By TTT contributor and subscriber Krishen Bhautoo (Krishaldo).
I wanted to have a brief look at how we are progressing this season in comparison to our rivals for that top four spot that has eluded us since 2010, and with an international break now here (again), it seems like the perfect opportunity.
As the table stands, we are eight points short of our blue neighbours who sit in fourth (and the same number of points from our former assistant manager’s West Brom), and just six points above the relegation zone. This isn’t to say that we should be looking over our shoulder. In fact the opposite. According to the independent DebateableDecisions.com, a website that looks at how refereeing decisions influence the league table, we should be seven points better off this season. When all the decisions for all teams are taken into account then the league table shows a very different picture (note that the table below does not include the latest round of results).
Things immediately look much more positive. Just two points off fourth and ahead of our rivals from North London and the North East. But as we all know, refereeing decisions aren’t perfect. Even if we take away any ‘conspiracy theories’ that there is an anti-Liverpool/pro-United bias amongst the men in black, they are only human and will make mistakes, therefore distorting the league to some extent or another.
These things will always be out of our hands, unless we turn to the dark side of mind games and trying to influence referees before games. I think we would all agree that this isn’t the Liverpool Way. Which means that we need to look at the things that we can influence; preparation for games, tactics, in-game changes, team selection and obviously, how we perform in the actual game.
This is what I want to look at. How we are performing in comparison to our rivals. We all know we aren’t where we want to be in the league, but are we that far away? For a brief overview, I have decided to look at the goals we have scored and conceded.
I don’t think any of us needed a graph to tell us that we are conceding too many and not scoring enough, but what the graph does illustrate is that we are pretty poor on both counts compared to our rivals. We have conceded the joint most with Tottenham (sixteen) and scored the second least after Newcastle (which I was surprised at considering the finishing abilities of Cisse and Ba).
As we know, the number of goals scored and conceded doesn’t tell the full story. It’s more a case of how these events take place that give you an indication of what is really happening and where we need to improve.
We clearly aren’t conceding a huge amount of shots per game, which is a positive. Only Arsenal and Tottenham concede fewer shots than us (by 1.5 and 1.1 per game respectively), and one could argue that they are probably better teams than us at the moment.
What is a concern though is that we are conceding a goal with every 8.1 shots faced. Only Tottenham are worse with a very poor 7.3, but Newcastle lead the way with 11 shots conceded per goal. Their Achilles heel is that they also concede the most shots per game (3.2 more than us).
There are obviously two ways we can improve here. Allow fewer shots and save more of them. Sounds simple, but if it was that easy I would be a real manager and not just on Football Manager!
Saving more shots is something that the goalkeeper has to work on. Brad Jones has done well since coming in, but Pepe also needs to pick up his form which has dropped over the last few seasons (perhaps Jones’ good performances and time on the sideline will give him a kick up the backside).
Note: The bars are measured on the left axis and the line is measured on the right axis.
Looking at the graph tells us that we aren’t doing too badly when attempting to make tackles. The only place we could make a real improvement is to win more than 50% of our ground 50-50s. Tottenham win 55% of theirs, but conversely have made 228 less than us (20.7 less per game). Not having seen a great deal of Tottenham this season, I can only assume that it is due to us having more desire to win the ball further up the pitch. Suarez attempting to make a tackle is less likely to be successful than if, for example, Gallas were to make one.
Elsewhere on the graph, we look like we are performing very well. What really surprised me was the amount of aerial duels we win for what is, on average, a fairly small team. On a side note, Newcastle’s poorer tackle success could also be a reason they concede more shots on their goal – something I hope Pardew fails to remedy!
Tackles and Interceptions
We are making a very good number of tackles a game, more than I had initially expected, but we really fall down in making interceptions. Only Newcastle have made fewer than us. This metric really does need to be improved if we are to regain possession, not only to start attacks but to prevent shots on our goal. Currently Arsenal achieve more than four more interceptions per game than us, and Tottenham achieve over two more than them.
We could argue that we are missing our key defensive midfielder, and I would suggest that Lucas is massive in this respect. In just 12 appearances last season, he made 35 interceptions, which equates to around three per game. Add those three interceptions per game to our current season and our minutes per tackle or interception drops from every 2.7 minutes to every 2.5 minutes. It may not sound a lot, but that would mean we regain possession at a level much more akin to Arsenal and Tottenham.
It’s obvious that we are making too many errors. Fourteen this season so far, four of which have occurred in our last two games. There isn’t a huge amount that can be done to eliminate these apart from training, and it is always a danger of the system we play (see Skrtel’s ‘through ball’ to Tevez in the game against Man City). Last season we made 16 errors that directly lead to attempts on goal and resulted in nine goals ‘gifted’ to the opposition. In the worst case scenario, nine goals could be the difference between nine wins and nine draws, or 18 points.
Our passing seems to be pretty good. Of course as we have seen, much of it is sideways and backwards and can sometimes lack some cutting edge, but having so many passes means that we can be more selective with our forward play. Most would have expected Arsenal to lead the way in this department, and they clearly do, however they have been playing this system since the arrival of Wenger with only the new arrivals having to ‘learn’ it (and one of those, Cazorla has been playing it for years).
Final Third Passing
We are doing OK in the final third passing metric too. Again, as expected, Arsenal lead the way, but surprisingly Everton closely follow them for the number of final third passes attempted. In fact, they have attempted 69 more passes in the final third than us whilst making 972 fewer passes than us in total, but it is clearly working for them. Our accuracy is more than adequate, but as mentioned previously, there seems to be some cutting edge and guile lacking when executing the passes. If we had a David Silva or Juan Mata, we may be seeing a very different side (step up Suso?).
When passing has failed, it looks like we do have a ‘plan B’ in dribbling into the danger zone. 258 attempted dribbles so far this season (23.5 per game) with a completion rate of 50%. Unsurprisingly, 152 of the 258 dribbles we have attempted have been made by Suarez and Sterling (95 and 57 respectively). Whilst Sterling enjoys a completion rate of 54%, Suarez struggles with just 38%.
Of course, where you are dribbling from and to makes a difference. The cartoon villain of English football, dribbling through a crowded penalty box as the lone forward with little support from the midfield, is likely to get a tougher time of it than most!
Almost as expected, Everton lead the way although one wouldn’t have been surprised to see Newcastle there.
Whilst crossing isn’t really our game, it would be useful if we were better at it than we currently are. It’s little wonder that we attempt so few and have a low accuracy when you think about it. We have one of the smallest forwards in the league (Fabio Borini is 5’11” so hardly a giant either), rarely have more than him to aim for and our inverted forwards are often on their weaker foot. Again, crossing isn’t really our game so not too much to worry about for now.
Clear Cut Chances
In regards to creating chances, we are doing OK. Plenty of room for improvement, but better than Newcastle, Arsenal and Tottenham (just). Bit of a surprise is how well Everton are doing again. Creating more chances with more of them being clear cut.
I think the clearest thing here is that we need to create ‘better’ chances. Only Tottenham have a worse CCC% than us. Could this be to do with the similarity between AVB and Rodgers’ styles?
Something that we all know needs improving is our shooting accuracy, as highlighted above. An abysmal shot accuracy of just 34%. If we had the accuracy comparable with Tottenham, then we would have had an additional 16 shots on target so far this season, or 53 over 38 games. If we use last season’s conversion rate of 9%, that is an extra 4-5 goals and, in the best case scenario, this could be 4-5 draws into wins.
It is unsurprising to learn that Suarez has had 53 of our 140 shots this season (38%). Comparatively, the next highest scorer in the league that plays for our rivals is Demba Ba. He has had 33 of Newcastle’s 110 shots (30%). Not a huge difference (nine more shots from Ba would have given him the same percentage as Suarez), but the difference comes with our old friend shot accuracy. Ba enjoys 52% accuracy with 21% conversion rate, whilst Suarez has 34% and 15%. If we can improve Suarez’s accuracy, I’m certain his conversion rate would follow suit. It’s not a dig at our number 7, just constructive criticism.
It’s a problem that seems to be affecting the whole team. Our shooting accuracy and chance conversion are both the worst compared to our rivals. And I don’t think that it is a surprise that the amount of goals scored correlates to the shooting accuracy of each team. I would guess that it is quite a difficult thing to train. Most of our team would be able to hit the corners of the net from almost any distance in training, but to have that composure and calmness to carry it out in a game is a different matter, especially with such a young forward line.
I don’t think many of us would have put money on Everton outscoring both Tottenham and Arsenal at this stage of the season, but like us they have a prolific weapon in Fellaini. The 24 year old (yes, only 24!) has scored six goals in ten games this season. The same amount he has scored in his previous three seasons for the club combined. Again, it is his accuracy of 50% and conversion rate 23% that puts him up there for Everton, further cementing the point that shot accuracy is king.
We aren’t doing too badly so far. There is definitely room for improvement.
Firstly, we need to increase the number of shots it takes for the opposition to score. Currently it stands at around eight, with both Arsenal and Newcastle forcing their opponents to make over 10. Hopefully a returning rejuvenated Pepe will provide some relief here, and to help him out will be the returning Lucas to provide more interceptions and tackles to protect the defence.
The second part isn’t so easy. We need to create more clear cut chances and improve our shot accuracy which in turn will improve our conversion rate. All three things go hand in hand, and I would expect they will all improve as the system begins to take place. Add into the equation that we have January to make recruitments, I don’t think we are as far away from where we want to be as some people seem to think.