Liverpool’s new era is built on gambles
This appeared on SB Nation first
A new dawn is being loudly trumpeted on Merseyside: clearly not that of the blue half, whose annual transfer agony and inactivity seems set to continue, but their more illustrious neighbours, who have been letting the good times roll once again with an alarming spending spree. A number of talented players have been acquired since the FSG takeover at Anfield, Kenny Dalglish has been reinstalled on his throne, and with stability in the boardroom,Liverpool can look forward and begin to move on from their recent tumultuous history.
Unfortunately, that stability does not extend much further. No team other than Liverpool is going into the new season with so much uncertainty around their team. Of this season’s big three acquisitions, Jordan Henderson has played one full premier league season, in which he showed good form and faded after January. Stewart Downing had an excellent year, in contrast to the mediocrity of previous years. Charlie Adam too, is an unknown quantity, mostly shining but sometimes looking suspect in a bizarre, madcap Blackpool team.
And it’s not just the new signings. Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll have just one and a half Premier League seasons between them, and even the two great constants, Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher, have new question marks over fitness and form. It’s not even just the players: Dalglish’s return was a hugely successful one, but how he will deal with a difficult patch or a poor run of form remains to be seen.
In addition, even if all of the players enjoy productive seasons, there is further doubt. Accomodating Carroll and Suarez will be difficult, particularly when so many of Liverpool’s midfielders, such as Charlie Adam, Steven Gerrard, and should he stay, Alberto Aquilani, are liable to struggle in a 4-4-2 formation. Dalglish was not afraid to show tactical adventure last season, so it will be interesting to see what he can come up with to get the best out of a squad that does not seem to be the most coherent.
It’s odd that FSG, a group who were touted as liable to experiment with the ‘Moneyball’ model in Soccer, should produce a situation like this, but in actual fact, it’s highly symptomatic of their ideology. The tactical and managerial problems can be put down to the odd situation at Liverpool, and also the inevitable compromises that have to be made between a Director of Football and a Manager. But Damien Comolli will believe that he has signed some underrated – if not, in the end, undervalued – stars. Looking at less well-known statistics, such as chances created, total number of crosses, chance conversion, one can make cases for Liverpool’s plan to all come together.
However, how much of what is happening at Anfield can seriously be compared to Moneyball and Sabermetrics is highly debatable. It is obvious that soccer is a much more difficult game to quantify with statistics than baseball, as the players are not individuals. Comolli and Dalglish would not have chosen to spend £20m on one of the league’s best crossers if they did not already possess one of the league’s biggest aerial threats. The system at Liverpool is not ‘Moneyball.’ It is something else, the name of which will probably only be coined in the event of unqualified success (or complete disaster.) In reality though, neither of these are likely – as any sabermetrician worth his salt would be able to tell you, it’s statistically improbable. There’s too much that can go wrong, too much that can go right. But the uncertainty, in the end, will hamper Liverpool until they have regained the stature to chase the calibre of players to enable them to compete at the top once more.