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Liverpool's Vital Statistics


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V interesting i thought


Liverpools Vital Statistics



Well, even ignoring the fact that even 4th has significant rewards these days, 2005/06 was actually notable in a number of ways. There was the record-breaking sequence without conceding a goal, which contributed to the 33 clean sheets, one shy of the all-time record. There was also the incredible percentage of league games won by the Reds: the 2nd-highest in the club's history. It was a busy year for the ?stattos?.


It was after being contacted by Oliver Anderson ? a statistician, Liverpool fan and qualified football coach ? that I stumbled upon the last fact. He had worked out the win percentages in recent campaigns, but I asked him to compare them to the 18 title-winning sides, to see how the current crop compared.


With every passing week during the spring months the Reds eclipsed the win percentage of another Anfield Championship era, eventually overtaking the phenomenal 1987/88 side and finishing behind only the supreme 1978/79 vintage.


Having helped me compile such statistics for my column on this website, as well as for my latest book, Oliver requested my input on his own project.


So let me set the scene. I am waiting in a coffee bar to discuss the fruits of his labours: original and detailed statistical analysis of Liverpool's fortunes since the arrival of Rafa Benítez.


Having only conversed by email, I am perhaps guilty of looking out for a guy carrying a clipboard, wearing a '70s civil servant suit and peering out through jam-jar glasses. It's hot and sunny outside, but over his death-grey clothes I anticipate some kind of anorak; possibly a cagoule, with its practical self-storage capacity.


Unless the anorak has been hastily concealed upon his entrance, the person I meet has the look of a regular guy. He looks more like a sportsman than a librarian. He has a normal sized head.


We discuss zonal marking, and he shows me figures that 'prove' Liverpool were actually the most successful team defending set pieces in the Premiership. There are comparisons between Steven Gerrard's productivity on the centre and on the right, and the same with Djibril Cissé.


There's the revealing goals-per-minute of Robbie Fowler, and the eye-opening productivity of Luis Garcia in the Premiership; based on minutes played, he comes out as the top Liverpool player. I am shown Pepe Reina's save percentages, and how they compare with his rivals in the league, and with the other Liverpool keepers. Then there is the regularity with which players make mistakes that cost goals.


We discuss all areas of the team's play over a number of hours (statisticians drink regular coffee, in a regular mug, without the aid of any unusual drinking apparatus), and I agree to help him with his own book.


I've always liked statistics, but believe in common sense when using them. Stats should carry warnings similar to those associated with junk food: as part of a sensible debate on football they are a healthy addition; as an entire diet, they're bad news. Without thoughtful analysis, they can mean nothing.


More and more managers and coaches use figures to tell them intricate details of their team's play. Technology is used to monitor all aspects of performance; it's better to be armed with too much information than too little. Knowledge is power.


But it's important to have some kind of understanding of football in the first place, and to respect the limitations of anything that reduces a complex interactive game involving a number of free-willed participants into a series of numbers. Statistics are an additional tool for analysing the game; they are not going to tell the full story.


Like Oliver, I feel it's now important to look at 'rate' stats, especially for strikers. In years gone by, clubs had two strikers and they played two strikers; a third may be present as back-up, but there was no such thing as rotation; just injuries and being dropped.


Forty years ago there were no subs, and 20 years ago just one. Nowadays up to six players are likely to play just part of a game, either through being subbed on or off; the amount of minutes they play are the key factor here. No striker's goals-per-game rate will benefit from being sent on in the 92nd minute to waste time.


Evaluating the amount of goals scored over the course of the season isn't as revealing as the rate at which those goals are scored. Goals-per-minute tell us a lot more, especially when four strikers are sharing the duties fairly evenly.


Craig Bellamy was easily in the top 10 Premiership strikers based on goals-per-minute for Blackburn, and while someone like Darren Bent scored more goals, his scoring rate was significantly inferior to that of the new Liverpool striker.


Marginally ahead of Bellamy was Robbie Fowler, based solely on his time at Liverpool. However, add his goal against Manchester United for City in a fleeting league appearance, and he leaps to 5th on the list.


It's a quite remarkable achievement, considering that he was coming back from injury and not match fit for the first month, and that he also had two legitimate league goals chalked off. (Having said that, the Blackburn goal was conciliatory gift from the linesman's union.)


The trouble is, of course, that it's no good being a 'one goal in two games' player if you only play two games a season. Fowler's rate remains impressive, but now he needs a good season under his belt. Of course, it's highly unlikely he'll need to find his best on 60 occasions; he's sharing striking duties, rather than being the sole provider of a decade ago.


It's also interesting to look at the best positions of certain players, but not just for their own figures, but for the success of the team.


Djibril Cissé's overall goalscoring record was impressive, but less so when he played as a striker, especially in the league. He was actually at his most prolific on the wing, but while his individual figures were fairly impressive out there, the team's results suffered by comparison with other players in the role.


When Gerrard played on right, he created and scored less than during his time as an orthodox central midfielder ? which is his 'true' position, after all ? but the team benefited as a result; not only could he attack down the right, but his work-rate and defensive abilities meant he helped the team win a higher percentage of matches. He gave the team balance, in the absence of a specialist right-winger.


Facts like this aren't always apparent when watching football on a match-to-match basis. You can have instincts and form impressions, but it often helps to see figures that provide another form of evidence.


And that's something that Oliver, amongst others in the field, sets out to do.

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