Nowadays we love a good stat. I say ‘we’ and ‘love’ as a loose term. It seems more and more that those that broadcast, write about, talk about and tweet about football, have a specific requirement to get as many statistics into the medium within which they operate. Whether it’s Monday night football, match reviews in the guardian, or just an ITK spewing the latest piece of fresh bullshit “sure to send shockwaves through the whole WORLD!” Stats appear to back up the points made.
I personally don’t mind the odd statistic. It adds something to how we experience the game. Knowing the in’s and out’s of tactical decisions, and the effect certain alterations can have on a game can be satisfying and help most of us watching to better understand the game we love. It does also, and rather unfortunately, lead to throngs of idiots suddenly having hundreds of opinions on something that would have previously gone unnoticed, “that right backs shite, they’ve had 23% of their possession down their left compared to only 20% on the right! Get him off!” You get the picture.
Stats do definitely have a place in the game, to an extent. When we can see where our threat comes from and where we need to focus defensively can help, certainly from the analytical point of view of the manager and his team. As fans watching we also get a kick out of knowing we’ve bossed a game and had three times as many shots on target as them, more possession and all that. Where it gets ridiculous is when Sky or BT are rounding up how a half panned out before the ads. They go on about how many chances created each team has had, how many corners each team had, as mentioned before where on the pitch each team has had most of its possession, how many offsides there’s been, and the rest like it is some powerful revelation they have made for us. The only result of this seems to be to tell the fans who or what to fume over during the fifteen minute break, and then all over again once the ninety minutes are up.
Like I say, stats have a place in the game, but there is a limit. One stat that seems to be everyone’s flavour of the month is running stats. Whether you prefer miles or kilometres there is a figure provided for you. Apparently everyone at the Premier League, Sky and BT got Fitbits for their birthday and now everyone is obsessed with how much running, to the metre, each player and team is doing each game. Klopp even made reference to it recently after the Stoke game, the one that went on for ever and ever and ever. The figure he brandished was that Liverpool had collectively run 156 kilometres. What does that really mean? As a stand alone figure it sounds like a lot sure, but what does that stat really say? Klopp’s implication was that in that game Liverpool had made a supreme effort and deserved their passage to the final. The last part I think we all agree on, overall Liverpool were definitely good value for their Wembley appearance. The idea that Liverpool deserved to win just because they ran four marathons between them is what I take issue with.
Let me state that for the record I am Jürgen Klopp’s biggest fan, that man has access to all my earthly possessions 24/7 should he so wish. In no way am I saying that Klopp is wrong to praise our players for running themselves into the ground to get to Wembley, we all would wouldn’t we? There is an unfortunate side affect to this though, and that is we completely skip past the fact that Liverpool were abject in the majority of the other stat worthy areas because we got what we wanted in the end. Just. It is all well and good running all over the place and covering the whole pitch fourty times over, but what good is all that running with no end product?
Yes it is a good thing that our players cover more ground than other teams, but when that is all we have, it becomes an issue. If the amount of grass step on over the course of ninety minutes was held in the highest regard we would still have a two horse race Ballon D’or, except it would be between James Milner and Dirk Kuyt every year! It’s the bits in both boxes that define success.
The Reds need to change this. Working hard is great and that is part of our game that should not be compromised. However we must start to work smarter, applying this energy in key areas, and at key times. There have been three games this season where we have been at our most deadly – Manchester City away, Chelsea away and Southampton away. In these games a key feature of our play was to pick our moments, work smarter both off and on the ball, about using our brains about when and who to press, when to bomb forward, when to sit tight and when to open play up. These games were a joy to watch, not just because of the scoreline, (although who doesn’t love shouting “fuuuuuck off Chelsea FC!” whenever there is a chance to do so?) but because of the way the reds played – fluid, incisive, vibrant, and exciting! Liverpool had 42% of the ball against City and yet that was arguably our best performance since Suarez left us (I promised I wouldn’t cry…). The key to that game was working smarter.
There is hope though. There are signs. Despite the apparent lack of brains we have with some members of our team (without naming any Alberto Moreno’s) we do have smart intelligent footballers who know how to work smart, using their energy appropriately, and they have shown this either at previous clubs or at times playing with us. The driving factor for optimism, as always, is our manager and his team, one of whom actually nicknamed “the brain”. Liverpool are in need of a rethink and a reshuffle (again…) but with Klopp at the helm we have a man with previous. Klopps Dortmund teams were famed for the high press, but it wasn’t a case of just running faster and further than the teams they came up against. They knew exactly how and when to use the ball and were devastating when they needed to be. Klopp has a job on his hands of course, but he is well equipped, and well prepared. It is also worthy of note that despite the disbelief I myself and plenty of other Reds still carry about the matter, he actually wants to do it! He chose to manage us! He could realistically have gone anywhere in Europe, but he came to us. This alone means that we have more than a fighting chance of not just turning up to the races, but winning it once again one day.
Stats can be misleading, but they do have a place. Here are some stats for you. In their last three games, Liverpool had more possession than the other team, but scored zerovand conceded three. They have though, created more chances than all but Manchester City in this years Premier League. Liverpool are on track for their lowest goals scored in the Premier League era. Liverpool have also covered more distance than any other team in the league since Klopp took over. These on their own are meaningless. Anyone who is “unjustly” beaten someone at FIFA will tell you (and the excuse-monger they played against) that there is only one stat that matters in a game of football. With Klopp in charge, we just need a few cogs to fall into place, a few tweaks to the lineup, and to work a bit smarter, and great things can happen.
Let’s quit being also rans. Let us turn up and win the race. Up the Reds.