Another season outside the Champions League spots but with plenty of reason to be optimistic about next year. It seems like an ever recurring pattern as a Liverpool fan, and even when we do qualify for the Champions League it manages to be just as painful. Last season we attracted a real top class manager, made it to two cup finals and played some exciting attacking football along the way, yet it all ended rather anticlimactically. But, as always, there are plenty of reasons to be hopeful about Liverpool’s chances this season. So how can we improve on last season? The basic underlying metrics last season were promising: Shots On Target For – 4th Shots On Target Against – 4th Shots On Target Ratio – 3rd Shots in the Box Ratio – 3rd Passes into the Box Ratio – 2nd Klopp has a full preseason of preparation under his belt, so the gegenpressing should be in full swing come the start of the season. The focus on denying opponents time on the ball as both a defensive and attacking option has been noticeable in preseason, with two goals against Barcelona coming from quick breaks after a successful duel in midfield. https://streamable.com/ntjt https://streamable.com/5tvz He’s also had time to work on other tactics/player development/transfers putting Liverpool in much better stead than after the managerial takeover 9 games into last season. He’ll be under less pressure than the most of the other top managers, and won’t have the physical burden of European football this year. Anything other than top 4 for City, United, Arsenal, and Chelsea will be regarded as simply not good enough, whereas Liverpool and Spurs will surely be given a little more leniency from fans and directors. But even though Klopp had Liverpool playing good football last season there seemed to be 2 main limiting factors preventing a serious challenge for the top 4: 1) Mignolet’s incompetence Using an expected saves model Mignolet conceded -4.9 more goals this than an average keeper would with the same shots. Considering you’d expect a keeper playing for a top 8 team to be better than average Mignolet cost Liverpool somewhere in the region of 5-6 goals. If we plug this into the pythagorean formula here we can see this cost the team approximately 4 points, or the difference between placing 6th and 8th. Considering shot stopping is apparently the best part of his game, which may unfortunately be true, this output would clearly hinder most teams in reaching the top 4. 2) Sturridge’s lack of minutes When fit, Sturridge is arguably the second best striker in the league and his goals per 90 whilst at Liverpool support that, as he’s good for 2nd in Premier League history behind only Aguero at City. In the first half of the season Sturridge only managed to play 17% of possible time on the pitch, scoring 2 goals in 290 available minutes. This contributed to the Reds only scoring 22 goals in the first 19 games, level with Norwich, Bournemouth and Louis Van Gaal’s army. In the second half on the season he managed more playing time but still only 40% of available minutes, scoring 6 goals and assisting 1 in 690 minutes. Liverpool scored 4 more goals than any other team in the league in 2016, with Sturridge clearly having a positive impact even in his limited time on the pitch. I think again we’ll be heavily reliant on Sturridge’s fitness although hopefully less so than last year. Origi’s development has been promising and for as much negativity as he received Benteke’s goal return is consistently good. All 3 strikers had very respectable seasons and given the strength/depth we have in attacking midfield have every chance to replicate these numbers again this season. Below numbers are from the Premier League and Europa League last year.
I love the idea of having Benteke as an impact sub, his aerial prowess and shot numbers late in games are a serious threat, but whether we want to spend £120k a week on someone playing 30 minutes a game is obviously doubtful. After the initially poor offensive output, Sturridge felt like had to take the burden on himself consistently shooting from range, much more often than in his best season to date in 13/14. His ExpG/shot dropped from .171 in 13/14 to just .109 last season. Hopefully Klopp can reign this in as there’s only so much long range shooting a team should do and Coutinho more than fills our quota, having the most shots outside the box p90 in the league last season. Transfers in Loris Karius (£5m, £60k pw) – A huge need filled fairly early on in the transfer window, Karius was bought with the intent to move straight into the first team. Unfortunately he picked up an injury in pre-season and looks like he’ll miss the first 4-8 weeks of the season. His shot stopping numbers look pretty good, and as we’ve pointed out already Mignolet was calamitous so his value above replacement is high. Mignolet was actually coming off a great season with Sunderland when we signed him so many fans may be worried that the same may happen with Karius. Fortunately Karius’ numbers are better than Mignolet’s when he joined. Using a probability method, I can calculate that an average keeper facing the same shots would have done worse about 71% of the time compared to a decent, but lesser 54% for Mignolet after his last season at Sunderland.
|Goalkeeper||Saves||Expected Saves||Saves Above Expected||Average Difficulty||Prob avg. keeper < X|
Joël Matip (Free, £100k pw) – First of all he made it into the Whoscored Bundesliga TOTY last season so, er… you know he’s got to be good. One of the main things that initially stands out about Matip is his experience for someone his age at centre-back
For perspective he has more Bundesliga minutes than Koscielny has Premier League minutes. Since he was 18 he’s been playing consistent first team minutes for a team competing for Champions League football, and considering that reliably analysing centre backs is a task that tests even the best analysts that’s good enough for me. A recent piece by Garry Gelade showed how important experience is in aiding forwards improve their rate of scoring. Although the analysis is for forwards, I like to think it also paints a broader picture of how important experience is in player development, but obviously more research would have to be done for confirmation. Sadio Mane (£34m, £120k pw) – Last year I had him as the attacking midfielder with the 2nd highest expected goals per 90 behind only Alexis Sanchez. He also had the second most shots in the box per 90 again behind Sanchez. He’s had an impressive pre-season and shown how his pace and high shot output can add a counter attacking dimension to Liverpool’s game which will help in the push for top 4. An attacking midfield trio of Coutinho, Firmino, and Mane looks very good on paper and with Lallana and Wijnaldum for depth we’re looking pretty strong at this position. We can see just how impressive Mane’s last season was when we look at his shot chart. Georginio Wijnaldum (£23m, £75k pw) – Possibly the most questionable of this season’s signings. 11 goals and 5 assists is great production for someone splitting minutes between CM and AM for a relegated team, even if he did run a little hot scoring his 11 goals from only 54 shots. Will be interested to see how Klopp fits him into the team, since there’s lots of competition for our 3 attacking midfield positions and Can and Henderson seem pretty set in the centre. Transfers out Joe Allen (£13m) Not going to lie I am going to miss Welsh Pirlo/Xavi/Busquets but considering he was coming into the last season of his contract I’ve got to say this looks like a good deal. Joe always comes across pretty well whenever analysed by the analytics community and seemed to fit Klopp’s system well with his impressive pressing abilities. At the moment there is a fair amount of uncertainty in centre midfield, exacerbated by Milner picking up what seems to be a heel injury in the past week. It’s probably going to lead Grujic needing to fill in some of the rotation minutes that Joe used to pick up, and we’ll soon see if he’s progressed enough to fill in his boots. Jordan Ibe (£15m) Another player I’ll be sad to see leave but I think was good value all things considering. Judging a true value for him is clearly not an easy task. After the 14/15 season a fair amount of Liverpool fans were suggesting that out of Sterling and Ibe, the latter had the higher upside. He did slightly improve his successful dribbles (from 4.2 to 4.5 p90 ) shots in the box (from 0.7 to 1.1 p90), and key passes (from 1.1 to 1.5 p90) but it wasn’t considered enough to compete with Coutinho/Firmino/Lallana and now Mane/Wijnaldum in playing as one of 3 attacking midfielders. Without him we are lacking in width a little bit though, and it looks like we’ll heavily rely on our fullbacks to provide us with that attacking scope, as well as the occasional impact substitutions of Markovic and/or Ojo. What can we expect from this season? The hype train peaked relatively early last season when our title odds were slashed to 5/1 after a string of 2 or 3 good results late in November. This sent optimism into overload, before the very next game we lost miserably to Newcastle. This erratic form was a hallmark of the season and I’d not be surprised to see a similar amount of it this season. In fact, we’ve already practiced our volatility in preseason comfortably beating Barcelona 4-0 before Mainz beat us 4-0 in an equally comfortable fashion just a day later. I do think that this season will be better, but there’s a lot more strength at the top end of a league that was already very competitive and it will be tough for Liverpool to finish above two of Man City, Man Utd, Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal. That said, if the team can replicate some of the solid metrics from 2015-16 and get a bit of overdue luck along the way, especially with regard our goalkeeping, then it’s possible that we can be in there pitching at the business end. Klopp has a ton of goodwill and the main hope for this season is to see genuine progress and for his methods to really start to bed in. If it all works, top 4 is possible, if not it could be 5th. ______________________________________ Check out our other previews here