By Andrew Beasley (Twitter / Blog).
As I sit writing this and you sit reading it, even though those two events are happening at different times, it’s a guarantee that wherever he is right now Luis Suárez will be telling anyone who cares to listen that he loves Liverpool, hates the media, and greatly admires the work of Real Madrid and Barcelona.
In fairness to him, so do I, but then the future of Liverpool FC is not dependent upon whether or not I stick with them; with Suárez, it matters a great deal.
Or does it? I’m sure by now you’ve seen the statistics for when Liverpool have had Suárez in the team in the Premier League compared to when they haven’t, but for the record:
There we are then; Liverpool are better off without Suárez, to the tune of over half a point per game. Case closed.
In reality though, thirteen games is far too small a sample to make a conclusive judgment on whether or not Liverpool will be a better team if Suárez leaves, so I have decided to dig a little deeper, and look at the key match stats that Luis affects.
It also has to be acknowledged that the ‘without’ sample features easier games on average; using a simple system I devised to rate fixture difficulty, the matches that Suárez has missed in the last two seasons have been 17% easier than the total average, with his games 3% tougher than the complete fixture list as a result.
This article won’t prove anything decisively either in fairness, but hopefully my findings will add to the debate, and the numbers do reveal one particularly key difference that has occurred when Suárez has been absent; but more on that later.
As the only match he missed in his first half-season at Anfield occurred before his first start, it seems pointless to include it in the ‘without Suárez batch’ here (as the Reds hadn’t properly been ‘with’ Suárez at that point), so the data in this article covers the two full seasons that the Uruguayan has had a Liverbird upon his chest.
The obvious place to start is shooting; Luis Suárez took more shots than any other player in the Premier League in 2012/13, and the second most in Europe’s big five leagues. Yet he is not particularly accurate with his shooting; of the 32 players who had fifty-shots-or-more in the English top flight this season, only eight of them had a worse shooting accuracy than the Reds’ number seven.
He is also happy to shoot from all manner of ludicrous pitch locations and angles, so do Liverpool attempt to score from better areas and with a greater accuracy when they are deprived of Suárez?
Well not particularly, no.
There are only minor differences between the figures, with the Reds (perhaps surprisingly) taking more shots outside the box without Luis in the team. In terms of shots on target the difference is even smaller; just 0.06 extra shots on target per game when Suárez is missing.
In short, if Luis Suárez is as wasteful with his shooting as is suggested, then there’s little here to suggest that his replacements to date have been any better in his absence.
It’s worth looking at possession figures too, as Suárez posts significant numbers at both ends of the spectrum.
In 2012/13, the Uruguayan was joint second in the Premier League for both number of times dispossessed and turnovers (a loss of possession due to a mistake/poor control) per game. However, he was also ranked second for the number of times a player won possession in the attacking third, illustrating that he can press the opposition high up the pitch.
In other words, he is Brendan Rodgers’ possession dream and nightmare rolled into one crazy little package. Does his absence significantly affect the team’s possession stats?
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