Now that the conclusion of the transfer window (plus some idiocy by someone at Anfield) has left Liverpool with only two recognised senior strikers, it is of paramount importance that Brendan Rodgers is able to maximise their goalscoring potential.
As one of them (Fabio Borini) is largely unproven at the highest level, the bulk of the burden will fall upon the shoulders of Luis Suárez. I noted in a previous article that two of his five league appearances last season where he failed to create a single chance for a team-mate came against Swansea City, so it seems that the new Liverpool manager certainly knows how to nullify Suárez; can he make the most of him?
I have reviewed Suárez’ stats against Swansea, and they do show that his performances were below average for the season as a whole. In fairness to the Uruguayan hitman, the whole Liverpool team did not put in their best performances against the Jacks last season, so I have also included the team’s stats to give some context to how Suárez fared against the south Wales outfit. Firstly, a look at the passing figures:
Whilst the frequency of passes attempted (17%) and completed (15%) was a fair bit lower for Liverpool against Swansea than against other teams on average, for Suárez individually it was even worse; 24% longer to attempt a pass and 33% longer to complete one.
That his passing accuracy decreased during this matches whilst the team’s figure increased slightly against the average emphasises further that the Uruguayan was a more peripheral figure during the tussles with the Swans.
His better figure from the two games came at Anfield (unsurprisingly) where he completed 72% of his passes, yet in only six of his twenty-nine ‘non-Swansea’ appearances was his passing accuracy worse, and his performance at the Liberty Stadium only bettered that seen in three other matches.
If you look at the final third passing statistics, for this is the area of the pitch where Suárez is expected to earn his corn, the difference is even more alarming:
Suárez’ seventh (home) and second (away) worst final third passing accuracy performances in the 2011/12 Premier League came against the Swans of South Wales, and the joint figures were significantly below his seasonal average, whilst the whole team were fractionally more accurate.
As he attempted a final third pass 38% less regularly, but any pass only 24% less often, this suggests that Swansea were able to force Suárez further away from goal where he could cause them less damage.
For the Uruguayan to be involved that much less, had Rodgers figured out a way to isolate him, or cut off the supply line perhaps? The possession stats provide more evidence that the Reds’ top scorer was more peripheral than usual against the Jacks, and was more careless with the ball too:
Despite touching the ball 14% less frequently than usual, Suárez actually gave the ball away slightly more often than average against Swansea. Due to Rodgers’ fondness for pressing football and hunting in packs, I suspect that Suárez was given less time on the ball than perhaps he received against other sides. As you’d expect, by seeing less of the ball, Liverpool’s number seven fired shots on goal less regularly too:
Despite scoring more goals and having more shots than any other Liverpool player in 2011/12, Suárez was not able to make much of an impression in 180 minutes against Swansea. As the team’s shooting stats overall were more consistent, then some of Suárez’ colleagues must have stepped up their own performances in front of goal to compensate for the Uruguayan’s below par efforts.
Perhaps I am reading too much in to these numbers, and Suárez was simply below par on the day; all players have off-days, and one of the Swansea matches occurred whilst a racism charge hung over him (during which time his level of performance has been proven to have dipped) and the other was a dead-rubber on the final day of the season.
But the above statistics suggest that Brendan Rodgers was able to set up his side and deploy his players accordingly in order to neutralise the attacking threat posed by Liverpool’s top striker. In order to do this, he must have been able to identify the player’s strengths (or his strengths within Dalglish’s system, at least), and so he must now figure out how to exploit them to his advantage.
Personally, I think Borini needs to be moved into the centre (as he is the club’s best finisher, based on last season’s figures), with Suárez given a slightly more free role either left or right of the front three. His figures show he is better as a creator than as a goalscorer, after all, but should still then be able to chip in with goals too.
Your move, Brendan. Make it a good one.