20 August 2012

On Suarez and Gerrard at West Brom

"Even if Liverpool gets better production from the supporting cast – and honestly, there's seemingly nowhere to go but up in that category – as [Suarez and Gerrard] go, so goes Liverpool."

I hate being right.

And yesterday, in the first match of the league campaign, Suarez misfired and Gerrard had little influence on proceedings, and Liverpool failed to take advantage when in control then succumbed to a wonder goal followed by multiple defensive errors and a sending-off. We're all well aware it's the not first time that's happened, and it most likely won't be the last. Agger and Skrtel's mistakes, Downing and Borini's ineffectiveness, and Phil Dowd being Phil Dowd also played a large role in Liverpool's inadequacy, but it sure felt like the rot started at the top.

Suarez's shooting

That's abhorrent accuracy, and yet Suarez was the only Liverpool player to put a shot on target. All three of Gerrard's were off target, while Borini, Cole, Downing, Johnson and Kelly took one and missed one. Two of Suarez's shots, the two off-target from inside the six-yard box, were clear-cut chances, errant headers from Johnson and Borini's excellent crosses. The first, mistiming his jump for Johnson's cross after good work from the stand-in left back on the half-hour mark, sure felt like a turning point when West Brom opened the scoring 13 minutes later.

But this is nothing new. Suarez had one of the worst clear-cut chance conversion rates in the league last season.

Opta's definition of a clear-cut chance:
A situation where a player should reasonably be expected to score usually in a one-on-one scenario or from very close range.
Suarez converted seven of his 25 clear-cut chances last season – 28%. Rooney? 17 of 29 (59%). Agüero? 13 of 27 (48%). Van Persie? 18 of 40 (45%). But those were three of the league's best finishers. However, this EPL Index chart (from this article) lists 33 attackers; just six had a worse conversion rate: Bendtner, Bale, Carroll, Defoe, Gervinho, and Kuyt. The league average was 39%; had Suarez converted at that rate, he would have scored three more goals last season.

His shooting accuracy against West Brom was even worse than last season's abysmal return. 48 of his 128 total shots in 2011-12 were on target – 38% – compared to yesterday's 25%. He took eight or more shots in just one match, with 11 in the 1-1 draw against Norwich (the most any player took in a Premier League match last season), and at least tested Ruddy with six of those 11 even if he didn't score, including one near-miraculous save in the fifth minute of added time to preserve the draw.

Dan Kennett wrote extensively on this topic for The Tomkins Times back in March, and his findings remain relevant.

There will be matches where Suarez's is unerring, where Suarez scores in style early and often. Unfortunately, after 54 matches for Liverpool, those like his hat-trick against Norwich have become the exception rather than the rule. Admittedly, it's slightly easier to forgive missed chances when the player creates so many of the chances by himself. But his two best opportunities yesterday came from crosses put on a plate by Johnson and Borini, and he failed to hit the target on either.

I'm not necessarily saying that Suarez needs to be used differently, especially this early into Rodgers' reign. There's the temptation to demand he plays wide, not used as the main goal-scorer, which will only increase if this trend continues. And his talents might serve Liverpool just as well, if not better, on the flank. But his ability to run off the shoulder of the last man, to drag defenders out of position with his movement or with the ball at his feet, and his ability to involve others in the attack seem suited for his current role. He played on the flanks more often at Ajax, but it's no coincidence he's also become the central #9 for Uruguay since joining Liverpool.

However, if Suarez is going to play as a #9 in Rodgers' system, even if a roaming #9, a #9 as focused on creating as much as scoring, he needs to better that scoring return. And quickly.

Gerrard's passing

56 passes attempted, 46 completed. Just 17 passes into the attacking third, completing 12, with only one incomplete pass inside the penalty area.

Allen, Lucas, Suarez, Johnson, and Borini all completed more passes in that crucial area of the pitch. Gerrard's completion percentage in the final third was 71% – only Downing (7/10), Skrtel (1/5), and Reina (0/2) were less accurate, and both Skrtel and Reina were limited to long hoofed passes from their own half. Agger's red card started from one of those five unsuccessful attacking third passes, the mistake compounded by losing possession with so many Liverpool players in West Brom's half, as both Allen and Lucas went forward when Gerrard dropped deeper to receive possession.

Gerrard's overall pass completion percentage from open play was 82%, the worst of any outfield Liverpool player. And it's not as if the sending-off made him any less accurate, pushing too hard to try to haul Liverpool back; he was 27/33 when Agger went off, again, 82% completed, with nine of 11 successful in the attacking third but none of those 11 into the penalty box.

Gerrard also created two chances against West Brom – only Glen Johnson created more, with three – but both were fairly poor excuses for chances. The first, in the 50th minute, was when he spread play wide to Downing, with the winger running into traffic then taking an easily-blocked shot. The second came after Liverpool were down to 10 and down by two goals, in the 72nd minute, when he spread play wide to Cole, with the winger running into traffic then taking an easily-blocked shot.

There was little of the one-touch quick passing with Suarez, Borini, and Downing that caused so many problems against Gomel and Leverkusen. Gerrard passed to Suarez just five times; Allen and Kelly was Gerrard's most frequent targets, receiving eight and seven passes respectively from the captain. On the other hand, Suarez set Gerrard up 11 times – only Kelly to Skrtel, Johnson to Agger, and Agger to Johnson were more frequent combinations – but just one of those passes came inside the penalty area and just two were forward passes, one in the center circle and one where Gerrard burst forward from midfield ahead of the ball, as has been so crucial in the past.

And his crosses? Six attempted, zero successful. Borini also attempted six, but at least completed one – that one clear-cut chance for Suarez – while no other player attempted more than four. Incidentally, Liverpool delivered 22 crosses in total – they averaged 22.1 per match last season, the most in the league – but completed just three, a success rate of 14% where they averaged 19% in 2011-12. Needless to remind, but it was not a very successful tactic last season.

Moving Gerrard into a more attacking position was supposed to make him more influential, but he couldn't have been much less so on Saturday. Still, days like that will happen; time makes fools of us all and whatnot. But even when that happens, Gerrard's leadership and mentality remain vital qualities. They are more intangible qualities, but as captain, it's Gerrard's job to ensure heads don't drop and Liverpool keep playing after setbacks like Agger's red card or the second penalty. But Liverpool looked beaten as soon as West Brom's second went in; the last 25 minutes weren't even damage control, but playing out the clock, and it was little surprise that West Brom added a third. It wasn't the first time a team crumbled to dust after a sending off and it won't be the last, and, of course, a comeback was massively unlikely. But you never want to see the players look as if they believe that. All too often, Liverpool rolled over and died at the first sign of trouble last season. That trait cannot carry over into this one. Taking responsibility in an interview today, for the first penalty concession if little else, is a reassuring step, but words are far easier than deeds.

During this transitional phase with a new manager and a new system, Liverpool will rely on its established stars to carry them through difficult spells. It may not necessarily be fair to hold them to a higher standard, but it's warranted. Despite all else that occurred against West Brom – Dowd's decisions, Agger and Skrtel's penalties, inefficient flank play – when both Suarez and Gerrard disappoint, it's no surprise that Liverpool loses.


Erich said...

Love the site. Thanks for the analysis.

Can't help but notice Dempsey's clear cut chance converstion rate of 48% and how nice it would be to see that in a Reds kit.

Dempsey's finishing, versatility, and drive are all things the Reds could use.

Anonymous said...


While I do believe that Gerrard had a poor game I can't get upset about a 82% completion rate in the middle of the pitch. I would like to see him getting more involved in the attack especially when paired with 2 defensive mids. And Rodger's needs to give Andy a go at CF if to do nothing else but take some of the attention away from Luis.

Also do you know if it is possible to access four four two's stats without Itunes as I do not possess any apple products and the site seemed to indicate that I needed one to download the stat zone

Mark S

nate said...

Sorry, as far as I know, StatsZone is only available for iPhone/iPad/iPod touch so far. They promised a Droid version 'in the future' when rolling out the app last season, but I don't think it's been released.

Which is too bad, because this is a wonderful app. Now that Guardian Chalkboards don't exist anymore, it's the only source I know for these type of chalkboards, and they should have as wide an audience as possible. It's actually better than the Guardian's chalkboards in a bunch of ways, except that I have to do everything on my phone rather than the computer.

Jay Wright said...

Gerrard admittedly had a poor game, but I'm not as prepared to write him off just yet as some are. Especially while Rodgers' alternative appears to be the immobile Adam or the shot shy Henderson (as opposed to players who seem more naturally suited to the role like the nimble Pacheco or the ever over confident Shelvey).

I will continue to say that Suarez should be used starting from out wide, rather than as the main man upfront however. It was interesting to hear (can't remember the name for definite, but I'm thinking it may have been Stannard) talking about the failures of Uruguay at the Olympics and how Suarez was a much better player when Forlan carried the weight of being the main man through the middle, rather than carrying that weight on his own shoulders. Even if Suarez was a better player than Forlan and would end up contributing more goals anyway, the presence of another number 9 just took the pressure off of Suarez and freed him up even further to play his game, without the expectation that he 'must' score.

I had always thought that Suarez was a Fowler like finisher from his time at Ajax, but this far into his Liverpool career the trend has to be accepted - he's a great player, but not quite a great striker.

McrRed said...

Absolutely monster piece.

Thank you!

jonnySingapore said...

I couldn't work out what was up with Gerrard.

Unfit or didn't understand his role, or no options for distribution due to suarez and the widemen being well marked by the back 4.

He was great for West Brom however as he and borini were mostly anonymous leaving Suarez and Downing to do the damage - which meant leaving it to Suarez, who can't score if there's a 'y' in the name of the day he's playing.

The Everton/ManYoo game has shown how important pace of the ball is and Allen fits that whereas Henderson just looks like a headless chicken/rabbit in headlights depending on your beastial[ity] preferences. Which means we've paid north of £31m for one position there and we still have a team that doesn't move the ball quickly.

It also showed the importance of set pieces (corners etc) which we're absolutely crapola at. Don't see much change there.

Surely gerrard will be more effective than that but can't see downing or borini adding to goals in their positions, and we don't make anything of Johnson's wing runs and Enrique can't pass or score either.

So goals will remain our problem and Rodgers has made our defence look a shambles too.

Happy times, not.

Rodgers had one main issue to deal with. Goals. Not possesion, not playing out from the back, not Reina being the 11th man (which he's done since 2004), not the back six from Lucas to Reina, not net colours, just goals.

But in true AVB style he can't see the wood for the trees and is changing everything - except the goals bit. And we've lost Segura who learnt his trade at la Masia and probably has a lot more of a clue about players than Rodgers.

I anticipate most of the next 4 months to be spent in the relegation zone with more garbage interviews.

Nate, your effin captcha words would be easier read if they were in chinese and invisible, ffs. What are you, the gateway to a fort knox bank account?

nate said...

Sorry. I hate Blogger's captcha as much as you. Probably more. But I need some sort of authorization system to keep out (most of) the spam comments. I keep meaning to look into something like Disqus, but that seems a lot of work. Just refresh the captcha image until it's close to legible; I needed three tries for something I could read for this comment.

Edward said...


Thanks for the post; great stuff, as usual.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure how to say this without sounding like an advert but here goes.

I was looking for an android alternative to StatsZone and found squawka.com. It's not an app as such so you can use it on a computer or smartphone or whatever. It doesn't look as polished as SZ and you probably can't do as much with it. But until there is a SZ app for android it's something.

Love the blog Nate, keep up the good work.

nate said...

Thanks very much for the heads up. Had forgotten about Squawka; did good work during the Euros. Now that I look, it has pretty much everything StatsZone has, although it's slightly more difficult look up individual stats because there's no list, just the chalkboards, but that's a small quibble. Will definitely spend more time checking out the features.

Best heat map I've seen so far though, either for individual players or the team as a whole, so I'll definitely be remembering that.

Anonymous said...

I'm made up that you replied. It was more of a shout out to everyone than a direct message.
I couldn't get my head around the heat map, apparently we spent most of the game around the corner flag?