Why Keegan Comparisons Need Revising

Liverpool and Newcastle United played out what is widely regarded to be the greatest Premier League match of them all in 1996, with the Reds winning 4-3 thanks to a last-minute Stan Collymore goal.

The Reds’ latest frantic victory, which was also a 4-3 home win, lead to inevitable comparisons between the current Liverpool team and Kevin Keegan’s kamikaze Toon side of the mid-1990s. In his match report for The Times, Tony Barrett said:

This was the day when Liverpool stirred memories of Keegan’s Newcastle United by serving up a slew of reasons why their unlikely title challenge could yet be maintained and just as many why it may not…. Being great entertainers, à la Keegan’s Newcastle, will win Liverpool many admirers, but whether it will allow them to end a 24-year wait for a league title, or end up costing them the chance to do so, remains to be seen.

Of course, Barrett is mainly talking about the one match, so I’m not going to have a pop at him here, but he touched on a theme that does seem to be in the air at the moment yet is not actually that accurate.

It’s not that Liverpool aren’t entirely like Keegan’s Newcastle; they’re actually a more extreme version of those maverick Geordies.

For the purposes of this piece, I will look at Newcastle’s three full Premier League campaigns where Keegan was manager (so from August 1993 to May 1996), so that the sample sizes aren’t wildly dissimilar.

keegan Let’s start at the back. Both teams have a reputation for throwing caution to the wind up front, with scant regard to their responsibilities at the defensive end, and indeed their clean sheet ratios are virtually identical; 35.4% for Rodgers, 34.3% for Keegan.

Yet beyond that, the difference is a lot more pronounced. Liverpool have conceded more goals per game in both seasons under Rodgers than in Newcastle’s worst defensive campaign under Keegan, and the Reds have let in two-or-more goals in 43.1% of their matches compared to the Magpies’ 27.0%.

So how about up front? Once again, Liverpool are an exaggerated version of Newcastle. The Geordies averaged 1.76 goals per game across their first three seasons under Keegan in the top flight, whilst the ‘Pool have scored 2.17 per game whilst Brendan Rodgers has been in charge.

As an example, in 1995/96 (the season when Newcastle should really have won the league), they scored sixty-six league goals. Liverpool have bagged seventy already this season (after seventy-one in 2012/13), and they still have eleven games to go in this campaign.

Newcastle scored three-or-more in 27% of their games in the early 1990s, which was thirty-three times in total. Rodgers’ Reds have done so twenty-six times in only a shade over half as many games (65 to 122), which equates to 40% of their total matches.

The attacking and defensive stats combine to paint a picture of which team is the more entertaining (if only for the neutral rather than their long-suffering supporters).

rodgers_2833133In terms of low scoring victories (which I am defining as a 2-1, 2-0 or 1-0), Newcastle clocked up thirty-eight across the two seasons, which was 56.7% of their total of sixty-seven wins.

The current Liverpool team have only had eight such narrow victories (just 24.2% of their wins), with twenty-five featuring at least three goals by the Reds.

Looking at total goals (so for both the team and their opponents) in each club’s games accentuates this picture further.

Newcastle under Keegan were fairly consistent in this regard, posting figures of 2.93 goals per game once, and 2.71 twice, with 27% of their matches featuring a total of four goals-or-more.

Meanwhile, Rodgers’ team posted 3.00 last season, and are rocketing along at 3.89 per game in 2013/14. Their record of 105 total goals (seventy for and thirty-five against) this season is the most by any team after twenty-seven games in Premier League history. A whopping 53.8% of Liverpool’s fixtures have featured four-or-more goals, so double as many as were seen for Keegan’s Newcastle team.

I think this is why the comparisons need revising. No team in Premier League history has completed a season with their matches averaging 3.89 per game, so for a more accurate comparison we have to look far further back to the 1960’s, when teams often averaged around four goals-per-game.

Whilst this was before my time, a look at the information on statto.com suggests that the West Ham team of Moore, Hurst and Peters was perhaps the one most consistently like the current Liverpool team (in terms of ‘total goals’, at least). Fresh from their World Cup success, the trio’s Hammers side averaged 3.90 total goals per game in 1966/67, with four-or-more in 50% of their matches; perhaps this is a more accurate comparison for the current Liverpool vintage than Newcastle under Keegan?

One thing is for sure: Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool team are more reckless and open than Keegan’s Newcastle were, and many people would’ve thought such a team would never exist again. There are eleven games left, so buckle up, folks.

Recent posts you might like:

Liverpool 5 Arsenal 1: First Twenty Focus – The Reds were 4-0 up inside twenty minutes; how did they do it?

Indecision, and The Weight Of History – Here’s a whole host of reasons why I can’t decide if Liverpool will win the league or finish outside the top four.

Pass From Belgian To His Left Hand Side – A closer look at Simon Mignolet’s much maligned passing ability.

Liverpool, Shots On Target, and The Top Four – I revisited an old article on shots on target to see if the findings apply to 2013/14. It turns out they do, which is good news for Liverpool.

Please check out my other articles, and follow me on TwitterFacebook or LinkedIn. Thanks. 

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3 thoughts on “Why Keegan Comparisons Need Revising

  1. After the disillusionment of recent seasons, I decided not to stream any Liverpool matches in 2013/14. The only matches I’ve watched live on telly have been the 3-3 at Everton, the 1-2 at Man City, the cup win at Bournemouth and the 4-0 evisceration of Everton. Sod’s law that I’ve missed watching most of probably Liverpool’s most entertaining season since the 1995/96…

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