05 November 2009

Babel vs. Voronin

From the comments of the last post:
Anonymous said:

I disagree about Babel. I'd much rather see him starting for Voronin rather than coming off the bench. Then bring in Aqua at the 70 min mark. Voronin just looks a half step slow in everything he does. At least Babel has the potential for moments of brilliance along with the mistakes. Voronin just gives you average plus mistakes.
Don’t get me wrong; Voronin was no great shakes yesterday. He gave the ball away too often, under-hit Liverpool’s best chance, and did little attacking as a support striker. He is average plus mistakes. But Babel’s inconsistency squared.

Despite the Dutchman’s brilliant goal, I doubt he would have helped much from the start. The two opportunities after Babel’s strike do well to sum him up: the free kick blasted 12 yards in front of goal which went out for a throw on the far side, and the neat run into the box only to shoot six yards wide of the near post. One moment of brilliance, two moments of banging your head against the wall. That’s Ryan Babel, as harsh as that comes off.

Neither player is “good enough” to consistently win games for the team. Liverpool needs better first-team players to challenge for the title and Champions League. But as everyone acknowledges, last night was a very bad exception and Liverpool hasn’t been this stretched by injuries in years. Starting Voronin, where Liverpool could use his hold-up play and workrate, then bringing on the potentially game-changing Babel was the right move. As much as I wanted to see Aqua around the 70th as well, yesterday’s was an action-packed, crucial game still in the balance, which isn't the best time to give a player with 15 minutes under his belt a European debut.

Now, my main point. Babel as a sub. Let’s start with his goal return, which is 17 in 103 games so far.

46 starts with five goals, compared to 57 substitute appearances and 12 goals off the bench. For those keeping track at home, that’s an average of a goal every 9.2 games when starting and every 4.75 games when a sub. His scoring record is more than twice as good as a substitute.

And then there are the individual games. The games he scored when starting? 6-0 over Derby, 5-0 over Luton Town, 3-1 in a dead rubber over PSV, 3-1 over Bolton, and 5-1 over Newcastle. Every one was a rout.

The games he scored as a sub? Besiktas (x2), Newcastle, Bolton, Marseille, Arsenal (CL), Chelsea (CL), United, West Ham, Hull (x2), and Lyon. Again, most were routs; Babel only provided the winner in one of those matches – against United of all teams – unless we’re counting the penalty won in the CL against Arsenal. But it’s still a much better scoring record against better opposition.

Incidentally, the only match Liverpool lost when Babel scored was the Chelsea CL semi, where Liverpool lost 2-3 and Babel tallied a wicked long-range shot that Cech probably should’ve kept out in the 117th.

And when were the goals scored? Babel’s never scored between the 1-30th minutes, but scored 3 between 31-45, 2 between 46-60, 1 between 61-75, and 11 between 76-120 (the aforementioned Chelsea goal was the only extra-time strike). 12 of his 17 goals have come in the last third of the game! If that’s not a supersub, I don’t know what is.

Now, Voronin’s goal return doesn’t hold a candle to Babel’s, starting, off the bench, whatever. Six goals in 40 games, with all the goals coming in ’07-08. I don't have the assist numbers for any season but this one – Voronin has two assists to Babel's one – but I'd guess Voronin tallied slightly more per game in '07-08 as well. But yes, Voronin is a dissimilar and probably inferior player. The difference between an £11m player and a free transfer, I guess. But unlike Babel, we usually know what we’re getting: workrate, clever layoffs and flick-ons, and a couple of frustrating shots off target. Talents more suited to a starting second striker, especially in Benitez's system and when paired with Torres.

The key is that Voronin was brought in as a squad player, replacing Fowler, and probably would have been sold this summer were Benitez allowed to use the money on another striker. Babel was bought to be a game-changer, the third-highest transfer fee paid by Liverpool at the time. Three seasons into his Liverpool career, not enough games have been changed. Hopefully, yesterday marked a turning point.


Rick said...

Well I agree with you that Babel is better off the bench, I have to disagree that that makes Voronin the better option to start. In my opinion, Babel at his second best (starting) is still better than Voronin at his best. You seem to agree with me on this when you mention a similar opinion at the beginning of the second to last paragraph.

For me, it comes down to that shot by Voronin. With him on that ball, the goal isn't scored. With Babel, however, even though he is still inconsistent, he makes that shot at least some of the time. I also think that Babel would improve if he gets the playing time from these kind of spot starts.

nate said...

I should have made it clearer that Voronin was solely the better option yesterday taking into account the system Liverpool played.

I guessed Babel in my preview, writing, "I’d rather the inconsistent threat of Babel before the diligence of Voronin." But I was writing about the 4-2-3-1 with Babel on the left and Benayoun in the hole.

When Babel's a striker, his game is too much like Torres' (center of the pitch with balls over the top, although Torres obviously has more talents) to play in a 2-man front-line with the Spaniard. And this is going to come off harsh, but he's the new Cisse or Baros in that role. He's not going to play the second-striker, knit play together but also drop back and defend ahead of the central midfielders that Voronin can.

When Babel came on for Voronin in the 68th, Torres started drifting into the channels more frequently (although he took up those positions often throughout), Babel usually came in from the left, and Benayoun took up Voronin's position in the center, making it look more like the usual 4-2-3-1.

What Benitez asked from Voronin at the start was different than what Babel provided off the bench. And when the roles are defined like that, and the circumstances are the same as last night's, then yes, I'd argue Voronin is the better option to start.

And on the whole, not looking just at last night's game, the stats and my memories suggest Babel is better as a substitute.

Anonymous said...

I agree with both of you. I can't argue that Voronin isn't the better option in the hole, or that Babel's better right now as a sub. I'm not criticizing your post, you do awesome work man. I just think we role the dice with the more talented (and wildly inconsistent) player. Let him play on the wing and let Benayoun play in the center. He cuts everything inside anyway.

Also, Babel is definitely inconsistency squared, but what do we expect when he never knows when or where or how many minutes he will play. Confidence is so important, even for us rec league guys. I can't imagine how hard it is for players at that level. Constantly looking over your shoulder makes it impossible to play. Rafa has forgotten more about football than I will ever know, but I am sick of Voronin. He's not good enough, period the end. Develop some of the talent you've already spent a fortune on, it can't get any worse.

Rick said...

Nate, I see what you're saying about Voronin vs Babel in the hole and I think that you're right about that. I guess that I'm just frustrated at Voronin and the fact that he is Liverpool's back-up due to injuries. I do still wish that Babel could get some more starts as I think that he could be better.

Neel said...

Voronin started because of 1 obvious reason. Torres was injured. That meant Rafa needed as much movement as possible to offset the Torres immobility.

Torres was used as a poacher at best. But he wasn't fit enough to even make runs.

Torres needed a strike partner and I would have preferred Kuyt. So that makes it a forced 4-4-2. Benayoun to drift in from the left and Babel to play on the right - where he has looked pretty useful of late.

Anonymous said...

Nate, agree or disagree:

Rafa the tactician: brilliant.
Rafa the man manager/talent scout: not good enough.

Neel said...

Rafa the tactician brilliant, agreed
Rafa the scout? To an extent, scouting has a lot to do with the team he has made at the club.

Anonymous said...

I understand that he needs to find very specific types of players to make his system work, but I just feel like he hasn't give us what we need talent wise outside of a few players. I'm even willing to forgive having to wait for Aqua as he was looking for the player he felt could best fill hisboots and that player just happened to be injured but the start to this season is just painful. I like Rafa a lot but maybe England just isn't the place for him.

nate said...


I had to change the terms of the questions little, sorry.

Rafa the tactician: over-thinks, but very very good (especially in Europe)
Rafa the man manager: better than give credit for
Rafa the talent scout: not good enough, especially between £5-10m

nate said...

Also, in case people were wondering, I'll have a preview up later. I've been holding off in case there's more injury news and since the game isn't until Monday.