A first for Basstunedtored – a guest column! Andrew Fanko (who you can follow on Twitter here) takes a look at the defensive records of Liverpool’s current back-four combinations, and wonders if a previously untried pairing should get a run out…
Liverpool have already conceded 20 goals in their 13 competitive games so far this season, which is an average of 1.54 per game. You have to go back to the dark days of Graeme Souness and the 1992/93 season to find such a porous start to a campaign. We shipped 27 goals in the first 13 games of that season, including four at home to Chesterfield!
In the 19 interim seasons, the Reds have conceded an average of 11.6 goals in their first 13 games, which in itself is a per-game average of just 0.89 goals. So we’re conceding 0.65 more goals per game than we’ve been used to over the last two decades.
Many will explain it away by saying we’re adapting to a new system and way of playing. There’s some degree of truth in that, I’m sure, especially in terms of how exposed we are when we lose the ball. But there has also been a worrying trend of individual mistakes.
Reina, Enrique and Škrtel have all been found particularly wanting. My kind host has already examined Reina’s apparent decline, and his fellow Spaniard has been so poor that he will struggle to get back in the side when he recovers his fitness. So, what of Škrtel? The Slovakian has been arguably our most consistent player over the last two years, but there have been calls in some quarters for Coates to emerge alongside Agger.
What do the numbers say? Well, I’ve kept stats on the club’s centre-back partnerships since Agger arrived in 2006. Here is the raw data involving the four senior centre-backs currently at the club (GCPG = Goals Conceded Per Game; CS % = Clean Sheet %; Conc +2 % = Conceded 2 or more %):
The best figures by some margin are posted by Carragher/Agger, but we have to acknowledge that they were mainly produced four or five years ago when our vice-captain was at his best. I’m not sure too many people would be advocating Carragher in our first XI given his age-related decline in the last couple of years.
The main question is has Coates done enough in his short Liverpool career so far to warrant displacing Škrtel? Not according to the stats: we concede 1.47 goals when the Uruguayan plays (22 in 15 games), compared with 0.97 for Škrtel (130 in 133.5 games). That’s an extra 0.5 goals per game, which is pretty considerable.
But the flaw in that logic, of course, is that, strangely, Coates and Agger have never played together. In theory, they’re a good pair, so I’m sure we’ll see it sooner or later. We all know about the Dane’s strengths, but Coates is still a fairly unknown quantity because he hasn’t played in a run of games.
The Uruguayan took some stick for his own goal against Udinese, but I thought it was his best game in a red shirt. I was especially impressed with his reading of the game; it reminded me of Hyypiä – making up for a lack of pace with superb anticipation and positioning. And he increasingly looks a goal threat at the right end, too.
With Crouch a certain starter for Stoke, Coates would seem a logical choice at Anfield today, and it could be the start of that run of games he needs to prove whether he can genuinely challenge Škrtel for a regular slot alongside Agger.
It would take some serious courage for Rodgers to bench Škrtel and play the Uruguayan, especially given the stats we saw earlier, but the Ulsterman has proven already in his short spell in the dugout that courage in team selection is one thing he has in spades.