The other lesson is that the side with the next-largest budget after the top four should not lose hope. Arsenal just needed Liverpool to underplay their wage bill for a few years while Wenger steered his side to 70-point seasons, which was enough to maintain the Gunners’ position in the Champions League. Last year, Liverpool didn’t need the good fortune of Manchester United having perhaps the worst points-to-wage-bill season on record, but they could have made the Champions League with a merely good season as well.
For teams on the lower end, the lift is much more strenuous. The following graph of inflation-adjusted wage bills shows just how difficult it is to build a 70-point squad without elite resources.
The engine of this return to form has been Philippe Coutinho. When Rodgers first instituted the 3-4-2-1, the headline change was the use of Raheem Sterling in a lone striker position. Yet it has become clear that Coutinho’s role is the indispensable one. The Brazilian playmaker has typically been joined by a goal scorer (usually Adam Lallana) in the duo behind the striker, meaning that Rodgers’ trust is on Coutinho to carry the creative load.
We can see the extent of the Brazilian’s contributions by looking at the passes he has attempted and completed into dangerous areas. When a pass is completed into a region that includes the center of the penalty area and extends a little past the top, there is a chance of at least 1 in 3 that this pass will lead to a shot attempt. The map shows the likelihood of a shot resulting from an attacking move following a completed pass to any location on the pitch. The red zone in the center of the box is clearly distinguishable.
Published at SB Nation.
It isn’t precisely true that no one expected Liverpool to be title contenders. A number of statistical models viewed Liverpool as one of the best sides in the EPL last year. My expected goals ratio, a ratio of expected goals scored to expected goals allowed based on chance quality, rated Liverpool as the league’s best side last season.
The method behind expected goals, which you can read about in the “Shot Matrix” articles linked above or at the EPL Advanced Stats page, is pretty simple. For each chance, I estimate the average probability of a goal being scored, based on location on the pitch, whether the shot is taken with the head or the foot, whether it is a free kick or from open play, and the type of pass that assisted the shot. Over time, these estimates of chance quality are a better metric of team quality than raw goals scored or simple shot totals. And in the case of Liverpool, based on their expected goals in 2012-2013, the underlying stats expected this club to be among the best in the Premier League.