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Liverpool: They shoot, they score, but should less be more? | Stats Analysis

[quote]Liverpool: Have had the most shots (425) in Europe’s top 5 leagues this season, but 87 of the 98 teams have a better conversion rate (7.6%)

— (@WhoScored) January 19, 2013


The above tweet from WhoScored was tweeted prior to game against Norwich, and 9 goals in 3 games has seen the shot conversion rate increase to 8.4% and no doubt move Liverpool up the rankings. But it got me got me thinking, one of the premises of the patient, possession based style of football that Brendan Rodgers would like Liverpool to play is that it should in theory create better chances, but with the likely effect that less chances are actually created. So what has happened, how is it that Liverpool have created more chances than anyone else in Europe whilst also having one of the lowest conversion rates?

Whilst a relatively crude measure, as they are driven by both the quality of the finishing as well as the quality of chances created, I’ll start by looking at shooting accuracy and conversion rates, as they can give an indication of how easy the chances created are to score, as on average, a player will convert a greater proportion of easier chances.

[table id=168 /]

Conversion rates exclude own goals. Shooting Accuracy excludes blocked shots. Chance = A shot on or off target, excluding blocked shots. CCC = Clear Cut Chance

The first thing that jumps out is that Liverpool are on average taking 1.5 shots per game more this season compared to last. So much for a more patient build up play! Whilst shooting accuracy has changed little, conversion rates have seen an improvement, and what is also noticeable is the easier the chance, so shots on target conversion and CCC conversion, the greater the improvement.

Is this down to creating easier chances or just better finishing? It is well-known that Liverpool’s conversion rates were poor last season, as discussed in this article on EPLIndex.com, but they become even worse when you consider that Liverpool actually created a lot of good chances. When the shot difficulty is also taken into account, as has been done at team level by Differentgame, and on individual player level by Opta, then it is clear just how bad Liverpool’s finishing was last season, so perhaps it couldn’t get any worse and the only way was up.

I think it is important to not only compare to how Liverpool did last season, but also compared to the rest of the league, and as we can see, Liverpool are lagging behind when looking at shooting accuracy and shots and chance conversion, and it’s not until we again look at the easier chances that they start to look more respectable. However, Liverpool’s current aspirations are to return to being a Champions League club, and when compared to the top 4 averages, Liverpool’s shooting accuracy and conversion rates look even worse. There is clearly some work to be done.

[table id=169 /]
So what’s happened since last season? Well, for a start, 2 of Liverpool’s worst culprits are not with the club this season, Kuyt having left for Turkey and Carroll on loan at West Ham, although that was countered by two of the better finishers in Bellamy and Maxi also leaving. The other big difference is the massive improvement by Suarez’, and having taken 29% of Liverpool’s shots this season, as well as 27 more shots than anyone else in the league, it is his improvement that is driving Liverpool’s improvement. 2+2=11’s blog has taken a closer look at Suarez’ improvement from last season to this, but when you take Suarez’ numbers out of the equation, whilst the rest of the team is converting more than the previous season, they are still not good enough when you compare to the rest of the league, although only having one recognised striker for most of the season is unlikely to have helped.

 [table id=170 /]

Are Liverpool creating the easier chances we would expect them to? Well, by a number of measures, they do not appear to be. If we consider that the more defenders there are between the player shooting and the goal then the harder the shot is, as there is a less clear sight of goal, possibly more pressure being applied to the person taking the shot, and more chance of a shot being blocked, then the percentage of shots being blocked is a good proxy for difficulty of the type of shots being taken. Last season 22.8% of Liverpool’s shots were blocked, this season that has increased to 28.7%. Another measure we can look at is what proportion of chances being made are Clear Cut Chances, the greater the proportion, the easier the chances in general that are being created. Last season 17.9% of Liverpool’s chances were Clear Cut Chances, this year it has fallen to 17.0%. We can also look at the rate of Clear Cut Chances per game, this has also reduced this season, although only by a small amount from 2.4 per game to 2.3 per game, using the CCC conversion rate, this could have amounted to another goal or 2 scored so far this season.

  [table id=171 /]

So Liverpool are not are not necessarily creating easier chances, but their conversion rates have gone up, so the quality of their finishing must have improved, right? Well, at the most basic level we’ve seen that shooting accuracy has barely increased. Another way to see if it is improved finishing that has improved is to look at shot placement and if the shots are in the corners, but in this case, shot placement between seasons is also pretty similar. Last season saw 46.4% of shots in the bottom corner and 13.0% in the top corners, whilst this season has seen 47.1% and 11.6% respectively. However it did seem that many goal keepers saved their best game of the season for Liverpool last year, and as noted in the blog by Opta posted above, both Suarez and Kuyt were particularly unlucky, missing out on an expected 11.8 goals between them due to good goal keeping by Opta’s calculations (although Bellamy was fortunate with 3 of his goals). When you also consider that Liverpool had a record-breaking number of shots hit the woodwork, it becomes clear how much of a role luck, although I think the term chance is more appropriate, can play.

Perhaps counter intuitively, despite the change in style introduced by Rodgers, Liverpool are in fact creating more chances than last season, and it is this increase in chance creation, as well as a big improvement in the finishing of easier chances that should be scored that has seen Liverpool’s goal return improve this season. However they are a team in transition, and my guess is that they are now creating better quality chances than they were earlier in the season. 25 goals in the last 10 league games certainly gives that impression anyway! Where once there were few players making runs into the box and shots were taken with little chance of scoring from, they are now combining better decision-making and improved movement to create easier chances. The addition of Sturridge, as we have already seen, and Coutinho, as well as the return to fitness of Borini, should help in terms of both creating and finishing chances, although we may see less shots being taken. Brendan Rodgers will hope that by this time next year, Liverpool will have a conversion rate that is better than 87 of the teams in Europe’s top 5 leagues, rather than worse.

All of the stats from this article have been taken from the Opta Stats Centre at EPLIndex.comSubscribe Now (Includes author privileges!) Check out our new Top Stats feature on the Stats Centre which allows you to compare all players in the league & read about new additions to the stats centre.

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