2001-02 was the last campaign where Gerrard lost significant time, fighting constant injury (mainly back problems) before missing the World Cup due to groin surgery. It's little surprise that was the campaign where Liverpool were most notably "better" without him.

The other anomalies – 2004-05, 2006-07, and 2008-09 – are also easily explainable. In Benitez's first season, Gerrard missed a crucial six weeks from late September through mid-November, as the new manager's ideas bore fruit and Liverpool's initial results unsurprisingly improved. The side won four, lost two, and drew one during that stretch, against teams who finished 19th, 18th, 15th, 13th, 12th, 11th, and 1st. With or without Gerrard, Liverpool should expect at least 13 points from the available 21 against that murderer's row.

In 2006-07, Gerrard missed so few matches that it dramatically altered the results when Liverpool lost the two he sat out. He was rested against Portsmouth and Fulham in early May with the Champions League final looming, as were many other first-teamers. Liverpool used an under-strength reserve lineup in both matches and Liverpool tepidly lost both. Otherwise, Gerrard featured in every league game.

And 2008-09 is the easiest to explain. Liverpool were really really good that season. Gerrard was really really good that season. Gerrard's partnership with Torres was really really good that season, and it made a noticeable difference when the two were actually in the side together.

Otherwise, there's little discrepancy, as you'd expect from a man who's played more than 80% of Liverpool's games since the turn of the century. Gerrard's undoubtedly important, but it's not demonstrable from the points per game average, mainly because he's played so many of Liverpool's matches. However, when Gerrard's at his best (read: used correctly) – 2008-09 most notably – he does make a massive difference.

What prompted this somewhat unnecessary stat fest were the results from last season. Specifically, how the much-discussed managerial turning point was also a key moment for Liverpool's captain.

The sample size probably ruins any possible correlation, but there was a vast discrepancy in how Gerrard influenced the team under Hodgson and Dalglish. During Hodgson's reign, Liverpool averaged 0.06 fewer points per league game – the captain missed home wins over West Ham and Aston Villa and losses at Newcastle and Tottenham. Under Dalglish, the captain missed 13 of the 18 league games due to his never-ending groin problems, but when Gerrard played, Liverpool were outstanding: winning four of the five matches. Home against Fulham, Stoke and United, and away to Chelsea, with the lone loss at West Ham. 12 points from five games – an average of 2.4 per match – compared to Liverpool's 1.83 per game during the entirely of Dalglish's run-in.

When he's used correctly...

Gerrard Apps PPG with Gerrard Overall PPG Difference
2010-11 21 1.48 1.53 -0.05
2009-10 33 1.67 1.66 +0.01
2008-09 31 2.35 2.26 +0.09
2007-08 34 1.97 2.0 -0.03
2006-07 36 1.89 1.79 +0.10
2005-06 32 2.19 2.16 +0.03
2004-05 30 1.40 1.53 -0.13
2003-04 34 1.59 1.58 +0.01
2002-03 34 1.74 1.68 +0.06
2001-02 28 1.96 2.11 -0.15
2000-01 33 1.82 1.82 0.0
1999-00 29 1.69 1.76 -0.07

15 June 2011

Passing Wheel – Jordan Henderson

As actual news is sparse with the silly season in full flow (yes, I know it's barely mid-June), I thought I'd bring back the quasi-informative passing wheel (previously highlighted: Lucas and Gerrard) to take a look at three of Jordan Henderson's best games from the previous season.

The links will take you to the actual Guardian chalkboard for each game.

1) 3-0 at Chelsea (4-4-2 CM)

A fairly stereotypical, balanced central midfield performance. Not overly adventurous, with more passes in the 2nd quadrant, but diligent, with the majority of his passing moving play forward and a 78% completion percentage. His riskier passes – not necessarily a good idea at Stamford Bridge, even if your side is somehow running riot – were usually unsuccessful, but most attempts were the short "ticking over" passes so frequently derided. And those passes played a key part in handing Chelsea its worst home defeat since 2002, Sunderland's first win over the Blues in a decade.

2) 1-0 v West Ham (4-4-2 RM)1

And a fairly stereotypical right-midfield performance. That 80% of his passes were to his left is little surprise: on the flank, Henderson passed infield to the central midfielders, looked for long-range diagonals, and crossed in the final third. There are far more backward passes, in the 3rd and 4th quadrants, mainly to bring the right-back into play or reset with the central defenders. His completion percentage is lower than usual at 68% (season average: 78%), but he also attempted more difficult passes than in the other two examples.

Incidentally, this game featured Henderson's first goal of the season, cutting inside to run into the box, smartly slamming home a centered ball from the flank. He didn't do that nearly enough – as he admits – scoring just twice more in 2010-11, both coming against Wigan in April.

3) 4-2 v Wigan (4-4-2 RM)2

This is the one that interests me the most. Here's his two goals: the first after a sustained build-up, the second on the break, both from the middle of the penalty area after coming infield from the flank.

Ostensibly still a 4-4-2, in midfield with Cattermole, Colback and Sessegnon, nearly all of Henderson's passes came in the opposition half. The performance, while "less involved" than ideal (attempting just 28 passes in open play), seems almost prototypical for an attacking midfielder in Dalglish's 4-2-2-2 system. It bears more than a slight resemblance to what Liverpool's Portuguese midfielder did a week later on the right against Newcastle.

1 Not included are seven corners (three successful, four unsuccessful) and two throw-ins counted on the Guardian chalkboard.
2 Not included are seven corners (two successful, five unsuccessful) and one throw-in counted on the Guardian chalkboard.

08 June 2011

On Jordan Henderson

Update (7:00am 06.10.11): Should have done this yesterday night. Henderson deal's completed for a rumored £16m, probably with a few million in add-on incentives as well. Ngog has permission to speak with Sunderland, but the fee on his potential deal remains undisclosed. Depending on the sum agreed, the overall outlay on Henderson could be cheaper than initially expected.

Who knew the Internet would be so polarized because Liverpool's actually able to spend money? Oh, right, it's the Internet.

The discord seems to be because the Henderson deal aligns with the post-Carroll 'Liverpool are spending like a drunken xenophobic sailor' narrative. Which is as unfair to Henderson as it was to Carroll. Both are fantastic prospects, already excellent players with their entire careers ahead of them, who fans should be thrilled to have in red. A year ago, Liverpool were checking under couch cushions for the privilege of spending £8m in transfer fees on Joe Cole, Paul Konchesky, and Christian Poulsen.

Obviously, everyone would be happier if Henderson were cheaper, but it's not as egregious as many are making out. The rumored inclusion of Ngog – somewhat sad but smart business – lessens the blow, but a £20m valuation on a 20-year-old midfielder with two seasons under his belt is slightly staggering on first glance. However, recent regulations – the Premier League's homegrown law and UEFA's financial fair play rules – make the player both more valuable and costlier. There's the ubiquitous, constantly increasing British premium, the fact he'd be on comparatively low wages, and that his nationality and age will keep his resale value high unless he flops harder than Yokozuna off the high dive. If it's the biggest business or, God forbid, only business Liverpool does, we have a problem. But I highly doubt that'll be the case.

Liverpool evidently want the best and brightest of England's next generation. Whether or not it's a smart policy is debatable. But, unlike last summer, it's not dross for the sake of passport numbers, but two or possibly more of the most sought-after talents on these shores. Not players in their prime or past it, but clay that Dalglish gets to mold in whatever manner he sees fit.

I didn't catch a ton of Sunderland last season, but Henderson's crosses were his most memorable attribute – the video Liverpool Offside posted yesterday features a fair few sparking examples. Goes without saying that Liverpool needs more of that.

Just as important is Henderson's versatility. He's played both centrally and on the right for Sunderland. He's a flexible, pass-and-move player able to cover a couple different positions. Which seems to be Dalglish's modus operandi. At the same time, that adaptability gives us few clues as to Liverpool's future formation.

In theory, Henderson seems best suited for 4-2-2-2 or 4-3-3: on the right a la Meireles in the former, as the right-sided central midfielder in the latter. But that's with no guarantees he'll go straight into the first team or that Liverpool's summer business is anywhere near finished. I've also never seen him play in the attacking line of a 4-2-3-1 because Sunderland never plays that formation, so that's not entirely out of the question either. He's 20. I doubt he knows his best position. Liverpool are building a squad, not for a certain formation. We saw 4-2-2-2, 4-2-3-1, 4-4-2, 4-3-3, and 3-4-2-1 during Dalglish's five months.

At the same time, Henderson, Meireles, and Shelvey (and Aquilani, but don't expect to see him back) have more than few similar qualities. Yes, all three have different strengths – Meireles is a better scorer and, more obviously, in the prime of his career; Shelvey has a better range of passing; Henderson is quicker, taller, stronger, and seemingly has the highest ceiling – but all three are "box-to-box" midfielders: neither strictly defensive nor especially attacking. All three played both central and right midfield for their respective clubs last season. I'm incredibly interested to see how they all fit into next year's team, especially if (as rumored) Liverpool are still in pursuit of Charlie Adam. That deal makes even less sense following this one, but Dalglish and Comolli must have a master plan.

Liverpool were also rumored to be in the market for a defensive midfielder: a replacement for Poulsen, competition for Lucas. Blaise Matuidi, at Comolli's old club, has been most frequently mooted. My initial thought was this might mean Spearing is seen as Lucas' back-up. Or, God forbid, Poulsen might actually get a second chance. This summer has many more twists and turns left in it.

As for the departing young Frenchman, it's supposedly a £5.5m gain on a player who perpetually divided fans. He was one of the few positives under Hodgson, but clearly regressed under the new manager. Ngog only started two games after Dalglish took the reins: both legs against Sparta Prague. He played just 146 minutes in eight appearances over the last 18 league matches. Seemingly without a future at Anfield, including Ngog in the deal is good business for both the player and the club.

Welcome, Jordan. Good luck, David. Be excited, Liverpool fans.

03 June 2011

Infographics – Leftovers

And we'll finish out the week with cold pizza: two revamps of old infographics.

The first barely counts as a graphic, so we'll get it out of the way quickly. As I explained last year, I don't always agree with how Opta/BBC/ESPN/whomever classifies assists. So, just to be pedantic, I call it "Goal Creation" in the graphic's headline. We all know I mean assist.

When the assist was debatable, it's marked with a superscript letter. These broke down into four categories: rebound or blocked shots, won penalties, won direct free kicks, and own goal assists. Basically, if a player got the penultimate attacking touch, I credit them. Some statisticians don't recognize penalties, most don't recognize direct free kicks, and rebound/blocked/deflected shots are subjective. So these are my subjective numbers.

Torres benefits most from the methodology, winning two penalties and the only free kick which led directly to a goal (Gerrard's equalizer at Old Trafford). There were more than double the amount of unassisted goals as last year. Gerrard's total unsurprisingly dropped precipitously in accordance with how much time he missed, Kuyt created twice as many goals, and Lucas had the exact same total in the exact same competitions.

If you want any more details why I gave an arguable assist, I'd be happy to answer in the comments.

The second graphic was concocted in the warm, wonderful afterglow of 2008-09, comparing when Liverpool scored to when Liverpool conceded. Didn't make one last year. No points for guessing why (hint: it's because that season was even more depressing than this one).

It's tough viewing compared to the 2008-09 version. Unsurprisingly, a team that finished four places lower and 28 points worse scored a lot fewer goals and conceded slightly more. 29 fewer and six more respectively, in fact. It's when they were or weren't scored or conceded which intrigues. The difference in goals tallied during the final 15 minutes is drastic, as is the difference in those conceded after half-time.

Liverpool were simply exceptional after the 75th minute in '08-09. A majority of late goals just widened the gap, but 11 gave Liverpool the lead while seven leveled the score. In the last 15 minutes this season, Liverpool took the lead in five games and equalized in just two. In theory, that's a difference of 17 points right there ("in theory" because three of this season's six "comebacks" came in the Europa League).

As for the goals conceded directly after the interval, it's easily explained by the previous manager. 10 of those 14 came on his watch. His half-time adjustments and team talks must have been as inspiring as his post-match press conferences. Otherwise, Liverpool scored and conceded a handful more at the start of games, and conceded fewer during the middle stages of either half.

More early goals? Fewer late goals scored? More late goals conceded? Best matches under Hodgson (West Ham, Aston Villa, Chelsea) and Dalglish (United, City, Birmingham, Fulham) started with an early onslaught coming good? All this suggests Benitez's methodical crushing machine has become a flat-track sprinter.

Goals For Goals Against
Already Ahead 28 12
Go-Ahead Goal 36 25
Equalizer 9 12
Still Behind 4 3

02 June 2011

Infographic: Results Comparison 2010-11

For comparison, here's last year's version

versus club:
• Chelsea (1st --> 2nd) = +6
• United (2nd --> 1st) = 0
• Arsenal (3rd --> 4th) = +2
• Tottenham (4th --> 5th) = -3
• City (5th --> 3rd) = +1
• Villa (6th --> 9th) = 0
• Everton (8th --> 7th) = -5
• Birmingham (9th --> 19th) = +3
• Blackburn (10th --> 15th) = -1
• Stoke (11th --> 13th) = -1
• Fulham (12th --> 8th) = +5
• Sunderland (13th --> 10th) = +1
• Bolton (14th --> 14th) = 0
• Wolves (15th --> 17th) = -1
• Wigan (16th --> 16th) = -1
• West Ham (17th --> 20th) = -3
• Relegated/Promoted 1 (Burnley 18th --> Newcastle 12th) = -3
• Relegated/Promoted 2 (Hull 19th --> West Brom 11th) = -1
• Relegated/Promoted 3 (Portsmouth 20th --> Blackpool 19th) = -3

Better against most top sides, primarily Chelsea and Arsenal. Worse against bottom sides. It's even clearer when comparing the opposition's league place instead of specific clubs.

versus league place:
• vs 1st = 0 to 3 = +3
• vs 2nd = 3 to 6 = +3
• vs 3rd = 0 to 3 = +3
• vs 4th = 3 to 2 = -1
• vs 5th = 2 to 0 = -2
• vs 6th = 3 to n/a = (-2 combined with 7th)
• vs 7th = n/a to 1 (-2 combined with 6th)
• vs 8th = 6 to 6 = 0
• vs 9th = 2 to 3 = +1
• vs 10th = 4 to 4 = 0
• vs 11th = 4 to 3 = -1
• vs 12th = 1 to 3 = +2
• vs 13th = 3 to 3 = 0
• vs 14th = 6 to 6 = 0
• vs 15th = 4 to 3 = -1
• vs 16th = 3 to 2 = -1
• vs 17th = 6 to 3 = -3
• vs 18th = 6 to 4 = -2
• vs 19th = 4 to 0 = -4
• vs 20th = 3 to 3 = 0

Nine points better against 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. 10 points worse against the 16th-19th placed teams. Liverpool simply must improve against inferior sides, especially away from Anfield. Losing to all three promoted teams is utterly unforgivable. Two of those four losses – two of the three away losses – came during Dalglish's tenure.

There's a lot more red on the away side of this season's chart, but overall, Liverpool were just 3 points worse on the road (three draws --> losses) and 2 points worse at home (one win --> draw). 63 points to 58, despite moving one place up in the table. 63 points would have been good enough for 5th this season.

01 June 2011

Results by Goals Scored: Home v Away

Results under Dalglish outlined in black.

Notice any differences?

12W-4D-3L at Anfield, outscoring the opposition 37 to 14. 5W-3D-11L on the road, tallying 22 while conceding 31.

Home: 6W-2D-1L, 20 scored – 6 conceded
      • 2.22 points per game, 2.22 goals per game, 0.67 conceded per game
Away: 4W-1D-4L, 15 scored – 11 conceded
      • 1.44 points per game, 1.67 goals per game, 1.1 conceded per game

Home: 6W-2D-2L, 17 scored – 8 conceded
      • 2.0 points per game, 1.7 goals per game, 0.8 conceded per game
Away: 1W-2D-7L, 7 scored – 20 conceded
      • 0.5 points per game, 0.7 goals per game, 2.0 conceded per game

Yes, yes. Dalglish good, Hodgson bad, away record terrifying regardless. At this point, writing about how Liverpool has been immeasurably worse away from Anfield is pissing out the embers of the horse you set on fire after beating it to death. Nonetheless, the contrast is still somehow beautiful in its symmetry.