How Liverpool used statistics to change Premier League transfers

Since Jurgen Klopp took over in 2015, statistics have been a huge driver of Liverpool's return to success.

Since the start of Jurgen Klopp’s reign, Liverpool have pioneered the use of statistics in Premier League football.

Thanks to director of research Ian Graham and Klopp, Liverpool fashioned a way to break back into European football’s elite.

How statistics evolved at Liverpool

Liverpool owner John Henry’s love for statistics in sport has never been a secret.

Henry is depicted in the 2011 film Moneyball, about how one of the poorest teams in Major League Baseball pioneered the use of statistics to build a team to challenge the New York Yankees.

With the wealthier, if not recently unsuccessful Boston Red Sox, Henry brought the use of statistics to one of the biggest teams in the sport.

Throughout his business life, Henry has found a way to gain an edge on the competition.

He did it with Boston, he has done the same with Liverpool.

Since taking over the club, he spent years trying to make a similar formula work at Liverpool, through the tenure of various managers with little success.

How statistics shaped Liverpool’s team

In 2015, Cambridge graduate Ian Graham convinced Klopp that there was another way to win.
In changing Klopp’s attitude, Graham changed the outlook of the Premier League.

One of his ideas was putting a goal value on potential signings, and coupling that with the opinions of scouts and the manager, while taking into account his value before making a signing.

Liverpool built teams both tactically and squad-wise with the best of both worlds, with both statistics and a manager’s intuition.

The statistical takeover at Liverpool came about at the same time as a statistical explosion in football.

Expected goals (xG), has now found its way onto mainstream football coverage.

Harvard graduate Will Spearman helped to delve into the minutiae of passes for example, their direction, weight and speed.

Spearman and Graham’s ideas included pitch control, and the idea of a team covering optimal areas of the pitch based on statistics.

One of the key proponents of pitch control was arguably Georginio Wijnaldum, who before signing for the Reds was a workmanlike attacking midfielder.

He was turned by Klopp and Co. into a box-to-box midfielder, likely with pitch control in mind.

Georginio Wijnaldum, Andros Townsend
Liverpool v Crystal Palace - Premier League / Alex Livesey/GettyImages

That blend of statistical knowledge, working out Wijnaldum’s strengths based on his statistics and the coaching ability of the likes of Pep Lijnders and Vitor Matos, was a winning combination.

It is an idea too that has translated beyond the change of personnel at the club.

Even last summer, after their move for Moises Caicedo fell through, technical director Jorg Schmadtke plumped for the largely unknown Wataru Endo.

His subsequent success at Liverpool was no accident.

If you look at some of his statistics from his final season at Stuttgart, there is a sea of green in certain areas, particularly in clearances and aerials won.

Liverpool signed him not with the idea of turning him into a top playmaker like Trent Alexander-Arnold, but of him filling a void, to break up the play.

The idea was of him doing the dirty work, and leaving the fancy stuff to the likes of Alexis Mac Allister. They used the statistics to split a role.

Wataru Endo
Liverpool FC v Wolverhampton Wanderers - Premier League / Clive Brunskill/GettyImages

The effects of Liverpool’s use of statistics

These ideas have helped Liverpool to climb the ladder of success.

For a lot of Klopp’s era, they found competition only in the shape of serial statistics users Manchester City, who unlike Liverpool have a seemingly bottomless pit of transfer funds.

Brighton and Hove Albion too have implemented statistical analysis to sign a myriad of players that they have gone on to sell for a lot of money, but there is a glass ceiling.

Thanks to football’s current regimented financial hierarchy, they will sadly never be in position to have sustained success in Europe or at the top of the Premier League.

Liverpool can. The Reds had and have just enough money, and all the knowhow to compete at the top.

Manchester United have all of the money, but none of the knowhow.

We could all very well sit here and tell each other that Liverpool should have won more, but Klopp was right, Liverpool couldn’t have done more. Everything was optimal.