There seems to be a consensus online that Luis Suárez has not been at his sparkling best in the last few games. A common phrase used to explain this goes along the lines of “he was coming deep to get involved and receive the ball”, with the logic being that he can’t cause havoc near the goal if this keeps happening.
Using Stats Zone, I’ve compiled the figures on where Suárez receives passes, to see if the above phrase is accurate or a lazy cliché, and whether where he gets the ball has any impact upon his attacking contribution.
Firstly, a look at how many passes the Uruguayan has received in each match this season, to give an indication of his level of involvement. I’ve excluded passes from a kick off, as there’s little he’d be able to do with those (though would it actually surprise anyone if he did shoot straight from the start of a match?).
We can see that the figure is fairly consistently between forty and fifty each match, and that the average is forty-seven. It’s interesting to note that the two games where Suárez received the fewest passes were the four goal home wins over Everton and Arsenal, which were two of Liverpool’s best performances this season. The whole team had fewer passes in those matches though, thanks to excellent counter attacking, so it’s not that surprising.
My initial thought when trying to assess if Suárez has been dropping deep was to look at what percentage of the passes that he has received have been in the penalty area.
Although the average is 10%, you can see that there is quite a variety from game to game, and it should be noted that the raw numbers here only vary between one and thirteen, so each additional pass can make quite a big difference to the percentages.
As the opposition penalty area covers less than 8% of the pitch (at Anfield at least) it also seems like you can’t really judge if a player is dropping deep to receive passes when your area for measuring this is about 11/12 of the field of play.
I therefore decided to use in or out of the final third as my two zones for determining if Suárez has been too far away from the goal or not. This is still not without its flaws, but when the data is collated via squinting at an i-phone app, it will have to do for now!
So what percentage of the passes Luis Suárez has received each match this season have been in his opponent’s defensive third?
On average, just under two-thirds of the passes that Liverpool’s number seven receives are collected in the attacking third of the pitch. We can see that in six of the last seven games, Suárez has been in the final third for passes around an average amount; this isn’t to say that he hasn’t played poorly necessarily, but it does suggest that he hasn’t been dropping any deeper than normal to get involved in the play. Perhaps to say he has is a lazy cliché after all?
Having compiled the figures I thought it would be interesting to look at Suárez’ efficiency when receiving a pass in the penalty area compared to the rest of the pitch.
Thanks to Dan Kennett’s piece on Statsbomb, we know the following regarding non-penalty shots in the box:
The total shots inside the box has remained almost constant over 5 seasons with an average conversion of 13.1%. Season conversion rates vary from a low of 12.4% (1 in 8) to a high of 13.5% (1 in 7.4)
Yet we can see in the above data that Luis Suárez has converted 26.9% of his shots in the box when they have come as a product of a pass from a teammate. Dan’s research is for all shots, so it isn’t a fair comparison with those that have been created by others, but the figures still give an indication of how effective the Uruguayan has been in opposition boxes this season.
Pass the ball to Suárez in the box, and there’s around a one in three chance that he’ll get a shot away, and roughly a one in ten chance that a goal will be the result of the pass; truly phenomenal.
So to finish, is there any correlation between the percentage of passes that Suárez receives in the penalty box and how many goals he scores in a match?
Still, if nothing else I seem to have punctured the idea that dropping deep equates to a poor performance with a striker. Or perhaps Suárez is such a genius that it doesn’t matter to him. Food for analytical thought, anyway.