13 June 2013

On Iago Aspas

Finally announced after "bureaucratic issues" (read: let's pay some more agents!) were settled, Celta Vigo's Iago Aspas is now a Liverpool player. Well, almost. There's still some "documentation to be completed." Modern football!


Iago Aspas took 102 shots in total in 34 league appearances last season (all starts), an average of three per match. The majority of his shots are from the right side of the pitch, cutting inside and shooting with his left foot – supposedly the position he'll play at Liverpool even though he was very much a central striker with Celta last season (via WhoScored). 11 of his 12 league goals were left-footed strikes, the 12th a header.

The shots breakdown:

Goal: 12 (11.8%)
On Target: 49 (48.0%)
Off Target: 37 (36.3%)
Blocked: 16 (15.7%)

6-yard box: 2 (2.0%)
18-yard box: 53 (52.0%)
Outside the box: 47 (46.0%)

Aspas failed to take a shot in just three of his 34 league matches. But that's no surprise given how important he was to Celta Vigo's attack; Luis Suarez took at least two shots in all of his 33 league appearances last season.

Admittedly, that 46% of Aspas' shots came from outside the box terrifies me. Yes, slightly more than a third of those shots were on target, which isn't a terrible percentage, but only one resulted in a goal. 43% of Liverpool's league shots were taken outside the box last season, and 23% of those shots from outside the box were on-target. Just 12 resulted in goals – 17% of Liverpool's total goals. Liverpool already take too many shots from distance given how often they profit from it, but at least Aspas should improve Liverpool's accuracy from distance.

That just two of Aspas' 102 shots came from inside the six-yard box also stands out. His first didn't come until his 19th match of the campaign, his 67th shot of the season. Yes, he's not a goal poacher; the majority of his chances were self-created and/or came from bursts into the penalty area, but that's still a surprisingly low number. And, of course, both were off-target.

As Aspas is rumored to be taking Downing's position in the starting XI, here's a quick comparison of a handful of statistics in league play last season. The stats for Downing start with the 4-0 win against Fulham on December 22, as that's when he stopped playing at left back and began starting regularly.

Positionally, we're somewhat comparing apples to oranges since Aspas played centrally in all 34 appearances last season. And Aspas was Celta Vigo's creative hub, scoring just under a third of its goals, creating just over a fifth of all chances. No player was involved in more of his side's goal in La Liga last season (via RAWK). Downing was vastly improved compared to 2010-11, and was a key part in Liverpool's improvement over the second half of the season, but nowhere near as crucial to Liverpool as Aspas was to Celta Vigo.

Aspas' minutes per goal rate is actually quite similar to Dirk Kuyt at his best when the Dutchman played on the right for Liverpool, and that, even more than Downing, might be the better comparison. Especially since Kuyt was very much a striker at Feyenoord before joining Liverpool and was just a month older than Aspas is now when he signed for Liverpool in 2006. Kuyt scored buckets more for Feyenoord, but Feyenoord was also a much better team than Celta Vigo and the Eredivise is a quite different animal than La Liga. And Kuyt also cost a couple million pounds more and was almost certainly on much higher wages.

Still, there's some value in comparing Aspas to Downing. Downing was more creative, Aspas far more prolific in front of goal. But only nine Premiership players created more chances per match last season than Downing. And only 12 La Liga players created more chances per match than Aspas. Aspas also attempted almost the exact number of crosses as Downing last season, completing them at a slightly inferior rate: 35 successful of 142 total for Aspas (24.6%), 39 successful of 140 total for Downing (27.9%).

Like his shots, Aspas' created chances come from all over the attacking half.

It's slightly less cluttered when looking at just the regions his created chances originated from.

Compare that to where Downing's chances took place last season (via the outstanding Dan Kennett). Dan divided the field slightly differently, but it's still easy to compare sections of the pitch.

As with his shots, Aspas is most creative just outside the box, especially on the right side. But where he'll have to improve is on the flanks, where far more of Downing's chances came from. Liverpool will remain a team that won't live or die by its crosses – unlike, say, the 2011-12 version – but Aspas will need to create more than he did for Celta Vigo last season, where 10 of his 16 chances from crosses came from corners.

It's also worth noting that despite the multitude of chances coming from outside the box, six of his seven assists came from chances created inside the box.

To continue the stat bombardment, six Liverpool players (not counting Ibe, who only made one appearance) completed more successful dribbles per match than Aspas's 0.9 last season: Suarez, Sterling, Johnson, Sturridge, Coutinho, and Enrique. Five players were dispossessed more often – Suarez, Sterling, Sturridge, Coutinho, and Enrique – and four players (again not counting Ibe) turned the ball over more often – Suarez, Sterling, Kelly, and Sturridge.

In theory, Aspas should improve in keeping possession and setting up other players when he's not the focal point, and when he's playing with better players. If used primarily on the right, he should take fewer shots, especially (hopefully) from outside the box. He should get better chances, not relied upon to singlehandedly create and score, leading to a better strike rate, although probably not more goals in total.

As with pretty much every transfer ever, there's risk involved. Will he settle, will he fit into the team system, can he adapt to a different position in a different league? And that's not even considering that he, like a certain Messrs. Suarez and Bellamy, might be as mad as a hatter. If he succeeds, it's a bargain at the rumored £7.7m; if he fails, it's more wasted Liverpool money, although less wasted Liverpool money than in previous transfer windows. However, after last January's business, I'm very much inclined to give Rodgers and the scouting staff the benefit of the doubt. Which is a reassuring change of pace considering how the previous few windows went.


Anonymous said...

I think Gareth Bale proved this season that shots outside the box are worth a punt if the quality is right.

Anonymous said...

Nice stats.
When i saw and read what Aspas was about, Bellamy and Kuyt did come to mind.
I just hope he dosn't come to Anfield thinking he is going to be the center of the team like he was at Celta. Same goes for Mkhitaryan too if we get him.
Rodgers has the coaching ability to get the most out of a player, the only thing id say is the problem is man management and dealing with egos. And things do go sour. I have a feeling thats what happened with Sahin and could see it in Sturridge at some points after January.

Attitude attitude attitude