Liverpool vs Swansea: passing network analysis

Liverpool defeated Swansea 5-0 at Anfield. Below is the passing network analysis for Liverpool for both the first and second half. Usually I compare with the opposition but I think it is more interesting here to compare across each half. More information on how these are put together is available here in my previous posts on this subject.

The positions of the players are loosely based on the formations played by the two teams, although some creative license is employed for clarity. It is important to note that these are fixed positions, which will not always be representative of where a player passed/received the ball. The starting eleven is shown on the pitch for the first half, while I have shown Henderson rather than Coutinho for the second half as he came on after 60 minutes.

Passing network for Liverpool and West Brom from the match at Anfield on the 11th February 2013. Only completed passes are shown. Darker and thicker arrows indicate more passes between each player. The player markers are sized according to their passing influence, the larger the marker, the greater their influence. The size and colour of the markers is relative to the players on their own team i.e. they are on different scales for each team. The player markers are coloured by the number of times they lost possession during the match, with darker colours indicating more losses. Only the starting eleven is shown. Players with an * next to their name were substituted. Click on the image for a larger view.

Passing networks for Liverpool for the first and second halfs against Swansea City from the match at Anfield on the 17th February 2013. Only completed passes are shown. Darker and thicker arrows indicate more passes between each player. The player markers are sized according to their passing influence, the larger the marker, the greater their influence. Players with an * next to their name were substituted. Click on the image for a larger view.

Looking at the passing networks for each half, there are clear differences for Liverpool. During the first half, there was much less interplay between Liverpool’s attacking players, central midfielders and full backs. There are many more stronger linkages between players in the second half passing network than the first as more passing triangles are built up. This is borne out by the general passing data from Squawka as Liverpool attempted 242 passes in the first half (83% completion rate) compared to 306 passes in the second (89% completion rate). The scoring of the penalty in the first half and early second goal after half time likely meant Liverpool were more patient in their approach coupled with tactical switches/substitutions. This also shows up somewhat in the shots data, as Liverpool attempted 22 shots first half, compared with 13 in the second.

Quietly effective

I tweeted the full passing network after the match having not watched it and commented that it looked like Gerrard had once again been influential. Gerrard’s performance was described as quietly effective by the Liverpool Twitterati, which seems like an apt description. While he was the most influential player for Liverpool in the first half (narrowly ahead of Lucas), he really dictated things in the second half. While the scoreline likely played a role here, Mihail Vladimirov pointed out a subtle tactical shift also, where Gerrard received the ball in deeper areas during the second half compared with the first. This likely allowed Gerrard more time/space to dictate play from deep.

Almost the whole team increased their passing influence scores in the second half, aside from Lucas and Suárez, who were both similar across both halves. Liverpool’s attacking players really came to the fore during the second half as they were all more involved. Furthermore, Henderson was impressively influential considering he only played 30 minutes and played quite a different role to Coutinho, as pointed out on the Oh you beauty blog.

Liverpool’s performance in this match, particularly in the second half was impressive even with the mitigation of Swansea fielding a weakened team. The key for the rest of the season will be recreating such performances against full-strengh sides and without the benefit of such a comfortable lead.

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Liverpool vs West Bromwich Albion: passing network analysis

Liverpool lost to West Bromwich Albion 2-0 at Anfield. Below is the passing network analysis for Liverpool and West Brom. More information on how these are put together is available here in my previous posts on this subject.

The positions of the players are loosely based on the formations played by the two teams, although some creative license is employed for clarity. It is important to note that these are fixed positions, which will not always be representative of where a player passed/received the ball. Only the starting eleven is shown on the pitch, as the substitutes weren’t hugely interesting from a passing perspective in this instance.

Passing network for Manchester City and Liverpool from the match at the Etihad on the 3rd February 2013. Only completed passes are shown. Darker and thicker arrows indicate more passes between each player. The player markers are sized according to their passing influence, the larger the marker, the greater their influence. The size and colour of the markers is relative to the players on their own team i.e. they are on different scales for each team. Only the starting eleven is shown. Players with an * next to their name were substituted. Click on the image for a larger view.

Passing network for Liverpool and West Brom from the match at Anfield on the 11th February 2013. Only completed passes are shown. Darker and thicker arrows indicate more passes between each player. The player markers are sized according to their passing influence, the larger the marker, the greater their influence. The size and colour of the markers is relative to the players on their own team i.e. they are on different scales for each team. The player markers are coloured by the number of times they lost possession during the match, with darker colours indicating more losses. Only the starting eleven is shown. Players with an * next to their name were substituted. Click on the image for a larger view.

There are some contrasting features between the two sides here. Liverpool’s standard recycling of possession in deeper areas is evident, with interplay between Reina, the back four and the midfield two of Lucas and Gerrard. West Brom showed some similar features, although the link between their centre backs is much weaker than the link between Agger and Carragher.

Mulumbu and Morrison were impressive for West Brom, linking well with the players around them. They formed some nice triangular passing structures with those around them, particularly with their midfield partner Yacob. Based on their passing network, West Brom passed the ball around well when they had it although Long wasn’t hugely involved (he did provide his usual nuisance value though).

One of the major differences is how both sides involved their respective centre forwards. Long generally either received the ball from deeper areas e.g. the long link between himself and Foster (although many of the passes were unsuccessful) or by linking up with Morrison, who was typically the most advanced of West Brom’s central midfielders. In contrast, the link between Shelvey and Suárez is almost non-existent. Given that these two were ostensibly Liverpool’s two most attacking players, the lack of interplay between them was disappointing.

Ineffectual width

With Henderson and Downing continuing on their “unnatural” sides, Liverpool’s fullbacks had plenty of space to move into down the flanks. This meant they were often a natural passing outlet for their team mates and this is highlighted by the high passing influence scores they both received. Unfortunately, much of the attacking impetus that Enrique and Johnson provided was highly wasteful. As noted on the Oh you beauty blog, their pass completion in the final third was woeful. Between them, Enrique and Johnson accounted for 30% of Liverpool’s total losses of possession. Enrique misplaced 9 passes within his own half also, as noted by WhoScored. Generally I’ve interpreted a higher passing influence score as being a good thing but perhaps in this instance this wasn’t the case.

That is why we like him

Aside from Enrique and Johnson, the main passing influence for Liverpool was Lucas. Lucas’ absolute and relative passing influence within in the team has been steadily increasing over recent matches, which is encouraging as he recovers from his injury issues. Unfortunately for Liverpool, Gerrard, Henderson and Downing had less influence than in recent weeks, which alongside the lack of partnership between Shelvey and Suárez, went some way to Liverpool struggling to open up West Brom.

Manchester City vs Liverpool: passing network analysis

Manchester City drew 2-2 with Liverpool at the Etihad. Below is the passing network analysis for Manchester City and Liverpool. More information on how these are put together is available here in my previous posts on this subject.

The positions of the players are loosely based on the formations played by the two teams, although some creative license is employed for clarity. It is important to note that these are fixed positions, which will not always be representative of where a player passed/received the ball. Only the starting eleven is shown on the pitch, as the substitutes weren’t hugely interesting from a passing perspective in this instance.

Passing network for Manchester City and Liverpool from the match at the Etihad on the 3rd February 2013. Only completed passes are shown. Darker and thicker arrows indicate more passes between each player. The player markers are sized according to their passing influence, the larger the marker, the greater their influence. The size and colour of the markers is relative to the players on their own team i.e. they are on different scales for each team. Only the starting eleven is shown. Players with an * next to their name were substituted. Click on the image for a larger view.

Passing network for Manchester City and Liverpool from the match at the Etihad on the 3rd February 2013. Only completed passes are shown. Darker and thicker arrows indicate more passes between each player. The player markers are sized according to their passing influence, the larger the marker, the greater their influence. The size and colour of the markers is relative to the players on their own team i.e. they are on different scales for each team. Only the starting eleven is shown. Players with an * next to their name were substituted. Click on the image for a larger view.

In the reverse fixture, Yaya Touré and De Jong were very influential for City but Touré was away at the African Cup of Nations, while De Jong joined Milan shortly after that fixture. Their replacements in this game, Barry and Garcia, were less influential, although Barry had the strongest passing influence for City in this match, with Milner second. The central midfield two, Lucas and Gerrard, were very influential for Liverpool and strongly dictated the passing patterns of the team. They both linked well with the fullbacks and wider players, while Lucas also had strong links with Suárez and Sturridge. Certainly in this area of the pitch, Liverpool had the upper hand over City and this provided a solid base for Liverpool in the match.

No Silva lining

Something that Liverpool did particularly well was limit the involvement of David Silva, who posted his worst pass completion rate (73% via EPL-Index) this season. Usually, Silva completes a pass every 96 seconds this season, whereas against Liverpool it was every 162 seconds. While Mancini’s tactical change did bring Silva more into the game briefly, overall it had a negligible impact upon Silva’s influence when comparing the networks before and after the substitution. However, one of the few occasions where Silva was able to find some time and space, he combined well with James Milner to help create City’s first goal. Goes to show it is difficult to keep good players quiet for a whole match.

Moving forward

Similarly to the Arsenal game, Liverpool showed less of an emphasis upon recycling the ball in deeper areas. Instead, they favoured moving the ball forward more directly, with Enrique often being an outlet for this via Reina and Agger. Liverpool’s fullbacks combined well with their respective wide-players, while also being strong options for Lucas and Gerrard. Strurridge was generally excellent in this match and was more influential in terms of passing than in his previous games against Norwich and Arsenal, combining well with Suárez, Lucas and Gerrard.

At least based on the past few games, Liverpool have shown the ability to alter their passing approach with a heavily possession orientated game against Norwich, followed up by more direct counter-attacking performances against Arsenal and Manchester City. The game against City was particularly impressive as this was mixed in with some good control in midfield via Lucas and Gerrard, which was absent against Arsenal. How this progresses during Liverpool’s next run of fixtures will be something to look out for.

Arsenal vs Liverpool: passing network analysis

Arsenal and Liverpool drew 2-2 at the Emirates, as Arsenal came back from two goals down. Below is the passing network analysis for Arsenal and Liverpool. More information on how these are put together is available here in my previous posts on this subject.

The positions of the players are loosely based on the formations played by the two teams, although some creative license is employed for clarity. It is important to note that these are fixed positions, which will not always be representative of where a player passed/received the ball. The starting eleven is shown on the pitch, while Enrique and Santos, who came on as substitutes are shown on the sidelines.

Passing network for Liverpool and Norwich City from the match at Anfield on the 19th January 2013. Only completed passes are shown. Darker and thicker arrows indicate more passes between each player. The player markers are sized according to their passing influence, the larger the marker, the greater their influence. Only the starting eleven is shown.

Passing network for Arsenal and Liverpool from the match at the Emirates on the 30th January 2013. Only completed passes are shown. Darker and thicker arrows indicate more passes between each player. The player markers are sized according to their passing influence, the larger the marker, the greater their influence. The size and colour of the markers is relative to the players on their own team i.e. they are on different scales for each side. The starting eleven is shown on the pitch, with the substitutes on the sidelines. Click on the image for a larger view.

The contrast between the two teams approach is apparent, with Arsenal dominating possession (62% according to EPL-Index), which is reflected in their much stronger passing links across the team. Much of Arsenal’s play went through Aaron Ramsey, who played a similar role to that played by Mikel Arteta in the reverse fixture, although Arsenal saw more of the ball in this match. Arsenal’s midfield-three of Ramsey, Wilshire and Cazorla combined very well and dictated the passing patterns of the side excellently.

For Liverpool, the story was slightly different. The side was happy to counter-attack, which meant that the usual recycling of possession in deeper areas was less prevalent than for example against Norwich. Most of Liverpool’s play went through Henderson and Gerrard (again Liverpool’s major passing influence), with Johnson and Downing providing good support down the left and right flanks respectively. Daniel Agger was also able to influence the game from deeper positions, with his passing influence score being third behind Gerrard and Downing. Suárez was reasonably involved, combining well with Agger, Johnson and Henderson.

Hymns & Arias

In terms of passing influence, Ramsey was the undoubted star of the show. He conducted Arsenal’s play from deep beautifully, completing over 100 passes in the process. Obviously this was partially a result of Liverpool’s approach, which allowed him the time and space to dictate play but he combined well with Arsenal’s attacking players throughout the match. Gerrard was the major influence for Liverpool, while Jordan Henderson provided a passing option higher up the pitch and brought Downing, Suárez and to a lesser extent, Sturridge into the game. This was an important function in the team’s counter-attacking.

Liverpool delivered a different passing performance in this match. There are many parallels with the Everton match here, where Liverpool had a similar passing network and employed a more pragmatic counter-attacking style. It will be interesting to see if they use such tactics in the next match against Manchester City

Liverpool vs Norwich City: passing network analysis

Liverpool beat Norwich City 5-0 at Anfield while posting some impressive passing statistics. I’ve previously used network analysis to assess Liverpool’s passing this season. It has been a while since I last posted something on this but now seemed a good time to get back to it.

Below is the passing network for both Liverpool and Norwich City. The positions of the players are loosely based on the formations played by the two teams, although some creative license is employed for clarity e.g. Suárez’s position is shifted left-of-centre. It is important to note that these are fixed positions, which will not always be representative of where a player passed/received the ball. Only the starting eleven are shown in this instance.

Passing network for Liverpool and Norwich City from the match at Anfield on the 19th January 2013. Only completed passes are shown. Darker and thicker arrows indicate more passes between each player. The player markers are sized according to their passing influence, the larger the marker, the greater their influence. Only the starting eleven is shown.
Liverpool: Jones (1), Johnson (2), Agger (5), Carragher (23), Wisdom (47), Lucas* (21), Gerrard (8), Henderson* (14), Suárez (7), Sturridge* (15), Downing (19)
Norwich: Bunn (28), Garrido (18), R Bennett (24), Turner (6), Martin (2), Johnson (4), Tettey (27), E Bennett* (17), Howson (8), Snodgrass* (7), Holt (9)

There is a stark contrast between how the two teams approached passing the ball. Looking at Jones, the back four and Lucas, there are a multitude of connections between them as Liverpool aim to build from the back. Furthermore, Henderson and Gerrard are heavily involved in this area as the team aims to recycle possession – look at the strong links between them, Lucas and the centre-backs. This is completely missing in Norwich’s network as they sought to be more direct – see the long link between Bunn and Holt for example. Norwich created relatively little during the game and it is clear from their passing network that Holt was fairly uninvolved. I’ll not delve into Norwich’s passing network any further.

Sharing the load

An important diagnostic for network analysis is a measure known as “closeness centrality”, which in this context is dictated by the number of passes played and received by a given player. The higher the value the better and this can be thought of as the “passing influence” that a player has on their team. The absolute values aren’t important in this instance* so the main thing to look at is the relative size of the circles for each team. One of the major aspects of Liverpool’s network is that all of the outfield players aside from Sturridge were heavily involved in the passing movements of the team. Sturridge’s lesser involvement isn’t a criticism as such, as he clearly combined well with Liverpool’s more advanced players. In some ways, strikers can be disadvantaged by such a measure as they have less opportunity to get involved with everyone in the team, which can also be the case for goalkeepers. A more even distribution of passing responsibilities allows a side to create multiple attacking angles/opportunities – notice the large level of criss-crossing of the networks for Liverpool’s attacking players. Liverpool’s front-five plus Glen Johnson had a large amount of interplay with able support from Wisdom and Lucas.

O Captain! My Captain!

However, there was clearly a stand-out performer in terms of passing influence as Steven Gerrard dominates the passing network for Liverpool. Gerrard was the hub of the team’s passing. This combined with the rest of the team stepping up to the (passing?) plate, meant that Liverpool delivered an excellent passing performance. Whether they can continue this level of performance over the coming games will be crucial.

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*At some point I want to put these measures into a more quantitative context, which will hopefully add further detail regarding how Liverpool’s passing develops. 

Luis Suárez: Stuck in the middle?

Luis Suárez, the latest member of Liverpool’s one-man team, has been playing rather well this season. At the time of writing, he is 2nd in the top scorers list with 15 goals, while also boasting the most chances created from open play in the league. Even more impressively he manages to accomplish this while nefariously drowning kittens in his spare time*.

This increased rate of scoring compared with last season has been much needed due to Liverpool’s lack of attacking options. The question is, what has changed?

Just can’t score enough?

Firstly, Suárez is averaging a goal every 8.4 shots this season compared to 11.6 last season. Secondly, he is shooting more often this season as he shoots every 15 minutes on average compared with a shot every 20 minutes last season. The combination of these two features would naturally lead to an enhanced scoring rate. So far, so good but can we delve a little deeper into Suárez’s shooting data?

Below is a summary of Suárez’s shooting across the last two seasons in the league based on data collected from Opta’s chalkboard services. The data is aggregated positionally to examine how regularly Suárez shoots from a particular location and also how efficient his goalscoring is from these areas. This provides us with indicators of the quality of a shot i.e. the distance from the goal-line coupled with the angle from which the shot is taken. Other factors will impact the quality of the shooting opportunity such as the position of the goalkeeper, whether the shot is attempted with the foot or the head and the number of players between the shooter and the goal. This last point is probably especially important for someone like Suárez who tends to see a lot of his shots blocked.

Comparison between Luis Suárez’s shooting and goalscoring from the 2011/12 and 2012/13 seasons. The circles designate areas from which Suárez took a shot from and are sized by the number of shots taken from that area. The areas correspond to horizontal bands from 0-10, 10-20 and more than 20 yards from the goal-line. The grey dotted lines show where the 10 and 20 yard lines are situated. The vertical bands are ordered along the lines of the touchline, edge of the 18 yard box and the 6 yard box. The numbers within each marker correspond to the average number of shots attempted per goal scored in that area. Markers without a number mean that no goals were scored from that area.

The first thing to note about the goals Suárez scores is that across both seasons, the vast majority of his goals come from relatively central areas within the penalty area or just on the edge of it. Furthermore, we can see that Suárez appears to shoot a lot from locations where he doesn’t generally score from. His overall number of shots is similar across the two seasons, although there are still 16 matches still to play this season. There has been some change in the areas from which he has been shooting this season, with close to twice as many shots being taken from the central zone that is more than 20 yards from the goal-line. This has been compensated with fewer attempts from the less than 10 yard zone.

The main difference between the two seasons is that he is now scoring goals more within the 10-20 yards central area and at a reasonable rate. Suárez is now far more efficient in this zone in terms of goalscoring, with 1 goal from 34 shots last season compared with 5 goals from 29 shots this season. It is the goals scored from within this zone that have led to his increased goalscoring rate.

Slipping and sliding

So we can see that compared with himself, Suárez has improved this season. The question is how does he compare with his peers? I don’t have a large enough dataset to do a like-for-like comparison but we can contrast his numbers with data collected by the Different Game blog. The zones are slightly different here but for the central zone within the penalty area, Suárez averaged 7.5 shots per goal last season and 4.5 this season. So compared to the 6 shots per goal average over last season and this, he is better than his peers this season but underperformed last season. There are caveats here in that my figures include penalties, although after his penalty “attempts” last season, Suárez hasn’t been taking penalties this season (not that Liverpool have had many to take and he only took one penalty in the league last season). Furthermore, this is for all players taking shots and potentially you might prefer to compare to other strikers.

In general, we can see that Suárez has been more efficient this season in terms of his goalscoring and that his conversion compares favourably with his peers. The reasons for this are less clear and could be due to a multitude of factors including luck, his role within the team this season, Liverpool’s overall tactics and even less tangible factors such as “off-field distractions”. One thing that is clear from this analysis is that if you want Luis Suárez to score goals, he needs to be taking his shots from central areas. Brendan Rodgers has hinted at playing him as a wide-forward now that Daniel Sturridge has arrived; preserving Suárez’s current goalscoring record would be a challenge if he ends up taking more shots from more difficult angles, which may occur due to his natural position being out-wide. Over the last season and a half, Suárez has taken 103 shots from the wide positions for a return of 5 goals.

Based on this analysis and watching him play a lot, I would say that in certain circumstances, Suárez is a good finisher but that he is wasteful in terms of his decision making. Since the beginning of 2011/12, just over 40% of his shots were taken from areas out-wide where he rarely scores from, coupled with 36% of all of his shots being blocked (although this has improved this season). While the “scorer of great goals, rather than a great goal scorer” line has been an attractive label for Suárez during his Liverpool career, the analysis presented here indicates that he is more nuanced than that. Mind you, “a reasonably efficient goalscorer provided that he is in a central shooting position within approximately 20 yards of goal who is capable of scoring the odd goal that takes your breath away” is a bit more of a mouthful.

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Data sources: EPL-Index, Squawka and StatsZone.

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*This is not true.

West Bromwich Albion vs Liverpool: passing network analysis

Liverpool began their season with a disappointing result against West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns. Much has been made since Brendan Rodgers’ appointment about his passing philosophy, so the focus here will be upon analysing how Liverpool passed the ball against West Brom.

Passing network analysis

One method of analysing passing by a football team is network analysis, which I’ve used previously to assess Liverpool’s passing against FC Gomel. The idea with network analysis is that the connections between players are analysed to look at passing patterns in the team and to identify key players in the network in terms of passing. The number of passes played and received by each player is collated according to the player they passed to and who they received from respectively. The data for passes played and received is taken from the Stats Zone application, which was kindly provided by the excellent Anfield-Index. One caveat to note is that throw-ins are included, which boosts Johnson and Kelly’s passes completed in particular.

Below is the passing network for Liverpool and shows completed passes only. The larger and darker the arrow is, the greater the number of passes played by one player to another. The positions of the players are based on their average positions during the match provided by WhoScored, although Lucas and Allen are slightly separated horizontally for clarity as their average positions were practically next to each other. It is important to note that these are the average positions, which will not always be representative of where a player passed/received the ball. Also, only the starting 11 is shown as the substitutes had a fairly limited impact upon the game in terms of passing.

Passing network for Liverpool from the away match against West Bromwich Albion on the 18th August 2012. Only completed passes are shown. Darker and thicker arrows indicate more passes between each player. The position of each marker is based upon their average position and the size of each marker is related to their closeness centrality, which is described in the text below. Asterisk indicates players who did not play the full match. Only the starting eleven is shown.

The main features in the above network are the reciprocal passes played between the defenders and the criss-crossing of passes in the midfield zone. Liverpool clearly kept the ball efficiently in deeper areas as the back four plus Lucas and Allen retained the ball well. The main issue for Liverpool was getting the ball to their attackers further up the pitch. Borini and Downing received the ball just 31 and 33 times respectively, with Downing in particular tending to pass the ball back to players in deeper areas; Downing completed a pass to Suárez twice and Borini once. Borini tended to combine with Johnson and Suárez in the main, passing to both of them on 7 occasions. Liverpool did effectively get the ball to Suárez, as he received the ball on 51 occasions and he was Liverpool’s main attacking outlet. Suárez tended to receive the ball from players in wide areas and from Lucas and Allen, whereas against Gomel the main link was with Gerrard and the quick interchanging of passes between them was less in evidence sadly.

Where you gonna pass to now, where you gonna go?

One of the useful tools of network analysis is that you can derive measures that indicate which players in the team are the most influential in terms of passing. One of these measures is known as “closeness centrality”, which in this context is dictated by the number of passes played and received by a given player. The key aspect of this measure is that it is greater when the passes that the player plays and receives are distributed more evenly across the team. If a hypothetical player makes 100 passes in a match and receives the ball 100 times, they would have a greater closeness centrality if they passed and received the ball 10 times to and from each team-mate compared to if they simply passed the ball back and forth to just 1 team-mate. Players with a larger closeness centrality score are interpreted as being a greater influence upon the passing of the team as they dictate the movement of the ball within the side.

In the figure above, the size of the player markers is dictated by their closeness centrality score. Joe Allen was Liverpool’s stand out player as he dictated Liverpool’s passing play. He generally received the ball from his centre-backs and Johnson prior to playing his passes. He linked well with Johnson and Borini on the left, his midfield partner Lucas and Suárez further forward. A feature of Allen’s play was his movement to make himself available for a pass and he received a pass on 62 occasions, more than any other player.

Skrtel had the next highest closeness score, although he was some way behind Allen. Agger was far less effective compared to the Gomel match, partly due to the sending off but also due to his passing recipients being lesser in scope as he favoured passes to Johnson, Skrtel and Allen. Lucas was also less of an influence, again partly due to not playing the full game but also due to being less central to the teams passing. Johnson was more effective than Kelly from full-back and was probably Liverpool’s most influential attacking force as he played high up the pitch on the left and created 3 scoring opportunities according to the EPL-Index Stats Centre. Downing and Borini’s involvement was very limited compared to their team-mates (only Reina was less involved). The involvement of Suárez and Gerrard was also disappointing. Overall, the lack of involvement of Liverpool’s front-4 was a hindrance over the course of the match, as most of the play was contained in the defensive and midfield zones.

Hey Joe

Liverpool’s passing against West Brom was reasonable, particularly in the 1st half and there were definite signs of Brendan Rodgers’ philosophy bedding in. However, the lack of involvement of the front-4 and in particular, Borini and Downing was disappointing. The major bright spot was the performance of Joe Allen, who dictated the passing play of the team to good effect. Unfortunately, Lucas wasn’t up to his usual level, which may be due to his ongoing recovery from injury and also this match being the first time he started with Allen. Hopefully future games will see this partnership blossoming as they begin to complement each other in terms of their roles within the team. Such a partnership could be crucial in implementing the control that Brendan Rodgers desires.

Liverpool 2012/13: statistical predictions

With the new Premier League season starting tomorrow, I thought I would jot down some predictions about how Liverpool will do statistically next season. These are meant as a bit of fun and are basically a collection of some random thoughts that I’ve had. I look forward to revisiting these later in the season with embarrassment.

Liverpool to average more than 500 short passes per game

I’ve previously investigated the number of short passes that teams made per game last season, which showed that Swansea attempted 497 per game, while Liverpool attempted 440. Given Brendan Rodgers’ possession orientated style of play and Liverpool’s gradual adaptation to it in pre-season, I would expect them to increase that number. It will be interesting to see how much resting with the ball that Liverpool actually do.

Lucas to attempt and complete more passes per game than any other player in the league

Provided that he fully recovers from his injury, I expect Lucas to be a crucial element in Rodgers’ passing philosophy this season. Indeed, against Gomel, Lucas and Agger were the fulcrum of the team’s passing. With that in mind, I think Lucas will see a lot of the ball and will dictate Liverpool’s passing play this season. Whether he’ll actually top the attempted and completed passes count is possibly going too far but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him up there with the likes Mikel Arteta and Yaya Touré.

Liverpool to cross less than the league average

Liverpool appeared to focus much of their play last season on crossing with scant reward. Swansea on the other hand, crossed far less. Rodgers may well regard crossing as an inefficient means of attacking, due to the high likelihood of conceding possession due to the overall low accuracy of crossing. With this in mind and the signings for the wide forward positions that Liverpool have made, I would expect Liverpool to cross far less and that their ratio of attacking half passes to attempted open play crosses to increase above the league average.

Luis Suárez to be involved in a higher percentage of Liverpool’s goals

Despite missing a large number of matches through suspension last season, Suárez still managed to either score or assist 30% of Liverpool’s 47 league goals. This was mainly a consequence of Liverpool’s poor shot conversion record, which Suárez himself no doubt contributed towards. He created more chances than any other Liverpool player (64) but only 3 actually resulted in a goal. I hope/pray that Liverpool’s shot conversion improves this season and I would expect Suárez to once again be Liverpool’s main creator and possibly their top scorer as well. Thus I think that Suárez will either score or create more than 30% of Liverpool’s goals next season.

Liverpool to create better quality chances next season

In 2011/12, Liverpool created 485 chances with 19% being classed as “clear cut” by Opta. I expect Liverpool under Rodgers to be more patient in the final third, which could result in them creating more “clear cut” chances and hopefully scoring more of them! In short, I expect Liverpool to create more clear chances and for their proportion relative to all chances to increase.

How many points will Liverpool get this season?

This is less of a prediction, more a complete shot in the dark but I think Liverpool will get 65 points this season. That is unlikely to be enough for fourth place but a 13 point increase on last season would be a sign of good progress. Maybe, just maybe, the team might quickly adapt to Rodgers’ philosophy and combine that with a little luck and push into the 70-75 point range, which would likely mean a top 4 place. Some would probably refer to that as utopia.

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Statistics are sourced from WhoScored and EPL-Index. I’ll revisit these predictions around the half way point of the season and at the end of the season.

Passing Network Analysis: Liverpool vs Gomel

Football is a simple game based on the giving and taking of passes, of controlling the ball and of making yourself available to receive a pass. It is terribly simple.

The above quote by Bill Shankly is one of my favourites regarding football and the passing style associated with Liverpool football club. The question is whether there is a way of assessing this “simple” aspect of the game that Shankly speaks of?

Passing network analysis

A method of assessing passing within a team that has been increasingly used in football, is network analysis. This treats players as “nodes”, through which passes connect each player within the team. The number of passes played and received by each player is collated according to the player they passed to and who they received from respectively. Using this, you can examine who passes to a particular player and who they pass to themselves, along with how often they do this.

Below is an example of such an analysis from the Liverpool vs Gomel match in the UEFA Europa League from the 9th August 2012. The data is for Liverpool and shows completed passes only. The larger and darker the arrow is, the greater the number of passes played by one player to another. The positions of the players is based on the rough formation that I thought Liverpool played in (I think Skrtel and Agger might have been higher up the pitch but the diagram is clearer if there is more space between players).

Owing to a lack of official statistical resources, I manually collated the passing data for each member of the Liverpool team, which was quite time consuming! Unfortunately, the on-demand replay of the game from ESPN was missing 5 minutes towards the end of the match, so there are some passes missing. After checking the completed passes data collated by the dedicated and excellent Anfield-Index in this piece with what I collated, I only missed up to 5 extra completed passes for some players, which shouldn’t make too much of a difference to the analysis.

Passing network for Liverpool from the home match against Gomel. Only completed passes are shown. Darker and thicker arrows indicate more passes between each player. The position of each marker is approximate and the size of each marker is related to their closeness centrality, which is described in the text below. Passing data was collected manually.

One of the key themes in the network above is the apparent prevalence of 3 or 4 players interchanging passes in different areas of the pitch. For instance, Reina often played the ball to his centre-backs, who often dropped deeper and wider to collect the ball, where-after they often recycled the ball between themselves. Further up the field, the centre-backs would form triangles with their full-back and nearest midfielder (often Lucas). You can also see this to an extent on the left-hand-side where Enrique, Borini and Gerrard linked up.

Another key feature, particularly in wide areas was the number of passes played back and forth between two players, which was used to retain possession and to advance the ball further upfield; note the reciprocal arrows between Agger-Enrique, Enrique-Borini, Skrtel-Johnson and Johnson-Downing. Borini in particular often received the ball and then played it back first-time to whoever passed it to him. The relationship between Suarez and Gerrard in the final third was also evident watching the game with lots of short passes between each other with excellent movement thrown in for good measure. This connection is evident in the passing network, with Suarez being Gerrard’s most frequent target with his passing and vice-versa.

Metronomic

The above gives an idea of how the passing network fits together as a whole but there are several measures that can assess which are the most important parts of the network. One such measure is known as “closeness centrality”, which in this context is dictated by the number of passes played and received by a given player. Crucially, this measure is greater when the passes that the player plays and receives are distributed more evenly across the team. So for instance, if a player makes 100 passes in a match and receives the ball 100 times, they would have a greater closeness centrality if they passed and received the ball 10 times to and from each team-mate compared to if they simply passed the ball back and forth to just 1 team-mate. Players with a larger closeness centrality score can be interpreted as dictating the passing network by having an impact upon the movement of the ball around the team.

In the figure above, the size of the players marker is dictated by their closeness centrality score. Daniel Agger, Lucas Leiva and Steven Gerrard are Liverpool’s major performers on this score. Agger outscored Lucas partially due to their differing passing accuracy (98.8% vs 90.8% according to Anfield-Index) as they received the ball a similar amount but Lucas misplaced more passes. Lucas’ accuracy may well increase as his match fitness increases. Gerrard was clearly the play-maker in the attacking third with good link up between Borini and Suarez along with spreading the play to Enrique and Johnson as they overlapped from full-back. This distribution throughout the spine of the team represents a potentially beneficial division of responsibilities; having a single player with a much larger centrality score could have negative consequences as a team can become overly reliant on a single player.

Such players are likely to be crucial to the style of play favoured by Brendan Rodgers this season. Agger and Lucas in particular had a strong linkage, acting as the fulcrum of the team in the recycling and transition phases of play. Higher up the pitch, Gerrard dictated play in the attacking phase, often linking with Suarez quickly and dangerously. Liverpool’s prospects this season may well depend on fielding these players together, something that didn’t happen at all last season.

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If anyone knows of any sources which collate passes played and received by each player then please let me know in the comments. I don’t have access to Stats Zone unless they launch an Android version and I would be interested in looking at these networks more as the season progresses. I don’t have the time or inclination to collect these manually over the course of the season; once was more than enough!

Liverpool’s crossing addiction in 2011/12: a desperate measure?

In my two previous posts, I’ve investigated crossing frequency and crossing efficiency from both open and set-play. Much of those posts focussed upon Liverpool and their apparent addiction to crossing in 2011/12. One of the major questions surrounded whether this apparent crossing strategy was a phenomenon that had evolved from Liverpool’s transfer business last summer as the club sought to provide aerial service to Andy Carroll.

So the question is: did Liverpool cross more often in 2011/12 compared with 2010/11 under Kenny Dalglish?

Crossing comparison

Overall, Liverpool averaged 17.4 attacking half passes prior to an open-play cross in 2010/11, compared to 14 in 2011/12. Such a difference is statistically significant at the 99% level. Consequently, it would appear that Liverpool did indeed cross more in 2011/12 than in 2010/11 under Dalglish. However, this isn’t the whole story as the plot below investigates. Liverpool’s crossing frequency tended to fluctuate from game-to-game, although this is to be expected. In general, during 2010/11, they were above the average from last season. Conversely, during 2011/12, they were below the average.

The average number of passes attempted in the attacking half by Liverpool prior to an open-play cross in Premier League games while managed by Kenny Dalglish. Each bar is coloured according to whether Liverpool won, drew or lost the game. Dark grey background is for games in 2010/11 and lighter grey background is for games in 2011/12. The dashed black line is the average number of attacking half passes attempted prior to an open-play cross for all teams in the 2011/12 season. Data is provided by EPL-Index.

A complicating factor of the comparison between the two seasons is that Liverpool’s record in terms of wins and points won was much better pro-rata in 2010/11 than in 2011/12. Over the whole of Dalglish’s second tenure, Liverpool averaged 17.2 attacking half passes per open-play cross in games which they won, 14.4 in those that they lost and 12.8 in games which they drew. Combining those in which they failed to win (draws plus losses), they averaged 13.7. Limiting the analysis to just 2011/12, Liverpool averaged 16.2 during a win,14.1 during a loss and 12.1 during a draw. In losses and draws combined, they averaged 13.1. It would appear that score effects played a role in Liverpool’s crossing strategy, although this analysis is limited to just the final score (ideally you would investigate the crossing frequency as a game unfolds and the score changes).

A desperate measure

It appears that Liverpool did cross more frequently in 2011/12 than in 2010/11 under Kenny Dalglish. This may well have been a result of the transfer business conducted in 2011. However, the change in style is somewhat conditioned by their poorer record in terms of wins and points gained. In games that they failed to win and particularly during home draws, Liverpool crossed more frequently. Was this a desperate measure as they attempted to force a result during these games? Cross after cross was sent into the area but generally yielded very little return.

The apparent willingness of Brendan Rodgers to sell Andy Carroll has been attributed to a perception that he won’t fit in with Rodgers’ possession-based style of play. Furthermore, it might be that Carroll is seen as too tempting a target for long balls and crosses from the rest of the team. Based on last season, Liverpool averaged 13.3 attacking half passes prior to a cross when Carroll started and played more than 60 minutes. When Carroll didn’t start, Liverpool averaged 14.9. This would suggest that Liverpool did cross more frequently when Carroll played, although such “with or without you analyses” are notoriously difficult as compounding factors can sway the results. One such compounding factor is that Liverpool’s win record was better when Carroll started and we already know that Liverpool crossed less when they won.

In summary, Liverpool did cross more during 2011/12 than in 2010/11 but this may have been somewhat skewed by the poorer record during the former. Possibly the more concerning aspect is that Liverpool tended to cross more when they were losing or drawing, which brought very little return. This seemingly desperate tactic led to much frustration and likely contributed to the loss of points over the course of the season. Ultimately, this poor points return cost Kenny Dalglish his job.