How well are Liverpool finishing?

How well are Liverpool finishing?

One of the most well-known bits of folk wisdom in football is that if you want to win anything, you must take your chances. Being able to finish well is the mark of an elite goalscorer, and fans groan in frustration when an enthusiastic midfielder shanks a panicked volley miles wide. Although the rise of analytics has somewhat dampened the notion that finishing is the most important part of goalscoring, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value. Let’s examine every Liverpool player to have taken a shot in the Premier League or Champions League this season and see how they’re getting on.

The metric we use to look at finishing is post-shot expected goals. This measures the chance of a shot being scored after it has left the boot, or other body part, of the shooter. By comparing it to standard expected goals, which measures the chance of a goal before the ball leaves the boot, we can see if the quality of the shot itself added to the chance of a goal. Naturally, any shot which is off target has zero chance of being a goal (an own goal from a deflection would not be credited to the shot). Any shot which is on target gets a PSxG value, from which we subtract the xG value to get our value added. As a final note, blocked shots are considered to be off target, and penalties are not included in the analysis.

So, what do we have? Across the whole team, Liverpool have managed 34.51 xG in the PL and CL. That has been converted into 37.37 PSxG, an increase of 2.86. The Reds have been finishing well then, not to a spectacular degree, but respectable. Of the 21 players to have taken a shot so far, just 6 have added value to their shots, Stefan Bajcetic neither added nor subtracted from his singular shot, and a further 14 have taken away value with their finishing. One of the big trends that explains this disparity is that players who have higher expected goals also add more value with their finishes. Of the 14 negative players, only Fabio Carvalho, Diogo Jota, and Virgil Van Dijk have over 1 xG, and they are all under 2. Of the 6 positive players, only dead ball specialist Trent Alexander-Arnold has under 2 xG.

There are a couple of possible explanations for this observation. One is that the players who get the most xG have gotten that because they are the attackers, picked specifically for their goal scoring. It only makes sense that the strikers would be the best finishers, right? Another idea would be that because players are taught to shoot for the corners, most shots will have a PSxG of 0, with a handful that go towards the corners and acquire large PSxG values. Thus, players with fewer shots have less chance of getting the successful one into the corner, giving them a small negative tally made from very difficult shots that were off target. Whatever the explanation, it seems that added finishing value is concentrated in a small minority of the squad.

Let’s look at some individuals, starting with the attackers. We have Salah, Darwin, Firmino, Diaz and Jota, plus young hybrid midfielder/forwards Carvalho, Elliott and Jones.

xG PSxG Change
Firmino 4.76 7.71 2.95
Salah 8.8 10.64 1.84
Elliott 2.11 2.83 0.72
Diaz 2.23 2.86 0.63
Darwin 7.54 7.68 0.14
Jones 0.33 0.04 -0.29
Carvalho 1.3 0.96 -0.34
Jota 1.5 0.47 -1.03

Following several years of barren runs, Firmino found his shooting boots in 21/22, and that has continued this season. His 2.95 added is the highest in the squad, a remarkable 62% increase. Salah too is in fine form, his 1.84 added is a 21% jump. For every 5 goals worth of chances, Salah adds an extra on top. He’s been particularly good in Europe, adding 1.6 in value to take his 2.6 xG to 4.2 PSxG, which matches Firmino at 62% higher. After struggling for the first few weeks, Darwin has turned it around to end up just about net positive.

Poor Diogo Jota, who only played 8 matches (4.2 90s), didn’t manage to score in that time despite 1.5 xG, and a large part of that was his finishing. His PSxG of 0.47 means he subtracted 1.03 in value with his shots, the largest deficit of any player in the squad. Given his reputation as Jota the slotter, its likely that this is just a coincidence of small sample size, but it would have been nice for him to get something after his injury struggles.

Our next set is a group of secondary goal sources amongst the midfield and defence. Alexander-Arnold, Robertson and Van Dijk from the defence, and Thiago, Milner, and Henderson from midfield.

xG PSxG Change
Alexander-Arnold 1.31 1.9 0.59
Thiago 0.26 0.2 -0.06
Milner 0.35 0.13 -0.22
Henderson 0.45 0.21 -0.24
Robertson 0.45 0.07 -0.38
Van Dijk 1.84 1.42 -0.42

Trent Alexander-Arnold has taken 3 free kicks so far this season. Collectively worth 0.1 xG, he’s managed to get 1.27 PSxG out of that, a 1.17 increase. His open play finishing has therefore been a 0.58 decrease, more in line with the other non-attacking players and their sub-2 xG totals. The other story here is Virgil Van Dijk, who has been out of sorts when attacking corners. His 0.42 deficit is the largest after Jota.

Finally, just for fun, here’s the remaining players who have taken at least 1 shot.

xG PSxG Change
Bajcetic 0.02 0.02 0
Phillips 0.04 0 -0.04
Fabinho 0.16 0.1 -0.06
Arthur 0.07 0 -0.07
Gomez 0.24 0 -0.24
Matip 0.4 0.13 -0.27
Tsimikas 0.35 0 -0.35

Phillips, Arthur, Gomez and Tsimikas have failed to get even a single shot on target. This isn’t surprising for the former two, given they’ve only taken 1 each, but Gomez and Tsimikas have taken 4 and 6 respectively. If Gomez ever wants to score his first LFC goal, he’ll need to use his rare opportunities very efficiently.

Let’s finish by looking at a few trivia pieces to come out of the data.

  1. Best finishing match? Mo Salah in the 7-1 against Rangers, getting 1.76 PSxG (and a hat-trick) from just 0.59 xG.
  2. Worst finishing match? Also Mo Salah! He managed a measly 0.09 PSxG from 1.23 xG against Bournemouth. Given that we won 9-0 anyway, we can forgive him.
  3. Most positive matches? It’s that man again, with 11 of his 19 appearances ending with him having added value through his finishing.
  4. Most negative matches? Harvey Elliott wins this one, 9 of his 19 appearances being a net negative. This is made up of small deficits each time though. Did you realise Elliott has played every game this season? I hadn’t.
  5. Longest hot streak? Bobby Firmino started the season in fine fettle, with 6 consecutive positive matches in the PL from his 2nd to 7th Given that his 1st and 8th matches featured no shots at all, this means it wasn’t until his 9th league appearance that his domestic finishing failed him.
  6. Longest cold streak? Darwin Núñez went 5 negative matches in a row from his 2nd to 6th Premier League appearance despite a good game 1. Thankfully he’s broken that and has been doing well in the Champions League too.

So there you have it, all things finishing, uh, finished! What did we learn? That Salah is a sniper, firstly, that letting Trent shoot on free-kicks is probably a good idea, secondly, and that the team should probably focus on feeding its attackers rather than taking potshots, thirdly. Hopefully you’ve found it interesting, if not informative.

Up the Reds.