Boxing Clever

A well-worn statistic that I often sprinkle liberally on here is that only one in forty-four open play shots from outside in the penalty box results in a goal. The vast majority of them are little more than ‘hit and hope’ efforts, in other words.

It’s all about being in the penalty box yourself, and keeping your opponents out, as a much healthier one in seven shots (excluding penalties) from within the goal area finds the back of the net.

Using data from WhoScored, I have been able to compile these figures for Europe’s top five leagues to create a ‘shots in the box difference’ (SIBD) metric. The good news for Brendan Rodgers is that Liverpool have performed exceptionally well at both ends of the pitch in this regard this season.

Firstly, a look at how this season compares with the previous three purely from a Reds perspective.

LFC SIBDAlthough Liverpool gave away slightly more shots in the box (SIB) than last season, albeit by only one every ten games, their best tally of SIB themselves meant that they had their best shots in the box difference for the last four years this season. The Reds had a joint high proportion of their shots outside the box for this period in 2012/13, but the sheer volume of shots in total meant they were still having more in the box than they previously were.

So how did they compare against the rest of the Premier League for SIBD? Liverpool were top of the class; this shows the top seven performers in England’s top division for SIBD in 2012/13, and unsurprisingly, they were also the teams that finished in the top seven too:

PL SIBDThe Reds had the most shots in the box themselves, and gave away the fewest to their opponents, which obviously gave them the best SIBD in the division. When you compare Liverpool’s form with the average for the top four for the past four seasons, they still come out on top:

TOP 4 SIBDThe Reds’ real strength appears to be from preventing their opponents from having shots in their box; as well as keeping 8% more opposing efforts outside their penalty area than the top four have on average since August 2009, not one of the sixteen English Champions League qualifiers in that period can match the Reds’ 53% proportion for shots outside the box (with the Manchester United side of 2011/12 closest, on 51%).

I mentioned earlier that I had compiled the figures for Europe’s top five leagues (which, as well as England, includes Spain, Italy, France and Germany), so here’s a look at the top ten teams for SIBD across the continent this season.

EURO SIBDThe freshly crowned champions of Europe, Bayern Munich, are the only one of the other 97 teams in the continent’s top five leagues to outperform Liverpool with regards to SIBD. At either end of the pitch, the Reds were ranked 2nd in Europe for shots in the box per game, and eighth for shots conceded.

One obvious question therefore remains: Why did Liverpool finish seventh in England, rather than second in Europe (if such a league existed) if they had so many decent shots themselves whilst restricting their opponents?

For the answer, we need to refer to this workbook by Dan Kennett. As you’ve probably already guessed, the percentage of shots in the box that Liverpool and their opponents converted holds the key.

Although the Reds converted a higher proportion of their SIB than they did in 2011/12 this season, improving from 8.5% to 12.5%, they still fell short of the average Premier League SIB conversion rate (14.2%), not to mention being behind top four average (16%) and the mark of champions (17.5%).

Meanwhile, Liverpool’s opponents converted 15% of their efforts in the Reds’ box. The aforementioned workbook illustrates perfectly why Liverpool had a such a slow start this season; between the second and twelfth match of the season, the Reds’ opponents collectively converted their shots in the box at above league champions’ average level. No wonder Liverpool struggled to get good results in this period.

Things improved markedly as the season went on though. The below graph, using info compiled from the workbook, shows how Liverpool made huge strides to catch their opponents’ cumulative penalty box conversion rate towards the end of the season, as Coutinho created plenty of clear-cut chances and Sturridge was on hand to convert them:

PBC TRENDOf course, for Liverpool to truly be successful they need to be converting a higher percentage of their SIB than their opponents, but at least they had almost managed to get the difference down to zero by the season’s end.

The above figures show that the Reds did exceptionally well at getting in to the penalty area to shoot themselves, whilst restricting their opponents from doing the same as much as possible too, so if they can improve the conversion percentages next season, then they will stand a very decent chance of qualifying for the Champions League.

The encouraging news for the future is that the Reds have converted 16.5% (so above fourth place average) of their SIB since Sturridge’s debut, and 17.8% (which is more than champions average) since Coutinho’s first start, so with those two in tandem for the whole of next season, it could be very much a case of onwards and upwards for Liverpool.

Related posts you might like:

Liverpool 0 Everton 0: Shots In The Box Analysis – A good indication of how the balance of play shifted across the recent Merseyside derby.

The Creative Impact Of Coutinho – The little Brazilian creates clear-cut opportunities more frequently than any other player in the Premier League.

Shots On Target Difference – An article looking at just how important this particular statistic is.

Please check out my other articles, and follow me on Twitter or via Facebook. Thanks.

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4 thoughts on “Boxing Clever

    • Cheers, Neil, much appreciated.

      More importantly, I think it’s very encouraging for Liverpool’s future, assuming we can maintain the conversion rate displayed towards the end of the season.

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