Rather than talk about Liverpool FC and numbers, today I’m going to talk about myself.
The Reds lost the final of the pre-season tournament on a penalty shootout to Atletico Madrid, but played well overall.
It would be foolish to read too much into a good performance in pre-season, right? Well, maybe, but maybe not too. There is evidence that a strong warm up to a campaign can lead to a team performing better than they did in the previous season.
Lest we forget, Liverpool beat Barcelona 4-0 at Wembley last summer. They then went on to record their best opening half season in the Premier League era. ‘Correlation vs causation’ and all that, but if a handsome pre-season win achieves nothing more than a shot of confidence ahead of the real business, then that’s still no bad thing.
Liverpool have agreed a deal with Chelsea’s 19 year old striker, Dominic Solanke. The Basingstoke born forward will cost around £3m once a tribunal decides how much compensation the Reds owe the Blues for his football education to this point.
As is customary around here, I’ve taken a quick look at his stats to see what they tell us. Needless to say there’s not too much to go on, but he did spend the 2015/16 campaign on loan at Vitesse Arnhem, so I’ve compiled the numbers to see if anything stands out.
I haven’t done a quick blog post in ages, but this article from the Liverpool Echo has inspired me.
In it, the facts of Liverpool’s poor record against teams managed by the current West Bromwich Albion gaffer are rightly laid bare:
Liverpool go looking for their first ever away win in the Premier League against a Pulis managed-team on Sunday when they travel to the Hawthorns, a venue where they have not won since 2011.
Jurgen Klopp’s men won the reverse fixture 2-1 at Anfield in October for a first league victory over Pulis in nine attempts across five years.
But have the Reds deserved to win more of those games than they actually have? Let’s take a look.
Liverpool’s win against Tottenham Hotspur last weekend was obviously well received by Reds everywhere, but at the same time it didn’t teach them anything new about the strengths and weaknesses of their team. Jürgen Klopp’s men have been ruthless this season against teams who play a high line, as Spurs did to suicidal effect at Anfield, but they have seemed toothless against the low block favoured by the Premier League’s lesser lights.
The Tomkins Times published a very good article this week (here) which looked at how Liverpool have fared against teams who have ‘parked the bus’ against them this season. The findings were certainly interesting, but in my continual quest for context with statistical analysis, I thought it would be worthwhile comparing the Reds to the other members of the big six to see how each team has fared. My assumption is that all teams struggle against a low block, but is that actually the case?
It has been widely noted that Liverpool have been crossing the ball more frequently during their recent poor run of form, and whilst looking at which teams crossed the ball most last weekend, I happened to notice that all three of them lost. For the record, this was Stoke and Crystal Palace, alongside Liverpool, and I used a purely arbitrary figure of at least thirty crosses excluding corners.
I wondered if teams that had crossed lots this season often had poor results, and it turns out that they have. The following table shows the twenty-five occasions so far in the 2016/17 Premier League that a team has attempted at least thirty crosses (not including corners).
The Anfield Wrap’s Tuesday Review podcast. 22nd November. Bus home from work, about 5:30. Sean Rogers is talking about Jürgen Klopp’s lack of early substitutes in the 0-0 draw with Southampton.
“Hopefully Andrew Beasley can help us out… I’d love to know what his record was in Germany at late goals, goals in the last twenty minutes. We’ve talked about “I think, I know, and I hope”, and I think the problem with a substitution is unless it’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer or David Fairclough, you’re always in the “hope”, whereas I think he can actually see and say “I know what is happening right now. I know that in the next five to ten minutes we are getting another chance. I trust you, keep calm, keep playing, stay positive, keep doing what we’re doing and banging on the door, and it’ll open”, and I think that’s the message he’s trying to get across, which is why I think he’s not doing the whole substitute thing. Now, if his time at Dortmund shows he didn’t do many subs and didn’t get many late goals, then on that basis maybe he needs to start changing his focus and tactics on that. If however, his time at Dortmund shows he’s got a lot of late goals, then why would you change something that’s been successful? There’s good logic with that”.
Challenge accepted, Sean!
Rather than use in depth stats to try to answer this question, I’ve kept it simple. The below spreadsheet shows how the champions from the past ten Premier League seasons have won points as the campaign has unfolded. Being ahead or behind these teams doesn’t prove anything either way with regards as to whether Liverpool will win the league or not, but it can give us an indication as to how they’re doing as the 2016/17 campaign progresses. I will also include the points tally for this season’s leaders, to see how far adrift the Reds are, if at all.
Any cells highlighted in green contain a points tally lower than Liverpool have at that point in the season. I will update the Reds’ total after each match, and pin this post to the home page so that we can track their form.
I don’t believe in tempting fate or jinxes, but maybe Liverpool will fall away in the championship race and this post will soon look foolish. But at the time of writing (after game 11), the Reds are very much on track so let’s see how we go.
As a self confessed nerd for all things both stats- and Liverpool FC-based, I keep a spreadsheet of how many shots on target the Reds and their opponents have in league games. My database begins in August 2008, meaning that I now have 315 matches in there.
So when Daniel Sturridge had Liverpool’s sixteenth shot on target in injury time against Watford (which was saved but then Wijnaldum slotted home the sixth goal on the rebound), I knew that this surpassed the club’s previous record for this period of fifteen, which was achieved at home to Burnley in 2009/10. But that was only the beginning…
I recently looked into whether Liverpool were better at defending set pieces this season (here), and the numbers suggested that they weren’t. The Reds then proceeded to let in dead ball goals against Hull, Swansea and West Bromwich Albion in three of their next four league matches. Either I might have a clue regarding what I write about on here, or I’m a jinx. You decide.
Anyway, that article was prompted by a John Aldridge column in the Liverpool Echo, and something he has said this week (here) inspired me to write another quick post. When talking about Liverpool’s performance at Crystal Palace, Aldo said:
The fact that we’ve found a corner taker is also a real positive. Our corners have been horrendous for a long time, I could never see us scoring from them. But Philippe Coutinho put in some really good deliveries and hopefully we’ll stick with him now… When we had Suarez and Steve Gerrard deliveries, you could see the percentage of goals getting knocked up.
Have Liverpool found a decent corner taker in Coutinho though? Or did the Reds benefit from some random variation at Selhurst Park?
Following my quick preview of Monday’s match, here’s a very quick look at the league table for the period since Jürgen Klopp took charge of Liverpool. This table isn’t available on any website that I am aware of, so I figured it was worth sharing here as the German has now racked up his first full ‘season’.
This is a very quick one. United have won the last four league meetings between the two teams, but did they deserve to? I’ve used my expected goals system (which is explained in full here) and Danny Page’s match simulator to have a look.
Here are the shot maps and stats from the four matches:
This article has happened almost by accident. I wanted to look at how Sturridge’s form has fluctuated over his time with Liverpool, so visited his ESPN stats page. Some swift copying, pasting and counting revealed he has made ninety-nine appearances in the Red shirt to date, so I figured that made this a very good time to share the findings on here.
The Liverpool Echo had an article at the weekend which claimed to have ‘the proof Liverpool fans are right to be excited by start of season‘. It spoke of the Reds scoring four-or-more goals in the first two home games for the first time in the top flight since 1922, and scoring the most goals the club has managed in the opening eight games since 1895, and there were some impressive individual player stats from the Hull City rout thrown in too.
This is all well and good, but finishing can blow both hot and cold so for an amateur football analyst like myself a little deeper digging into the underlying numbers is required, and the good news is that the findings are both positive and, based on Klopp’s managerial history, entirely expected.
This article first appeared on The Tomkins Times at the start of September, and will refer to my expected goals system (the full explanation of which can be found here) and my stat benchmarks (which I explained in full here). In future these will only be available to Tomkins Times subscribers, but I have been kindly allowed to share this here as a taster of what will be on offer each month.
August was always going to be a very tough month for Liverpool, as the Reds faced three games away from home, including travelling to play the teams who finished second and third last season. We know how they did in reality, taking four points out of a possible nine, but how did they perform on the expected goals front?
By putting my expected goals figures for each shot from each game into Danny Page’s excellent match simulator (which can be found here, and simulates each match 10,000 times), I can calculate the likelihood that Liverpool would win each match, and how many points they would take on average too.
The final two columns on the above table show these results, and we can see that these figures increased from each match to the next in August. It may have seemed counter-intuitive when watching the match to think that the Reds had essentially a fifty-fifty chance of winning at Burnley, but as the home side scored both of their shots on target that obviously made a huge difference; the aforementioned simulator gave a less than 1% chance that Burnley would win that match 2-0 based on the shots both teams had. Even leaving that aside, as I assign a win for any side winning an expected goals battle by more than 0.5, we can see that my system has the Reds unbeaten on seven points.
It’s very early days of course, but let’s take a look at my expected goals Premier League table, and see how it compares to the actual table.
Liverpool are well placed here, and as we know they have three fewer points than their expected goal performances ‘deserve’; only Sunderland are worse off so far (having four fewer than they might’ve expected), and it’s a bit of a sickener to see that Burnley have three more in reality than they deserve, as we know all too well who they got them against.
When I have more data this season, I will also look at how Liverpool’s players are doing against their expected goal tallies, but as Coutinho is the only Red to have had more than two shots on target so far in 2016/17, it would be pointless at this stage. I’ll just mention here though that Coutinho’s shots to date have amounted to 1.93 expected goals, so the fact he has scored two isn’t too surprising.
What we can look at now though is which matches have seen the best net expected goal performances this month. The following table shows the five best homes and five best aways, plus Liverpool’s matches (and please note that as the expected goal values change as I put more data into the system, the values here may differ slightly with the above table as the data is collated week-by-week for the below).
It may just be coincidence, but it’s interesting that four of the five best home performances and two of the aways all came in the most recent matchweek. That probably isn’t that surprising looking at the fixtures, but I wonder if teams are starting to get their new players bedded in properly and are improving as a result? We shall see in time.
Liverpool’s performance at Spurs may not have made the top five aways this month, but it is just outside in seventh, and considering that it is a heavier expected goals home defeat than Tottenham experienced in the whole of 2015/16, that’s a very encouraging effort by Jürgen Klopp’s side even if they couldn’t actually win the match. Granted, by having a penalty which is valued at 0.87 expected goals helped here, but even taking out penalties makes this the only expected goals defeat Spurs have suffered in their past twenty-one league matches at home. Similarly…
As for my stat benchmarks (which are having five shots on target or three-clear cut chances more than the opposition), Liverpool have failed to hit either of them yet this season. A little context is definitely required here though, and the following table provides it. As Burnley weren’t in the top flight last season, I’ve used the three promoted teams for 2015/16 to give us an indication.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that the Reds have not hit the benchmarks yet, as very few teams did in the same fixtures last season. This idea certainly passes the common sense test, as the big teams are too good to let it happen on their patch very often, and Premier League new boys tend to defend in numbers and try to not give much away. As you’d expect anyway, the two benchmarks were met away from home less often across the board; a combined total of 64 on the road compared to 102 when playing in front of your own fans.
A quick look at all stats across the Premier League to finish, and it has revealed the following quirky nuggets of gold:
- A team has had six-or-more shots on target fifteen times so far this season. Have a guess who is the only team to do it in all of their matches? No, you’re wrong, it’s Everton.
- Despite a less-than-stellar set of results, Leicester had four clear-cut chances against Hull and five against Swansea. The rest of the league combined has only had four-or-more four times between them, so I think the Foxes are in better shape than they may appear.
- I’ve started collecting data on penalty box touches for the first time this season, yet so far it has a lower correlation with winning than possession! Colour me surprised, I expect to see this increase as the sample of data does likewise.
- Manchester United (at Hull, with twelve) are the only away side in the Premier League this season to have won the ‘shots in the box count’ by more than Liverpool did against Tottenham (five), Arsenal (six) and Burnley (nine). That said, if Liverpool are going to be successful this season, they need to replicate their shot profiles from Arsenal and Spurs, and definitely not Burnley…
See you next month!
It’s far too early to accurately answer this question of course, but I did a quick piece of research which was prompted by a Redmen TV video I watched:
This in turn had been inspired by a John Aldridge column in the Liverpool Echo, where the former striker spoke about recent Reds signing Joel Matip:
“I feel a lot more confident defending set plays because of him in the back four. Matip’s size and height means he’s winning those high balls in the box, he’s a real man mountain. He reminds me of Sami Hyypia in that respect, in how he likes to get his head on everything. We’ve looked susceptible from set pieces in recent times, now we look solid.”
Is this actually the case though? I’ve crunched the defensive set piece numbers for Liverpool in the Premier League since the start of last season, and I’m not convinced that it is.
As Liverpool passed themselves into endless cul-de-sacs whilst on their way to a 2-0 defeat at Burnley, one of their many issues became painfully apparent (and not for the first time): Daniel Sturridge was not in or even near the box enough.
The Reds (or should that be the toxic greens) completed twenty-two passes in the Burnley box, which on the face of it is a decent total; Liverpool only bettered that once on the road last season, with twenty-five at Crystal Palace, and Saturday’s tally was only bettered twelve times by away teams in the 380 Premier League matches last season.
The problem was that Daniel Sturridge, the only proven and consistent Premier League goal scorer in the Liverpool squad, was only the recipient for three of them. A dig into the numbers shows that this is part of a very concerning trend, and they back up what Kopites have seen themselves whilst watching the matches in 2016.
Ah, fortress Anfield. Where visiting teams arrive beaten before the kick off, and depart with their tails between their legs and nothing more than some ‘toffee’ and maybe a beer from the boot room.
The above paragraph is sadly hazy rose-tinted nostalgia; I knew Liverpool weren’t quite as strong at home in recent times, but it wasn’t until I looked closely that I saw just how bad their record has become.
As pre-season campaigns are usually hard to get data for, especially once they are over, I’ve been compiling stats for Liverpool’s 2016/17 preparations as they have gone along. Firstly, a look at minutes and games played, plus goals and assists.
Liverpool look set to sign Georginio Wijnaldum for a fee believed to be around £25m. I’ve taken a very quick look at some of his stats from the last campaign (with a few words on Mané here for good measure too).
Last season, Wijnaldum scored eleven league goals against an expected goals total of 10.43, giving him a performance rating of 105%. He and another Reds new boy Sadio Mané were very closely matched here (Mané also scored eleven, vs an ExpG tally of 11.64) but whereas Mané missed his one penalty, Wijnaldum scored his.
That aside, their records were virtually identical, and it’s clear that Jurgen Klopp has identified that Liverpool need more goals from midfield; Wijnaldum and Mané were ranked joint-third in the Premier League for goals whilst playing in midfield last season, so both should go a long way to addressing that issue.