Explained: Why Liverpool are actually a genius set-piece team

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Following on from yesterday’s article previewing the final, we now turn our attention to some of the key attacking numbers for both teams to glean a little insight into where the match could be won or lost for each team.

Table of various attacking metrics for both Liverpool and Spurs based on 2018/19 Premier League data. Click to Expand.

The bulk of goals scored in football fall under the category of ‘open-play’. We will tackle this later in our Champions League preview when we take an in-depth look at the primary creative players and goal-scorers for each side.

Here, I would like to focus on two areas where we often see tight, evenly-matched finals won and lost.

Counter Attack Analysis

The two teams have very similar numbers in terms of counter-attacks this season. Liverpool have been credited with twenty-four shots from counter-attacks and converted six of them. A conversion rate of 25%.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, Mohammed Salah (ten) and Sadio Mané (six) are the two players with the highest involvement for Liverpool in counter-attack chances. They each converted two of their chances giving them a conversion rate of 20% and 33% respectively.

The other goal-scorers from counter-attacks from Liverpool were Roberto Firmino (one goal from three chances, 33% conversion rate) and Xherdan Shaqiri (one goal from his only chance, 100% conversion rate.

Tottenham Hotspur, on the other hand, have had twenty-three shots from counter-attacks and converted five of them this season. A conversion rate of 21.7%.

Harry Kane (nine) and Son Heung-Min (five) are the two players with the highest involvement for Spurs in counter-attack chances. Kane converted two of his nine chances, giving him a conversion rate of 22.2%. While Son converted just one of his five, giving him a 20% conversion rate.

The other goal-scorers from counter-attacks from Tottenham were Dele Alli and Lucas Moura. Both scored one goal from two chances giving them a 50% conversion rate.

Table of metrics relating to corner set-pieces for both Liverpool and Spurs based on 2018/19 Premier League data. Click to Expand.

Set Pieces Analysis

Liverpool are the most effective side in the Premier League from set-pieces, scoring 25% more than the next best sides, Everton and Tottenham. Of their twenty goals from set-pieces, fourteen were from corners, five from indirect free-kicks and one from a direct free-kick (below).https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o2xi8ATi2Qs
Spurs are also an incredibly effective side from set-pieces. Their sixteen set-piece goals are made up of ten from corners, four from indirect free-kicks and two from direct free-kicks.

Focusing solely on creating chances from corners, we can see from the above table that while many of the numbers are quite similar, Liverpool had fifty-five more corners last season than Spurs; roughly 28% more. While the two sides did a similar job in terms of creating chances from those corners, Liverpool were much more effective at converting those chances. Liverpool required roughly eight key passes from corners for one to result in a goal. For Spurs, this number more than doubled to seventeen and a half key passes per goal.

Tottenham’s main set-piece takers

Breakdown of Keiran Trippier’s chances created and assists by situation.

When assessing the players involved at Spurs, it is perhaps clear to see where the problem lies. Keiran Tripper has taken seventy-three, or 37.6%, of Spurs’ corners this season. From which, he has created nineteen goal scoring chances. At 3.8 corners per key pass, this suggests he is doing a good job of finding a Spurs player and creating a chance from his corners.

However, only one of those corners resulted in a goal for Spurs. His expected goals (xA) per chance created from corners is 6.5%.

Breakdown of Christian Eriksen’s chances created and assists by situation.

If we compare this now to the player who has taken the second highest number of corners for the club this season, Christian Eriksen, we see why the Danish international has been more successful from set-pieces this season.

He has taken sixty-seven corners, or 34.5%, of Spurs’ corners this season; which is not too far off the amount of Tripper. He has created twenty-one goal scoring chances, which is two more than Trippier from a lower number of attempts. This means he is needing 3.2 corners per key pass.

His xA per chance created from corners is 9.5%. This is much higher than Tripper and suggests that Eriksen is putting the ball into areas closer to the goal where any resulting shot is far more likely to result in a goal.

We can also see from blue coloured part of their graphs, indicating indirect set-pieces, Erikson has an average xA of 16.3% from his eight chances created. Trippier, on the other hand, has an xA of 3.3% from his three chances created.

Therefore, while a large part of the outcome from any set-piece falls on the ability of the shot taker to convert the chances, this suggests that Eriksen does a far better job than Trippier of weighting the odds in the shot takers favour. Hence why Eriksen has six assists to his name this season from set-pieces to Trippier’s one.

Liverpool’s main set-piece takers

Breakdown of James Milner’s chances created and assists by situation.

Looking now at the Liverpool in the same manner, James Milner has taken ninety-two, or 36.9%, of Liverpool’s corners this season. From which, he has created twenty goal scoring chances. At 4.6 corners per key pass, this is much higher than both the Spurs players we looked at.

Two of those corners resulted in a goal for Liverpool. His xA per chance created from corners is 8.8%. This is close to Eriksen and much superior to Trippier’s.

While Milner is the high-volume set-piece taker, there is no doubt who the highest-quality guy is at Liverpool.

After announcing himself as something of a dead-ball expert with a stunning free-kick against Hoffenheim to help Liverpool qualify for the Champions League group stage last season, the kid has just got better and better.

Liverpool are in the final in large part due to a corner that will live long in the memory of many Reds. Barcelona had completely switched as Trent walks away from the ball. However, he head is up, he is aware, and he notices that Divock Origi is also. Seconds later, Liverpool are 4-0 and on their way to Madrid.

Breakdown of Trent Alexander-Arnold’s chances created and assists by situation.

He has taken seventy-two of Liverpool’s corners, or 28.9%. He has created seventeen goal scoring chances from them which works out at 4.2 corners per key pass.

His xA per chance created from corners is 8.9%. This is almost identical to Milner’s but Trent is creating chances more frequently than Milly from the corners he is taking.

However, perhaps this highlights a problem in assessing the effectiveness of set-pieces from such data alone. While someone like van Dijk will win the majority of high-trajectory balls into the box and be able to get a shot off from them, he will need to work hard to generate power and redirect the shot. Plus the challenge to win the ball is likely to be more of a battle.

Whereas, low-trajectory driven crosses will probably be cleared more often. However, the pace on the ball means you just need to get a touch to direct it on target and the pace on the ball will do the rest.

So while Trippier requires fewer corners than Milner or Trent to create a goalscoring chance, he is leaving the player attacking the ball with too much work to do in terms of converting it. While for Liverpool, perhaps the focus isn’t on just beating the first man, but on making sure the ball is hitting an area of the box and with enough pace, height and swerve, to be extremely hard to defend.

Lastly, one final advantage Liverpool have here is someone able to delivery quality with their left foot. Both Xherdan Shaqiri and Mohamed Salah have been involved in the Reds’ set-pieces this season. This gives Liverpool the benefit of being able to delivery high-quality in or out swingers from both sides of the pitch.

While their numbers are perhaps too small a sample size to warrant the in-depth analysis of the above players, we should include Salah’s numbers at least for completeness given that he has weighed in with two assists this season from corners.

Breakdown of Mohamed Salah’s chances created and assists by situation.

The next part of our preview will drill down on the key creative players for each side to determine their approach, quantity, and quality in terms of creativity.

* All data and graphics used in this article are courtesy of @CraqueStats.

This is the first in a series of articles that will evaluate both Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool, tactically and statistically, in the build-up to Saturday’s final. Follow @empireofthekop  and @babuyagu to catch the rest of our build-up to the final.*


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