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Statistics and Analytics - insight into our performance

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I think a lot people have noticed that there are more and more good statistical writers in football these days. Andrew Beasley (AKA BassTunedtoRed) and Dan Kennett are the most prominent Reds around, and do consistently good work. Then you have others, like MCofA, from cartilagefreecaptain, whose projected Premier League tables we've started to see quite a bit around RAWK; Ted Knutson, Ben Pugsley and Colin Trainor, who have made the new site a must read; James Grayson (with a blog named after himself), the best source of pure stats analysis on the web, and even bitters like Paul Riley (of differentgame) and Mike Goodman (of Grantland) who are doing great stuff. Our very own Prof also posted something very interesting about final third entries the other day. (And I'm sure I've missed a bunch of others.)

Instead of cluttering up threads like the Alternate Premier League Table (which is intentionally much simpler than a statistician would make it), I thought it would be good to have one place where we can keep track of developments in the stats world for those of us interested.

To start off, I did my own relatively simple statistical look at how we've played with and without the Lucas-Gerrard duo this season. It's been a little bit of time now since the partnership has been broken up, so I thought I'd take a look at what the stats indicate. I've long maintained that our issue in midfield was never about Gerrard himself (or Lucas), but the lack of mobility we had when both play. Obviously, that may have some effect on my analysis, but I think the facts below speak for themselves.

I focused particularly on 4 stats: total shots for and allowed, shots on target for and allowed, Total Shots Ratio (TSR), and Shots on Target Ratio (SoTR). The first two are straightforward, and are strong indicators of how well we're playing.

TSR and SoTR may be a little less familiar, but they're actually pretty straightforward too. TSR is just a measure of what percentage of the total shots taken are taken by a given team rather than its opponents. So, if Liverpool plays Everton and both sides have 10 shots each, Liverpool's TSR is .50, because it took 50% of the 20 total shots in the game.

There's some debate about how valuable the stat is--Villas Boas' teams always underperform their TSR's, for instance, for obvious reasons--but in general, having a good TSR is strong indicator of being a good team. (The r^2 between TSR and points gained in a season is .67, and it is arguably the single best stat for predicting future performance, which indicates it reveals to some extent "true ability.").

SoTR is the same thing as TSR, but using only shots on target instead of all shots.

When Lucas and Gerrard started together
Total shots against (on target) / shots for (on target): 179 (68) / 195 (76)
Shots against per game: 13.8
Shots for per game: 15
SoT against per game: 5.2
SoT for per game: 5.8
TSR: 52.1 (would be 10th in the league, virtually tied with MUFC)
SoTR: 52.7 (would be 11th, virtually tied with Swansea)

Lucas and Gerrard (only games where Suarez played)
Total: 109 (38) / 133 (50)
Shots against per game: 13.6
Shots for per game: 16.6
SoT against per game: 4.75
SoT for per game: 6.25
TSR: 54.9 (would be 9th in the league)
SoTR: 56.8 (would be 7th, just ahead of Spurs)

When only one of Gerrard or Lucas play:
Total: 82 (20) / 145 (53)
Shots against per game: 11.7
Shots for per game: 20.7
SoT against per game: 2.8
SoT for per game: 7.6
TSR: 63.8 (league best for the season is Man City with 63.7)
SoTR: 72.6 (!!) (league best for the season is Man City with 66.3)

In short, when Lucas and Gerrard have played together, our underlying stats are those of a team on the outside of a Europa League chase*, even if you only include the games when Suarez was available.

When we've only started with one of them, we've been playing like the best team in the league.

It's obviously important not to read too much into something like this. The sample is small, and there are other factors. In particular, our fitness may be improving as a result of Rodgers' periodization methods, and we've exclusively played 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 in the games since the Lucas-Gerrard partnership was broken up, whereas we played a variety of formations, including 3-5-2 and 4-4-2 before, when Sturridge was fit.

Nonetheless, I think we've all observed the improvement in our energy and mobility in midfield recently. I think it's a mistake, however, to think the change started with the Spurs game. For me, that added mobility was also evident against West Brom and West Ham, when Allen came in for Lucas and Gerrard played. My tentative conclusion, then, is that Henderson and Allen should be regular starters in midfield, while it should be a straight choice between Gerrard and Lucas for now.

*There are caveats worth noting here about the quality of the shots we've generally allowed and taken. Our opponents generally take shots from pretty poor locations, and we take shots from pretty good locations. There's a lot of debate in the stats world, however, about how repeatable "shot quality" is.

Bonus stat:
TSR without Suarez: 46.9 (would be 11th in the league)
TSR with Suarez: 59.2 (4th, 3 points ahead of Everton in 5th)

Great thread! Interesting question regarding midfield.  Fascinating stats (looking forward to more data).

Yay, great idea! Shall follow with interest.

Halcyon Lissome:
Thanks for the post and the thread. Is this for just this season? Do you have the stats for the same breakdowns for last year if so?

I also agree with you that the midfield becoming much better occurred before Spurs and you could see it. I am not sure, however, though that it has to be either/or with Gerrard+Lucas.


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