Goal Involvement August 2009 – Johnson Excels

Goal Involvement August 2009 – Johnson Excels
August 30, 2009 Paul Tomkins

Goal Involvement is a method of more fully assessing and ranking ‘assists’, that I devised for ‘Red Race’ (see full explanation at base of this article, but in short it includes more than the final pass, looks at the quality of the role played in the goal, and also includes the goal itself for an overall ‘Involvement’ stat). All being well, I aim to apply it to the current season, on a month by month basis.

It’s early days, but the player who leaps off the page is Glen Johnson. While Steven Gerrard just edges him out in number, six ‘involvements’ to five, Johnson has the better average in terms of quality, and of course, as a right-back, is not expected to be up there with one of world football’s supreme final-third players.

Johnson cost a lot of money to improve on what the Reds had. So far, that’s undeniably the case. And then some.

Last season, Alvaro Arbeloa was involved in ten goals, scoring one and directly or indirectly assisting nine. The quality of his assists was very low – few goals relied on his genius, but he’d get forward and play his part in a move, usually with a simple pass. He was involved in a goal on average every 350 minutes throughout the campaign.

So far, Johnson has not only already equalled Arbeloa’s Liverpool career goal tally of two, but his overall involvement in goals has come at a rate of one every 72 minutes. And with all the will in the world, Arbeloa could not have won a penalty in the way his replacement did at White Hart Lane, and that’s the key; Johnson can create goals and chances out of nothing.

Based purely on minutes, David N’Gog is top, but his figures are skewed by just one brief substitute appearance in which he scored. Then again, he had excellent figures last year in 452 minutes of football, suggesting he can contribute despite limited time on the pitch.

He also has his critics, but Andriy Voronin has come on as a sub in all four games, and played a part in two goals in just 60 minutes of football; and it should have been three after his superb ball to Torres at Bolton saw the Spaniard’s shot saved on (or behind?) the line. Voronin might have scored had he himself shot, but he put that chance on a plate, and it shows his vision and technique – even if he’ll never be a thrilling fans’ favourite.

As with last season, Dirk Kuyt continues his excellent Goal Involvement. Having said that, few he created last year were as perfect as the chest control in the path of Torres for the equaliser at the Reebok. Torres himself has one ‘assist’ and three goals this season.

Finally, in ‘Red Race’ I noted how Emiliano Insua hadn’t been involved in a single goal last season despite his progressive play. I felt that this was in part down to strikers not converting his crosses; but that’s already been bettered this season, with Torres smashing home against Villa to give him one assist from four games.

However, Fabio Aurelio was involved in goals every 167 minutes last season – something the young Argentine needs to get close to matching to make sure that what is being gained down the right isn’t being lost down the left (currently Insua’s one Involvement has come in 360 minutes). Having said that, if more attacks are coming down the right flank, then the left will inevitably suffer to suffer degree; and, of course, Aurelio is a dead-ball expert, giving him more chance of creating and scoring.

Goal Involvement August 2009 – Total


Goal Involvement August 2009 – Per Minute


Explanation of Goal Involvement, taken from Red Race.

When turning football into numbers, there will always be problems. And when it comes to ‘assists’, this is especially true. How can you reward someone who rolls the ball eight inches from an indirect free-kick as highly as someone who beats seven men and puts the ball in the striker’s path in the six-yard box?

Goal Involvement, devised for this book [and applicable to only Premiership and Champions League games], is a subjective system, which tries to move away from the hard binary of assist figures by taking into account the quality of the contribution in the build-up to a goal, not just rewarding the player who made the final ‘pass’. So not only are the number of goals a player is involved in counted, there is a separate tally for the quality of his contribution.

Perhaps the same can be done with goals, but even the simplest tap-in requires the act of getting into the right space at the right time. As the aim of the game is to get the ball beyond that white line then that’s perhaps taking things too far. Goals are goals (although the next chapter does look at the importance of when goals are scored within a match, and the quality of opposition scored against; let’s face it, a goal against Manchester United is rarely worth the same as one against a mid-table side. So in that sense, their value does differ.)

But goalscorers are already richly rewarded in terms of kudos; their achievements are well-known, whereas those who create the chances often get less acclaim for their actions –– particularly those who aren’t flashy in what they do. Many significant contributions don’t even get listed as assists.

Standard assists work back no further than the penultimate player to touch the ball. But goals are created far before that point. However, a sensible cut-off is required; if a defender performs a miracle in his own box 37 passes before a goal is scored at the other end, he has clearly played a role in that goal –– but too much has happened in between to be able to class his participation as an assist. A line must be drawn somewhere. If he plays a 60-yard pass that within two or three touches has led to a goal, then that will be considered.

Dummies, clever blocking of an opponent off the ball, winning possession, running to create space, even a good pass that nicks off an opponent before rebounding to a team-mate: contrary to standard assists, all of these are considered as part of Goal Involvement, providing the contribution is of some importance. It may not get a high score in terms of the quality of contribution, but it will go down as another goal in which that player was involved.

Of course, creative players only get their reward if the striker does his job properly. A winger could put in ten brilliant crosses and the striker miss them all, only for someone else to put in an average cross from which he scores. So –– as with all statistics –– this measure needs to betaken in context, and its shortcomings appreciated. Emiliano Insúa didn’t feature in a single Liverpool goal, but his fine attacking play from left-back was clear to see.

To judge the quality of involvement, I developed the following guide:

1 = The most basic touch, such as an inadvertent ricochet or rolling the ball from an indirect free-kick.

2 = More involved than 1, but basic all the same. Could be simply keeping a move ticking over, without making the final pass.

3 = Significant involvement, but fairly standard. Nothing remarkable, but some skill, fine technique or vision required.

4 = The same as 3, but where something special marks the touch out. Might be more than one involvement in the move, or the use of the player’s weaker foot to surprising effect. Could be a good pass with the same player having already won the ball, or a good pass that is elevated by inch-perfect weighting.

5 = World-class, genius, inspired. Often means more than one involvement, or a moment of unexpected vision. Basically, a magnificent contribution to a goal being scored. (Example: Daniel Agger’s dribble upfield for the equaliser against Wigan at Anfield, where he then played a one-two, beat a man, and delivered a ‘wrong’-foot pass to Kuyt that was inch-perfect for him to score.)

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