Following Liverpool’s defeat to Arsenal, and with their midfield being the decisive factor between the two sides, the Anfield Index team has put our own midfield under the microscope to see how they compare to our Premier League rivals using statistics from WhoScored.
Editors Note: Please note that this is the author’s first attempt at using statistics in their articles.
The entire league has been split up into five groups:
Group 1: Aston Villa, Arsenal, Cardiff City & Chelsea (Article written by Jon Moore)
Group 2: Crystal Palace, Everton, Fulham & Hull City (Article written by Ashley Brewer)
Group 3: Manchester City, Manchester United, Newcastle United & Norwich City (This Article)
Group 4: Southampton, Stoke, Swansea & Sunderland
Group 5: West Ham United, West Bromwich Albion and Tottenham Hotspur
In this article the stats of Group 3 will be compared to Liverpool FC’s midfield of Gerrard, Henderson and Lucas.
Much has been said about Liverpool’s display during the sobering 2-0 loss to Arsenal, with much of the debate centring on Liverpool’s lacklustre midfield. Podcasts, write-ups and analytical reviews have been a dime, a dozen – so, naturally, myself and the team at Anfield Index have decided it’s our turn to try to shed some light on the positives and negatives of Liverpool’s midfield. There is much to be discussed, questions such as, “what is our best formation?” and “who’s the weak link?” spring to mind straight away. These simple questions have had analysts and stattos tearing their hair out all week (I assume) so here’s my thinking on the subject of Liverpool’s midfield and where I think we can improve. I’ll be using statistics supplied by WhoScored.com and I will be comparing the Reds with a group of teams consisting of Manchester City, Manchester United, Newcastle United and Norwich City – a nice, mixed bag containing a top team, an efficient team, a mid table candidate and a relegation struggler.
Just to be clear, these are the players I’ve researched for each team: from Manchester City I’ve gone for David Silva, Yaya Touré and Fernandinho, for Manchester United I’ve gone for Michael Carrick, Marouane Fellaini and Tom Cleverley, from Newcastle United I’ve gone for Yohan Cabaye, Vernon Anita and Moussa Sissoko and from Norwich City I’ve gone for the trio of Leroy Fer, Jonny Howson and Bradley Johnson.
Is a settled midfield working for Liverpool?
First of all, I’d like to discuss what I found when I delved into the statistics regarding Liverpool’s midfield efficiency. For Liverpool, the three midfielders I selected for comparison were Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson and Lucas Leiva because those are the three players who have played in midfield for Liverpool the most times this season (however, it must be mentioned that some of Jordan Henderson’s appearances were made from positions such as right-wing back and left-wing so there is perhaps a need for caution when dealing with these statistics). The statistics I looked at were the following: appearances, goals scored, assists, pass completion percentages, average interceptions per game, average tackles per game, key passes per game and, finally, times dispossessed per game. These stats represent a wide spectrum of things midfielders need to do well with regards to both offensive and defensive play. Of these eight stats, Liverpool came top in three of them so there are good initial signs.
I think the easiest question to begin with is this: has the midfield been settled? Supposedly this gives the advantage of familiarity and consistency and also shows that, should Liverpool be a leader in this category, any poor stats thereafter mean Rodgers should consider changing either his system or his starting XI personnel. As it happens the Reds are the leaders in this category with a combined average of 9.3 appearances each in the first ten games of the season. This is a good initial sign for Liverpool as it shows they have a settled midfield, with Manchester City coming in second with an average of 8.7 appearances and Newcastle coming in third with a slightly lower average of 8.66 appearances each.
Now, this is a very easy stat to start us off with and it can tell us a number of different things. The first thing it can tell us is that Liverpool have had one of the most settled midfields in the league with Steven Gerrard and Lucas totting up a combined eighteen appearances in the first ten games of the season. This is great for Rodgers who has had a decent squad to select from with limited amounts of injuries in this section of the pitch. However, this positive can easily become a negative (although it is never my intention to be deliberately negative about Liverpool FC) with Liverpool seemingly needing a change in personnel or system as they have completely failed to regularly control games despite having a settled team in the most important part of the pitch. In short, something is wrong in this midfield despite the consistent nature of it’s personnel, meaning either Rodgers is setting the team up wrong or the midfield is simply not good enough – personally, I think it’s the latter.
Goals, Goals, Goals… Well not quite
Something everybody can relate to is the goals scored column. Attackers are always the most heralded players in a team and everybody knows how many goals this striker has scored and how many chances this striker has missed in the last six home games. You get it, we’re all interested in goals and that’s why we love football. However, this particular column is one where Liverpool have struggled. Of the five teams I have looked at, Liverpool are joint second – but with two other teams so don’t be fooled, the level of goals from Liverpool’s midfield is really, really poor.
From the trio of Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson and Lucas, Liverpool have benefitted from just two goals in the opening ten games of Premier League football. That’s an average of 0.2 goals per game and this sees them level with Newcastle United and Norwich City – two teams the Reds would absolutely expect to finish above come May. In contrast, Manchester City have been spectacular in this department with the trio of midfielders contributing 0.8 goals per game – including five goals for Yaya Touré and three goals for David Silva.
In addition to this, both of Liverpool’s midfield scored goals have been from the penalty spot meaning Liverpool have had next to no open play goal threat from the midfield for the first quarter of the season.
You’d have to say that Liverpool are really struggling in this department and that more goals must start coming from midfield if the Reds are to sustain a top four fight. If Manchester City are to continue the trend of goals scored from midfield, together with their strikers bagging bucket-loads themselves, you’d have to say the Sky Blues are heading for a title fight and should finish above Liverpool – of course, there’s a lot of football to be played but a team with goalscoring strikers and midfielders usually finishes in the top three.
The anomaly in my research was Manchester United who have scored zero goals from the three central midfielders I looked into. They could struggle, like Liverpool, if one of their key strikers picks up an injury, however, in contrast to Liverpool the Mancunians have a very good back-up in the shape of Javier Hernández.
Unfortunately this means Liverpool must either wrap their star strikers in cotton wool or risk them getting an injury and disrupting a very good start to the season – Rodgers must either keep Sturridge and Suárez fit or coax some goals out of this midfield. I’d prefer it if Liverpool signed a box-to-box goalscoring midfielder to avoid the Reds becoming two predictable with goals coming from only one part of the team.
The picture becomes even less bright for Liverpool fans when you look into the amount of assists the midfield has created for Liverpool this season. After ten games the midfield trio of Gerrard, Henderson and Lucas has supplied just two assists. This is a team scoring goals, yet the midfield have barely managed an assist between them. At current, the Reds central midfield is supplying just 0.2 assists per game – a grim outlook. Acknowledged, central midfielders are not always the kings when it comes to assists but for three players who should be consistently in the opponents half a return of two is poor. Both of these assists were supplied by Steven Gerrard which suggests others need to start pulling their weight with regards to supplying “key interventions” however, Gerrard is the main set piece taker for the team which allows him to regularly carve out chances and assists – in fact, he’s is one of the top chance creators this season – so really, it’s the midfield on the whole which isn’t supplying enough of a threat, not just Lucas and Henderson.
In this category, Liverpool once again fall well short of Manchester City’s midfield who have registered five assists between them at a rate of one assist every two games – a very real threat from midfield. The Reds also fall behind Newcastle United in this category, with the Magpies’ midfield supplying a total of three assists in the first ten games – a slightly worrying sign, despite the season still being in it’s infancy.
However, there is a glimmer of hope for Liverpool, since the 2-2 draw to Swansea City during match week four, Rodgers has been without his main focal point of creativity: Philippe Coutinho. Coutinho would have been part of this analysis had he been fit for more games as he’d almost certainly have been playing at the point of the central midfield triangle. The reason I’m mentioning this is to ensure the image doesn’t look too bleak. The Reds would almost certainly have had more midfield goals AND assists had the diminutive Brazilian been fit all season – so, these statistics are possibly the victims of unfortunate circumstance. Another positive comes from the fact that Manchester United again supplied zero in this category – a team Liverpool should be rivalling for a top four finish, being above United’s midfield in the goals scored and created columns could prove vital this season.
Next Page: Passing, Creativity and The Shield! Plus conclusions on where Liverpool rank.