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Liverpool | It’s a new (beach) ball game!

Liverpool met Sunderland, last season, against the backdrop of fan protests, towards the owners of the club, and amid an atmosphere of growing unease, and uncertainty, following the appointment of Roy Hodgson.  Fast-forward twelve months and much is different!

Following what can only be described as a successful summer of transfer dealings, optimism is even higher amongst Liverpool fans than it was when King Kenny was appointed back in January.  In addition the clear support, of the manager, provided by Messrs Henry and Werner, will ensure that there is complete positivity amongst the Anfield faithful.  It is safe to say that there will be no protests before or after the match!

You will recall that last seasons game at Anfield finished 2 – 2, with Kuyt continuing the recent tradition of controversial goals and Gerrard scoring the second.  Darren Bent notched a brace for Sunderland (one a penalty) in between the Liverpool goals.  Whilst there will clearly be two different teams taking to the field on the 13th August, from reviewing the stats of last seasons Sunderland game, I feel that there will be some areas that Dalglish will be looking to address.

Potential Areas of Development: LFC V Sunderland 2010-11

Crossing Breakdown LFC V SAFC

  • 23 Crosses
  • 20 Caught by Mingolet (SAFC GK)
  • Remaining 3 were corners into the box
  • 0 Byline crosses

There is no doubt that Dalglish has made signings that will address these issues amongst others (issues such as the lack of penetration from the left wing have previously been reported in another excellent blog on EPL Index).

In my opinion one of the reasons (not the only one) behind the signing of Suarez was to improve Liverpool’s ability to penetrate the final third, and retain possession (similar to the aims of Man City when signing David Silva).  Suarez’s movement and ability to create space between the opposition’s back four and midfielders, was frequently demonstrated following his arrival from Ajax in January.

The signings of Henderson and Adam should also improve Liverpool’s ability to improve the amount, and accuracy, of attacking half passes and final third entries.  Henderson had the joint highest (alongside Malbranque) Open Play Pass Completion (OPP), of the Sunderland midfielders, over the 2010-11 season at 81%.  Adam did not have the highest OPP percentage of the Blackpool midfielders; that award went to a likely opponent, in the match against Sunderland, David Vaughan.  Adam’s OPP was 72%, whilst Vaughan’s was 87%.  On the face of it this stat may come as a surprise although it must be noted that Adam’s OPP Forwards was 63%, compared to Vaughan’s 51% for the season.  The fact that Adam attempts more forward open play passes should improve Liverpool’s ability to penetrate the final third.  Indeed Adam was the second leading player in assists from open play during the 2010-11 season, with 4.

The signing of Downing will undoubtedly help to improve Liverpool’s frequency and accuracy of passes on the wing, both left and right should Dalglish give him the option to swap wings during the game.  It should also be noted that, even playing as one of the three central midfielders, the naturally left footed Adam will also help to improve the frequency of passes to the left wing. Downing (and possibly to some extent Enrique in the future) should also improve Liverpool’s crossing.  As reported previously in this blog Liverpool made 23 crosses; 20 of which were caught by the Sunderland goalkeeper Mingolet, with 0 crosses from the byline.

Downing completed the second highest number of crosses in the premier league last year, and it is not a huge leap to suggest that he will provide better quality crosses than Kuyt, Meireles, Rodriguez, Babel, Jovanovic and Cole.  The ability of Downing on the wing should also reduce the temptation of Liverpool players to clip the ball forward to Carroll from deep, leaving him isolated.  Downing’s tendency to dribble (0.74 successful dribbles per game V Ashley Young’s 0.53) should also increase the chance to cross from the byline.

There can be no doubt then that supporters can expect to see something significantly different to the match between these two teams last season.  Whilst there could be up to 14 new players taking to the pitch, it is also likely that fans can expect a more positive attacking approach, where the ball spends more time in LFC’s final third. That should lead to more goals scored and less conceded!

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