Free Friday, March 12th 2021: The Team is a Body, and Part of it is Injured

Free Friday, March 12th 2021: The Team is a Body, and Part of it is Injured
March 11, 2021 Daniel Rhodes
In Free, Free Fortnight


Best posts of the week:

Chosen by Chris Rowland and Daniel Rhodes.

1 – Jeff responding to suggestions by Kieran Maguire that Liverpool may become a public company:

This is something coming from Kieran Maguire on Liverpool going public in the wake of RedBird Capital buying 10 percent of FSG for 750 million US dollars.

Now, I do not want to go into the any number of flaws in his argument but the first one is that how will FSG split off Liverpool from its ownership of the Red Sox and NESN and some other properties without incurring massive tax liabilities. The argument that the Glazers did it with Man U fails to reflect how FSG as a business in structure and ignores the massive tax liabilities that they would incur from splitting off Liverpool. Why would they take a massive hit that would mean the money from RedBird would really be hundreds of millions less than the 750 RedBird is injecting. Then why would FSG want to go down this route? What would be gained? I have read any number of articles or talks by this author and the one reality in regard to his views on Liverpool is that he has no understanding of how John Henry operates and makes any number of assumptions for which he has no evidence. For example, there is no evidence that since FSG have been in Liverpool they have favored Liverpool nor have they favored the Boston Red Sox and arguments that they have favored either club have no foundation in evidence. The simple truth is that unless you understand the business model that was NESV and today FSG you cannot write intelligently about how they run businesses and to me Maguire has no understanding of how FSG run their various businesses including Liverpool.

2 – Andrew Beasley with some startling stats about Liverpool’s defensive combinations:

In 2019/20, a pairing of van Dijk + one of Gomez, Lovren and Matip accounted for 87% of the minutes in all competitions. If you ignore the domestic cups, that rises to an incredible 97%, with the only exceptions being Henderson and Gomez for 90 minutes in the Club World Cup semi-final, and 45 minutes for Fabinho and van Dijk in the 4-0 loss at Manchester City.

Even if you generously class Fabinho as a senior centre-back to give Liverpool four this season, the centre of defence has only been staffed by two senior CBs for 39% of the minutes in all comps. Ignore Fab, and it drops to just 13%, and will only diminish further with a minimum of 11 matches still to play.

3 – Mike Taylor on the extent of the problems created by Liverpool’s defensive injuries:

“Given that Liverpool’s attack is built on the defence, how the hell are Liverpool supposed to have a coherent attacking or defensive shape with that level of changes?!”

This is the thing that baffles me about pundits. “Yes, defenders have been injured”, they say, “But that doesn’t explain why the strikers aren’t scoring”. That is true only in the most reductionistic and naive sense. The team is a body, and part of it is injured. If you break Usain Bolt’s arms, he’s not going to run 100m fast enough to beat other elite sprinters, even though — in a reductionistic and naive sense — he runs with his legs, not his arms. In the same way, if you break Liverpool’s defence (or maybe a more apposite analogy would be if you amputate it!), they’re not going to play well enough to consistently beat other elite teams. (And by “elite” here, I am including all Premier League teams.)

Right now, it’s all about one thing: keeping the faith.

4 – Paul and the potential of Kabak:

While he turns 21 soon, Kabak has something I really like in his game for someone so relatively young in the position, but he’s not the tallest, and though he’s not slow, he’s not the quickest (or if he is, I haven’t seen it yet for LFC). He’s good on the ball, brave and has a good physique for the role.

But height is such a big issue for centre-backs in the PL. Just looking at opposing teams since I started recording heights back in 2016/17, it seems that every team is on average an inch taller – in the run I checked, every team we played had outfield Xs of 6’0″ or 6’1″, while we averaged 5’10”, as we did when Klopp took over.

As I noted last night, our aerial duel success rate in the CL this season was 15% better than in the PL, which to me shows the likely difference in aerial emphasis in England. Again, someone like Sokratis was a strong aerial player in Germany (by all accounts) but pretty weak over here.

And when you have footballing sides like Brighton fielding a ton of giants, it’s not like the PL is going to become a more purely technical league anytime soon. So much of the game remains aerial, and I only think you can get away with being a small side is when you are really on top of your game. As soon as your level dips, you get bullied like hell. It happened to City last season and it happened to us this season without all our tallest players. Players like Kompany, VvD and Matip help stop that, and City have added Rodri to their midfield, who looks more adjusted to the high balls this year – he’s winning 75% of aerial duels, which is elite level. It doesn’t need an entirely tall team, but you need to have height in those central areas.

Someone like van Dijk is both super-quick but also 6’4″ with a great leap. It could be that Kabak would do exceptionally well alongside him, as others tend to do. Obviously there aren’t any players out there in VvD’s class, as he’s in a class of his own. If Kabak had to partner Matip, Kabak’s height would be less of an issue. If he partnered Gomez, his lack of supreme pace would be less of an issue. But the other partnerships are more rounded at this point, and Kabak will never have the aerial dominance of an experienced Matip, nor the pace of Gomez.

I’ve seen enough to suggest Kabak will have an excellent career in the game, but not enough to make me think he has all the qualities to be our future defensive lynchpin. Equally, he looks better than some 4th choices at other big clubs, with scope to improve. We’ve seen Nat Phillips go from a 2nd-tier player a year ago to someone who is starting to look a PL player now, as he moves from age 23 to 24, and as he gains elite experience.

So I find it hard to know *just* how good Kabak could be – just that he has two areas where I don’t think he can ever be elite (in the air, and pace). There are probably better players out there, who will be on the market in the summer, but £18m for Kabak seems good value, and he’s already settling in – we’d have to start that process again if we go for someone new.

5 – Emmet on the performance versus Leipzig:

It was really enjoyable to see the strong performance and the win last night. The fine margins are really interesting. Pundits will rightly praise Liverpool last night but during the bad run I feel there have been plenty of decent performances where things didn’t break for Liverpool at key moments. For example, if that Leipzig header goes in at 0-0 instead of hitting the bar then it’s a very different game potentially.

To create so many big chances was fantastic and to see a couple go in was a delight. The sharpness going forward with Liverpool was helped by Leipzig leaving space with their offensively minded play. Paul’s point about height I think is so valid as well and it does not get identified by pundits at all. We created chances from corners last night, having more threats left space for the smaller Jota to get some chances away.

A lot of positives. Happy to just enjoy this one for a few days.

6 – Jeff continues about the importance of getting players to full match fitness:

I have posted any number of times that there is a world of difference between being fit and being match fit. Jota may well be fit but he is a long way from being match fit. In a similar vein, we see the more matches Thiago gets not only does he show he is physically fitter but he is getting match fit. How many here remember how long it took for Robertson and Fabinho to start to show their talent in Liverpool. To me Kabak is showing that he is getting better and better in every match which is just about as good as any reasonable person can expect. Sometimes in football when you put players in positions where they can show their talents good things happen and yesterday we had a midfield that function as Liverpool’s midfield has functioned for some time for the first time since Fabinho played in the middle of the pitch and we saw what a talent Thiago is as he develops an understanding with the other Liverpool players and for the first time Wijnaldum only had to do his job. We saw a different Liverpool team in terms of quality yesterday.

The most important take away is that is this group plays matches together it will get better and better and better which should frighten all the teams remaining in the European Club Championship and yes if you lost too many players to injury it is a set back but in Liverpool it is only a temporary set back which is just about as good as it gets.


Articles published since last Friday:

Monday March 8th:

Post-Match Analysis: Liverpool 0-1 Fulham, by Daniel Rhodes.

Unfortunately the shot stats from this game illustrate really well the problems we are having at Anfield: 16 attempts on goal, zero big chances, three shots on target, less than one expected goal with an average shot quality of six per cent. Our record, since we last scored an open play goal against West Brom, is eerily similar: 15 shots per game, just over one big chance a game, 1.13 xG for and three shots on target. And yet, despite all of this, it is incredibly rare for a team to attempt 115 shots over an eight game sample and not score one goal.

Tuesday March 9th:

2020/21 Champions League | Last 16 2nd Leg Preview | RB Leipzig | Puskás Aréna, by Gary Fulcher.

Since Liverpool’s 2-0 victory against Julian Nagelsmann’s side, the Reds have lost all three matches played at Anfield, with their only other victory aside from against Leipzig in their last seven matches coming at Sheffield Utd.

To back up those that believe Liverpool’s worst losing streak at Anfield in the club’s history is partly psychological, all five of Liverpool’s wins in all competitions since the 1-0 defeat at Southampton back in early January have come away from Anfield.

Six of the eight defeats we’ve suffered over the same period have come at Anfield, including six consecutive league losses.

Leipzig have won all four of their matches played since losing the first leg and sit just two points behind league leaders Bayern Munich with 24 matches played.

Liverpool’s Defensive Unit Combinations – The Remarkable Truth!, by Anthony O’Brien.

That gives a total of 15 players Premier League defensive starters for the 28 matches so far, which will surely increase if/when Davies and Tsimikas get a start. For comparison in 19/20, we only used 10 starters in the defence in the premier league all last year and the 10th player (Neco) was only started in the last five games.

When we look at the effect of all these changes on the lineup it gets really messy. For the 28 Premier League matches played, we’ve had 21 different defensive combinations starting those matches and this is ignoring the subs!.

Wed. March 10th:

One-in-Three Chances At The Core of Liverpool’s Goals DNA in February, by Andrew Beasley.

Weirdly, they’re also the last four goals which the Reds have scored following Opta-defined defensive errors by opposition players. The four prior to that ranged in value from 0.07 to 0.87 xG, so it’s clearly not a standardised rating for chances which follow mistakes at the back. It must just be a remarkable coincidence, but the odds of it happening – like so much of what has occurred this season – must be enormous.

But perhaps it’s not quite as strange as it seems. Looking at the Premier League data from the beginning of 2017/18 reveals a remarkable truth: Liverpool are almost three times more likely to have a chance valued between 0.31 and 0.35 xG than they are one in the 0.16 to 0.20 range.

Thurs. March 11th:

Post-Match Analysis: Liverpool 2-0 Leipzig by Daniel Rhodes

What goalless streak? Can we play you every week in Budapest? The strangest of scenarios: Liverpool ended their streak of not scoring an open play goal at home, and yet didn’t really. Crucially though, we are through to the next round of the Champions League after a performance that was the exact opposite of what we are seeing at Anfield. We attempted a huge volume of high quality chances in this match, and even managed to convert a couple of them.

Imperious Defending: Ranking All the Premier League’s Centre-Backs 2011-2021, & the True Greatness of Van Dijk by Paul Tomkins

Covered in this article, which is a deep dive into a decade of data on “pure” defending:

– The Liverpool centre-back who is the most amazingly consistent defender seen in the Premier League (since 2011), who is Dutch, 6’4″ and apparently smells wonderful.

– The other current Liverpool centre-back, who ranks up there with the best seen since 2011. No one talks about him, but statistically he’s almost as good as the fine-smelling Dutchman.

– How the Reds’ other centre-backs, past and present, compare and where they rank. And the surprising elite career figures of a Liverpool centre-back who isn’t really seen as one of the greats, perhaps due to his form falling off a cliff.

– A quick look at a decade of defensive midfielders using the same metrics, and the surprising elite season from a Liverpool player that ranks as one of the best seen.

– A look at the new guys and rookies, who are doing pretty well – but who, as expected, are not yet able to produce figures even close to the Liverpool players who are out injured. (Although one of them has crazily good numbers, but from a very small sample size.)