If I see a particularly interesting statistic, I’m usually keen to investigate it further. This surprising one I’ve seen today is definitely worthy of a closer look.
Say what? I’ve been really impressed with Sakho this season, but has he been the root cause of a lot of Liverpool’s defensive troubles? It won’t be entirely down to him (or any one player) of course, but here’s a bit of context for the above statistic.
First things first, is the stat correct? Yes, for league games it is, and indeed his only cup appearance came in the 1-0 defeat at Old Trafford in the League Cup, so in truth the Frenchman has just one clean sheet to show for eighteen appearances in total in his debut campaign for the Reds.
However, a couple of these can be dismissed from the record. Sakho only came on during injury time at the end of the 6-3 win at Cardiff City, and he was subbed off with the score at 3-0 when Crystal Palace visited Anfield in October.
He was also on the pitch for both West Ham goals against Liverpool this season (one of which was a Skrtel own goal, the other occurred after former Red Andy Carroll punched Simon Mignolet; no blame can be attached for Sakho for these) as well as West Brom’s penalty at Anfield, which was awarded despite not one of their players appealing for it. Clearly there will be many goals conceded that his presence will have had no influence upon.
This isn’t to say he’s been entirely blameless this season of course; Cardiff City’s goal at Anfield sticks in my mind as one where Sakho was probably culpable, and I’m sure there were others too. The stats also suggest he is perhaps not as strong in the air as his form for Paris Saint Germain suggested.
In his last four seasons in France, Sakho won 278 of the 385 aerial duels that he contested, for a win percentage of 72%, yet in England he has only won 44 of 79 so far (56%), though of course this could be down to the unique challenges that the division’s ale house teams present.
As I am unfamiliar with French football, I’m not sure if aerial bombardment is as much of an issue there as it is here, but as none of the top twenty-three (and six of the bottom twelve teams) for aerial duel wins in Europe’s big five leagues are French, it’s probably safe to assume that Sakho wasn’t as tested for PSG as he has been for Liverpool.
But the key thing to note before judging Sakho too harshly is that Liverpool have conceded twenty-three goals in the sixteen league games this season where Sakho has played for more than one minute, whilst in the seventeen since his debut where he hasn’t featured for a significant amount of time, the Reds have conceded…
Twenty-three. Sakho may not have many clean sheets under his belt, but the overall goals against record is virtually identical whether he plays or not. He has the best passing accuracy in the Liverpool squad this season (92.2%, which is the third best in the Premier League overall), and has only made two on-the-ball defensive errors so far, neither of which cost a goal.
With a season of acclimatisation under his belt, I think Sakho will improve further next season, and be a cornerstone of the Liverpool defence for many years to come. His lack of clean sheets won’t convince me otherwise on that front.