LIVERPOOL’S perfect start to the Premier League season is built on their revolutionary Moneyball approach and their understanding of ‘hidden stats’.
Jurgen Klopps’s side are currently top of the Premier League with four wins from four games as they hunt their first title since 1990.
Liverpool’s big spending has proven value for money because of the club’s use of ‘hidden stats’[/caption]
An expert in football data and analytics says Liverpool’s transformation into serious title contenders is all down to how they crunch the numbers, and especially the way it has improved their transfer dealings.
Rory Campbell, a sports better and owner of sports analytics business C&N Sporting Risk, told SunSport that Liverpool’s progression is being driven by a deep analysis of what he describes as a player’s ‘underlying numbers’.
These are statistics that go beyond simple measurements like goals, shots and crosses.
Campbell – whose company advises a range of organisations in different sports, including a number of football clubs – believes Liverpool are way ahead of any other Premier League club in the way it uses analytics as part of its transfer strategy.
The use of data has flourished at Liverpool since its American owners Fenway Sports Group. led by John W Henry, bought the club in 2010.
Moneyball was the approach Oakland Athletics manager Billy Beane used to improve his team[/caption]
Brad Pitt, left, played Beane in a 2011 film[/caption]
The group also owns American baseball team the Boston Red Sox, and John W Henry, founder of the group, has been keen to use the stats-driven approach common in baseball at Anfield.
That approach is often referred to as Moneyball after the book and 2011 film starring Brad Pitt, who plays Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland A’s.
It chronicles Beane’s mission to put together a competitive team by recruiting undervalued players after deeply analysing their stats.
In 2002, Henry tried to persuade Beane to become the Boston Red Sox manager, but he turned the offer down.
Liverpool’s £230m transformation
Alisson Becker – £67m from Roma
Brazil’s World Cup keeper is an imposing figure, great shot-stopper but is also very adept with his feet.
Liverpool stats: 4 games, 3 clean sheets
Virgil van Dijk – £75m from Southampton
Ball-playing centre half has made an instant impact, with 11 clean sheets in his 20 games since his January move.
Liverpool stats: 26 games, 1 goal
Naby Keita – £52m from RB Leipzig
The 23-year-old is a creative, box-to-box midfielder perfect for Liverpool’s high-energy style.
Liverpool stats: 4 games, 0 goals
Mohamed Salah – £37m from Roma
Egypt’s lightning-quick striker has been a revelation, scoring 32 Premier League goals last season.
Liverpool stats: 56 games, 46 goals
The Moneyball approach is to use statistical analysis to buy assets that are undervalued by other teams.
Campbell believes the Moneyball approach has given Liverpool a huge advantage over their rivals in the transfer market.
“While it is hard to pinpoint the exact logic behind Liverpool’s recruitment, it is easy to say that there is an analytics approach behind a lot of their recruitment as the players they have signed have been standouts in terms of their underlying numbers,” Campbell says.
Among a number of key players new to Anfield this season is midfielder Naby Keita.
Campbell says that the Guinean’s underlying numbers explain why exactly Liverpool signed him – and how he has helped the Reds lift their game to a new level.
Liverpool owner John W Henry has ensured the Reds have taken an analytical approach to transfers since his takeover[/caption]
Using stats from C&N Sporting Risk’s own database, which compiles data on around 100 different football leagues around the world, Campbell points to Keita’s ‘attack involvement contribution’ – one of C&N’s own metrics – as a key factor.
“This measures the value of each attack that he has significant involvement in – and therefore how he will impact on his team’s expected goals.
OUT OF AFRICA Liverpool’s Naby Keita grew up in poverty in Guinea, playing football barefoot in the street
“Keita’s average for this metric was 0.93 per game in the Bundesliga in the last two seasons – a league of similar quality to the Premier League.
“To put this into context Emre Can and Gini Wijnaldum averaged around 0.6 for Liverpool last season.
Naby Keita was signed for £52million but his stats are much better than those of Emre Can and Georginio Wijnaldum[/caption]
He adds: “Whilst Liverpool were always dangerous on the counter-attack last season you could say they struggled more when teams sat deep against them.
“But having recognised that, they have added a player who, through his high-quality passing and dribbling, advances the value of attacks in the opposition half significantly.”
Another key signing for Liverpool this season has been goalkeeper Alisson.
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Despite his clanger against Leicester City two weeks ago, Campbell says that his underlying numbers, again compiled using C&N Sporting Risk’s data, highlight just why he is the world-class goalkeeper that Liverpool sought.
Campbell explains that using ‘a shot-based expected goals against’ metric – in other words, the number of goals he was likely to concede – and comparing that with the number of goals he actually let in shows his worth.
“For AS Roma last season the number of goals Alisson conceded – 28, at an average of 0.71 per game – was significantly lower than his expected goals against, which was 40.5, at an average of 1.03 per game,” he says.
Alisson Becker has already proved to be a major upgrade over Loris Karius and Simon Mignolet[/caption]
Campbell adds that Liverpool will have been aware of the importance of replacing Loris Karius even before his catastrophic errors in the Champions League final last season.
That’s because Liverpool were actually letting in more goals than would have been expected considering the other key statistics behind their defensive performances.
When Karius was in goal, Liverpool conceded 13 goals, but their total expected goals against in all those games added together was less, at 10.28.
“The signing of a world-class shot-stopper like Alisson is a clear step in bridging this gap,” says Campbell.
A similar measurement highlights the value of Virgil van Dijk to Liverpool’s defence.
According to C&N Sporting Risk’s data, the expected goals Liverpool conceded per game went from 1.22 per game to 0.71 per game after the arrival of the Dutch central defender in January.
Mohamed Salah has become one of the best signings in Liverpool history[/caption]
Finally, in attack Mo Salah continues to terrorise Premier League defences, and Campbell’s analysis helps explain why Liverpool were so keen to sign him.
The number of goals Salah scored in his last season for AS Roma in 2016-17 was 15 in 31 appearances – compared with an amazing 32 goals in 38 Premier League games (36 starts and two appearances as a sub) last season for Liverpool.
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But Campbell explains that his underlying stats illustrate why Liverpool spotted his value while at Roma.
Salah was the ‘highest expected goal contributor’ in Serie A in 2016-17 in all actions – in other words in his number of shots and other stats like passes into the box.
“He has then translated this into a high number of goals in the Premier League,” says Campbell.
- C&N Sporting Risk utilises its expertise in predictive modelling of player and team performance to engage with a range of multi-billion pound industries directly associated with professional sport.