26 September 2011

Henderson v Kuyt: Four Games on the Right Flank

Below is a comparison of individual statistics from Henderson and Kuyt's last four league games when played on the right of a 4-2-2-2. Formation notation is subjective, especially with this season's group of players, but these are how I saw each formation at the start of matches. For Henderson, that's wins over Wolves and Bolton, the draw against Sunderland, and loss at Stoke. For Kuyt, it's last season's win over City, draw at Arsenal, and losses to Spurs and West Brom.

No opinion, no commentary, just numbers. As always, remember the oft-cited 'your lying eyes' argument. Stats without context is driving without directions – you might get there in the end, but it's more down to luck than knowledge. Regardless, there are some interesting, and surprising, things to see.

All statistics from Opta via the FourFourTwo Stats Zone app. Too many chalkboards to post, so you're just getting the numbers. Check the app, or the comparable Guardian chalkboards, for the "pretty" pictures. If you have an iPhone or iPod Touch, I highly recommend the FourFourTwo app.

The customary caveats/notes:

• Main caveat: this focuses solely on the statistics because I don't want it to turn into a critique – or endorsement for that matter – of either. Six games into the new season with a rebuilt squad seems too soon to start second-guessing a manager with Dalglish's CV. Hodgson was different because the regression was obvious and constant. I think Henderson's done decently in his matches aside from Saturday's, especially considering circumstances. The condemnation he's received from some quarters has been mean-spirited and inexcusable, and if anything similar appears in the comments, it'll be deleted. Everyone would do well to remember he's a 21-year-old in his first season at Liverpool, adapting to a new role. And I don't need a disclaimer about my never-ending, probably illegal love for Dirk Kuyt.

• Henderson was subbed off in all four of the above matches, playing a total of 274 out of 360 minutes. Kuyt was subbed off once, in the 87th against West Brom – giving him 83 more minutes of playing time in the four games considered. All of Liverpool goals scored and all but one of those conceded (Bolton's consolation) in Henderson's games came with him on the pitch, though.

• The right-backs Henderson played with were Kelly, Skrtel, Kelly/Skrtel, and Flanagan. The right-backs Kuyt played with were Flanagan, Flanagan, Flanagan, and Carragher.

• The teams considered for Kuyt's four games finished 5th, 4th, 3rd, and 11th in 2010-11. The teams considered for Henderson's four games finished 17th, 13th, 14th, and 10th in 2010-11 (no point in using this season's table yet).

• Liverpool kept clean sheets in none of Henderson's four games and just one of Kuyt's four. Liverpool conceded four in Henderson's set of matches, five in Kuyt's set. Liverpool scored six in Henderson's set of matches, five in Kuyt's set.

• Finally, I promised no commentary, but can't help mentioning the passing completion, take-ons, tackles, interceptions, and fouls committed stats stick out like beacon bright-red sore thumbs.

• Should have done this in the original post; seeing certain numbers misconstrued around the internet, so I feel the need to add. There is an egregious discrepancy in some of the stats no matter the number of minutes played: specifically take-ons and basically all the defensive statistics. But due to Henderson playing 83 fewer minutes, there is basically no difference in the number of passes (passes attempted, successful passes, attacking third passes, passes received) when controlling for minutes played.

Averaging the above four games, Henderson attempted 44 passes per 90 minutes, with 34 successful. Kuyt attempted 47 passes per 90 minutes, with 32 successful. Henderson received 44 passes per 90 minutes, Kuyt received 46 passes per 90 minutes. Henderson attempted 20 attacking third passes per 90 minutes, Kuyt attempted 24 attacking third passes per 90 minutes, and both completed 14 attacking third passes per 90 minutes. By the numbers, Henderson is not less involved in the passing game; the completion percentage is the only significant difference in each's passing statistics. Granted, that doesn't account for the usual 'chalkboards don't tell us what kind of passes they were' argument, but that argument's not going away. Don't throw the baby out with bath water, but you have to actually watch the games for that information. Sorry.

That is why I mentioned the number of minutes played above in the 'caveats' section, but by now, I should be well aware of the need to fully explicate. My apologies.


WetCelery said...

Seems clear enough to me that Kuyt is better suited to that position, especially with a right back who is vulnerable like Skrtel or Flanno. That tracking back and tackling comes in handy against, dare I say it, Gareth Bale. I didn't realize that Kuyt was a regular CR7 on the wing taking people on all day. :)

Tom Foolery said...

Very interesting info. And, being a studying scientist, I always appreciate concise, hard, facts. Screw what people think, gimme the numbers and let me form my own opinion.

And, on that note, I'm going to ask for an opinion. What are the future plans for the RW? Right now, in what seems to be the preferred formation, we have most of the width coming from the left, with non-natural right mids tucking in more centrally making the formation slightly lopsided. Which is fine, especially if we ever see GJ bombing down the RW again. Do ya'll see this as the way forward, or do we need to purchase a true line-hugging winger for the right side as well?

Marlon said...

The reason Liverpool bought Henderson has to do with Comoli trying to bring Moneyball to football with Pass Completion being the highlighted attribute as opposed to On Base Percentage (Comoli noted the team that wins the league almost always has the best pass completion rate). That makes the preference for Henderson over Kuyt in this season (and his purchase in general) make more sense and the stats do seem to show he completes a higher percentage of passes than Dirk.

nate said...

Think you hit the nail on the head, Tom. The width will come from the left, and the right midfielder will play more narrow. Having Johnson back (or Kelly, who has an excellent cross, in full flight) should make that work better. Others, who have been doing this far longer, have drawn parallels to the wonderful peerless 1987-88 side, with Barnes on the left providing magical width, and Ray Houghton tucked in on the right (with Nicol getting forward from full-back).

As for the opinion you asked for. The above sounds nice in theory. Right now, if you're asking me, Dirk Kuyt should be Liverpool's right midfielder.

Also, if Dalglish is replicating that 1987-88 formation, I'm incredibly curious to see where he intends to play a fully-fit Gerrard.

ErictheRed said...

Kuyt's like the glue guy in basketball that doesn't necessarily have 20 and 10 but the team plays better when he's in there. The defense and hustle make up for the slight deficiency in skill. He's world class, but there are still those occasional headscratchers with the missed pass or trap. And he's slower than you'd like.

I believe Henderson can get the job done. Maybe more minutes this year will get him ready when they can make a real run next year. But right now, I'd rather see Kuyt in there.

Anonymous said...

I dont see the stats for Kuyt anywhere? There is a giant font with Henderson's stats and then nothing to correspond to Kuyt. What am I missing here?

Moe Vawda said...

i wouldnt accept the stats about hendersons passing because when i've watched him closely a few times during matches,he basically passes the ball backwards or sidewards most of the time,no ambitious passing forward
He doesnt attempt and shouldnt attempt to take people on because he doesnt have the skill or speed to do so
I watch mata at chelsea regretfully,he's going to turn out to be to chelsea what david silva is to city
either way if henderson isnt dropped for kuyt,he should be for gerrard since like someone said above,we mostly using width on the left

nate said...


There are three images with stats tables. The top one, which you noted, is for Henderson. The middle one, with "Dirk Kuyt" in 'giant font' is for Kuyt. The third one has the comparison between the two's total numbers.

Hope this helps.

Moe Vawda:

I had hoped that the increased praise for Lucas over the last two seasons had finally killed the notion that ambitious forward passing = good and sideways/backwards passing = bad.

Moe Vawda said...

Anon : Sideways and backwards passing is very important
i play soccer socially and i realise that passing is the way to play football but side/backwards passing is for players like lucas,our cdm,and defenders.
Henderson was brought in to go forward so atleast once in a while he should try doing something
Truth is the ball isnt going to go front on its own

nate said...

Sideways/backward passing might make more sense if his job was to be tucked-in and knit play on the right with width and 'going forward' from the opposite flank.

His passes over six games (again, via StatsZone):

Forward: 6/8
Sideways: 5/5
Backward: 9/9

Forward: 4/15
Sideways: 6/6
Backward: 14/14

Forward: 4/14
Sideways: 7/8
Backward: 17/18

Forward: 9/19
Sideways: 8/9
Backward: 12/13

Forward: 19/24
Sideways: 10/11
Backward: 24/24

Forward: 4/7
Sideways: 5/6
Backward: 18/18

So, 38% of his attempted passes went forward, 20% sideways, and 42% backwards. And 41 of his 47 unsuccessful passes this season were forward passes.

Also, I enjoy the assumption that Henderson was brought in to "go forward," and that he's not doing his job. Funny how he keeps gets starts if that's the case.

And, again, as it's making me self-conscious, defending Henderson ≠ applauding Henderson ≠ I love Henderson and he should always start because he does no wrong. Just in case.

Jay Wright said...

As far as I'm concerned Henderson is clearly a central midfielder and Kuyt is a centre forward (or ball winning midfielder in the Sissoko mould!)

Neither of them should be right wingers for a top calibre team, but if forced with a gun to my head to choose between the two, I'd stick with Henderson purely because he has the potential to improve whereas we've already seen as good as we're going to get from Kuyt. And it wasn't good enough.

Gerrard and Bellamy are both more suited to the wide right roles, although they have their own failings also...