One of the most surprising statistics from the season just ended is that Liverpool passed the ball more accurately under Roy Hodgson than they did under Kenny Dalglish.
Sure, it was a 74.78% success rate for Roy compared to 74.08% for Kenny, so not a lot in it, but Hodgson still takes the honours.
The Reds were far more successful under Dalglish (1.83 points per game) than they were under Hodgson (1.25) though, so how can we explain these passing statistics?
I will be looking at various aspects of passing to try and explain this slightly curious phenomenon.
No doubt Roy Hodgson, king of the hoof, instructed his team to make more long passes than Kenny Dalglish did, right?
Well yes, but not by much at all. Unfortunately the stats for unsuccessful long passes are not available, but I’m sure you can guess who I think would come out on ‘top’ there.
One very fascinating discovery from the passing statistics is the lop-sidedness of Liverpool’s play last season. If ever you want proof that the Reds need a decent left sided midfielder, and hopefully new signing Stewart Downing will fill that gap, then this should help:
I can only assume that a lack of quality options on the left side of the pitch lead Liverpool to switch play to the right side rather than the left around 18 times more every match. This must surely have lead to a degree of predictability that the opposition could benefit from? That said, if I had the choice of passing to Konchesky or Johnson, I know who I’d pick.
As Andy Carroll has been brought on board at great expense to be a target man, it’s logical that Liverpool will need to make the most of their crossing. How did they get on in this respect last season?
Worryingly, the Reds were more successful at crossing under Roy Hodgson, before Carroll had even come to the club. I’m sure Damien Comolli is aware of this fact, and also that Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam, both of whom have recently been acquired by Liverpool, found teammates with 24.38% and 23.47% of their crosses respectively last season, above the average for the Liverpool squad.
As I mentioned here, Pepe Reina’s form in goal improved under Dalglish, but how about his kicking accuracy?
It did improve once Roy Hodgson’s goalkeeping coach Mike Kelly had been removed from the premises, but not by a massive amount. I suspect quite a lot of these kicks would have been shorter under Dalglish’s management, and so more likely to reach their intended target by default.
In terms of the direction of the team’s passing, I was quite surprised by the following figures:
Roy Hodgson’s team played a higher percentage of their passes forward, and a lower percentage backwards than Dalglish’s. Clearly, the differences weren’t huge, but I’m sure most of you reading this would have assumed it was the other way round, much like I did.
One theory I’ve heard (and, in principle, agreed with) regarding Roy’s higher passing success rate was that his team passed it around at the back under little pressure (which improved their statistics) before hitting it long.
Whilst that may be the case, it’s surprising to see that Roy was slightly ahead in both halves of the pitch, and not just the defensive end. These figures do not include goal kicks and throw-ins, though I wouldn’t expect them to alter the percentages hugely.
To try and break it down further, I used The Guardian’s chalkboard data and divided the pitch up into six sections as per this example:
Section 1 includes Liverpool’s goal area, through to section 6 where the opposition’s goal is to be found. Here’s a breakdown of where on the pitch the team attempted passes under the two managers, and likewise for completed passes. Please bear in mind that these figures will not match the above defensive or attacking half ones, as they also include goal-kicks and throw-ins.
These statistics tie-in a bit more with what we saw from the pitch itself; Roy Hodgson’s team were making significantly more passes than Kenny Dalglish’s in the defensive half of the pitch. As a lot of these would have been attempted under relatively little pressure, Roy’s side were able to complete more passes too.
Perhaps the most revealing information of this whole study can be found by looking at the average pass completion rate for each of the six zones:
As you can see, the figures are fairly similar for every zone apart from the most attacking one (area 6), where Kenny’s team completed almost 7.5% more passes. This probably goes a long way to explaining why they scored an extra 0.74 goals per game on average.
Of course, this great a variety of statistics can be used to prove pretty much whatever you like. But in virtually all of these comparisons, the differences between the two managers are fairly small.
Except the passing success rate for the final sixth of the pitch where Kenny romps home, and for me that’s the key fact here. Roy’s team could knock around the back all they liked; Kenny’s team put it in the opposition net.
Please take a look at my other articles, a list of which can be found here.