Liverpool a long-ball team? More wilful ignorance, Big Sam…

Date published: Thursday 6th February 2020 11:24

“Liverpool play long ball very well indeed from right to left, and very quickly. But nobody will say Liverpool play long ball.

“You wouldn’t hear Martin Tyler saying it because it would be frowned upon.

“You’ve got to be careful about saying they play long ball. But that’s the way it is. They play long ball exceptionally well and better than anybody else. And that’s why they do it.”

Okay, Big Sam, let’s have a look shall we?

 

Premier League sides ranked for number of long balls per game 

1) Sheffield United 75
2) Burnley 71
3) Liverpool 66 
4) Everton 66
5) Southampton 66
6) Wolves 65
7) West Ham 65
8) Watford 63
9) Aston Villa 61
10) Newcastle 61
11) Brighton  60
12) Crystal Palace 59
13) Norwich 57
14) Bournemouth  57
15) Arsenal 55
16) Chelsea 54
17) Leicester 54
18) Tottenham 54
19) Manchester City 50
20) Manchester United 49

So only Sheffield United and Burnley go long more often than Liverpool. Maybe Allardyce has a point.

Except, he hasn’t really.

What the former England manager seems to have done there is confuse long raking passes, usually from side to side, with the more hopeful, agricultural ball chucked forward. Whoscored’s definition of a long ball is ‘an attempted/accurate pass of 25 yards or more’ and we all know one of Liverpool’s most potent weapons is the switch from side to side, usually starting with Trent Alexander-Arnold.

To suggest that no one likes to talk about Liverpool as a long-ball side is yet more wilful ignorance from Big Sam. Everyone talks about it, everyone praises it. No one lumps them in with the sides who go direct from back to front in the hope of gaining ground, rather than possession. It is certainly not ‘frowned upon’.

And though Liverpool rank in third place for long balls, in must be put into context with the greater share of possession that they enjoy and the proportion of passes played long and short.

Liverpool have played an average of 613 passes per game this season (second only behind Manchester City’s 663 passes per game) with 66 long balls among them. Long balls amount to 10.76% of their total number of passes.

In contrast, Burnley play 21.8% of their 325 passes per game over 25 yards, and Sheffield United go long with 19.2% of their 389 passes.

Liverpool’s long passes find a team-mate more often too, which suggests they are not merely hopeful balls chuckled forward. Liverpool have a 50% accuracy rate with passes over 25 yards, whereas Burnley lose possession with two-thirds of their long balls. Sheffield United retain possession with 39% of theirs.

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