Revival Or Reprisal? The Statistics Of Kenny's Second Coming At Liverpool

While things may look rosy from the outside, a wealth of stats show that since the return of the King, so far Dalglish has done little more than maintain Liverpool's average performance of the last five years.
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While things may look rosy from the outside, a wealth of stats show that since the return of the King, so far Dalglish has done little more than maintain Liverpool's average performance of the last five years.

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Wheeling away, arms aloft after notching yet another crucial goal, Kenny Dalglish was the ultimate baby-faced assassin, long before a certain Ole Gunnar Solskjaer acquired that handle. With winning on-field demeanour and central role in The Reds’ greatest triumphs, Dalglish’s name runs through the annals of Liverpool’s golden age like the letters running through a stick of rock.

His roll call of achievements reads: seven league titles, three European Cups and five domestic cups – achievements which led to him being crowned King Kenny by Liverpool supporters. As player-manager of Liverpool in 1985 and in a six-year tenure as manager thereafter, Dalglish had won three league titles and two F.A. Cups, by the time he resigned as Liverpool manager in 1991, in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster.

Liverpool gave Lennon and McCartney to the world but Greater Glasgow gave Liverpool Shankly and Dalglish. As icons to compare with popular music’s greatest ever songwriters it is no wonder that the enigmatic Scots are revered like Beatles in the red half of Merseyside.

There is no encore for Lennon and McCartney, but on 8th January 2011, Dalglish became Liverpool's caretaker manager after the departure of Roy Hodgson and, with a tailwind of seemingly unanimous goodwill, he permanently returned to the Anfield hotseat, for a second time, by signing a three-year permanent deal on 12th May this year.

But what about King Kenny’s so-called Second Coming? Are we witnessing the return of the king or simply the latest chapter in a tale of largely diminishing returns for the club in the post-boot room era?

Here at The Secret Betting Clubwe’ve put Dalglish’s numbers to the test considering everything from his overall record in context, to his formations, favoured strike partnerships and the influence (or not) of his key personnel. The results, albeit based on a small sample of games, are as surprising as they are informative.

Kenny Dalglish’s Second Coming

Strip away the hype and spin of project King Kenny, disregard the uncharismatic reign of Rafa Benitez and the unmitigated disaster of Roy Hodgson’s brief tenure and you’re left with what is a surprising picture, to say the least.

The table below shows how Dalglish’s Second Coming cuts up so far:

Under Kenny Dalglish Liverpool have played 23 games, since January 2011. The tale of the tape is a 52% win rate that breaks down to 12 wins (52%), four draws (17%) and seven losses (30%).

Breaking down that record further we have  11 home wins (a 64% win rate), three draws (27%) and just one defeat at home to Spurs at the end of last season (a losing percentage of 9%).

Away from home, Dalglish’s record equates to five away wins (42% win rate), six defeats (50%) and a solitary draw (8%)

But having heard the hype, just how does King Kenny’s record compare in relation to his predecessor’s Benitez and Hodgson?

Statistically at least, the myth of an Anfield revival, that saw Liverpool talked of as title dark horses as recently as the close season, just doesn’t ring true.

Liverpool’s Long-Term Record

If we exclude Dalglish's tenure from the calculations we are left with long term averages stretching back to the 2006/2007 season that show up as follows:

So have things really improved under the much-trumpeted Dalglish?

Remarkably, given the feel-good factor around the club and the reception Dalglish has received on the terraces and in the media, the answer is hardly at all.

In fact, if you compare, Dalglish’s reign thus far, to Liverpool’s long term performance since the 2006/2007 season you can see that Liverpool have won just over half their games pre-Dalglish (91, 53%) from a total of 171 games played.

And let’s recap Liverpool’s record under Dalglish: it is a winning ratio of just 52% - just 12 wins from 23 games in charge.

Dalglish is doing no better or worse than you’d be inclined to expect, based on his record since taking over in January 2011. Statistically at least, the myth of an Anfield revival, that saw Liverpool talked of as title dark horses as recently as the close season, just doesn’t ring true.

Dalglish’s many fans will counter of course, and with justification, that Liverpool needed a steady hand on the tiller and a return to the boot room traditions of Liverpool’s glory years. Clearly, the abortive Roy Hodgson experiment just did not pass muster on Merseyside. Dalglish’s disciples will also counter that is remains early days – and that King Kenny as player and manager, has never failed them yet.

Hodgson, the former Blackburn, Inter and Switzerland boss, arrived from Fulham as the League Manager’s Association Manager of the Year for 2010. He was hounded out of Anfield with a record of 31 games played, 13 wins, 9 draws and 9 defeats with a win rate of just 41.94%. The record is poor but Dalglish probably ensured that Hodgson was always on a loser at Anfield. Asked to act as a consultant on the next managerial appointment, following Rafa Benitez’s departure, Dalglish rejected Liverpool’s initial shortlist only to self-servingly throw his own hat into the ring. That gambit failed but thereafter, Liverpool fans simply never took to Hodgson, an urbane, low-key multi-linguist from Croydon, Surrey. He was always on borrowed time.

The first phase of recovery, as witnessed, has been assumed to be a return to a fortress like mentality at Anfield. And indeed, under Dalglish Liverpool have an excellent home record winning seven games from 11 played (64%) since January 11th.

Well, at least it seems good. That is, until you compare the Scot’s 64% win rate with the comparable  long term percentage win rate at Anfield  for all home games. That comes in at 66% since 2006/2007 (57 wins from 86 home games).

Under Kenny Dalglish, Liverpool’s away record has not improved either.  Good performances have followed bad on the road with five wins and six losses in Dalglish’s 12 away games. That equates to an average win rate of 42% - a percentage that is essentially bang in line with their long term average five year win rate of 40% for away matches.

The bottom line is that while Kenny has been hailed as a messiah, he has done little more than maintain Liverpool’s five season average performance, achieved mostly under Benitez.

Is it simply the case that the PR spin attached to having ‘one of their own’ at the Anfield helm is a preferable scenario than soldiering on with Benitez, a manager for whom familiarity had latterly bred contempt?

Perhaps that is a little harsh and too convenient a line – after all 23 games is a short, short noose with which to condemn any manager. And wasn’t quality as much as quantity the key issue under the previous two incumbents in the manager’s office? For the time being King Kenny deserves the benefit of the doubt.

And, as we all also know, winning and losing isn’t just about the man in the dug-out. We have already shown in our SBC research into Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal results also comes down to the players and the transfer ins and outs as much as the boss’ football philosophy or tactics.

Would it be fair to suggest that, regardless of the prevailing wisdom, Gerrard is actually a negative when the chips are down and he is called on to take big games by the scruff of the neck?

The Key Players

Most Liverpool fans would probably assume that  the stats relating to a trio of latterday Liverpool legends (Carragher, Reina and ‘Mr Liverpool’ himself Steven Gerrard) should form the keenest impression of Liverpool’s (recent) past and present. It is a broadly fair assumption.

The first thing to note is that Scouse icon Jamie Carragher rarely misses games. the current vice-captain and is one of the club's longest-serving players; he made his 666th appearance for Liverpool in all competitions on the 9th May 2011, thus placing him second on the club's all time appearance list.

In his last 50 possible appearances, Carragher missed just 11 games so a sense of the potential impact of his absence is hard to define. In the 11 games the Bootle-born defender missed, Liverpool drew just once, compared to their 26% draw rate when Carragher is playing. Liverpool average 1.56 PPG with him present and 1.45 without him. The obvious implication is that Carragher may help tighten things up at the back in such a way that Liverpool have been able to consistently take points from close contests with league rivals.

Pepe The Ever-Present

Liverpool’s Spanish keeper Pepe Reina is the second leading light in Liverpool’s ranks. However as an ever-present in The Reds’ previous 50 games there are no available absentee stats to contextualise his contribution between the sticks. Clearly though, his record of 220 Liverpool appearance since 2005 speaks volumes.

Captain Fantastic?

There is surely no fan of English football that would take issue with the statement that over the last five seasons, Liverpool’s club captain Steven Gerrard MBE, has been the most dominant English midfielder of his generation.

However, over the last 50 games, the 31 year old Gerrard has been missed much less than might be first assumed.

Amazingly, Liverpool actually average more points per game, more goals for and less goals conceded in the 23 games Gerrard missed, than in the 27 games he played in the last 50. His record reads: missed 23 out of potential 50, with those games comprising 11 wins, 4 draws, 8 losses (48%, 17% & 35%). The average PPG is 1.61. The average GFPG 1.87.

In contrast, Gerrard played 27 out of potential 50, with 11 wins, 7 draws, 9 losses (41%, 26%, 33%). His contributing games accrued 1.48 PPG and 1.22 GFPG.

However, there is a massive caveat here to be noted. Gerrard has started just five games under Dalglish, however Liverpool won four of those matches including games against Man Utd and Chelsea.

No doubt, Steven Gerrard remains Liverpool’s big game guy par excellence for Dalglish. But can Captain Fantastic be relied on longer term?

The answer is not necessarily. Here is Stevie G’s overall record against top six Premiership sides taken from 50 possible games against top six teams dating back to 06/07.

Playe: 39. Won 14, draw 11, lost 14. 36%, 28%, 36%. 1.36 PPG 1.15 GPGF
Missed: 10. Won 5, draw 3, lost 2. 50%, 30%, 20%. 1.80PG, 2.0 GPFG.

Would it be fair to suggest that, regardless of the prevailing wisdom, Gerrard is actually a negative when the chips are down and he is called on to take big games by the scruff of the neck? The numbers certainly appear to expose a trick played on the eyes. For all his dynamism, perhaps Steven Gerrard simply isn’t as crucial a presence as we’ve all been led to assume he is.

The Flying Dutchman

One of the positives of Dalglish’s Second Coming at Anfield has been the rehabilitation of the square peg Dutch striker Dirk Kuyt.

Said to have come on leaps and bounds due to the Scot’s sympathetic counsel, Kuyt has metamorphosed into a key man for Dalglish. Kuyt missed just 10 games in the previous 50 but Liverpool have averaged just 1.1 goals in those missed matches compared to 1.62 goals per game when he plays.

And of course, Kuyt’s now legendary impact as a key defensive element, when Liverpool cede possession high up the field, has become a major asset to his manager. In the 10 games Kuyt missed from their last 50 Liverpool conceded an average of 1.4 goals per game, compared to 1.0 goal on average in the 40 he’s played. The former Feyenoord man has missed just two games under Dalglish, both this season (Spurs, Sunderland) and on both occasions Liverpool failed to win either game.

The Great Dane?

The Red’s heavily tattooed Denmark skipper Daniel Agger bears the Latin memento mori: "Mors certa, hora incerta" (Death is certain, its time is uncertain) on his back. It’s just one of a number of apposite facts relating to the popular 6ft 3in centre back. Agger is another key man who is clearly missed when not playing.

In the last possible 50 Liverpool outings, Agger played 20 and missed 30. In the games the Dane played Liverpool averaged exactly 2 points per game, but just 1.23 points without him in the side. Crucially, Liverpool average 0.6 goals against with the former Brondby man in situ but they conceded 1.40 goals against whenever Agger missed games in the previous 50 fixtures.

Andy Carroll: Less Than The Sum Of His Parts?

Just 12 games and one goal into his Liverpool career, Andy Carroll has hardly set the world alight since making the self-same journey from Tyneside to Merseyside as former teammate Jose Enrique.

In the case of the Gateshead-born striker, though, there was always going to be both baggage and expectation as a result of his record-breaking transfer fee.

Dalglish has already claimed one Premiership title thanks to the goals of a Geordie talisman (in the form of Alan Shearer at Blackburn) but so far, the lank-haired targetman is struggling to fill Shearer’s boots as both England and Dalglish’s great white hope.

Of the 19 games Carroll might have played thus far, he has missed 11. With Carroll absent Liverpool have won 64% of those 11 games scoring an average 2.18 goals per game. That compares extremely unfavourably to the win rate of just 38% and 1.25 goals per game in the eight Premiership games Carroll has played thus far for Liverpool.

Andy Carroll’s goal ratio at Newcastle of 31 goals in 80 appearances is impressive , but it would be wrong to over-emphasise the value of his contribution at St James Park. Based on his last 50 potential starts for Newcastle, Carroll missed just 11 games. When he played the Geordies averaged 1.16 points per game but incredibly, they averaged 1.18 points per game in the 19 games Newcastle played without him in the last 50.

King Kenny has clearly brought the entertainment back to the delight of embattled Kopites, however it remains to be seen if he can bring home the ultimate prize, the Premiership trophy.

Top Scorers

For reference Dalglish’s current top scorers have been Dirk Kuyt with 10 goals, Maxi Rodriguez with seven goals and Luis Suarez who has scored four already this term, and boasts six from 16 starts for the club. The 24-year-old Uruguayan frontman, wearing Dalgish’s revered No. 7 shirt, cost £22.8million from Ajax on transfer deadline day last January, briefly becoming the Anfield club’s record signing, prior to the subsequent arrival of Carroll from Newcastle.

Striker Pairings

Liverpool have averaged just 1.14 goals per game in the seven games Carroll and Suarez have been paired together. Kuyt and Suarez has been a much better option, with an average of exactly two Liverpool goals per game in the 14 games they’ve been paired up.

Formations

Under Kenny Dalglish Liverpool have played a 4-4-2 formation 13 times, winning 62% of those games. The success of Dalglish’s return to the tried and tested compares favourably with his general win rate average of 52%. In a 4-4-2 Liverpool average of 2.15 goals per game as opposed to the general average of 1.86 goals per game exhibited in Dalglish’s tenure to date.

The Scot has experimented with a 4-3-3 on six occasions but a goals per game average of just 1.33 goals for and a win percentage of just 33% (two games) suggests 4-4-2 brings out the best in the personnel at Dalglish’s disposal.

Conclusion

So what has Kenny brought to Liverpool so far?

Notwithstanding the bum note of Sunday’s 4-0 loss to Spurs last weekend, the Scot appears to have created a work in progress that is significantly more entertaining than the output of his predecessor Rafa Benitez.

The jury remains out though as to whether or not there is anything of substance beneath the illusion of progress underpinning some literally average results.

However there is one thing that the former striker has added to the mix and that is goals - and lots of them.

In Dalglish’s 23 games so far, Liverpool have averaged 1.86 goals for per game, which compares favourably with the clubs all inclusive five year average figure of just 1.69 goals per game.

The biggest change has come in away games with an average of 1.55 Liverpool goals compared to the long term five year average of just 1.24 GFPG.

King Kenny has clearly brought the entertainment back to the delight of embattled Kopites, however it remains to be seen if he can bring home the ultimate prize, the Premiership trophy.

It is now 21 years since Kenny Dalglish masterminded Liverpool’s last successful title campaign. At the moment that goal looks like an extremely tall order.

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