Data can be framed in multiple different ways to prove multiple different points. The phrase “there are lies, damned lies and statistics,” does not exist without good reason.
This can be particularly true with football, a sport featuring so many match actions which can be counted that any player you care to name probably has a high total for at least one of them. When statistics are shown as a total for the season, then it’s inevitable that the players who spent the most time on the pitch rise to the top of the standings.
But add the numbers to look at who thrived on a pro-rata basis and you might get a different picture entirely. A recent look at the creative abilities of midfielders for the top six teams in the Premier League proved this idea perfectly, and the findings will have been of particular interest to Liverpool.
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Statsbomb have a metric called shot creating actions (SCAs), which are defined as “the two offensive actions directly leading to a shot, such as passes, dribbles and drawing fouls,” and their goal creating actions (GCAs) work in the same way . A chart which plotted the former stat against the latter for midfield players at the big clubs had a quintet of names you’d expect to see in the top corner: Kevin De Bruyne, Bruno Fernandes, Mason Mount, Martin Odegaard and Bernardo Silva.
The fact there is no Liverpool player in the leading group is not news. Since the emergence of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson as key creative outlets for the side, the Reds’ midfield has been tasked with providing cover rather than setting up chances too often themselves. Their tireless work allows the full-backs to be as incisive as any attacking midfielder would be at any other club.
For what it’s worth, the club’s captain was their best placed man on the midfield creativity chart. “Jordan Henderson as Liverpool’s most dangerous creator from the midfield was surprising to say the least,” was the caption, though the writer clearly hadn’t seen the skipper’s assist passes for Mohamed Salah at Old Trafford and Goodison Park.
However, aside from holding midfielder Fabinho, Henderson played at least 1,000 minutes more than every other midfielder at the club last season. Irrespective of his ability level, he was always going to lead the stats with a playing time margin as wide as that in his favorite. A look at the figures on a per 90 basis sees Henderson drop back and some teammates overtake him.
The most significant mover is Harvey Elliott, who only has De Bruyne ahead of him for SCAs in the pro-rata chart (albeit the young Liverpool star featured for just 346 minutes thanks to his serious injury). This chimes with something former Liverpool captain Phil Thompson recently said with regards to England manager Gareth Southgate taking a chance on younger players for the upcoming World Cup.
“Someone at my club he might look at is Harvey Elliott, he’s creative and has the ability to open up defences,” he said, adding: “I think players like that – that have a great assist ratio, with that knack for creating goal – can take that forward onto the big stage. ”
While the 19-year-old – who a tribunal ordered Liverpool to pay Fulham up to £ 4.3m for in a 2021 ruling – might have the talent for international football, he is very unlikely to go to the World Cup. England only have two remaining fixtures before the start of the tournament, and Elliott has yet to make his bow for the senior side. He will have to start the new season in electric fashion to even have a slim hope of making the Three Lions’ plane to Qatar.
But this can work to Liverpool’s advantage. Elliott will be able to spend a month working at Kirkby with Jurgen Klopp and the other players who are not involved in the World Cup. This will include the player with whom the young midfielder linked up most frequently last season, Mohamed Salah.
In the 2021/22 Premier League, there were eight instances of Elliott being responsible for the penultimate shot creating action with an open play pass, and Salah was the recipient for six of them. As chance would have it, the only one which led to a goal was for someone else, with his pass to Alexander-Arnold against Burnley enabling Trent to assist Sadio Mane.
But if he can continue to forge an increasingly strong relationship with Salah then anything is possible for Elliott. Even getting close to De Bruyne on a total rather than pro-rata creativity graph.