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Data Analysis: Liverpool’s top loan players

Following the monumental success Liverpool achieved in the 2019/20 campaign – comfortable winning their first Premier League title in 30 years and picking up the UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup along the way, many are asking the same question. In terms of progress and development, what’s next? Success in recent years has seen the club transition from a “selling club” to a club who are now more than confident in keeping their prized assets. Jurgen Klopp has attracted some positive attention with his ability to develop an individual and bring the best out of them. From young players like Curtis Jones, to some with more experience like captain Jordan Henderson, Klopp certainly has a talent for developing talent.

There are several individuals at the club who spent the title-winning season on loan elsewhere but may have an argument to keep their place at the club. This data analysis will compare the stats of four stand-out Liverpool loanees against the Reds’ 19/20 first team – respective to each of their positions. The four loanees discussed in this analysis will be as follows:

Loris Karius: The 27-year-old had a troubled time at Anfield and seemed to struggle to regain his composure and confidence between the sticks, leading to him spending the 19/20 season on loan with Turkish club, Besiktas. The German keeper is adamant that he can fight for at least the number two spot at Anfield.

Marko Grujić: The 24-year-old central midfielder has been on the books of Liverpool for a number of years now but has always been deemed as not quite ready for the first team, despite his potential. The Serbian enjoyed a decent loan spell last season in the Bundesliga with Hertha Berlin and could be under consideration for the first team as Liverpool look to increase their depth in the midfield ranks.

Harry Wilson: Academy graduate Wilson proved during 2019/20 that he is ready for Premier League football, impressing at eventually-relegated Bournemouth. Comfortable playing on either wing or through the middle, Wilson shows a level of quality that could put him in the mix to act as understudy to Mo Salah or Sadio Mane. Reports suggest that Liverpool are ready to cash in on the Welshman, which may be a smart move if he desires regular first-team football.

Rhian Brewster: Despite being just 20-years-old, England youth international Brewster severely impressed in his loan spell with Swansea last season. His admirable goal tally and energetic style of play may just be the answer to Klopp’s back-up striker issue.

Goalkeeper – Loris Karius

For the first segment of analysis, alongside Karius, Alisson and Adrián will be included in the data sets, since all three keepers played an important part for their respective clubs. Not only will we look at some standard goalkeeping stats to determine Karius’ quality, but we will also look at their passing capabilities as Klopp likes his keepers to be comfortable on the ball.

Data Analysis: Liverpool's Top Loan Players tactical analysis tactics

Above we can see a basic representation of how the three senior goalkeepers at Liverpool fared over the season. Despite the reputation Karius has garnered since that horrific night in the Champions League final against Real Madrid, the season he spent on loan clearly helped him regain some confidence. Collecting eight clean sheets with the Turkish club, along with a save percentage of 65.41%, he is more than in with a shout of being Liverpool’s back up keeper in this department.

Data Analysis: Liverpool's Top Loan Players tactical analysis tactics

The graph above concludes that, realistically, Alisson is no doubt the number one keeper at Anfield. However, the data that surrounds the passing department only adds to Karius’ case to be second in command. With a progressive pass accuracy of 72.41, Karius has demonstrated that when necessary, he can find a pass that covers substantial distance. His overall pass accuracy of 86.75% may seem decent – and it is to an extent, but he has to reach the realms of Alisson’s passing consistency if he is to ever challenge for the number one spot.

Centre Midfield – Marko Grujić

Here, will look at Grujić alongside Gini Wijnaldum, Fabinho, Naby Keïta, Jordan Henderson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, James Milner, and Curtis Jones – all of which who have featured for Liverpool either as a central midfielder or defensive midfielder – as Liverpool tend to rotate roles from time to time. Aspects such as defensive work and passing will be looked at as these two attributes are the most vital in the engine room for Liverpool.

Data Analysis: Liverpool's Top Loan Players tactical analysis tactics

The chart above shows us the number of successful defensive actions per 90 executed by each player. Curtis Jones tops the chart, which may be surprising at first. But when you consider his tenacity and intensity in pressing and challenging in high areas, it makes sense. Grujić has some impressive numbers too – coming in with 9.23 successful defensive actions per 90: considering he spent the season in the Bundesliga, showing good defensive consistency from midfield is a promising sign.

Data Analysis: Liverpool's Top Loan Players tactical analysis tactics

Passing and using possession wisely is an integral part of Klopp’s Liverpool system. While they don’t play the tiki-taka made famous by Pep Guardiola, without consistent and incisive passing, the Liverpool system fails. Additionally, it is more than just simply being able to keep possession – the midfield unit at Liverpool is responsible for progressing the attack into the final third without jeopardising their positional zone on the pitch. This is where forward passes become important. The likes of Jordan Henderson and Curtis Jones are clearly in tune with this notion, who lead the way with forward passes. Wijnaldum, while having a lower average with forward passes, has an incredible overall pass accuracy of 92.02% – probably more of an insight into his role. Grujić must improve in this area if he is to stick around at Anfield. An overall pass accuracy of 84.79% and averaging 11.35 forward passes per 90 doesn’t suggest a flaw in ability, but he must contribute more to benefit Liverpool’s intensity.

Right Winger – Harry Wilson

To get a clearer understanding of Wilson’s quality, we will compare him to other Liverpool players who have played on the right wing: Mo Salah, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Xherdan Shaqiri, and Takumi Minamino. Areas such as goals/assists, dribbling, and attacking contribution will be assessed.

Data Analysis: Liverpool's Top Loan Players tactical analysis tactics

This first graph for the right winger at Liverpool questions their efforts in build-up play, more specifically their accuracy when it comes to crossing and passing into the penalty area. While we often see Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold providing assists, times often occur when the forward players must create chances in and around the box. On one end of the scale, we see an impressive 50% accuracy rate of crosses from Shaqiri, while Minamino boasts an admirable 80% accuracy rate with passes into the box. It is important to consider game time however, while the two mentioned there have played significantly less than Salah and Wilson. 

Harry Wilson does have notable stats in this area, however. 53.57% of his passes into the box reached a Bournemouth teammate, with 38.46% of his crosses being met by a fellow Cherry. This indicates that Wilson has the ability and footballing brain to be creative and dangerous in and around the box, a required trait of a Liverpool forward.  

Data Analysis: Liverpool's Top Loan Players tactical analysis tactics

Here, we have a representation of the dribbling abilities of all involved. The Liverpool system, when lined up with its strongest 11, features a heavy amount of dribbling from the likes of Mo Salah and Sadio Mane, looking to beat the full-back to create a dangerous chance. Again, game time is important, but Minamino and Shaqiri both impress on either one of the two measurements.

Harry Wilson has demonstrated confidence by averaging 3.14 dribbles per 90 for a side who eventually suffered relegation. His success rate of 48.39% shows potential with some already-present talent – his agility and impressive footwork can be a nightmare to defend at times.

Centre Forward – Rhian Brewster

Brewster’s stats will be pitted against Roberto Firmino, Divock Origi, and Minamino, who we will take a closer look at their goalscoring records, talents on the ball, as well as their defensive capabilities as the striker in a Klopp side is expected to apply pressure from the front.

Data Analysis: Liverpool's Top Loan Players tactical analysis tactics

The graph above does not show us the number of goals and assists registered by each player in 2019/20, but instead shows us the amount of expected goals and assists, based on factors like position on the pitch, type and quality of assist etc. It allows us to gain a stronger understanding of the attacking quality as it is a metric that considers historical data and environmental factors.

Due to Minamino and Origi playing significantly less than Brewster and Firmino, both players registered low numbers on each metric. Unsurprisingly, first choice striker, Roberto Firmino, posted decent numbers in both areas – with an xG of 14.09 and an xA rating of 5.84, proof that he has elite level quality regarding goal-scoring talent and chance creation.  Brewster impresses with an xG rating of 7.79 after netting 11 times for Swansea City, but he must improve in the chance creation department if he is to feature for Liverpool in the near future, coming in with an xA rating of 0.33.

Data Analysis: Liverpool's Top Loan Players tactical analysis tactics

To further analyse the attacking contributions of the strikers at Klopp’s disposal, the graph above shows us the average number of touches each player takes per 90 in the box, along with the number of overall successful attacking actions per 90 minutes for each player. Straight away, we see Brewster is some way off the other three forwards – which is likely an insight into the difference in playing styles between Liverpool and Swansea City.

With 2.4 successful attacking actions per 90 and 2.23 touches in the box per 90, it would be hard to predict how Brewster would suit Klopp’s system without seeing him play in that role over a prolonged period. Firmino, Origi, and Minamino have all registered numbers that are fairly close to each other due to the role demanding so. Liverpool’s dominant and intense attacking style means the centre forward’s role entails more than just putting the ball in the back of the net. With a lot of intricate build up play happening in the box itself, the striker has a responsibility to involve himself and contribute towards the attack – it would appear, judging by Brewster’s stats, that Swansea prefer to let the midfielders and wingers build the attack, with the striker looking to simply finish the attack off.

Conclusion

It is important to consider that while the data provided and discussed in this report is valid and makes it possible to discuss each player in terms of a future at Liverpool, each of their loan clubs simply are not on the same level of quality as Liverpool. This data analysis allows us to build a better picture of the four discussed loanees and see where they’re currently at in terms of development. While we can conclude that perhaps none of the four are ready to be a regular starter for Liverpool, it wouldn’t be unfair not to mention each of them in terms of backup for their respective positions. For Karius, a decision is to be made: most teams want consistency and solidarity in terms of having a number one goalkeeper, meaning Karius must be satisfied with being second choice as he won’t be beating Alisson to the number one spot any time soon. Grujić is a player who has shown various qualities over the years, and at the age of 24, he now has much more game experience and maturity than when he first arrived at Anfield. Again, he would struggle to stake a claim as a starter in midfield, but he would certainly be a strong option to have on the bench. Speculation around Harry Wilson’s future has been flying around since his loan spell with Derby County. The prevailing notion is that while he appears to be too good for Championship football, he simply is not ready for a starting role at a club like Liverpool, with players like Mo Salah starting in his position. Though Wilson would make a great understudy option on the bench, don’t be surprised if we see Wilson make a permanent switch to another Premier League club. Rhian Brewster arguably has the brightest future of the four (in a Liverpool shirt at least) – many believe the youngster is ready to play the role of back-up striker to fan favourite Firmino, at the age of just 20. One aspect that could benefit Brewster is his style of play; it differs to that of Firmino, which may interest Klopp when he looks to switch things up tactically. Not having a ‘plan B’ is a major concern for Liverpool but having players like Brewster could go a long way to solving that issue. With that being said, a loan move to a Premier League club would give Brewster much needed experience in the top-tier, furthering his chances of being the first-choice striker at Anfield a few years down the line.