Liverpool: What the Statistics Tell Us About Brendan Rodgers' Reign so Far

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Liverpool: What the Statistics Tell Us About Brendan Rodgers' Reign so Far
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Liverpool have taken six points from seven Premier League games under Brendan Rodgers. They find themselves down in 14th place and with the critics already circling.

Even the most blinkered Liverpool fan would agree this represents a disappointing start to the season. As new dawns go, Rodgers' sunrise has hardly had us squinting in its glare.

But there have been some positive signs. Norwich and West Brom were beaten away, while Manchester United can consider themselves very fortunate to have left Anfield with all three points.

Rodgers has Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard hinting at their very best. And in Raheem Sterling and Suso, he appears to have unleashed a couple of bright young things ready to personify his bold new era.

Moreover, if we look closely at the statistics (provided by whoscored.com), there is reason for optimism among the red half of Merseyside. There are signs the Rodgers revolution is taking hold and enough evidence to suggest Liverpool are at least on the right path.

Data supplied by Whoscored.com
Take Liverpool's possession numbers. Rodgers' team average 58.5 percent this season, which is up from 55 percent last season under Kenny Dalglish. More importantly, their successful passes ratio has risen from 80.9 percent to 86.1 percent.

When we take their away performances in isolation, Rodgers' influence is even clearer. Liverpool lead the Premier League in average possession on the road, with 64.2 percent—taken from their games at West Brom, Sunderland and Norwich.

More evidence of Rodgers' passing game taking hold can be found in individual numbers. Joe Allen is fourth in the Premier League for average passes per game (75.7), with Steven Gerrard tied for sixth (71.6). Allen is also third on pass-success rate (92.6 percent).

Premier League players ranked by average passes per game
Last season, Liverpool didn't have a player in the top 10 of either category. They didn't even have a player in the top 20 for average passes.

But while those statistics shine well on the ball-retention capabilities of Liverpool's midfield, there remains the question of just how many of those passes are actually making a difference. We can look to the "key passes" numbers for this.

Last season, Liverpool really struggled in this area. Only Luis Suarez made it into the Premier League's top 20 for key passes, averaging 2.1 per game.  This season, Suarez is up to 2.6, while the returning Gerrard is one the Premier League's most effective operators in this category—averaging three key passes a game.

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Steven Gerrard has enjoyed a good start to the season under Rodgers
You might argue Gerrard, had he been fit, would have delivered the same numbers for Dalglish. The counterargument is that Rodgers' philosophy, and the freedom he gives Gerrard in his 4-3-3 formation, is allowing the midfielder to have maximum influence.

It may also be that the nature of Liverpool's passing is getting Gerrard on the ball more. Liverpool are down from an average of 67 long balls per game under Dalglish to 63 this season. Where they averaged 440 short passes last season, that number is now close to 500.

Rodgers talked about his team's "relentless possession," after their recent League Cup match against West Brom. His system stands and falls on his team's ability to keep the ball, and it requires all 10 outfield players to play their part.

He's already made progress in that area. But where Rodgers' Liverpool have fallen down thus far is in their ability to transform that dominance of the football into goals.

Liverpool score highly on shots per game, but their conversion ratio is low
Their return of nine—boosted by the five scored at Norwich—has been made up of seven goals from open play and two from set pieces. On its own, it's a respectable return, but not when you consider how many chances Liverpool have had.

Rodgers' team are averaging 17.6 shots per game this season in the Premier League, which has them converting roughly once every 14 efforts on goal.

Perform that same equation with Manchester United, and you get a ratio of one goal every seven attempts. Chelsea come out at roughly the same number. Manchester City and Arsenal are a little more wasteful, both averaging around a goal every nine attempts.

Liverpool's profligacy has been most notable at Anfield, where they've averaged 17 shots per game, with an average of just 3.8 of those on target. 

Some of that is down to Liverpool having played Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United in those games, of course.

Where Liverpool's shots are coming from this season
There could also be the issue of Liverpool shooting when they might be advised to take the ball forward. Only four percent of Liverpool's attempts this season have come inside the six-yard box, compared to numbers as high as 17 percent for Stoke and 12 percent for West Ham.

Moving on to defensive matters, the first thing to notice is Liverpool's heading stats. They rank 16th in the Premier League this season, averaging 13.6 aerial winners per game. You might expect a big drop under Rodgers, but it's actually an increase on the 12.9 aerial battles they won last season.

Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
Martin Skrtel leaps during Liverpool's preseason tour

What's changed is the numbers around them. Stoke led the Premier League with an average of 15.3 for 2011-12. This season, they're up at an average of 25.7 aerial duels won per game, and there are plenty of teams close to them at that number.

Are we to assume the Premier League has gone back in time?

Back to Liverpool matters, Rodgers' team are doing very well in stopping other teams shooting. They average just nine shots conceded per game (down from 11.2 last season), which is bettered only by Arsenal's 8.3.

Liverpool's tackle count and foul-conceded numbers are about the same, with a slight increase on the average number of interceptions they're making (up from 13.3 to 14.5 per game).

But for all their respectable numbers, Liverpool have still conceded 12 goals in seven Premier League games this season—more than any of the 13 teams above them in the table.

To find the answer to that, we need to look beyond numbers. Because the biggest cause of Liverpool's fallibility this season—according to their manager, anyway—is nothing more than simple human error.

After Liverpool's Europa League loss to Udinese, Rodgers said, as per The Independent: "The players give everything and we are just working very hard to cut out the mistakes, because I think once we cut them out, we can be a real force as a team."

And there you have it. Liverpool's new manager, the man who wrote a 180-page dossier outlining his plans for the club, left bemoaning the one thing he is struggling to control at Anfield.

Rodgers' revolution is clearly evident in Liverpool's passing and the cultural shift he's delivered. All he needs now is his forwards to start scoring and his defenders to stop gifting the opposition goals.

It's simple, really.

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