Should Rodgers build Liverpool’s defence around Agger? | Stats Analysis


Liverpool’s 2012-13 season was definitely one full of mixed feelings. The team played their first campaign under a new manager, who was trying to implement his footballing philosophy. A mixture of questionable transfers and confusion on the last day of the transfer window forced Rodgers, in his first season at Liverpool, to give the youngsters a chance, and although most of them (especially Raheem Sterling) were highly impressive, the lack of experience backfired as the Reds couldn’t find consistency through out the most of a season. A poor start was the achilles heel as  Liverpool finish 7th in the Premier League table, missing out on European football. Can they finish higher this season? Why not place a bet at

Summing up the 2012-13 campaign up Liverpool supporters usually underline the progress made by the team under Rodgers, pointing out that in the second half of a season the team played better game by game (with some small exceptions of course). Some great transfers in Coutinho and Sturridge were also praised as a huge positive. The overall optimism is spoiled a bit by one worrying fact – Liverpool were really shaky at the back without Carragher, with their stupid mistakes costing them way too many important goals.

Even though Pepe Reina was responsible for some of those defensive woes, the truth is that the central defenders weren’t at top of their game either. Now the rebuilding process begins with the acquisition of Kolo Toure. Some transfer rumours suggest that Sebastian Coates and Martin Skrtel could be on their way out of the team, which means that at least another centre back could be purchased during this transfer window. It seems like Daniel Agger is the only centre back that is secure with regards to his future at the club.

Most of my fellow Reds don’t doubt Rodger’s choice. Agger seems to be our best defender, and is also really devoted to the club, which makes many want him to take Carragher’s place as the team’s vice-captain. However, I’ve also heard a few voices saying that Agger is overrated and he was as responsible for our last season’s defensive problems as well as Martin Skrtel. I found that point of view interesting enough to check and see what the numbers say about it.

Agger 2011-12 vs Agger 2012-13 – Did Danny decline?

Agger 11-12 vs 12-13

Let’s start with analysing if Agger’s performances got worse compared to 2011-12 – the season of his great partnership with Martin Skrtel. First off, it seems like Agger ground 50-50’s win percentage didn’t fall too much. The 4% difference is rather small so that stat doesn’t seem like a reason to worry about. It’s the same with his aerial 50-50’s win percentage, which only fell by 3%.

What changed much more are the tackle success percentage and minutes per interception stat. Surprisingly, Agger’s tackling seemed better in Liverpool’s worst defensive season as he has achieved 65.63% tackle success in 2011-12 campaign compared to last term’s 72.22%. His minutes per interception stat got much worse, though – in 2012-13 it took Daniel almost 12 more minutes to intercept opposition’s pass than it did earlier.

Premier League players found it harder to beat Agger with their dribbling last season, as Danny’s mins per dribbled past ratio rose from 237.89 to 258.33. The stats suggest that he didn’t get much more error prone as in the 2012-13 he committed just one mistake compared to previous year where he committed none. It’s also worth a note that this defensive error didn’t finish with the opposition scoring so it didn’t cost Liverpool much – note these defensive errors are only counted when a misplaced pass is made so these errors do not count bad positioning etc – more on that later.

Unsurprisingly, Agger’s passing stats got better under Rodgers. It’s something you’ll see for the majority of the Liverpool squad since Brendan took over, but they send more of their passes sidewards instead of playing them forward which is not a bad thing – they are dictating the play with the ball and looking for the right opportunity and run to pick out a team mate.

The comparison of 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons suggest that, although his stats differed in some area, Daniel didn’t perform worse than he was in Kenny Dalglish’s last campaign.

Agger vs Skrtel and Toure – is Daniel really Liverpool’s strongest defender?

Agger vs rest of LFC CB's

Although the previous comparison suggests that Agger didn’t decline last season, it didn’t prove he deserves to have the Reds’ defence built around him. The comparison to his fellow Liverpool centre-backs should tell us if he’s really the strongest one, who deserves to be the fundamental part of Rodgers’ plans. I didn’t include Sebastian Coates as he barely got a chance to play any Premier League football, plus it seems like he’s the one most likely to leave the team.

When it comes to ground 50-50’s win percentage, Daniel seems the best with his 65% compared to Skrtel’s 58% and Toure’s 60%. The Dane is also the second one aerially, losing only to Martin’s great 70%. The worrying thing here is how low Toure’s win percentage is. Still, it seems like Rodgers added Kolo into the team as a squad player and the real first-choice defender is yet to be bought.

Surprisingly, Skrtel seems to be the best at tackling too, having achieved much bigger tackle success percentage than Toure and Agger. He also has achieved the highest pass completion and it was more difficult to dribble past him than any of the compared three, whilst Daniel was the one to intercept opposition’s passes the most frequently.

If the stats finished here, saying that Skrtel is in fact Liverpool’s best defender and doesn’t deserve the uncertainty surrounding his future would be totally understandable. There is one, very important stat that changes everything, though. That stat is the minutes per defensive error ratio, and while Toure didn’t commit even a single mistake and Agger made just one error, Skrtel was guilty of making 5 mistakes, a one every 416 minutes. That’s way too many and it seems like a good explanation of why Martin lost his starting place to Carragher.

Looking at those stats, Agger seem like the most reliable option Rodgers has at the moment. The other thing worth a notice is that Skrtel seems really impressive in some areas and if he removed the errors from his game, he may become Liverpool’s key player once again. That’s why I’d give him another chance to prove he’s worth being part of Brendan’s team.

Agger vs some other central backs – is Liverpool star really overrated?

Agger vs other PL CB's
Click to enlarge

For this comparison I’ve chosen some other renowned Premier League defenders, all of whom are very important players for their teams. First, there are PFA Team of the Year members – Ferdinand and Verthongen. Kompany is still Manchester City’s best centre back, Ivanovic and Jagielka both enjoyed pretty good seasons, Vermaelen is the footballer playing the similar role to Agger in the team with similar defensive problems, and finally there is Williams, who seems to be in demand, being constantly linked with a move to some strong Premier League teams. How does Daniel look compared to them?

As for the ground 50-50’s win percentage, he’s only fifth despite being the best at Liverpool when it comes to ground duels. His ratio of 65% is much worse than Jagielka’s 77% and Ferdinand’s 74%. On the other hand, it’s still much better than Williams’ 54%. Still, Agger is just slightly below average of all those compared players, which is 66.38%.

Only Kompany and Jagielka are better than Daniel aerially, with their 50-50’s win percentage being a little bit higher than this of Agger. It doesn’t mean he’s way better than the rest of that comparison, as Verthongen and Ivanovic achieved the same ratios as the Liverpool defender.  Danny won 61% of his aerial duels, which is slightly better than the average of the compared group, which is 60.25%.

The stat that could be a bit worrying for Liverpool fans is Agger’s tackle success percentage. He was the worst one in his club’s defenders comparison, being way behind Skrtel and losing slightly to Toure, and now only Williams and Jagielka are worse than him. He is also below the average of the defenders that are compared here, which is 76.08. It seems like tackling is something Daniel should work on.

The comparison of minutes per interception ratios shows us some big differences inside the group. There are the likes of Williams and Verthongen, who are intercepting opposition’s passes around every 27 minutes, and the likes of Ivanovic and Ferdinand, who need more than 50 minutes to do that. Agger is neither with his minutes per interception ratio of 44.29.

The average of that group is 40.88, but I wouldn’t make too much out of that particular stat, as it seems very dependent on how do individual teams play their football. A simple example – it’s hard to intercept a ball when your teammates are the ones who have it most of the time (yeah, I know this applies to all of the minutes-per-something ratios, but in this particular case the team’s tactics seem to be much more influential). That’d also explain the big differences between the players.

Even though his minutes per dribbled past ratio got higher compared to 11-12 season, Agger still seems to be way too easy to beat. Of all the compared players, only Verthongen got beaten by opposition’s dribbling more frequently. Danny’s also quite close to Thomas Vermaelen, but all the rest of that comparison is far away from those three. The average of the group is 376.87, so looking at Agger’s 258,33 you got to say there is room for improvement.

When you look at the compared defenders minutes per defensive error stats, Agger looks really good there. He’s made just one mistake in 3100 minutes he spent on the pitch, which means he’s one of the best here. Actually, only Kompany could possibly look better in that comparison, as he didn’t make even a single mistake in the 2239 minutes he played. You don’t even have to calculate the average of those players to know Danny is way over it.

Agger also looks really good in pass completion comparison. Only Ferdinand and Kompany found a teammate with higher percentage of their passes than Daniel, and still the difference between the three isn’t large. Unsurprisingly then, Agger’s 88.30% pass completion is better than the group’s average of 85.18%.

Although his tackling needs to get better and he is way too easy to beat with opposition’s dribbling, Agger doesn’t look bad compared to those defenders. He’s not the best one at any of those stats, but he’s not the worst one either. His ratios are usually around the group’s average, with the slight exception of minutes per dribble past ratio, that is quite a lot worse than average, and minutes per defensive error stat that surely is much higher than the group’s average. Overall, looking at those numbers I’d say he’s up there with the league’s best.

A really interesting thing is how good Martin Skrtel would do in quite a many of that comparison areas. He’d be the strongest one in the air, the best at tackling, the hardest one to get dribbled past and also the best passer of the ball. Again, his minutes per defensive error ratio would be by far the worst one, though.

So, everything seems fine, right?

Well, I’d love it to be that simple. Unfortunately, when it comes to defenders the stats never tell you the whole story. There is a problem with Danny, which Opta’s watchful eye couldn’t put into numbers. The thing is, with defensive errors we can see in the player’s stats are not all of his defensive mistakes. Only the ones defender makes while being in possession count to that stat, which means that marking or positional errors are not included. So, while on paper Agger did really well in that aspect, in reality he’s made quite a few costly mistakes that are not added to his stats. Oh so you’d like some evidence on that? Here we go.

1) Liverpool vs West Brom – Danny’s poor positioning allows Lukaku to get unchallenged into the box and score. Agger should be blocking the way towards the goal instead of standing next to WBA striker:


2) Manchester United vs Liverpool – Agger loses his concentration for a brief second, letting van Persie tap the ball in from a good position:


There’s also Edin Dzeko’s goal from the game at Etihad, but unfortunately I didn’t manage to get any good pictures for it. Anyway, the thing is, despite looking good statistically Agger is much more error-prone than he should be. Of course, every defender may have similar errors to his name, so the fact Daniel was guilty of a few goals doesn’t necessarily mean he’s much worse than most of the centre backs he’s been compared to in this article. It does mean, however, that Agger has some problems with his concentration and positioning. Those problems need fixing if he is to be Liverpool’s most important defender next season.

It could also mean that Martin Skrtel’s bashing isn’t as justified as it seemed. Yes, he’s been way too error prone during the last season, but he’s not the only one to have made some costly mistakes. Given that his defensive mistakes were the only problem with Skrtel’s stats, maybe it would be a good idea to give him another chance, especially considering how impressive his other stats were – apart from the error stat he actually seemed much better than the rest of his fellow Liverpool defenders and even rivals.

As for Agger, even though he’s got some mistakes to his name he’s still a cracking player. Maybe there is some truth in the statement saying that Liverpool fans overrate Danny, but there’s not much of it. Statistically he didn’t decline compared to his great 11-12 season and he looks quite good matched with Skrtel and Toure. The comparison with some other strong centre backs showed he’s not worse than them, underlining Agger’s strong and weak sides. Daniel did well in aerial 50-50’s, and achieved a nice pass ceompletion. His ground 50-50’s win percentage wasn’t bad either.

There is some room for improvement, though, as Agger has been dribbled past way too often and his tackling was a bit below par. Finally, as can be seen at the gifs above, Danny needs to work on his positioning and concentration.

Though Agger may not be as good as some consider him to be, I can see why Rodgers wants to build his defence around the Dane. He’s a ball-playing defender that perfectly fits Brendan’s style. He’s decent both aerially and on the ground and does really well with the ball at his feet. If he eliminates the mistakes out of his game, Daniel is most definitely able to become a part of a strong defensive block. But can he do that? We’ll have to wait until the start of the new season to get the answer to that question.

The Romelu Lukaku goal gif was taken from

[box_light]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.[/box_light]


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