Whilst no Liverpool fan would particularly wish to re-live the horrors of transfer deadline day, the fact remains that the club is facing something of an issue regarding its striking options (and that’s putting it mildly). But could the answer to their problems already be on their books?
I believe it could: please step forward Steven George Gerrard MBE. My view on this possibility is inevitably based on his statistics; Mihail from The Tomkins Times will give his tactical input later.
As has so often been the case, Rafa Benitez was ahead of the game, when he told The Telegraph in 2008:
“Stevie is a great finisher and can score great goals, so maybe he can play as a striker. When he is older and does not have the same pace, he will still have the accuracy and he can still be a great finisher”.
It’s certainly safe to say Gerrard is not as quick as he once was, and the lung-bursting darts across the pitch seem to be a thing of the past too. Perhaps of greater concern in these fledgling days of 2012/13 is the way that Gerrard has cost Liverpool dearly in their first three league matches by giving the ball away cheaply, leading to goals against.
Although the stats show he is losing possession slightly less often than he did last season (as are the team as a whole, incidentally), he has been the worst culprit for gifting the ball to the opposition in two of the three fixtures so far. This would be less of an issue if Gerrard was further up the pitch, as it would be far less likely to result in losing a goal.
But was Rafa right when he called the captain a great finisher? I have compared his stats with those of Suárez and Carroll (on the assumption that Andy could be recalled if needs be, and either way he is still at present a Liverpool player) to see if Gerrard could feasibly play as striker.
Firstly, a look at their shooting accuracy in Premier League football (Carroll’s stats include his time with Newcastle in order to provide as much data as possible).
Gerrard has a better shooting accuracy than Carroll, and is only 0.6% behind Suárez; indeed, placing just two of his 126 off-target efforts within the frame of the goal would see the Liverpool captain top this ranking, and it’s important to note that he has the largest sample by a fair distance too.
As an aside from looking at Gerrard, I found out via Infostrada Sports that Suárez had a shooting accuracy of 56.3% (370/657 on target) in the Eredivise, peaking at 60.5% (138/228) in 2009/10 when he was player of the year. Whilst it’s not entirely clear why his form in front of goal has fallen away so drastically, it’s key that Brendan Rodgers needs to figure out how to get the Uruguayan back to his pre-Liverpool form as soon as possible.
Back to the captain, and a look at the clear-cut chance (CCC) conversion rates for the three players emphasizes further how useful Gerrard could be if played up top too:
Of course, before jumping to any conclusions with the raw figures, it’s important to notice that Gerrard has a had a much smaller sample of CCCs with which to assess his output. That said, he would only need to convert five of a further twenty-seven CCCs (or just 18.5% of them) to match the return offered at present by the club’s remaining strikers from last season; in other words, Gerrard couldn’t be much less clinical than Suárez and Carroll if he tried.
Comparing the midfield maestro favourably to these two players could be damning him with faint praise though; of the 32 players who attempted at least 50 shots in the Premier League last season, Suárez ranked 23rd for shooting accuracy and 28th for clear-cut chance conversion, with Carroll further back still in 30th place for both statistics, so the pair hardly set the goal scoring charts alight.
Similarly, some of Gerrard’s other favourable attributes might be lost if he wasn’t playing in midfield; he ranked 31st in the league for minutes per chance created last season (for players with a minimum of 25 chances), which was the second best figure by a player currently on Liverpool’s books.
But as Liverpool are well stocked in midfield, and light up front, my verdict based on the stats is that it’s worth giving Gerrard a try at centre-forward. Beggars can’t be choosers, after all, and he appears capable of tiding the Reds over until reinforcements can be brought in.
Perhaps Mihail has other ideas…. (you can read his thoughts here if you are a Tomkins Times subscriber).