Lallana and Milner: The End of Vanilla
If Saturday’s game took-place in a coal mine, the canary would have exploded.
Lallana and Milner’s lack of goals and assists has seen them recently labelled “useless”, “awful”, “overrated” and “beige.”
They had become representative of the modern Liverpool: bland, boring and mid-table.
From about as much promise as a tub of Wall’s – this Vanilla-Pod-Duo could only manage so much excitement as a Raspberry-Ripple.
But with both Lallana and Milner proving decisive in Saturday’s win, I wanted to look at the data.
About a year ago I compiled a database of all players who scored at least 8 league goals in a season. I took data from five seasons between 09/10 and 13/14. The data included players from all positions across Europe’s top-5 leagues.
The graph above looks at Squawka’s top-rated forwards for the 2013/14 season (again, across Europe’s top-5 leagues). I have ranked them in order of points-contributions, via goals and assists.
What does this mean?
Let’s take three results: 1-0, 1-1, 2-1. If, for example, Roberto Firmino scores the “1” of the 1-0, his goal contribution is 2 points. Without his goal, Liverpool would be 2 points worse-off (with a 0-0 still gaining 1 point). If he scores the “1” in the 1-1, his goal contribution is 1 point. If he scores 2 in the 2-1, his goal contribution is 3 points (because without his goals Liverpool would take zero points).
Assists work in the same way; if Firmino scored 1 and assisted 1 in the 2-1 win, then his contribution for the game would still be 3 points (without his assist, player “X” wouldn’t have scored the winning goal).
In Liverpool’s 13/14 title-challenge, well over half our points were coming from just two players: Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez. Indeed, Daniel Sturridge contributed to more points in that season than Luis Suarez.
However, this is not an article about the importance of Daniel Sturridge.
The only previous sample for Lallana scoring 8+ league goals was also in the 2013/14 season, but for Southampton. During this season, roughly 30% of Lallana’s goals contributed to points.
James Milner has never hit 8+ goals a season. At 30 years old and well-past his peak for GCP (goals contributing to points), Milner will almost certainly never be a high-contributor to Liverpool’s points percentage. However…
Whilst Milner is certainly past his peak, he is not about to nose-dive. As per the graph below, nose-diving tends to happen at around 32 years old, at which point Milner’s contract will be due to expire. Good planning on the part of LFC?
Points Contributions This Season
Milner has contributed 13 points so far this season, with 11 in the Premier League. The remaining 2 were gained via his equalising penalty in Liverpool’s 2-1 win over Bordeaux.
Lallana – who equalised against Bordeaux earlier in the season, has contributed only 10 points, with 8 appearing in the Premier League.
Whilst Milner and Lallana’s individual points contributions may not be astronomical, one important fact cannot be overlooked: this season, every single one of their goals and assists has equated to points. A 100% points contribution for each goal and assist.
This doesn’t happen.
Having analysed the data across five seasons and dividing it into three categories (scoring 8+ goals in 1 season, scoring 8+ goals in 2 seasons, scoring 8+ goals in 3 seasons), this has only happened three times: Mohammed Abdellaoue in 2011/12, Andre-Pierre Gignac in 2010/11, and Sergio Pellisier, also in 2011/12.
Whilst the data analysed above looks at goals only (and has not looked at 8+ goals scored over 4 or 5 seasons), the image is clear: almost nobody achieves a 100% contribution. Indeed, to include both goals and assists for Lallana and Milner makes this contribution even less likely given the extra variable in assists contributing to points.
Yes, the probability of scoring a 100% contribution is much higher with fewer goals and assists (a defender that chips-in with 1 goal a season has a 50/50 chance of contributing to points). Yet, on average, once a player hits 8 goals, the more goals they score on-top of this 8 increases their points contribution ratio. That’s the trend.
For attacking players to record more than 3 goals and 4 assists (in Lallana’s case) or 4 goals and 5 assists (in Milner’s case), and for each of these actions to impact a result is more than rare and goes completely against a well-established trend.
The average age for scoring over 8 goals a season is 27.47 (taken from 09/10 – 13/14 seasons).
Against Norwich on Saturday, Adam Lallana was 27.70 years old. Almost perfectly in-line with the peak average for points contributions.
Let’s be clear: I am not arguing that Adam Lallana and James Milner are perfect additions to Liverpool’s squad.
They do not contribute enough to warrant a consistent starting-place in our first-11. However, what they do contribute, they contribute well. A goal or an assist that does not impact the result is only ever impacting goal-difference. It’s important. But it’s not what really matters.
Next season, Klopp will have had a summer transfer window to iron out personnel issues.
But if Lallana and Milner increase their goal and assist tallies ever-so slightly, they will be in an elite group of players who, whilst not lighting-up too many front-pages, quietly go about their business, impacting games, collecting points, and serving the team. Players we could easily use in the squad.
If Lallana and Milner’s “off-the-ball” work is at a high-standard – as recent pressing stats by Gags suggests – then their on-the-ball work is criminally underrated.
There needs to be more of it. But if their focus is on selfless, off-the-ball work; their volume of goals and assists is only going to be so high. And, on the few occasions that they are asked to do on-the-ball work; they are doing a better job than most players in Europe.
Without these two in our team we would be out of the Europa League and 19 points worse-off in the Premier League.
Tell me that’s vanilla.