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Liverpool's Current Midfield Problems


It is universally accepted that Liverpool's Midfield is the reason we are playing so poorly. Now we no longer have SAS to paper over the cracks, I'm going to point out some of the areas we are going wrong.

So far this season we have only played 5494 passes. In comparison, I'll use the team we should benchmark for possession based pass and move, Barcelona. Barcelona have completed a whopping 8256 passes! This says a few things about Liverpool this season:
A) we are taking to long on the ball, therefore not making as many passes per game.
B) we are not keeping hold of possession enough to increase the amount of passes we have made.
C) The team is being far to direct and playing the long ball game, cutting out the build up play.
Again using Barelona as the benchmark, we have have an 84% pass completion rate this season. Barcelona have 88%. That may not seem like that much difference but if we consider that on average we are playing 423 passes per game, that extra 4% we are lacking equates to an additional 17 passes we are misplacing. That is potentially allowing the opposition 17 attacks per game, and costing us 17 chances ourselves (potentially). 84% is not good enough for a team trying to dominate possession. So why is our pass completion so much lower? Maybe we lack the penetration Barcelona have, but surely our players can still pass it as adequately? Well they can, but its just the technical ability of our midfield in tight spaces that is letting us down. Because of this, the players are spacing themselves out more to increase the time they have to judge the pass they are receiving. The average pass length for Barcelona this season is just 16m, whilst we are averaging 19m. That extra 3m could be as much as half a second per pass. This gives the opposition more time to close us down, as well as our passes requiring a slight bit of extra precision in order to find the target. As you increase the distance from your target, the angles at which you are passing become more critical. I won't bore you with the maths but bascially, our midfield is not tight enough because they don't trust themselves in tight areas.
Lets look at the individual stats of our 4 first choice central midfielders then:

Gerrard has played 755 succesful passes with an 87% success rate. 87% is impressive considering he can boast 25 key passes (although just 1 open play assist, his through ball to Luis Suarez vs Fulham). Gerrards pass accuracy or cretivity is not the issue. It is his pass distance that is, and where he's being played. He does not find space as well as our other midfielders and tends to drift to far away from the others. His average pass distance is 21m! That may be distorted by the occasional sweeping diagonal, but those diagonals need to be reduced. They are risky passes that he attampts far too often and he is not Xabi Alonso. This distance per pass is mainly because of how deep he sits though. He will not carry the ball like he used to, and his positional sense is all wrong. His creativity stats show he still has what it takes to be a danger man in a forward role, but 87% is actually quite low for a deep lying playmaker. In contrast, Xavi of Barcelona has 92%. We've seen how big a 4% difference can be so do not underestimate that 5% difference here. Gerrard gives away possession cheaply at times, and in a deep role, can we afford that? Gerrard has won 50% of his tackles giving him 23 completed. 23 tackles for a deep player is about average to be fair. Do we want better than average though? His aerial strengths also leave a lot to be desired wining just 5 headers with a 45% success rate. He has comitted 13 fouls, which isn't bad at all though. He has only made 1 defensive error so far. He has created 4 goals from set pieces this season. 2 corners and 2 free kicks. As well as this he has scored 1 free kick and 2 penalties. He has become something of a set piece specialist, but does that make up for his lack of open play contribution both offensively (when played deeper) and defensively?

Lucas has completed 630 passes at a 91% success rate. That is a completion rate much closer to what we require. It is no suprise that Lucas averages a 17m distance when passing the ball as well. He is much calmer in tight areas and likes to come close to the action. He is great at playing the line splitting passes but he does so with short, crisp balls in to feet. He has only played 5 key passes this season, but that is to be expected of a midfield destroyer. Lucas has been involved in a lot of duels though. He puts himself about, mainly due to the fact he is covering for Gerrard too often. He has completed 39 tackles and 22 headed duels. Whilst his heading duel success sits at a decent 61% his tackle success rate is down at just 45%. This is because he is making tackles he shouldn't need to be making though. He is constantly left hung out to dry by Gerrard and required to charge across to cover for him. It is for this reason that Lucas looks better when he is sat back by himself. He is not relying on anybody else to cover the area, so he watches it more closely himself. He has sacrificed a lot for the team though, taking 5 yellow cards and committing 27 fouls to break up the opposition attacks. These are what we call professional fouls, but he is making too many of them covering for the other midfielders. He can be clumsy, but nowhere near as bad as his tackle success rate and fouls committed stats suggest. Lucas has not made a single defensive error yet. He has not offered us much going forward, but that is not his job.

Hendo has compelted 586 passes at a very impressive 86% completion rate. Why is that impressive? Because he is regualrly played out of position and more often than not used in a forward role where you have half the time on the ball as the deeper players. His average distance is also 17m which shows he likes to get in closer to the play as well. He has completed a decent 18 key passes, and like Gerrard recorded 1 open play assist. His main asset is his work rate though. No stat can show that really, but his pressurising of the opposition both in advanced and deeper areas is admirable. He is the only player in the current XI who does it to an adequate standard (excluding Suarez). Henderson, despite being utilised mainly in an attacking role has still managed to complete 27 tackles at a 51% completion rate. That would be decent for a defensive midfielder, but it just shows how much he protects the deeper players. He may have only won 12 headers at a 35% success rate, but keep in mind he is challenging the defenders more often than not for these headers. Having only commited 11 fouls, he is not dirty and rarely concedes free kicks in silly areas, but that is largely down to being further up the pitch. Hendo has also only made 1 defensive error. Despite a great finish in the cup game against Notts County, he is yet to score in the league. He needs to start scoring and assisting more often though if he is to become a permanent option in the forward role he's occupying.

Coutinho has completed 559 passes at a 79% compeltion rate. Whilst he has a lower success rate, that is mainly due to the fact he is attempting the hardest passes of the midfield, and he hasn't quite hit form just yet if we are honest. Depsite this he has managed 11 key passes in limited game time (injuries, he's played half the amount of minutes as Hendo and Gerrard) but he still has no assists (although he did perform an excellent dummy for Sturridge to score vs Aston Villa). It is his pass distance which most impresses averaging just 15m! His ability in the tight areas and to play short fast passes really is good enough for the top teams in world football. He links everything up, and makes us tick. That is why we missed him so much. He needs to improve his take on success a little though as it sits at just 53% with 18 players left sprawling in his wake in total. He has won 15 free kicks though, which is an important stat for a player around the opposition penalty area.

We may have scored a lot of goals this season, but we have a league high of 10 from setpieces. This shows we are lacking in the open play areas of our attack. In fact, our last 4 goals have all come from set pieces. We also need to cut out the defensive errors and tighten up as we are the top of the league for defensive mistakes, making 13 as a team, with one goal coming of it. The fact only one error has led to a goal is testament to Mingolets excellent form. He has made 40 saves this season already, placing him second in the league table for saves.

This analysis highlights a lot of problems with our midfield:
A) the lack of goals
B) the lack of creativity
C) the lack of mobility/positioning
D) the lack of build up play

We are not building our attacks well enough, and we cannot keep relying on long diagonals and set pieces to win games. I think Allen and Alberto deserve more game time, as they are capable of playing in tight spaces and building from the back.


Enter your comments

04 May 2014
So you would like the goals that have been scored from long passes chalked off just so we can pass it through a defence, we tried it at chelsea and could not find away through but passes from long gerrard which have set up many goals have worked remember the one with the out side of his foot for sturridge who went on to score, we have a very fast forward line so a long pass suits these players and their pace,

mikey b


09 December 2013
Bit unfair having a go at Stevie for diagonal passes, that is one of his trademarks and he is one of the best in the world at it.


04 December 2013
Interesting read, appreciate you taking the time to write it


04 December 2013
This is a complete over use of statistics to the point it gets boring I'm afraid.....Where did Barcelonas posession get them vs Bayern in champs league last year?


04 December 2013
If Allen starts seeing some decent game time, I'll add his stats on with a comment. I'll notify you all on the banter page. I was going to do him anyway, but he hasn't played enough football as you say and it wouldn't be fair to judge him on it.



03 December 2013
Good read, thanks for time and effort.


03 December 2013
Thanks for taking the time to write up that post mate it must have taken ages. I do wonder what difference it would have made if we brought in "Mickey" in the summer.
Also it would be great if you can update this post after Allen (presuming he does) gets a decent run in the team because I would love to compare his stats with the rest.
Thanks again mate for giving us all something decent to read.