Article written by Andrew Beasley
On a recent RedmenTV podcast, I spoke with Chris about Liverpool’s phenomenal attacking record this season. One of the statistics we discussed was clear-cut chances, and as the Reds’ have performed phenomenally well on that front this season, it’s worth looking into the figures in greater depth than we did on the show.
But what exactly is a clear-cut chance? Opta define them as ‘a situation where a player should reasonably be expected to score usually in a one-on-one scenario or from very close range.’ A penalty is the best example, but it’s easy enough to think of other scenarios that fit.
Mohamed Salah has been clean through on goal countless times this season, and who will ever forget Ragnar Klavan bundling the ball home from point blank range at Burnley? Shots like these are clear-cut chances. You know when Alan Shearer says “he has to score there” on Match Of The Day? He’s probably referring to one of these.
They’re not a common occurrence but they are incredibly important. An average Premier League match features a total of about three clear-cut chances, meaning roughly one in every eight shots is classified as one.
But they account for over half of all goals that are scored. This is because around 40% of them are converted, compared to around 6% of all other shots. They really are that important.
The good news for Jürgen Klopp is his team have racked up 88 clear-cut chances in the Premier League this season, which works out at three per game. The almost-all conquering Manchester City may have had 99, but only 12 teams across the last six full seasons have ended their campaign with more than 88 golden opportunities, and none of them have averaged three per game.
As an aside, it’s interesting that Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool side of 2011/12 also had 88 clear-cut chances. However, they only scored 27 of them whereas the current crop have netted 39. On such margins seasons can either unravel or be successful.
It also illustrates how finishing determines a hell of a lot of what can go right or wrong for a team. Liverpool have had at least one clear-cut chance in every league game bar one this season, but in the one match they drew a blank for this stat they scored four goals and beat the champions elect.
Equally, the Reds had three in the disappointing home draws with both Everton and West Bromwich Albion, and four in the defeat at Swansea, and missed them all. As with any statistic you care to mention (aside from goals of course), clear-cut chances might suggest a team deserved to win a match but it will never guarantee they will.
But over the longer term, having loads of clear-cut chances generally correlates with success. Of the 15 teams to have had at least 88 of them in the last six seasons, only three of them finished lower than third. Two of those were Liverpool, unfortunately for us, but teams who have a lot of golden opportunities tend to do very well.
So how have the Reds gone from having no more than 73 clear-cut chances in any of the past three seasons, to having had 88 with nine games to play? Whilst Liverpool’s scouting team will obviously be looking at far more than simply these stats, it’s clear some recent targets and purchases perform well here.
When you look at the Premier League’s most frequent creators of top chances from the last few years, it’s apparent they set up a clear-cut chance for a teammate around once every 200 minutes on average.
In Mohamed Salah’s two seasons with Roma, he created a big chance every 201 minutes. Naby Keita was at 220 last season, and has improved to one every 177 in 2017/18 for an average of 201 in the last two years.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain used to set up top level chance every 350 minutes or so, but took a leap up to doing so every 174 minutes last season. He hasn’t quite reached that level at Liverpool yet, but across the last two campaigns he is averaging a clear-cut chance every 234 minutes.
Even Roberto Firmino, who isn’t renowned for being especially creative despite registering seven league assists in each of his three years at Liverpool, sets up a golden opportunity every 239 minutes. In the last few years, the Reds have been snapping up players with this ability, and it’s now paying dividends.
This policy hasn’t always worked so well. Stewart Downing was a master of setting up great chances but Liverpool’s terrible finishing in his first season (as already mentioned) ensured he finished the year without an assist to his name. Rickie Lambert created the joint-second most clear-cut chances in the Premier League in 2013/14 (alongside Coutinho, of all people), yet registered just one for the Reds.
But it’s about using players correctly, and that’s what Liverpool are doing now. Lambert was slow yet was expected to run on to through-balls, when his strength for Southampton had been playing them himself and setting up great chances.
A wide variety of attacking options obviously helps too. Dalglish’s side mainly created via crossing, and whilst Andy Robertson has done that brilliantly at times in his debut Liverpool campaign, there are also multiple other threats.
Mohamed Salah is a black belt in seizing upon defensive mistakes by the opposition, and it’s at the point where they are so terrified of him they’re making errors whenever he is in the vicinity.
For instance, think of Erik Pieters at Stoke, or Wesley Hoedt for Southampton; both fluffed routine clearances when Salah was in the vicinity, and it resulted in a clear-cut chance (and far more importantly a goal) both times. Jürgen Klopp famously once said “no playmaker in the world can be as good as a good counter-pressing situation”, and Liverpool are proving his point week after week.
Salah has either set up or been the shooter for 43 clear-cut chances in the Premier League this season. Only eight of the other 19 teams in the division have had more, and Salah has been involved in one more than the whole Everton team in 2017/18. It’s clear-cut that the king of Egypt is Liverpool’s current creative diamond.
Statistics correct as at 8th March 2018.
Article written by Andrew Beasley
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