After Liverpool capitulated to a 3-1 defeat against Southampton, I noticed that the Reds had completed their second lowest number of final third passes in the league this season: 58.
Although I didn’t see the match, my instant thought was “no wonder they lost, as you won’t create many decent opportunities from so few passes in the attacking third of the pitch”.
Which lead me to this thought: in order to win games you need to score goals. You therefore need to have as many shots on target as you can, and in order to create those you need to pass the ball well in the final third of the field. By dividing accurate final third passes (FTC) by shots on target (SoT), you can create a final third efficiency (FTE) figure for both teams, to see which team made the most of the ball up front.
Having looked up Liverpool’s stats for the 68 league games from the past two seasons, the findings suggest that a good performance in this metric will definitely lead to a successful team. Obvious perhaps, but I have now been able to quantify it.
Let’s look at the Southampton game as an example. The Reds had five shots on target from their 58 accurate final third passes, meaning that they had an FTE of 11.6.
The Saints had eleven SoT from their 112 FTC, so their FTE was 10.2, meaning that Southampton were therefore more efficient in the final third. I subtracted Liverpool’s total from theirs to give the Reds a match score of -1.4.
I have now done the same for every match since the start of 2011/12. As luck would have it, 33 of the 68 games have seen a negative figure, with 35 obviously being positive, so it’s an almost even split. The findings in the table below illustrate the importance of winning this particular statistical battle:
When looking at the figures in depth, it appears that plus or minus 11.7 are the areas where the extremes of form occur.
I first noticed that +11.7 was the highest figure where Liverpool lost a match (against Manchester United at Anfield this season), so decided to see what happened at -11.7.
Remarkably, the Reds have only won one match when at worse than -11.7: a 3-2 victory at West Ham this season, which required two goals in the final fifteen minutes to rescue a losing position; in other words, Liverpool’s one win in this range was fairly lucky on the balance of play. The table below shows the figures split into ranges:
The ‘between’ range has essentially the same points per game as Liverpool have across the last two seasons (1.43), illustrating that the Reds have to be aiming to be at least 11.7 better than their opponents more often in order to move up the table next season.
As this info has to be compiled manually match-by-match (via EPLIndex), it is presently too time consuming for me to investigate other teams. That said, it is possible to compare Liverpool’s average accurate final third passes per shot on target for the whole season with other teams.
The Reds average a shot on target every 20.6 FTC (which as an aside, has improved from 21.6 last season). The table below shows they need to improve in order to reach top four standard:
Of course, the quality of striker being presented with chances will obviously have an influence on these figures, as shooting accuracy will greatly impact the outcome. The good news for Liverpool is that they have averaged an FTE of 17.0 (which is the average for a top four side) since Daniel Sturridge joined the club, so they should in theory be able get close to this figure next season.
I don’t believe has been looked into anywhere previously (though I’m happy to be corrected) so all feedback on this metric will be gratefully received.