Jamie Carragher is a player who needs no introduction. In his lengthy career there is only one trophy that has eluded him; he has racked up over 650 appearances for the club often playing more than 50 games a season. He has made 137 European appearances for Liverpool (as of 24/02/2011) which is a British record. Never one to shy away from a challenge or quietly go about his business, in fact there is barely a match that goes by when you can’t hear him barking out orders to his team mates even when playing to an audience of tens of thousands, he has come in for criticism, been labelled not good enough an overlooked for England but has still remained a first choice defender for Liverpool for over a decade.
But now in his 33rd year as he approaches the final stages of his 15th campaign he is finding himself under the microscope more and more often. So what do the stats actually say about Jamie? Is he overrated or underrated, wrongly or rightly overlooked?
Well, in order to paint a clear picture of how Jamie performs for the club, I’m going to drag you all the way back to the start of the 2006/2007 season and then work up to the present day, using all defensive stats available, added with some sound knowledge as to how the ‘team’ was performing in general at the time to add some context to what you’re reading, I aim to give you the complete picture as to just how this Liverpool legend has performed, and then at the end I will offer an honest opinion and try to answer the questions posed above.
I would like to point out though that the following stats are for LEAGUE games only.
At the start of this season the club was still on a high, and what a high it was, crowned champions of Europe for the 5th time in 2005, we followed it up with a 7th FA Cup in 2006. But the clubs rapid rise as a real threat to Europe’s Elite under Rafa Benitez was not to end this season. Eventually we would end up missing out on a 6th European Cup to AC Milan in a repeat of the 2005 final, and secure a 3rd place finish in the league.
This season Carra made a total of 35 appearances in the league, helping the reds to 19 victories whilst featuring in only 7 defeats, the 3 games he missed, resulted in 1 victory and 2 defeats with the reds conceding 4 goals and scoring 3. Liverpool’s winning record with Carra this season was 54.3% losing only 20% of the 35 games he featured in, compared to a losing percentage of 66.7% when Carra did not play.
|Mins on Pitch||2982|
As you can see from the table, throughout the season Carra made 1540 passes with an average of 44 per game, so he was certainly involved in the play, and a success rate of 77.5 is respectable, especially when you consider he has developed a bit of a reputation for hitting the ball long. I would also have to say that a defender successfully completing almost 75% of his tackles for the entire season is also an achievement. We all know Carra is something of an expert at well timed last ditch tackles, even when under pressure, and he is also not the quickest of players so I would say that whilst there is always room for improvement, his tackling is quite good. Having touched upon his reputation for hitting the ball long, in this season at least, those ‘clearances’ as they are called, were hugely successful, clearing the danger and also finding a team mate more often than not. Like I said, Carra does have a reputation for those last ditch challenges, but he also has a reputation for throwing himself into the path of the ball to prevent shots, which could lead to goals, 18 blocked shots is a stat that has more importance than perhaps people realise, consider this, a shot can lead to a few outcomes, obviously a goal, either directly, or via a deflection or the post, the ball could also come back out to an opponent via the post or the goalkeeper an then be turned into the net, or the shot could be saved or simply go wide, allowing the shot to occur opens up all these possibilities, and I think we can all agree that a goal is very likely, so the fact that Carra managed to block 18 shots on goal is significant, he could well have prevented 18 goals, or a number of goals at the least. The difference between blocking the shot and failing to block the shot could have been the difference between winning or losing a game, and I am sure, without actually knowing (as it would be impossible to know) that Carra has prevented a significant number of goals just by blocking the shots that he has and it is a contribution that would continue through the years.
This season was a very different one from the last, things were shaping up quite nicely for the reds, there would be no silverware or cup finals, but Rafa had built up a team that was proving to be very hard to beat, but despite this the team was also finding it very hard to avoid unwanted draws with the league’s lesser clubs. Again Carra would make 35 appearances but this season in his absence the club would win 2 and draw 1. The reds won 21 games this season, losing only 4 but drawing a huge 13 games managing to secure only a 4th place finish, down one place from the previous season. The clubs winning record with Carra was also 54.3%, exactly the same as the previous season whilst the statistic for defeats also dropped to a mere 11.4% meaning that 34.3% of the games he appeared in resulted in a draw.
|Mins on Pitch||3044|
From these stats it must be pointed out that whilst Carra attempted fewer passes (an average of around 4 less per game) his success rate actually improved. What did not improve however was his tackling, even though he attempted more tackles than the previous season, he actually completed fewer, finishing up with a success rate of 63.3% down 11.1% on the previous season. His clearances would also become less successful, I have to point out thought that this season he attempted 149 more clearances than the previous season and as a result also completed more than previously, but the number of unsuccessful clearances rose and the success rate dropped 21.2% to 60.2%. The number of interceptions and blocks also rose suggesting that he had more work to do than the previous season, and when you take into account that we lost less games whilst drawing more, the defence was clearly under more pressure than it had been previously.
This was the season that would see the club mount its most serious title challenge since the last time we claimed the championship. This season the reds would win 25 games, and lose only 2, but the high number of draws would see the reds take only 2nd place, but this season Carra would play all 38 league games, meaning that both he and the club achieved a winning record of 65.8% losing only 5.3% of the games.
|Mins on Pitch||3401|
It is this season more than any other that Rafa’s idea of playing the ball from the back, with slow build up play was the way forward for the club, and this is why Carra attempted more passes than any season in this period, he was involved more, and it is true that most of the passes went backwards and sideways but when you look at the stats, even just for one player, you can’t help but question whether Rafa was right in playing this way. As you can see Carra attempted 2150 passes (an average of around 56 per game), and was successful in 1809 passes with a success rate of 84.1%. Tackling also improved this season when you consider the previous season’s stats. Whilst a 73.8% success rate is perhaps not as high as we might like, it is certainly better than the rather poor 63.8% tally from the previous season. Everything else was pretty much the same or thereabouts with minimal improvement, and a significant contribution to breaking up the play and preventing shots
The season that promised so much yet delivered so little, from the high of 2009, came the low of 2010. A low of only 18 victories combined with 11 defeats would make this a season to forget for every reds fan and player. This season Carra missed only a single game and would have arguably his worst season for the club in recent times, but the same could be said for many Liverpool players this season, who quite simply, collectively, where not good enough.
|Mins on Pitch||3262|
The number of passes attempted by the #23 dropped as did the success rate down almost 10% to 76.5%, still over three quarters successful but not an improvement on the season before. Tackling would also become worse; in fact this season would see the lowest total of successful tackles by Carra for the period of this analysis, 58.6% success rate – quite simply no hiding from that one, not good enough. Successful clearances also went into decline suggesting that more often than not, he was inviting pressure back onto the defence, not a good thing when performances are poor and confidence fragile. The increased workload on the defence can also be evidenced by the number of interceptions made, all in the defensive third, and the increased number of blocks he put in. Not his best season by a long distance.
Just when you think things couldn’t get worse for the club, along comes Roy Hodgson to help with our descent. This, the current season, has been a mixed bag really, prior to January; the club was in steep decline, since the introduction of Kenny Dalglish though, there has been a remarkable change in fortunes. This season, through injury, Carra has only managed 19 appearances (as of 06/03/2011) so there are less stats to analyse, and also I must point out that the stats used previously were for seasons as a whole so when you read the stats for this season take into account that there is still room for improvement before the season ends and also consider the teams improvement under Dalglish, and how poor the team was under Hodgson – the manager for whom Carra has played the majority of those 19 games for.
|Mins on Pitch||1707|
As you can see, passing success has dipped slightly, but tackling has improved, which is always a good thing when talking about defenders. Everything else is pretty much as it was previously, the only significant change being the huge drop in interceptions, the reason being, Hodgson’s style of play, restricting the movements of the back four preventing them from getting into advanced positions were they could intercept the play.
Right, so I have deliberately held off from offering any real opinions on the stats or on Carra himself. The reason being that the stats just tell one story that can be interpreted many different ways. We all have our own views and opinions, so I will now offer my opinion of Carra with reference also to the stats.
Firstly, let’s look at the stats side by side:
|Mins on Pitch||2982||3044||3401||3262||1707||14396|
First consider that these stats cover a period of time starting with Carra aged 28 up to the present day 33. He isn’t getting younger, and at age 33 it won’t be long before he is no longer a permanent fixture in the reds starting 11.
Never regarded as one of the fastest, it is fair to say that in recent seasons he has struggled far more than at any other point in his career. Over the same period there has been a real boost in young, fast attacking talent, and for ageing centre backs such as Carra this has been something of a nightmare. Yet, he has still managed to hold his place as a first choice CB, has earned a recall to the England squad for the World Cup at age 32 and has played in pretty much every game he has been eligible to play in. Now that really is some achievement.
Focussing on his passing for a moment. Over 5 seasons he has (so far) accumulated a success rate of 78.9% from a total of almost 8000 passes. For me, I think there will be very few defenders out there, younger or older who can boast a success rate so high, from the same number of passes, and there is still a chance that this could actually get higher, maybe even hit the 80% mark before the current season ends. There may be some who argue that the majority of his passes go backwards or sideways, and the ones that go forwards are hit long and without success, but this argument actually shows just how good a passer of the ball Carra is. It is true that he has developed a habit of hitting long hopeful passes (something which is on the decline under KD), and that many of them are unsuccessful, but that surely must mean that every pass he plays to feet are successful most if not all of the time, so if Carra was playing more passes to feet with accuracy rather than hoofing in hope, the pass success rate would be higher. For me, his passing is not the best, but by no means is it the worst, and I think under KD there will be an improvement in his passing as the style of play seems to be a return to the pass and move days, which will only benefit the players.
Tackling, now after looking at these stats I have to say that I am surprised that his overall success rate is only 67.3% form almost 700 tackles. Carra has always stood out as a competent tackler and something of an expert when it comes to last ditch tackles that usually prevent a goal. But, looking at it in context, these stats cover only the years 2006-2011, like I said, Carra has gotten older and slower, whilst his attacking opponents have gotten younger and quicker – not that they’ve aged backwards! There have just been more younger, faster players brought through, and the overall pace of the game has increased. So, after considering this, it comes as no surprise that this his tackling has declined, and I think that if the stats for the 5 seasons prior to this were reviewed they would tell a different story.
One thing that does stand out for me is the number of blocks that he has made over the last 5 years, 106, that is no small number really, and as I explained above, those blocks are vital, they have prevented goals and goal scoring opportunities, if even half of those blocks never occurred then the clubs league positions could change significantly, they are the difference between winning and losing games or settling for a disappointing draw. Now I’m not saying that other players do not block shots, but in the Liverpool team, when you talk about last ditch defending, blocked shots, throwing everything on the line to prevent a goal, then the first name out of everyone’s mouths when talking about the present day Liverpool team is Jamie Carragher.
He will always be a player remembered for giving his all, and stats tell just one side of the story, there is much more than Carra offers to the team that no statistic can measure. For one his organisation skills, there is no doubt that for some time now he has marshalled the defence superbly, and his voice can regularly be heard over the noise of sell out crowds up and down the country, he is a true leader who could never be accused of shying away from a challenge or going easy on his opponents or his team mates for that matter. He demands the highest standards from himself and his team mates, he has spoken out in the bad times and been brutally honest in doing so, he has never expressed a desire to leave the club, and many players past and present and pundits alike have him earmarked to be a top manager when he finally does hang up his boots.
For the time being though, there is no chance of him giving up his starting place without a fight, and despite his age and the increased competition for places along that backline he could well be a permanent fixture of the reds defence for another season or two, before he takes on the role of the reliable back up defender.
Maybe not the best on the ball, constantly overlooked and underrated by the game’s hierarchy, but there is a reason why the Kop sings of a team of Carragher’s, and whilst that probably would be a team that didn’t score too many goals, it would probably be the most determined and committed team in Europe. In my opinion Carra offers so much more to the team and will have more to offer even past his retirement.
The stats are all there, and the game is all about opinions, so what do you think of our #23? Let us know by leaving a comment below and feel free to use the stats as you do so!