Liverpool are back in the Champions League. It’s been 1727 days since they last played a Champions League minute, and the European nights are back this season at Anfield. This piece is an attempt to use pure statistical analysis and extrapolation to predict Liverpool’s season in Europe’s top-flight, how and why the fans should be a little less optimistic when it comes to the Champions League.
The metrics are based on Liverpool’s current squad of players (excluding the reserve team players who could still feature heavily in the competition) and their career data in the Champions League. How the team shapes up against the yardsticks (stated below), how the metrics are extrapolated with scales (user-defined) and where Liverpool FC as a team finds itself in the pecking order. The team average of the metrics is calculated and the team is given a specific rating in different categories and finally, the outcomes and expectations are predicted.
The categories taken into consideration are the players’ appearances in the Champions League (both proper and qualification), goals scored and goal involvements (assists), and appearances in the second tier of European football (Europa League) are also taken into consideration. Note that data from the UEFA Cup (which got rebranded as the Europa League in 09/10) are also taken into account under Europa League.
The individual player data are compared with the players who hold the all-time records in the Champions League and Europa League, and then they are normalized with a user-defined coefficient and the sum total is then added and the team average is calculated. The team average is then compared with the upper limit of the coefficients and the team is awarded a specific rating. The picture above shows the player benchmarks.
Coefficients are user-defined, as stated earlier. Appearances in the Champions League are assigned a coefficient of 10, goals scored are assigned a coefficient of 20, assists are allocated 15, and Europa League appearances are allocated 8. This is a purely user-defined set of allocations; it has been done after much consideration and readers are free to express their discontent.
Liverpool’s first team squad as of 17th August 2014 comprises of fringe players like Oussama Assaidi, Tiago Ilori, Sebastian Coates and Kolo Toure; players who are likely to be offloaded sooner or later. But they still feature in the Liverpool squad and contribute to the overall calculations. Shown below is the data collected from various sources (notably from transfermarkt.com).
The parameters are weighed up against the yardsticks and multiplied with their respective coefficients to give a relative score of the above data. Irregularities are obviously present, and given Liverpool’s prolonged absence from the Champions League, the scores are always bound to be on the lighter side. Steven Gerrard skews most of the calculations due to his superlative career in the red of Liverpool, while the goalkeepers’ non-involvement in the attacking areas of the pitch also contributes to the irregularities.
An area of note is the fact that two of Liverpool’s new signings, Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert, have zero (0) experience of European football. This raises questions as to how shrewd those signings were (more in the case of Lallana, who cost an estimated £25m) as they contribute nothing in the team metrics. Liverpool being a young squad of players (average age of 25), a lot couldn’t be made based on these statistics only.
Based on the chosen coefficients, the Liverpool players weigh up pretty poorly. Steven Gerrard, as expected, stands out. His Champions League appearances coefficient is a good enough 5.4 out of the 10, goals scored stands up at a fairly impressive 7.8 out of 20, assists rating is 5.52/15 while his Europa League appearances rack up 3.496 of 8. He leads the way in all the parameters, and points to the fact that Liverpool desperately lack top-quality players who’ve made a name at the top table of European football.
While many of Liverpool’s core players will make their Champions League debuts this season (Sterling, Henderson, Mignolet), the new signings’ sum total of 40 Champions League appearances and only 2 goals between them highlight the fact that Brendan Rodgers and his scouts haven’t invested in proven Champions League quality. The jury is out on whether the Liverpool players can come off age in Europe this season, and fans and pundits will be watching with glued interest as the season unfolds.
A Case Study
If observed closely, the players and the records chosen as the yardsticks are more or less likely to be broken in the immediate future. The active crop of players who are closer to the aforementioned records are shown below. Xavi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Dimitris Salpingidis are the active torchbearers. The fact that Liverpool’s team average is far, far below those four points to the fact that Liverpool are still someway off the best. Xavi’s score is a cool 9.7/10, Ronaldo scores 19.15/20, Ibrahimovic does a 9.5/15 while Salpingidis’s score is 5.08/8. All four are way better than Liverpool’s closest bet, Steven Gerrard. The lack of experience in Europe could mean Liverpool shouldn’t dwell on any failure in this season’s Champions League.
The parameter coefficients are proportionately divided into five distinct blocks. These five blocks help in assigning the rating out of five to the Liverpool team (average scores). For example, for goals scored in the Champions League the coefficient point chosen was 20. So five blocks of 4 decide the rating of the team. If a team has an average score of 10/20, a rating of 2.5 is awarded.
Liverpool’s average score over the four chosen parameters amounts to a combined rating of 2.75. If we choose 2.5 to be the mean for the scale of 5, Liverpool’s squad (in European terms) is just above average. General prediction and common sense would mean that the club should be very very satisfied with a progression from the group stages, but failure to do so shouldn’t raise eyebrows either. Football is a strange game; who would have expected someone like Djimi Traore to lift the Champions League in 2005 ahead of the more illustrious Andrea Pirlo and co? Liverpool have invested heavily in their squad over the summer, and should they do fairly well in the continent, it would be more of the “whole is greater than the sum of its parts” thing.
Disclaimer: This is an analytical piece using only a few parameters and extrapolating to a much larger scale. This piece doesn’t in any way provide any fool-proof method to predict how a team will perform in the future.