Big chances are a crucial part of any Premier League team’s season. They help to differentiate the quality of a team. It expands nicely on the basic idea of xG that not all shots are equal. Bobby Firmino’s tap-in from a yard against Spurs was a better quality chance than when Denis Odoi shot from the halfway line against us for Fulham.
So by looking at how many quality chances Liverpool are creating, and more importantly who is creating them, we can start to look at some of the underlying strengths and weaknesses of Liverpool this season.
So whilst the definition of a big chance is relatively open to interpretation depending on which xG model you’re using and where you draw the line, it’s typical an xG chance worth at least 0.30 xG, or a 30% chance of ending up as a goal. For a bit of perspective into the numbers collected in this article, I have used the Understat xG model, and collected data on any chance with an xG of .25 or 25% and higher. Penalties are typically counted as big chances, but since LFC have only had one penalty this season and have only conceded one pen, I’ll be clear to differentiate them. One final note, this data is for Premier League only and at the time of writing, until up to the Merseyside Derby.
Boring stuff out the way, let’s dig into the numbers.
The Overall Numbers
Liverpool have created 38 non-penalty big chances this season, scoring 16 goals from them, at a conversion rate of 42%. The average rate of big chance conversion obviously depends on the xG of those chances, but generally, it’s around 40-50%, so 42% is just hitting the bottom of that band.
In terms of creativity, the Reds are creating big chances at a similar level to last season. The Reds created 32.90 xG from their first 16 games – 2.05 xG per game on average. Over the course of the season, that would work out as an xG of 78.13 which is marginally above the 77.49 xG that the Reds created last season. However, whilst Liverpool scored 84 goals from their 77.49 xG last season, they’ve scored just 32 goals from their 32.90 xG so far, which would work out as 76 goals. So despite being marginally more creative this year, the Reds’ finishing has been worse.
However, the big story is defensively. Further to this brilliant thread from Dan Kennett, Liverpool have conceded just thirteen big chances so far, one a game. However, this further underlines how much (and why) the Reds are outperforming their xG defensively. They’ve conceded just two goals from those thirteen big chances, with Alisson saving six big chances, and five of them missing the target entirely – and of course, Mahrez also missed his pen against us. With a big chance conversion rate against Liverpool of just 15% and a shot on target ratio of just 61.5%, it’s easy to see why LFC’s defence is holding up.
As Kennett says in his thread, we can absolutely expect this conversion rate to go up – Liverpool have been riding their luck defensively for a few weeks a now and sooner or later teams will start to score goals against us. If we assume a 40% big chance conversion again – and it has to be noted that most of the big chances Liverpool concede are at the lower end of the big chance spectrum – then Liverpool could easily have conceded three more goals than they have done.
But even then, if we assume a conversion rate of 40% and one big chance conceded per game for the rest of the season that would only be another ten goals conceded from big chances, which remains extremely impressive.
One element defensively highlighted by the numbers is that over half of those thirteen big chances have come in the last four games with seven conceded against Fulham, Watford, Everton and Arsenal – compared to six from the first nine games of the season (and three of those against a very good Chelsea side). There are a couple of potential reasons for that (Dejan Lovren, the switch to 4-2-3-1 etc) but it is interesting that Liverpool’s defensive solidity hasn’t been quite as strong in the last few games.
Certainly, Naby Keita not playing a role is something that could be highlighted. Liverpool conceded just two big chances in their first six league games, with Keita a big part of that side. Form, formation, personnel, all play a factor (not to mention the quality of opposition), but Liverpool do still have some defensive questions to answer.
Mo Salah is such an important player for Liverpool and these numbers demonstrate why. He’s been involved in 18 of Liverpool’s 38 big chances, which is hugely impressive and miles ahead of anyone else in the team with only Bobby Firmino (12) also being involved in more than ten.
Salah’s both Liverpool’s biggest big chance creator – creating eight big chances – but also the person on the end of the most big chances – on the end of eleven. Whilst his conversion rate has been a decent 45%, but he’s scored ten goals from 9.91 xG, it’s still a very positive sign that Mo is on the end of the most of Liverpool’s best opportunities, and is involved in a big chance more than once per game.
Creatively, he’s created more than one big chance in two games, whilst the rest of the squad have managed that feat once between them – Milner on the opening day. He’s been involved in more than one big chance (either creating or on the end of) on five occasions, compared to Bobby and Sadio who have both only done that twice.
In terms of the rest of Liverpool’s big chances, it’s pretty much who you would expect, with Bobby, Mo and Sadio on the end of 25 of the 38 big chances LFC have had, scoring 8 of them. As mentioned Mo is at 5/11, whilst Sadio has upped his game this season to 3/6, having been 3/3 before misses against Watford and Everton.
Whilst Sadio’s big chance conversion is solid at 50%, Bobby Firmino’s is a problem. He’s only scored three goals from his eight big chances, and two of those were a whopping 97% chance against Spurs from less than a yard and a similar of 96% against Burnley. I’ve mentioned before that Bobby’s finishing could make his life a lot easier, as a lot of the criticism thrown his way would abate at least slightly if he’d scored a couple more goals, and on this evidence, he’s certainly had the opportunities to.
Xherdan Shaqiri features in this category prominently too, having scored three of his five big chances, three of those coming in LFC’s last six league games.
As for the rest – Studge is 1/1 on the opening day, Divvy is famously one from two following his incredible cameo against Everton, with Keita (0/2), Gini (0/1) and Virgil (0/1) all missing their opportunities. And of course, Milner has one goal from his one penalty.
So what can we take from these numbers? Not a lot that’s counter-intuitive for my money. Salah is the most involved attacker but could have more goals to his name, Sadio is doing Sadio things, Bobby should have more goals than he does, we need more attacking options from midfield and Studge needs more minutes on the pitch.
The only person whose numbers I find interesting is this section is Bobby’s, since he’s been more involved than many might expect, given how mediocre his start to the season has been, and that’s a thread that will roll over into the next section – creativity.
I’ve already highlighted that Mo is our most creative player, with seven big chances created (not including the penalty he won for Milner against Palace which could justifiably be included). I’ve also mentioned that Bobby is more involved than you might think, having created four big chances so far, the third most in the team.
That puts Bobby’s big chance creation rate at one every 301 minutes, compared with one every 256 last season. So his numbers have dipped even with him two creating in his last four games, his form hasn’t picked up as such. What’s interesting here is that whilst his form looks worrying he may be about to go on a run of creating big chances with two in his last four. This is one to keep an eye on.
The only lad between Mo and Bobby in this table is the one and only Andy Robertson, who is at five big chances created this season, despite creating only 17 chances overall. Robbo is a player who produces high-quality chances and does so on a relatively consistent basis.
Next up we have Milner on three big chances created and Sadio on two. What’s notable here is that Milner has only created one big chance since his two on the opening day, and Sadio just two all season – both in the opening few weeks and none since Spurs. In fact, between these two, they haven’t created a big chance since the Chelsea game – seven league games ago.
So that means that Liverpool have been heavily reliant on Mo, Bobby and Robbo for creativity for weeks now, with the much heralded Xherdan Shaqiri yet to create a big chance and Hendo, Fab and Gini on 0 created between them all season. It’s clear where Liverpool still have room for improvement, with Robbo, Bobby and Mo all players that the Reds have been hugely reliant on. Thankfully big Virg created one against Burnley! More of that please Liverpool.
Overall, there are a few conclusions that can be drawn from Liverpool’s big chance data, and for me they’re as follows:
- The Reds have been superb defensively, but they will probably concede a few more goals as their luck starts to run out.
- Mo Salah is the absolute focal point of this team, and Liverpool would be lost without him.
- Bobby Firmino is having a weird season but is still contributing to the team, although his finishing has been poor.
- Sadio isn’t really involved in the creative side of the game but has been amongst Liverpool’s most clinical finishers.
- The full-backs are really important to the creativity of this side – and the midfield need to do more to help out.
As I’ve said throughout, none of these conclusions are particularly ground-breaking and a lot of this analysis has just reinforced what we already suspected. Nevertheless, I hope you’ve found this data as interesting as I have. Up the Reds.