02 June 2014

On Rickie Lambert

Rickie Lambert's now officially a Liverpool player, for somewhere around £4m plus a variety of rumored add-ons, most likely appearance and Liverpool-performance based. So what are Liverpool getting?

Lambert's shot chart is slightly worrisome. 39.8% shot accuracy is above average but not outstanding; it's 0.18% higher than Liverpool's team-wide accuracy last season. For comparison, Suarez's was 44.75%, Sturridge's 42.42%. There are an awful lot of shots from distance, and while I don't have the data, it's probably safe to assume the majority were from free kicks. 15.5% of Lambert's shots last season came from deep central positions (more than 30 yards from goal), which is a higher percentage than Suarez, who we know has absolutely no conscience about where he shoots from and is Liverpool's primary free kick shot-taker. Five of Lambert's 13 goals came from dead ball situations: three penalties, two direct free kicks.

If you remove penalties from the equation, Lambert had eight goals from 45 shots in prime positions (the six-yard box and center of the 18-yard box), scoring once every 5.63 shots. Which is massively inferior to Suarez (once every 2.85 shots) and Sturridge (once every 2.93 shots). Who are, to be fair, two of the best scorers in the league.

There's also a big hole in that shot chart, taking incredibly few shots from the right side, whether inside the box or just outside it. But that also fits with being very right-footed; all of Lambert's Premier League goals in the last two seasons were either right-footed (22) or headers (6).

I was also surprised how few of his shots came from inside the six-yard box; just six, only 5.8% of his shots in total. However, also surprisingly, Suarez also took just six shots from inside the six-yard box this season, and he attempted 78 more than Lambert in total.

Regardless of these concerns, Lambert looks a more-than-competent goal scorer, especially when you consider what Liverpool are supposedly paying Southampton.

The chances created chart is much more reassuring. The only strikers to create more last season were Suarez and Rooney; the only players with more assists were Gerrard and Suarez (and unlike Gerrard, none of Lambert's assists came from set plays). And he was even more prolific in 2012-13, creating 80 chances, but only leading to five assists. Lambert averaged 2.30 KPp90 in 2012-13, which dropped to 1.73 KPp90 last season. And, interestingly, a lot of his chances both inside the box and just outside come from the right, the area where he's seemingly reticent to shoot.

The chances he creates are often excellent as well. Via @DanKennett:

Andrew Beasley of Bass Tuned to Red came to similar conclusions using his Chance Created Quality metric, highlighting how many of Lambert's chances were created from open play into the center of the 18-yard box.

Only four of Lambert's 54 created chances came from crosses, including one assist, which is a minuscule amount. And I'd quibble with calling that assist a cross; Opta classified it as one, but it was a low centering pass to a wide-open Rodriguez, with both players through on Newcastle's keeper in Southampton's 4-0 victory last March. And Liverpool is not a team that plays many crosses. The fewest in the league, in fact.

Liverpool, however, does like a through ball; six Liverpool players – Suarez, Coutinho, Sturridge, Gerrard, Henderson, and Sterling – were among the top 20 for accurate through ball last season. Rickie Lambert also likes a through ball, although he completed far fewer than the aforementioned Liverpool players.

In the above article, Bass Tuned to Red also mentions a few of the worrying factors. Ted Knutson's radar chart helps highlight them fairly obviously:

Despite playing for a team that pressed so high, so often, Lambert contributed little defensively, averaging just 0.48 tackles+interceptions per 90 in 2013-14. Similar was the case the season before, averaging 0.60 per 90. Those numbers are far below Southampton's other attackers, as well as Suarez (1.4 p90) and Borini (2.3 p90, although he spent a lot of time as a wide midfielder with Sunderland). They are, however, very similar to Sturridge's 0.56 tackles + interceptions per 90 last season.

70% pass accuracy obviously isn't great, but also isn't out of the ordinary for an out-and-out striker. Sturridge and Suarez completed 79% and 75% of theirs respectively, but it's higher than Giroud (69%), Lukaku (67%), Torres (67%), Crouch (64%), Ba (64%), Benteke (61%), and Carroll (60%), among others.

Also unlike Suarez and Sturridge (and Sterling and Coutinho…), he can't dribble himself open, attempting just 20 take-ons last season, completing just nine. Completing nine of 20 take-ons would be about normal in two games for Luis Suarez, attempting 237 and completing 93 last season.

Lambert was also hit and miss as a substitute last season, a role he'll play far more often for Liverpool. It is an incredibly small sample size; he made just six substitute appearances last season. In two of those games, the last two, he was excellent: a goal and assist against Norwich, a late winner at Swansea. But in the other four – which, to be fair, were against Chelsea (twice), City, and United – he failed to register a shot or a chance created three times.

And yes, Lambert's 32, to be 33 in February. His Liverpool contract is supposedly for two years, and I'd be surprised if Liverpool get much more than that.

But he's seemingly in fantastic shape, and durable, missing just one match in the last two seasons, a slight hamstring injury that kept him out of the 2-2 draw against Arsenal last January. Yes, he's only played 5945 of a possible 6840 minutes, substituted in 10 of his 31 starts last season, but he's probably not going to be asked to play a lot of 90 minutes at Liverpool.

Like others, I can't help but mention Gary McAllister a little more than a decade ago at Liverpool, or Teddy Sheringham for Manchester United before that, as similar signings. Liverpool under Rodgers and FSG has notably gotten younger, and rightfully so, but at the same time, experienced players can often play crucial roles both on and off the pitch. Bellamy was 32 when he returned to Liverpool, with far more injury concerns than Lambert, and no one's complaining about his contributions in 2011-12. Like Bellamy, Lambert is a boyhood Liverpool fan, but also from Liverpool, a member of Liverpool's youth set-up from ages 10 to 15.

Squad depth and experience, two things Liverpool very much needed last season.

And Rickie Lambert is very much a depth singing, a replacement for Iago Aspas – trusted to play all of 132 minutes last season – backup for Suarez and Sturridge, competition for the most-likely-returning Fabio Borini. Lambert is a different option, much more a prototypical target-man, very good at holding up play (something Sturridge is underrated at) and vastly better in the air than any of Liverpool's current strikers, but still an excellent all-around footballer. Unlike some former Liverpool strikers (*glares at £35m currently on fire in a dumpster somewhere*).

Lambert averaged slightly more than two successful aerial duels per 90 last season, winning 41% of his duels, far better than Suarez (0.58 per 90, winning 26%), Sturridge (0.28 per 90, winning 18%), or Borini (0.97 per 90, winning 33%). Neither Southampton nor Liverpool play a lot of high balls, but it's a handy option to have. As long as the player can do other things as well (*again glares at the dumpster fire*).

Like Gerrard, Lambert's excellent from the penalty spot – having never missed, in 34 attempts, since joining Southampton in 2009 – and like both Gerrard and Suarez, not too shabby from direct free kicks (you know, such as this one).

It's not surprising to see Liverpool trying to raid Southampton's pantry so thoroughly. It's a side that plays like Liverpool play, a side that gave Liverpool multiple problems in two of the last three meetings before being bumrushed by a team on fire last March.

Depth, experience, a reliable backup, a different option. An England international, a Liverpool-born player who'll run through brick walls for the club. For all of £4m. Barely more than Assaidi, less than Poulsen or Konchesky (if you include the players going the other way). Wrapped up by June 2.

It's hard to argue against that kind of business. And it assuredly won't be Liverpool's last business.


Swinefever said...

A solid piece of business IMHO, and as we know, BR has the ability to bring the best out of players so I actually expect Lambert to improve in some of those areas once pre-season and regular training gets under way.

And as well as being a 'plan B' in attack, he'll be very useful as an additional defensive header of the ball, you know, when we're playing Palace away and they win an unlikely corner...

Vicky Agastya said...

The last few lines made me feel a lot better.
And i trust BR to make him improve upon the areas in which he is supposedly lacking.
What's important for me is his love for the club. I read somewhere that his parents were in tears at his return to Liverpool. Now that is the kind of player we want.

Anonymous said...

Liverpool was the most direct team in the Prem last season. Spurs blog did a nice analysis of how teams attack the goal. Crosses vs through balls. Lambert will fit right in.

Good acquisition, especially considering his affinity for Liverpool. His parents crying when they got the news. I'll be rooting for him big time.

Would much rather big Rickie than AC. Rickie can play. Put up some decent numbers in assists and key passes. Plan B with skilz while the rest of the team (and Rickie) can continue to focus on Plan A with the plan B component as an added wrinkle.

Welcome home Rickie!