Walcott? Dempsey? Sturridge? Improving LFC’s Forward Options

With our first point of the campaign now safely in the bag following the impressive-yet-also-somewhat-nervy draw with Manchester City, the attention returns back to the transfer window, with manager Brendan Rodgers keen to add to his slightly under-powered squad before the end of August.

“I would hope we could get some more players in. The players just need help. We lost players in the summer and we were only able to bring in a few to replace those. If we’re going to strengthen, then hopefully we can get a few more in.”

– Brendan Rodgers, 26th August

While the midfield and defensive group look solid (although another left-back wouldn’t go astray), Liverpool still look quite light up top. The majority of senior players to have left the club (read Bellamy, Kuyt, Maxi) would all have contributed in the forward areas, and despite the addition of Fabio Borini and Oussama Assaidi to the squad, along with the permanent promotion of 17-year-old gem Raheem Sterling, there still seems a large gap to fill in terms of goals, assists and creativity.

Using OPTA statistics from the excellent EPL Index website, I aim to compare the contribution of our creative forwards and wingers from last season, along with three mooted additions to Brendan Rodgers’ squad who could potentially be added to our attack: Clint Dempsey, Daniel Sturridge and Theo Walcott. Hopefully this will give a clear indication of whether or not these players can fill the boots of our departed heroes, and maybe set one target ahead of the others as a superior option.

Andy Carroll’s suitability to the team and Rodgers’ preferred style remains a question for long debate, and while I’ll sidestep that one here, Carroll has been omitted from this comparison, mostly because he’s a singular-role player, unlike the vast majority of the forwards we have. Which leads us to a very important disclaimer:

Wingers, wing-forwards, who cares?
Short of drawing arbitrary lines in the sand about what a winger is, whether or not Rodgers uses them, and debating the finer points of the inside forward position – I’m going to dodge all of that.

Rather than attempt to discern between who is a central & wide player, I’m lumping them all in together (minus Carroll) as the majority of the players are multi-role contributors who can shoot, create, pass and dribble. With some good signs in our performances thus far that central and wide players will be expected to move intelligently off one another and adapt to different positions throughout a match, the flexible, multi-purpose forward is king.

Unfortunately there are no stats for Premier League newcomers Borini and Assaidi, while Sterling’s sample size from last season is too small to warrant comparison, so these three have all been omitted too. Hopefully 12 months from now I’ll be writing an article praising the effectiveness of all three players.

Without further ado, let’s get into the numbers, and what better place to start than the stats that win matches: goals and assists.

Scoring Contribution:

All stats via EPL Index
Everybody knows about Liverpool’s woes in front of goal last season, and Craig Bellamy, the most effective scorer and assist-er who played regularly last season, has now gone. Add to that the departure of habitual goal-sneak Maxi Rodriguez, and we are looking for recruits with serious firepower to not only match the contribution from last season, but hopefully eclipse it.

Dempsey is the most prolific of the potential recruits, finding the net every 195 minutes, slightly more regularly than Maxi Rodriguez at 200 minutes per goal. Bellamy and Sturridge scored at basically the same rate, so at least in terms of goals, Sturridge could be a good Bellamy replacement. However it is Dempsey who most closely matches Bellamy’s overall contributions, coming up with a goal or assist every 144 minutes. Walcott is the most effective assist provider with one coming every 343 minutes.

Shooting:

All stats via EPL Index

Far and away the most prolific shooter, Luis Suarez pulled the trigger every 23 minutes in the last campaign. However his low conversion rate of 10%, partially disguised by the abysmal rates of the dreadfully unlucky Stewart Downing and strangely ineffective Dirk Kuyt, means he requires more clinical partners around him. While Maxi played infrequently, he converted basically a quarter of his 17 shots into goals, while Craig Bellamy scored a goal for every 5 shots he took.

Dempsey and Sturridge both launched shots every half hour, and converted at slightly more respectable rate than Suarez, Kuyt and Downing. Walcott was the most likely to get his shots on target, however his conversion rate wasn’t comparatively high despite his better shot accuracy.

Bellamy finished all 3 of the clear scoring chances that came his way, while Maxi slotted a respectable 57%. Kuyt and Suarez were two of the more wasteful clear chance converters, and Dempsey, Walcott and Sturridge all finished a better percentage of their clear opportunities than the Liverpool men.

Creativity:

All stats via EPL Index

Suarez was the most creative player, basically creating a chance for a team mate every half of football he played in, while Daniel Sturridge was the worst, creating a scoring opportunity only once every match. Walcott and Downing stood out with 28% and 26% of their created chances respectively being clear-cut opportunities that should have been converted by team mates – however Downing was to have no such luck last season.

Downing was also the player who most regularly created clear scoring opportunities, with Bellamy and Walcott the only players close to matching his frequency. Suarez was the top dribbler, conjuring 3 successful dribbles per game, with none of the other players reaching anywhere near his level of bravery or skill when running with the ball.

Delivery:

All stats via EPL Index

Bellamy is the standout here, his accurate passing and crossing a sign of his class. Bellamy and Maxi also matched Downing’s excellent accuracy in final-third passing, and it’s important the new players are equally adept at keeping the ball in dangerous areas for our opponents.

While Dempsey had a cross accuracy of 33%, he actually rarely crossed the ball, and I’ve considered his percentage to be far less impressive than Bellamy’s, who consistently and frequently produced accurate crosses. Sturridge seems the weakest in terms of delivery, wasteful in the final third and unlikely to produce a worthwhile cross.

Off the Ball:

All stats via EPL Index

Suarez, amazing at winning possession high up the field, was also least likely to intercept the ball, his position not really suited to lurking in passing lanes. Bellamy’s exceptional workrate saw him as the most regular tackler, although Dempsey was not far short of the efforts of Kuyt and Rodriguez, and was more effective at winning the challenges he made.

Effectiveness:

Based on stats from EPL Index
Using a metric to combine all of the aspects of successful attacking play expected of modern wingers and creative forwards, we can measure which players were most often involved – whether their strength is scoring, crossing or creating chances. The more abilities and strengths the player has, the more effectively they can contribute to an attack in a variety of ways, and the better they will have done in this comparison. Having divided the number of minutes played by the total of goals, assists, accurate crosses, dribbles, chances created and shots on target, we can see how often each player makes a Quality Attacking Contribution.

It’s no surprise to see the shooting, dribbling, creative whirlwind that is Luis Suarez well ahead, producing a moment of attacking quality every 12 minutes on average. Bellamy, another multi-faceted, hard-working player, will be a big loss this season, and none of Dempsey, Sturridge or Walcott can match his all-round output, despite having their own strengths. Downing, a decent creator despite his low return of assists last season, also polls well, however the onus will be on him to greatly increase his output this season in the two key measures – goals and assists.

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below. What do you notice? Who would you go for? Which player would best replace what we’ve lost in Kuyt, Maxi and Bellamy? Will our scoring woes be solved with a new crop of forwards?

I eagerly await your thoughts!
-Grubb-

P.S. Another similar, probably-better-written article was also released today over at Anfield Index comparing Walcott and Sturridge to Downing and Suarez, so if you liked this article, get your eyeballs over to the other one by clicking here.

My advice? Hit up EPL Index for a membership, and also get this article circulating on your social network of choice. Be a man. Or a person of non-disclosed gender. Or something.

  • Daniel

    Mate, I respect, that you’ve taken time over this analysis, but, don’t you think it’s a bit ridiculous to take all of this time to write this and at the same time write off the position they played in…
    I started reading this and you say who cares about what position they played in?
    WTF?

    Demba Ba was scoring freely for Newcastle as the central striker, Cissé comes in and he’s pushed out to the wing and finds it harder to score… but who cares about position lol..

    I shouldn’t have really continued reading.
    Tell me also do you think maybe if you’re the clubs penalty taker, you’re more likely to score more goals, maybe did you consider how many of those goals were penalties or freekicks and how many were scored in open play…

    Surely you want with all this time spent.. you thought about these factors, doesn’t take a rocket scientist.. Hmmm Try and do it so it’s real analysis rather than what most people do and that’s trying to manipulate stats to look good for their club. Interesting “slant” any way

  • Grubb

    “I shouldn’t have really continued reading” <- Yet you took the time to comment? Um, okay.

    I didn't say positions don't matter, and maybe I could have explained myself a little more clearly. Knowing you'll probably never read this (as by now you are probably back under your bridge, waiting for the next Billy Goat Gruff) here goes anyway:

    I tried to compare players loosely around the same abilities. I didn't claim it to be a piece of high-brow analysis, and I'm aware of significant weaknesses in the reasoning.

    The idea was more closely to look at what we had last season (that would fit nicely into a Rodgers front 3 – hence the Carroll omission) and compare them to some linked players that would also appear in those same positions.

    Remember the comparison was not of forwards, or wingers, but more loosely of creative, attacking players. Is Stewart Downing a forward? No. But for all intents and purposes, when he plays wide right in a 4-3-3, he is.

    Except for someone else, who sees the opportunity presented to them by the comment box, and chimes in with their own reason as to why he isn't a forward. And so the whole thing continues.

    That was what I was trying to avoid, but obviously, from your comment, I haven't.

    By the way, nobody tried to "slant" anything, except I will admit I slanted my eyebrows while reading the majority of your response. How's that for honesty?

  • fitz07

    Mate, lift your sights up and away from the ‘chaff’ our competitors want to chuck out. Both Sturridge and Walcott are frustrating head down merchants that their clubs would willingly bin if they could find a club dumb enough to offer good money. Walcott uses the same tailor as Downing to make his invisibility cloak; whereas Sturridge and Defoe share the same Optician for their myopia glasses. How would either of them fit into BR’s passing side? Look at players like Huntelar, who could pass for Torres if he were to dye his hair and start wearing an Alice band.

  • CSD

    Huntelar? hahahahahaha

  • CSD

    I think we could get Walcott cheap since Arsenal seem to be as good at negotiating as we are (not very).

    The interceptions stat is interesting because that’s one area from last season we need to work on, especially in a system with high pressing. Dempsey would be a good option for that as well as goals which we desperately need, but he’s another 29-year-old that is not a long-term option. We’d have to pick him up cheap on maybe a 3 year deal.

  • Daniel

    Mate, I was a bit harsh in the earlier comment, it was more from the aggregation of all of the morning football reading I had done.
    I was in a kind of sarcastic condescending place. Good piece.

    Never mind the adversarial tone that I came with.

    It makes sense what you’re saying, you’re saying the reason why Rodgers doesn’t want Carroll is because he’s not an interchangeable forward who can also played wide.

    You’re saying Rodgers wants forwards in his attacking 3 that has a mix of what strikers have & what wingers have also & so you’ve done a good comparison.

    Even if I was a being ridiculous this morning, just in terms of Liverpool if we look to Manchester United who now have Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney, both scored a lot of goals in the Premier League last season but, both of them were their teams prime penalty takers. Not anymore. Definitely penalty-taking & set-piece taking can distort statistics…

    …. and as someone who has seen Rodgers operate for a while, I don’t believe that any position swapping that happens will be lengthy, if it does happen it’ll be short & snappy.

    So when you think about Walcott, he’s going to be almost certainly an option for the right & his stats are as helpful as it can be

    With Dempsey, it’s a bit different, I think he played behind the striker, playing a new position would even greater effect his stats.
    Who knows for the positive or for the negative, I doubt he’d be played down the middle and you seem to be good in midfield.
    Playing wider usually negatively effects goal return & it’s likely to further negatively effect Dempsey’s goal return if he’s no longer set-piece & penalty taker.

    Sturridge if he goes to Liverpool would play centre forward, which is likely to positively effect his goal return, he & Suarez are forwards who like to use the flanks, but, Sturridge is actually a great predator and when he’s not on the ball he always takes up great positions to get tap ins.

    Rodgers played Sterling against City because he’s fast, explosive and good at one on ones. The lad is 17. Those qualities that he had to find in a 17 year old where he couldn’t find in Downing are more the type of attributes that Walcott & Sturridge have.

    Like I say great article & sorry for the tone of my earlier comment.

  • Grace Evangeline

    i think, wallcott will be a reasonable buy, and i hope LFC will buy wallcott 🙂
    YNWA

  • Grubb

    Thanks mate, you’ve been much more fair in your second response.

    I agree with all of your points, however I do expect position-swapping to be a regular thing. Maybe fleetingly within a game as you say, but Downing and Borini are two players who spring to mind that may have more than one playing position this season.

    I expect most of the players who arrive here to have less of a goal return, particularly those coming from smaller clubs where they aren’t vying for set-pieces with Gerrard, Suarez and friends.

    I don’t put as much stock in statistics as some might think, which might surprise many given that I write about them a lot. I mostly use them to highlight attributes of players I have noticed (playing style) and to compare the quality of their performances – knowing that none of the stats are anchored to location and only tell a tiny amount of the story. Mostly denuded of context, stats are interesting, sometimes important, but rarely as clear-cut as they seem.

    A case in point – Stewart Downing in his last season at Villa had an almost identical statistical output to Juan Mata at Valencia in the same season. Every key category saw them at parity. However we all know which is the far superior player.

    Don’t get stressed about the footy mate, it’s supposed to be our hobby, isn’t it?

  • CSD

    TL;DR: Hugs for everyone!

    And btw, Dempsey played LF primarily last season.

  • Daniel

    Haha.. @CSD You obviously read. You’re right Dempsey played LF
    Interesting to find out how many of his goals were scored in the run of play as he mightn’t be on set-piece/penalty duty at L’pool.

    @Grubb Football is emotion for most fans, if it wasn’t emotive it wouldn’t be big business.

    As I said, good read & I hope your signing works out.

  • Grubb

    Also, should have stated I only used open play stats, no set-pieces were harmed in the making of this analysis =)