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October 2016
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Where does Liverpool sit in relation to evidence based football analysis?

By Tony Attwood

This week I heard someone interviewing two guests on TV.  They disagreed over some point or other and the interviewer said, “That’s what we like about football – everyone can have an opinion.”

And yes of course in a moderately open democratic society everyone can have an opinion.  That opinion might be that crocodiles make rather nice pets or that local councils charge homeowners for refuse collection when in fact the rubbish is taken away by angels fluttering from on high, which suggests that not all opinions are equally valid, but yes we can all hold the opinions we like.

The big problem is that although with some opinions we can work out straight away whether they might be true, there are others where the reasoning needs to be prodded a bit before we can see exactly what is what here.

For example Mr Wenger threatened to walk out of a press conference because… well why?  The implication or outright statement in a lot of papers and on broadcast media was that he threatened that because he didn’t like the questions about Ospina at the Champions League game.  But read the transcript and it turns out it was the repeated questions about Mourinho that made Wenger suggest it was time to finish.

So now we can have an opinion as to whether Mr Wenger was right or not to make that threat, and we can do this with a better knowledge of the facts.  Although at the end of it all, it is still an opinion.

Let’s try and unravel a particular issue that is exercising the media today: Liverpool under Rodgers.   Was Rodgers a bad manager?  Are Liverpool a club made up of a bunch of drongos that should be first up against the wall when the revolution comes?

We know that the Liverpool manager not only lied about the Suarez contract having a £40m buy out clause, but that he then boasted about his lies at a conference.   So that indicates Liverpool at the highest lacks a certain level of judgement.  Now the Telegraph is running this story…

“Exclusive: Brendan Rodgers could have contract paid up in full, as no provision for early sacking in his last contract extension.”    If that is true, then the Liverpool board is once again looking rather silly, as it did over the lies it told in the Suarez affair.  It’s not full-blown evidence, but it is indicative.

The Telegraph’s headline “Superb Walcott makes Rooney look ponderous” however remains a matter of opinion.  Here I agree with the opinion, but it is still an opinion.

As is “Arsenal best placed to challenge Man City” – which is a complete turn about from what the paper was saying after the Olympiakos game.

A piece by Jeremy Wilson headed Five things we learned and relating to the Arsenal Man U games says, “Arsenal should provide most lasting domestic threat to City in title race, United are paying for disjointed recruitment” reveals of level of schizophrenia within the paper strong enough to warrant a Dr Billy the Dog investigation.  We don’t learn any facts, and so all is supposition.

And even the statistics and data when used are used can be misleading as with “Rodgers has spent £291 million on new players since moving to Anfield and had very limited success with the vast majority of those signings. Granted, his job has been made more difficult by losing his best player two summers running – Luis Suarez in 2014 and then Raheem Sterling this year – but the lack of direction at the club is still highly concerning.”

Yes, Rodgers has spent a fortune, but he also recouped a fortune.  That might not be an excuse but it is a pertinent fact.  (With the next league table I run, we’ll look at the net spend per club averaged over the past five years – which should indicate the success or otherwise of purchasing).

All in all I think the press are not learning much about evidence based football reporting.  Consider this about Liverpool…

“Their possession share is down at 52.2 per cent – by far their lowest under Rodgers – as they attempted to change to a more direct brand of football with Christian Benteke up front.”

But on the other hand I seem to remember that when Arsenal beat Man U away in the FA Cup away our possession rate was just 42%.  And we’ve already debated the fact that our shot to goal ratio this season has been very low.  The press, without examining why, have suggested that is a major failing on Arsenal’s part.  My view was that it was not ideal but it was hard to get a team to up the number of shots but much easier to get the shot conversion rate up.

So the statement “Liverpool had 49.2 per cent of the ball and had 13 shots but their goal came from a set-piece and was rather more the result of poor defending than their own ingenuity,” is a mix of opinion and fact.  “They barely out-witted Everton all afternoon,” is pure opinion.

And when we get to

“The time has come for Liverpool to try and rediscover their identity, and Rodgers was patently not the man for the job,” we have moved over into philosophy, which is ok, but when facts and stats are available, let’s have some.

What we need as the basis of football commentary are things that can be measured.  So, for example, we can measure the number of players Rodgers bought, and see how many of them turned into top players.  Here I have taken the ratings from who perform very detailed analyses of each player’s performance in each game played to get a rating out of ten for each player.  In this table they give the players’ ages and their position.


R Name Rating
1 Santi Cazorla 7.77
2 Alexis Sánchez 7.76
3 Mesut Özil 7.60
4 Héctor Bellerín 7.52
5 Francis Coquelin 7.48
6 Laurent Koscielny 7.40
7 Per Mertesacker 7.36
8 Nacho Monreal 7.32
9 Gabriel Paulista 7.19
10 Petr Cech 7.18


R Name Rating
1 Jordan Henderson 7.66
2 Lucas Leiva 7.26
3 James Milner 7.17
4 Christian Benteke 7.15
5 Daniel Sturridge 7.07
6 Mamadou Sakho 7.01
7 Martin Skrtel 6.99
8 Philippe Coutinho 6.87
9 Joseph Gomez 6.86
10 Dejan Lovren 6.83

So what we can see is that only two of the Liverpool top ten players would get into the Arsenal top ten.  It is not a definitive statement, but a good indicator of what is what.

Of course these numbers could be challenged by someone else doing the analysis, but at least they are a serious attempt across all clubs to get an analysis into how well players are playing.

31 players were signed by Rodgers during his tenure with Liverpool.  You might have expected more of them to be rating at significant levels given the fortuitous amount they got from an utterly desperate Barcelona who knew they were about to be stopped from signing anyone for a year.

My point therefore is that evidence is much needed in football.  Walter has introduced it to the issue of refereeing, replacing the silly mantra of “it all evens out in the end” with a proper set of statistics that we can analyse and draw conclusions from.

But it would be misleading to think all statistics are helpful – for those which can be explained in different ways can themselves be a cause of debate.  The much discussed shot to goal ratio is one such.  Helpful, but not an absolute.

Likewise possession, likewise aerial duels won.  we need a broad range of figures and then we can start forming opinions on top of them.

More anniversaries

  • 5 October 1925: The new WM plus zonal marking high speed counter attack system played for the first time in a 4-0 victory over West Ham.  It was gradually refined as players were found who could exactly meet the demands of the new system
  • 5 October 1929: Cliff Bastin league debut for Arsenal in a 1-1 away draw against Everton. He went on to play 21 games in his first season, scoring seven.


22 comments to Where does Liverpool sit in relation to evidence based football analysis?

  • nicky

    Surely our shot to goal ratio has improved since the arrival of Alexis.
    And it will be even better when Ramsey finds his shooting form once more. 😉

  • Goéland

    Fantastic article, Tony. The lines about crocodiles and refuse are pure gems, and had me in stitches. The saddest thing is that these “opinions” aren´t that over the top, given that notions even more ludicrous than those are parroted constantly about all kinds of subjects by society at large and the media, and treated as if they were legitimate. I have to say, even though bad journalism has become much too frequent in general, sports pundits in particular are beyond the pale, and I can think of few other professions where objective standards matter so little. It´s true that the game of football has traditionally not relied a lot on the use of statistics, but it still doesn´t excuse the conflation of mere opinion with facts that is the daily bread of sports journalism. The refusal to tolerate illogical rubbish is one of the elements that make me appreciate this blog so much.

  • john

    You may be ignoring the “facts” as known by all Arsenal supporters, such as:

    We need a DM enforcer.
    We need a world class striker
    We need a new CB
    We will never win a trophy under AW, as the team lacks leaders, has a weak spine, can’t reproduce their best performances against top teams.
    We need to show ambition in the transfer market and spend the f….. money.

    Must all be true, ‘cos all the media says so.

  • Mandy Dodd

    Still think Rogers has been hard done by. Think his net spend has averaged thirty to thirty five million pa , not massive in terms of their turnover, but. Let’s face facts, he has signed some duds I guess.
    Seems the club have been turned by something shiny , new and German……but unproven in this league. I just wonder if the owners are looking to sell or something like that. And a sexy new manager may help….just seems a strange move at this juncture of the season for a big club, after all, Klopp…..or whoever will effectively be stuck with the same players Rogers had until next summer.

  • GoingGoingGooner

    Well, Klopp did say he didn’t have to sign for a big club…I guess that leaves Liverpool still in the running.

  • ARSENAL 13

    Where did Rodgers go wrong??…

    Well, He did all things exactly like some of the experts suggested.

    1. He was open about his tactics. He explained it to the lengths if anyone was ready to listen. He explained his team selection.
    2. He signed players who were all hot choices (of plundits, ie).

    Now they are the ones who are justifying his sacking, cos when they look at the bigger picture (what!!!!!…) he has not taken the club forward…

  • Moses N.

    Mandy Dodd
    I agree with you that Rodgers’ sacking was unwarranted. When he had good players like Suarez, he almost won them the league, though Suarez was not Liverpool standard and he was always going to leave; even an above average Sterling considered himself above Liverpool standards and demanded a move to a club that was to his standards in MCFC. So for what Rodgers was given, he did perform as expected and to sack him for that is unwarranted. You cannot plant maize and expect to harvest peas as a saying goes in my motherland.

  • Mandy Dodd

    And he had most of his coaches removed from the club by presumably the owners this summer. Takes time to build up relationships between manager and coaches, which is why Wenger is so reluctant to change things behind the scenes, much to the upset of his critics

  • Moses N.

    That was a rather odd move I thought. Why sack the number 2 and 3 and leave the number 1? If that was the owners then they should take a long look at themselves and the job they are doing at the club. If it was Rodgers that sacked them, then karma has caught up with him. Either way, it reflects poorly on Liverpool as a club.

  • apo Armani

    When you are set-up as Liverpool have in their transfer decision makers, you can only expect that at some point the hunt for a scapegoat will be on the cards!

    Rodgers knew very well what he was getting himself into and that none of his ‘committee’ colleagues would stand up and take any responsibility for the duds that cost the club $$ and performance which was easily all dumped on Rodgers.

    Cant say I feel sorry for any of them; and certainly enjoying the media with all this ‘egg on face’ they are getting having backed Rodgers and the way Liverpoo was going to be a force!

  • esxste

    I think Arsenal13 hit the nail on the head.

  • proudkev

    Brendan Rogers is a victim of the Fantasy Football Manager.

    I have written an article on this and forwarded to Tony in the hope he will reproduce it for comment.

    Essentially, Brendan Rogers has been measured and judged by people that do not understand football. Those people who think you just buy a load of expensive players and bingo.

    Despite having spent more money than us in recent years; under Rogers reign Liverpool spent £292 million – around £100m more than us – but still well short of Man Utd, Chelsea and Man City’s investments of £300m plus. In addition, much like Arsenal, he has been hampered by serious injuries to his best players. At the time of writing they have taken a point away in a Derby game against a good Everton side. They are 6 points off top and 6 points above Chelsea.

    Again, like Arsenal it seems there is an expectation level that is on the unrealistic side.

    The fantasy football manager who owns the club seems to have some misguided belief he knows best. (It now appears that these players may not have all been bought by Rogers by by a team dedicated to that task reporting to the owner). The fantasy football manager on his Playstation knows best in questioning Rogers. The fantasy football manager, who works in the media, knows best. The Fantasy Football Managers, who work as pundits instead of putting their money where their mouths are, know best.

    The hounding of Rogers, like the hounding of Wenger, is conducted from afar by people who wouldn’t call in a dentist to fix their broken boiler or build their extension. Yet they feel qualified to not only do better than the incumbant manager but to ridicule and abuse them; professionals who have more knowledge and more decency in their little finger than they will ever have.

    You can only feel sympathy for Rogers and morn the loss of a decent man who did not meet up to the standards set by the Fantasy Football Manager.

  • Menace

    Moses N – the saying was true when your namesake was in a basket floating in the Nile. In today’s world with GM crops you can plant bananas & get roses – at least that’s what these investors in football think. Liverpool was funded by the Littlewoods empire for most of their successful years. They bought all the talent to ensure their success. Manchester United were in a similar position when the butchers (Edwards) took it over, but the Irish owners really brought it glory in the Premier League. The Glazers are just milking the brand & that wont last too long.

    Sadly for Rodgers he has been unlucky with results. His basic coaching system is similar to Martinez as they worked together in their coaching badges. They were learning & trying to improve the Wenger system of football. Wengers system is not dissimilar to the old Ajax total football. Cruyff introduced it to Barcelona & it has been very successful (obviously bouyed by loadsa money).

    What Wenger has excelled in is his continuous study of value players available. He does not force buy but makes an inquiry & accepts the response. He was interested in Martial but was told he was not available. Wenger has many players earmarked for purchase but none are so called ‘marquee signings’.

  • Sammy The Snake

    Liverpool continue with their “trial & error” management style, which means getting lucky once in a while (Suarez & Sterling) but making bad decisions most of the time (Balotelli & Co.).

  • Goonermikey

    @ proudkev

    Exactly. How can Rodgers be held accountable for the transfer dealings of a committee of which he is apparently not a part.

    Great article Tony

  • Andy Mack

    Rogers jumped from ‘little money’ Swansea with a team mainly built by others to a big (?certainly has been and many think it will be again) team far too quickly. Although he inherited the biter there’s little doubt Suarez is an excellent player so when they did well mainly because of him, and the press started massaging Rogers ego, BR believed it and became a prize plonker.
    If he hadn’t surfed the worship wave then I suspect he would eventually have turned out as a decent manager but I’m not sure his inflated ego and aquired sense of entitlement will ever allow that now, but I could be wrong on that one.

  • Andy Mack

    Goonermickey, I seems he was ‘on the committee’.

  • goonersince72

    Re Rodgers, I agree with several posters. He knew going in that the transfers were decided by committee and yet , as AW stated, he almost won the league 2 years ago. A better finish than any other Liverpool mgr. has had in years.
    I respect and encourage your drive towards fact based football reporting and while it may seem that, as in society in general, sensationalism and outright lies prevail, slowly the tide is turning. Untold Arsenal gets over 1 MILLION page views per month! People are turning away from big media and their digital doppelgangers. Sites like UA are the proof. One day when a media conglomerate makes you an offer for UA, and they will, you will have won. Until then, we’ll come here for the facts.

  • dan

    Dirty nasty club which represents the darkest period of British football history, the absolute pinnacle of vile disgusting dirt culture. I’m glad to see this evil club in Shit it’s in, their supporters act like some sort of God send with the divine right to talk down anothers achievement, recall the 18 titles chant, well they don’t do it now!

    Their ex player pundits act the same, fuck em.

  • Andy Mack

    If the media is correct and Klopp is going to be their new manager then he’s taken a serious dive downwards in my estimation.
    I cannot understand why he wants to go there. If he doesn’t get them consistently at the top winning trophies then he’ll be moved on in due course whether it was his fault or the fault of their structure but if he does start them winning stuff it’ll always be “well we should be winning stuff” or “but he still hasn’t won the CL like shankly” and if by some miracle he wins the CL then he’ll still just be another one of the guys that managed the CL winning scousers.
    If the german rumours of him being lined up to take over from Pep this summer are true, then he’d be an idiot not to wait for that option. He won’t get especially appreciated by them either but he will win domestic silverware and stands a strong chance of getting more.