The Midweek Maxi #4: Official "Weirdness", Aerial Dominance, Bundesliga Duds & C C Curtis Jones
Our new Liverpool FC weekly compendium. News. Stats. Views. Debate. Links. Data. Insights. Delights.
To read about why we’ve replaced Free Friday with The Midweek Maxi, see the intro to the first edition.
So far the bumper weekly roundup is going down extremely well with paying subscribers:
Excerpts and links to the different pieces we've published across the TTT Substack network, prior to the paywall kicking in;
Andrew Beasley’s Weekly Stats Analysis – this time a detailed look at the heights of the Reds’ XI this season, and compared with the opposition, and how it affected results; and across the whole Premier League, who prevailed in every single game in relation to height advantage/disadvantage;
Paul then takes that height stuff he’s obsessed with and runs with it a bit more, and ponders making an exception to his rule, for Jurrien Timber;
Then, some of the best comments from the site this past week;
Next, Daniel Zambartas’ bumper LFC News, Media & Transfer Round-Up;
And then finally, bit of Midweek Moby (the TTT stalwart, not the beautiful bald middle-aged man), for the third mini-article of new writing within this week’s Maxi.
Job done! (Oh, and it’s also a discussion thread for the issues raised.)
Note: the Maxi may exceed the email size limit on Substack, but the whole piece can be read online by paying subscribers.
TTT Network Roundup
Links and excerpts to articles on the various TTT sites, which are run by different people and require separate subscriptions to this, the TTT Main Hub.
TTT Main Hub
The main piece of the past seven days was this incredibly in-depth dive on how officials treat the Reds by Paul and Beez.
Some facts about officials and Liverpool FC
You get outliers.
But this many outliers is weird.
I’ll go on to explain these further, but first, let’s outline some facts:
Liverpool get the fewest penalties in relation to actual goals scored, ranking 24th out of 24 for the Premier League teams to have played enough qualifying seasons in the top flight (three) in that time. (2015-2023)
Liverpool get a relatively low number of penalties per season compared to other teams, but crucially, get a far lower percentage of penalties at home when compared with the best teams. (To me, a normal, modest amount away, but an abnormally low amount at home.)
A staggering 3-4x more referees are averse to giving Liverpool penalties than the number of similar refs for any rival club. As such, it’s an appointment problem, especially if the PGMOL are aware of this.
Greater Manchester referees are statistically overly generous to Manchester clubs, and statistically overly miserly to Liverpool. This surprised me, as I was clearly too naive to believe such an obvious suggestion could be true.
Liverpool have had to wait longest out of any top-flight club to have a player sent off against them for a second yellow card; so long, in fact, that the player was … Sadio Mané. (Playing for Southampton.) Almost all clubs have had at least five players sent off against them for two yellows in that time; some have as many as a dozen-or-so. The second yellow is interesting, as it’s a bit more subjective – it’s about how the ref feels, whereas straight red cards can often be harder to deny, and also, there’s VAR to jump in (but only a ref can give a second yellow, so he’s safe to ‘bottle it’, as it were).
As we’ve shown before, Mo Salah is in a league of his own when it comes to not getting free-kicks. As an outlier he lies so outlying that he’s lying out in another dimension.
Liverpool waste the least time in the Premier League, according to Opta, yet have more bookings for time-wasting than the worst time-wasting teams in the Premier League; and the Reds’ bookings for time-wasting were simply for taking a normal amount of time. Again, this is subjective, about how a ref feels. It is not timed, just a sense of time that can be warped by emotions. This is something Andrew will focus on later in the piece, after the debacle of the ref-killed-a-good-game fixture with Brentford.
By some distance, Liverpool get far fewer different refs at home games than any other Premier League team (2020-23), who all get a similar amount to each other. This means more likelihood for animosity to arise, as familiarity breeds contempt. It also means Liverpool get a lesser mix of styles, and Premier League refs differ wildly in their approach to the game (as can be seen in their stats). So if some teams get ‘homer’ refs and Liverpool do not, that’s a distortion. To me, it’s a handful of refs who have done the most damage; not all the refs.
Liverpool have had the same referee seven times in a single season (38 games) on a number of occasions, which almost never happens at all for other clubs. Liverpool had Paul Tierney a 7th time this season, by game 33, even though it was clear there were major issues between Liverpool FC and Tierney.
The only player to be struck by an official (in all my time watching top-flight English football) was Tierney’s assistant clearly (not “apparently”) elbowing Andy Robertson; Tierney was up next at Anfield again. While the linesman rightly apologised to Robertson via Zoom (and it was a moment of madness that I wouldn’t have wanted to see destroy his career), it’s interesting that an official elbowed a Liverpool player, and effectively got no real punishment; while the ref who should have sent his own official off as violent conduct applies to everyone, booked Robertson, and was given the next Anfield fixture. It suggests a ‘fight’ mindset that officials bring to Anfield, perhaps driven by the PGMOL, who chooses which refs to send where.
In a very busy week - especially in terms of articles - on the Main Hub, Paul also wrote this about Liverpool’s recent winning run and some of the keys behind that improvement.
So, these were not easy games; this was not crosses that the Reds' pair had to deal with aerial duels against Bernardo Silva and had to tackle a lazy Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
This was helmets-on stuff.
In the IDR when I last updated it (over a year ago), van Dijk ranked #1, as I've shared before, with 77.2% of his aerial and ground duels won across six seasons in English football. The best career figures for any defender since 2011, albeit you do get outlier seasons (Martin Skrtel once had a remarkable season).
Van Dijk’s 2022/23-alone ranking would put him 5th in the all-time rankings, at 73.7%.
This would bring down his career average slightly, and perhaps eat away at his advantage over Vincent Kompany in second place.
However, his last six games sees a duel success rate of 80%. That's above the 77.2% of his career prior to this season.
[Edit: since writing this piece, Konaté’s numbers have improved even more, with 100% win rates in the air and on the ground vs Leicester. Van Dijk lost one of his four aerial duels, but that also means he’s creeping back towards his usual 75% aerial win rate for every full season.]
The fifth instalment of this major new series on Dynasty covers the period of Liverpool’s radical but ultimately unsuccessful experiment of having two managers, with Gérard Houllier joining the incumbent Roy Evans.
Originally a series of articles covering the period 1992 to Klopp’s arrival in 2017, it was written by TTT Subscriber Anthony Stanley, serialised on The Tomkins Times and then published by TTT as a book called A BANQUET WITHOUT WINE - A Quarter-Century of Liverpool FC in the Premier League Era.
So, as the sands of football were again shifting during the tumultuous Nineties, Evans accepted that he needed some help. But he was, in fact, under the impression that, as he put it: “There was a need for something different. The game was turning very European. We spoke to John Toshack … about the idea of appointing a director of football.”
Was the then sole incumbent of the Liverpool manager’s job actually unaware of the nature of the job the board had envisioned for the incoming Houllier? Speaking in Simon Hughes’ Men in White Suits, Roy Evans is adamant and claims that he let his heart rule his head:
“(O)n the football side, we got on. At the end of the meeting, it came to roles, responsibilities and titles. I said something about not having an ego and that I’d do whatever was better for the club. It was a massive mistake. I should have been sharper and brighter…I wasn’t strong enough to insist that he would only be a director of football…the board should have known that (two men can’t do the same job). It had been tried at other clubs and it hadn’t worked.”
There’s a discernible sense here of something that could perhaps have been Roy Evans’ fatal flaw: a lack of ruthlessness and a desire to accommodate the club he loved so much. His tenure had, after all, hardly been a disaster. But he probably knew his limitations and, typically for such a good and honest human being, wanted what was best for the club. Moreover, he probably knew which way the wind was blowing and that his time was running out. But the appointment of Houllier fatally undermined the Bootle-born boss; there can be no doubt about that and if things went wrong, there could only be one fall guy.
This Red Planet
My analysis this week focused on the perceptions and reality surrounding purchases from the Bundesliga, especially after some of the figures discussed for Jude Bellingham.
The findings are quite something, first the basics:
29 players have moved from the Bundesliga to Premier League clubs with a fee of more than €20m, which surprised me, as it felt like a lot more.
The split is 52/48 (where have I heard that figure before!). Though, there’s a few on the borderline, including: Schurrle, Thiago, Vestergaard, Konaté, Havertz.
Five of the bottom six are considered successes, compared to only three of the top six; suggesting bargains can be found but expensive duds are common.
Kevin De Bruyne is by far the biggest success, though of course he was in the Premier League at Chelsea before Jose Mourinho’s eye for talent was exposed once again.
Firmino is of course the biggest success for Liverpool, and probably should get a ten; the other ten’s include Son at Spurs and Haaland at Man City (though he could - hopefully - turn out to be a one-season wonder!).
The Reds’ biggest failure - though for me it’s only the injury record - rather than his performances, is Naby Keita.
Six of the top ten transfers are deemed failures, once again suggesting that the targets such be those around the €40m mark and below (adjusting for inflation hasn’t been considered so I might get sacked by Paul!). [PT: I’d never be so harsh – instead, no gruel for you in the TTT dungeon this week.]
Mizgan’s focused analysis was on the potential signing of Alexis Mac Allister, using video stills, stats and comparisons with other world class midfielders.
Klopp loved Gündoğan at Borussia Dortmund. If he signs Mac Allister, he is about to get a Gündoğan 2.0. The German loves midfielders of this type because of his style of play.
For that very reason, I have no doubt about this signing going well for Liverpool. Mac Allister has the attributes, numbers, experience of the biggest occasions and the right age (24) to come to Anfield and develop his game to the next level under the tutelage of Klopp.
There is a suggestion that the move could get completed as soon as this season ends. Klopp, anyway, aspires to get all the transfer business done early because he wants every squad member to be available for the pre-season, starting on 8th of July, from day one.
[PT: the similarities in the data between Mac Allister and Gündoğan that Mizgan delves into is stunning: I’ve never seen two more similar players on a range of about 20 metrics, albeit there may be other metrics that diverge. And it doesn’t mean Mac Allister is as good – yet – but they are very similar players, aside from the Argentine winning more duels.]
The Zen Den
Finally, Paul’s Zen Piece recognises that despite some iffy form this season, the recent run has shown many fans that the Reds have a lot more quality players than previously thought.
That said, obviously it's hard to think of anyone doing better than Salah. But when he was signed, he was a good player, not one of the best in the world; not one we expected to see score nearly 200 goals in six seasons.
Nearly 200 goals in six seasons!
The environment elevated Salah (and he likewise elevated it).
But look at Emre Can (failed at Juventus), Philippe Coutinho (failed at Barcelona), Gini Wijnaldum (failed at PSG) and Sadio Mané (failing at Bayern Munich) to see how even the best players were diminished outside of the Kloppian egosystem.
Just as none of them were world-beaters before they arrived.
So Liverpool need suitable signings, not perfect signings.
And maybe fewer than previously expected. Chelsea's transfer ban allowed them to develop younger players, as a collective, and then win the Champions League; then spending £600,000,000,000,000 on 23,468 new players has turned them to mush.
Arsenal were doing better in the first half of the season with a younger side, developing together and improving faster than expected; Gabriel Martinelli, Martin Ødegaard, Bukayo Saka, William Saliba and Eddie Nketiah.
The older mid-season signings of Jorginho and Leandro Trossard partially coincided with a massive drop-off.
They won 18, drew two and lost just one of their first 21 league games into January. Since then, they've drawn four and lost four; and while that may be fatigue or choking [which is less damning than ‘bottling’], or just regressing to the mean, it's not like Trossard and Jorginho have led them to the title.
You buy players aged 28 and 31 mid-season and you're not thinking about 2026.
So, has serendipity, along with the Reds' own reversion to their usual level (how many teams win seven straight league games in a season?), shown that less of an overhaul is needed?
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