Much has been said regarding the return to stature of Liverpool Football Club under the attack minded Brendan Rodgers. On the back of Luis Suarez’s record 31 goals, the Reds relied quite heavily on their high-flying offense to outscore opponents, winning at such alarming rates and stunning margins that securing the back-line was seemingly an afterthought. Well it worked.
Since the departure of one of the world’s most prolific strikers, however, we’ve been invited into many a discussion (both online and off) as to whether or not Liverpool can perform in equal measure without Suarez.
Amongst Liverpool supporters, there appears to be a unified optimism that Liverpool will do just fine. I share in that. Elsewhere less so. This past Saturday I decided to do a bit of the Devil’s work (math) and drum through statistics (I dug around and enjoyed the readability of ESPNFC.com for statistics. This is where I got my numbers), make a few assumptions and surface where I believe Liverpool will find their goals.
If I had more time, I’d couple this with some nice charts and graphs to make it easier to digest. I’ll take you through it anyway, beginning with my high-level assumptions before digging into the players. Much of these assumptions will be obvious. It’s all part of the argument. I’ll also provide an ongoing counter of where we stand vs. last season. This is for the Premier League only.
We’ll begin with Brendan Rodgers, then on to our top three goal scorers from last season before heading into the meat of the squad.
ASSUMPTIONS ON OVERALL STRATEGY AND BUSINESS DEALINGS
• Assumption 1: Brendan Rodgers will maintain a furious level of attack.
I’ll leave the 4-3-3/diamond/4222 formation stuff to the experts. I assume, simply, that Liverpool will approach this season the same as last. That is to say, very attack minded. Therefore, my assumptions are heavily weighted against last season with little statistical influence from previous seasons.
• Assumption 2: A number of potential scoring threats (minor threats) will not be with us
Excepting goal keepers, those not mentioned in my assumptions below are players that I assume will not see playing time, be sent out on loan, or sold – Most notably Borini, Suso, Assaidi and Lucas.
ASSUMPTIONS ON LAST SEASON’S TOP THREE GOAL SCORERS
Our top three goal scorers from last season gave us 65 goals in 2013/14. This year we’ll see a depressing 42 goal swing in the wrong direction, leaving us with only 23 in 2014/15. See below on how I managed this:
Luis Suarez – 0 Goals (-31 Goals)
• Assumption 1: Going out on a limb here, but Luis Suarez will score 0 goals for Liverpool next season
Daniel Sturridge – 15 Goals (-6 Goals)
We’ve only begun and already we’re 37 goals in the red.
• Assumption 2: Sturridge is good for 29 games this season.
Expecting a few injury set-backs along the way, Daniel Sturridge will miss a quite a few games, but still record the same as last season with 29.
• Assumption 3: Sturridge will take 15% fewer shots & his average shots per game will decline.
Without Luis Suarez’s trickiness, more attention will be placed on Sturridge. Sturridge will see less chances, taking 85 shots (down from 99), also decreasing his shots per game from 3.4 to 2.9 (Fast fact: Suarez was at an absurd 5.5).
• Assumption 4: Sturridge will convert less shots Sturridge converted an outstanding 21.2% of his shots, while the
team average was 14.9% (Suarez was 17.1%).
I’m assuming that a significant number of the chances Sturridge takes will be lower percentage shots and thus have decreased his conversion from 21.2% to 18%, but still giving us 15 goals next year.
Steven Gerrard – 8 Goals (-5 Goals)
If you’re inclined to stop reading and head on down to the comment section to rip me a new one, now that I have us down 42 goals, please hang in there. Good news lies ahead, I promise.
• Assumption 5: Gerrard will play four fewer games this season.
Due to Champions League play, age and squad depth, Stevie will see 30 games this season as opposed to 34.
• Assumption 6: Gerrard will still maintain a high conversion percentage.
Since most of Gerrard’s goals will come from spot kicks & set pieces this season as well, I’ve kept his conversion % the same at 21.7%.
• Assumption 7: Gerrard will continue to get chances, but less of them.
Without Luis Suarez drawing penalties at a favorable rate, Liverpool (and thus Gerrard) will see a natural decline in penalties.
In addition, with more attacking options at midfield, Stevie will see less and less opportunities from open play. Gerrard will end up with a still impressive 1.2 shots per game vs. 1.8 last year and giving us 8 goals this season.
ASSUMPTIONS ON OTHER ATTACKING OPTIONS FROM LAST SEASON:
After adding goals from Sterling, Coutinho & Henderson, we’re up to 62 Goals in 2014/15, compared to 83 with this same group of six (6) players in 2013/14.
We’ve cut the deficit in half, and currently sit 21 goals back.
Raheem Sterling – 15 Goals (+6 Goals)
• Assumption 1: Raheem plays 33 games this season, same as last.
Barring injury, Sterling should start nearly every game. He’ll rest here and there against lesser opponents.
• Assumption 2: Raheem takes 75 shots (45 last season), nearly an additional shot per game – 2.3 this season vs. 1.4 last season.
Liverpool are relying on Raheem to have a big season. Without Suarez, Sterling will need to increase his chances and we expect Brendan’s strategy to play into this need.
• Assumption 3: Raheem is deadly accurate and will remain so, even though his goal conversion % will decrease from 20% to 17%.
Raheem will be taking a lot more shots this year and creating more chances for himself. I expect this will lead to a decline in his conversion %, but with the significant increase in shots, Raheem will still give us 15 goals this year.
Philippe Coutinho – 14 Goals (+9)
This is one of my most aggressive assumptions, seeing nearly three times the amount of goals as we did last season. I’ll explain:
• Assumption 4: Coutinho plays 33 games this season, same as last.
Even with added depth to the squad, Coutinho will welcome the pressure to preserve his spot as a starter. He’ll get a lot of games in and we’ll benefit considerably as a result.
• Assumption 5: Coutinho will take 94 shots…again and average 2.8 shots per game…again.
Only Suarez and Sturridge took more shots than Coutinho last season (181 and 99 respectively). Coutinho gets himself into excellent positions and often by himself. I expect he’ll continue to take a lot of chances.
• Assumption 6: Coutinho drastically increases his conversion %, from a woeful 5.32% last season to the team’s average 14.86%.
I’ve been keeping my eye on this for a while. Coutinho is terribly inaccurate, putting only 28.72% of his shots on goal (team average is 39.62%). Though this preseason has seen more of the same, I expect Rodgers to correct this (not unlike Suarez after his first season at LFC) and we’ll start seeing a deluge of goals from Magic Dr. Phil (I doubt this nickname will stick), leaving us with 14.
Jordan Henderson – 10 Goals (+6)
I think I’m playing this one conservatively. Jordan has been getting better and better and his form should give us at least 10 goals this season.
• Assumption 7: Henderson will play 35 games this season, same as last season.
In the event you’ve been ignoring the pre-season (this write-up doesn’t include the Dortmund match), then let me summarize it for you. Jordan Henderson is a mutant. He plays every minute of every game and doesn’t lose his effectiveness throughout. We’ll see a lot of the same this season.
• Assumption 8: Henderson will take 30% more shots this season, going from 49 to 65.
For context, Gerrard took 60 shots last season. Yes, this does include spot kicks, but I expect Jordan to record at least that many from open play as he gets himself forward and is relied upon to take more chances. He’ll give us 1.9 shots per game instead of 1.4.
• Assumption 9: Henderson will increase his accuracy and convert at the team average: 14.86%.
Like Coutinho, Henderson was below average on accuracy last season, converting only 8.1% of his shots and putting just under 33% on goal (team average is 39.6%). His more accurate performance this year will yield us (at least) 10 goals.
ASSUMPTIONS ON OUR OFFENSIVE SIGNINGS
Understanding there are players yet to arrive, we’ll make do with our current signings. Combined, they will give us an additional 18 goals this year and bring us ever closer to parity with last season (80 Goals vs. 83).
Adam Lallana – 7 Goals (+7 for Liverpool. -2 for Lallana)
As a quick reference point. Lallana started nearly every game last season (37) and scored 9 goals for Southampton, in a similar style of play to Liverpool. He won’t get to 9 for us. Here’s why:
• Assumption 1: Lallana will play 28 games.
Though Lallana played almost every game for Southampton last season, he is currently facing a delayed start to the season on account of injury, and with options in the attacking half, he is not a guaranteed for each and every game.
• Assumption 2: Lallana will maintain the same conversion % (12.86%) and shots per game (1.9) as last season.
Though I expect Rodgers to continue coaching players up, I don’t see any reason to adjust these numbers, given that he played within a similar style of attack and they are already quite strong. So adjusting only the games played (28 from 37), Lallana will yield 7 goals for the Reds this year.
Ricky Lambert – 7 Goals (+7 for Liverpool. – 6 for Lambert.)
We won’t see a “Tricky” Ricky Lambert in the box, like we did with Luis Suarez. But Lambert’s got a rocket for a shot, he’s quite accurate and he loves to shoot (103 times last year).
• Assumption 3: Lambert will play 24 games for Liverpool
I expect Ricky to be healthy throughout the season. But we shouldn’t be surprised that he won’t be starting this year, and with the exception of cup games and lesser league opponents, he’ll see most of his games off the bench. If we sign another big name striker, his playing time will be further decreased.
• Assumption 4: Ricky will maintain the same conversion % (12.6%) on his shots.
Assuming Ricky isn’t going to stray too much at the ripe age of 32, he’ll be netting the same % of shots he takes.
• Assumption 5: Ricky’s shots per game will decrease meaningfully, from 3.3 to 2.3.
Ricky’s playing time will decrease quite a bit from last season, so we can expect much fewer shots (he’ll take 55 in 2014/15), but still get us 7 important goals.
Lazar Markovic – 3 Goals (+3 for Liverpool. -2 for Markovic)
It seems that we won’t see an overload of Markovic this season, but with his pace, we expect him to be an exciting substitute and create chances.
• Assumption 6: Lazar will play in 18 games.
I based this assumption on games played last year (18 for Benfica) as well as LFC appearances from less exciting players, Victor Moses (19) an Iago Aspas (14). Most of these appearances will be off the bench.
• Assumption 7: Lazar will convert 20% of his shots.
I consider this to be my most controversial assumption, though it doesn’t have much of an impact when adjusted down. Lazar scored 5 goals last year. He also took five 5 shots. So my 20% conversion, though high, is down from 100%!
• Assumption 8: Lazar will take 15 shots (up from 5 he took last year).
This is another strong assumption, but we didn’t bring on Markovic to saunter in midfield. He’s in there to blow past people and create chances. He only took 5 shots last season. He’ll increase that to 15 this year, and maintain a very reasonable .8 shots per game.
Emre Can – 2 Goals (+2 for Liverpool. -1 for Can)
I don’t expect we’ll consistently see Can in an aggressive attacking position, but he does like to take a shot and managed 35 last season for Bayer Leverkusen.
• Assumption 9: Can will play 24 games for Liverpool, the same number he played for Leverkusen.
We have depth at midfield, but Can has impressed and I believe he’ll get at least this amount. Likely more.
• Assumption 10: Can will take one (1) shot per game, down from 1.5.
I don’t have much reason behind this assumption, other than we have plenty of other attacking options and I expect Can to take less shots and look to find other options.
• Assumption 11: Can will maintain the same conversion % (a rather poor 8.6%) and net two (2) goals for Liverpool this year.
ASSUMPTIONS ON THE REST OF OUR GOALS
Last year we scraped together an additional 13 goals, more than half from Martin Skrtel (7). The rest of our back-line and defensive midfielders combined for only 5 goals (Agger (2), Allen (1), Flanagan (1) and Sakho (1)).
I think the best assumption is that we’ll do roughly the same, resulting in an additional 13 goals, putting us at 94 for the season, compared to 101 last year.
• Assumption 1: Dejan Lovren and Martin Skrtel will combine for 5 goals this year.
Martin scored half the shots he took last season (almost all were set pieces). I expect he’ll continue to get chances, but will convert far fewer (he converted 15% the previous year, for 2 goals).
Lovren managed 22 shots last year for Southhampton. I kept this number the same and expect a 10% conversion rate, giving us two 2 goals to Skrtel’s 3.
• Assumption 2: Joe Allen will score 3 goals this season.
Though scoring only 1 goal last season, Allen showed real promise in creating chances. I expect 3 goals from Joe this season, playing roughly the same number of games (26).
• Assumption 3: Sakho, Flanagan, Johnson, Enrique and Ibe will each score one (1) goal.
Sakho and Flanagan accomplished this last season (taking a combined 17 shots), so I’m leaning on them to give us 1 piece of magic this season each. Glen Johnson surprisingly came up empty last season (despite taking 20 shots). For such an attacking full back, I expect him to get at least 1 in this year. Same goes for Enrique – who took three shots in the eight games he played. If Jordon Ibe gets games, he’ll score. He has pace and seems hell-bent on finding chances to shoot.
FINAL ASSUMPTION ON ALL REMAINING PLAYERS
Like any team, a number of players don’t score at all throughout a season. Expecting some to leave the club, others to sit the bench and the rest to miss chances, all other players will combine for zero goals – ending our season at
94 goals scored.
So there you have it. We’ll see a decline from our leading stars this season in Sturridge and Gerrard, but with our new signings and greater output from the likes of Sterling, Henderson and Coutinho, Liverpool and it’s attacking machine should feel good about it’s chances of netting 90+ goals and a top four finish, yet again.
I encourage you to challenge my assumptions and share your thoughts below. How many goals do you think Liverpool will score and who will score them? Give me a list and we will see who was closest by the end of the season.