Liverpool may have already signed the next Kevin de Bruyne for £4.3million
Data can be framed in several different ways to prove several different points. The expression “there are lies, damn lies and statistics” does not exist without a reason.
This can be especially true with soccer, a sport with so many game actions that can be counted that any player you want to name likely has a high total for at least one of them. When statistics are presented as a total for the season, it is inevitable that the players who have spent the most time on the pitch will rise to the top of the leaderboard.
But change the numbers to see who prospered pro rata and you might get a completely different picture. A recent look at the creative abilities of the midfielders of the Premier League‘s top six teams proved that idea perfectly, and the results will have been of particular interest to Liverpool.
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Statsbomb has a metric called Shot Creation Actions (SCA), which are defined as “the two offensive actions leading directly to a shot, such as passing, dribbling, and shooting fouls”, and their shot creation actions. lens (GCA) work the same way. A chart that plotted the old stat against the second for big club midfielders had a quintet of names you’d expect to see in the top corner: Kevin De Bruyne, Bruno Fernandes, Mason Mount, Martin Odegaard and Bernard Silva.
The fact that there is no Liverpool player in the top group is nothing new. Since the emergence of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson as key creative outlets for the team, the Reds midfielder has been tasked with providing cover rather than too often creating chances himself. 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 captain was their highest placed man on the midfield creativity chart. “Jordan Henderson as Liverpool’s most dangerous midfield builder was surprising to say the least,” was the caption, although the writer clearly didn’t see the skipper’s assist passes for Mohamed Salah at Old Trafford and Goodison Park.
However, as well as holding midfielder Fabinho, Henderson played at least 1,000 minutes more than any other midfielder at the club last season. Regardless of his level of ability, he was always going to lead the stats with as wide a playing time margin as that in his favor. A look at the numbers on a base of 90 sees Henderson falling back and some teammates passing him.
The most important player is Harvey Elliott, who has only De Bruyne ahead of him for the SCA in the prorated table (although the young Liverpool star has only played 346 minutes thanks to his serious injury). This lines up with something former Liverpool captain Phil Thompson said recently about England manager Gareth Southgate trying his luck with young players for the upcoming World Cup.
“Somebody at my club he could look at is Harvey Elliott, he’s creative and has the ability to open up defences,” he said, adding: “I think the players like that – who have a great assist ratio, with that knack for creating goals – can drive that forward on the big stage.
While the 19-year-old – who a court ordered Liverpool to pay Fulham up to £4.3million for in a 2021 ruling – could have the talent for international football, it is highly unlikely to go to the World Cup. England have just two games left before the start of the tournament, and Elliott is yet to bow out for the senior side. He will have to start the new season in electric mode to have even a slim hope of flying the Three Lions to Qatar.
But it can work to Liverpool’s advantage. Elliott will be able to spend a month working in Kirkby with Jurgen Klopp and the other players who are not involved in the World Cup. This will include the player the young midfielder most often linked with last season, Mohamed Salah.
In the 2021/22 Premier League, there have been eight instances where Elliott has been responsible for the penultimate shot creating action with an open play pass, and Salah has been the recipient of six of them. Coincidentally, the only one that led to a goal was for someone else, with his assist to Alexander-Arnold against Burnley allowing Trent to assist Sadio Mane.
But if he can continue to forge a stronger and stronger relationship with Salah, then anything is possible for Elliott. Even getting closer to De Bruyne on a graph of total rather than proportional creativity.