Liverpool are the masters of chaos – and the polar opposite of Manchester City

For all the progress that has been made in statistical analysis in recent years, football is still a very difficult sport to analyze in detail.

There are various reasons why it is more difficult than any other big league game, but perhaps the simplest is the lack of goals. It’s the lowest-scoring game in the world, meaning teams aren’t always rewarded for doing the right thing, and dominance doesn’t always lead to success.

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Another consequence is that the nature of the groups can vary greatly between good and bad without acting very differently. And while it’s easy to work backwards from the conclusion and turn heroes into villains, it’s often difficult to understand exactly what has changed.

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Perhaps the most difficult team to analyze recently has been Liverpool. Considering that they are European elites, who seem to be the leading group in data analysis, this sounds strange. Or maybe it’s not surprising at all and Liverpool are doing things that others haven’t learned to measure. But it is worth looking at the numbers to explain how difficult it has been to assess Liverpool’s performance compared to what we expected.

Jurgen Klopp


Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool were inconsistent (Image: Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

“Expected” now takes on two different meanings. There is a real sense of expectation: how we expected Liverpool to perform at the start of each season. And then there’s a new analytics concept to look forward to: Liverpool’s expected numbers (xG). No matter how you look at it, Liverpool have been a very unusual side.

Below are the numbers from Jurgen Klopp’s six full seasons in charge of Liverpool. “Score” is the sum of their scores. Their “PSE” is the pre-season prediction of their final score, taken from the SportingIndex betting markets, which serves as a good summary of the overall outlook. The xG column shows their expected score based on their expected numbers from all 38 games, as calculated by Understat.

Details PSE xG

2018-19

97

81

83

2019-20

99

86

74

2020-21

69

86

69

2021-22

92

77

87

Obviously, there is a big difference here and what is interesting is the relationship between the different categories. Now there’s another table – the first showing how Liverpool have over- or under-performed in relation to their pre-season expectations, then in terms of their xG figures. The last column shows how they performed in terms of xG relative to pre-season expectations.

PSE is different xG is different PSE – xG diff

2018-19

16

14

-2

2019-20

13

25

12

2020-21

-17

17

2021-22

15

5

-10

Some of these numbers are surprising.

Firstly, in the last four seasons, Liverpool have not come within 13 points of their pre-season expectations – three times they have topped the SportingIndex ratings, only falling short. .

Secondly, Liverpool have not been doing well in terms of their xG difference, and in those four seasons there are 44 points more than xG would suggest.

Thirdly, there are very large changes in the relationship between early prospects and their xG numbers.

At this point, it is important to show Manchester City’s equal numbers. The point here is not to compare these two parties in terms of performance but in terms of their performance based on expectations.

Here are the City numbers…

PTS PSE xG

2018-19

98

88

91

2019-20

81

93

87

2020-21

86

89

83

2021-22

93

87

92

And here, moreover, is the relationship between the numbers of the City.

PSE is different xG is different PSE – xG diff

2018-19

10

7

-3

2019-20

-12

-6

6

2020-21

-3

3

6

2021-22

6

1

-5

However, Manchester City were not completely predictable, their performances were easier to predict than Liverpool’s.

The biggest difference between their pre-season expectations and their actual score is 12 points, less than in each of Liverpool’s four campaigns.

The difference between their average points based on xG and their total score was seven or less, while Liverpool’s gap was as high as 25.

And perhaps even more interestingly, the preseason prospects stay close to their respective xG differences.

Of course, City are a predictable side, but Liverpool are very confused – which, in general, suits their style of play.

What’s happening this season? The pre-season betting markets tipped Liverpool to win 86 points, now they say it will be around 71. xG figures suggest they may have won by one point more than they have.

In other words, this is similar to the last two seasons, when they were underperforming in terms of pre-season expectations, but not in terms of their xG. This time, of course, they are not immune to back injury problems.

Let’s take this season’s 71-point finish as gospel. That would be a drop of 21 points from last year. But in reality it would be just six points more than last season’s pre-season target. It could be a higher number than two years ago, based on actual data and xG. And perhaps uniquely, it’s only three points more than xG would suggest they could have managed since their title-winning season.

Liverpool Cup


Liverpool’s Premier League victory in 2020 has been a statistical feat (Image: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

So, even if we don’t ignore Liverpool’s current slump, it is important to remember that their numbers in recent times have been a remarkable performance, which may not always have been entirely consistent. Of course, if you compare their numbers directly to their regular players, they never had Liverpool’s pre-season expectations before Manchester City, and their xG numbers never ever higher than City’s, even in their title-winning season. .

Needless to say, this leaves us with more questions than answers. But perhaps the correct conclusion we can reach is that while Manchester City is a well-built team that works in an almost predictable manner, Liverpool is very different. Liverpool have always been emotional, chaotic, incoherent, whether under Klopp or in the 15 years before him – think Alaves in 2001, AC Milan in 2005 or West Ham in 2006. something about Alaves in 2001. Liverpool defying the norm.

At times this season, Klopp has seemed unable to provide a complete answer to why Liverpool are struggling so hard. It doesn’t satisfy fans, but in a way, it’s good enough. Likewise, it has often been difficult to explain why Liverpool have been so good.

(Top photo: Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images)



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