Are Liverpool more effective with Lucas or Gerrard in the team?

04.03.2014


With a fortnight until Liverpool’s next fixture – at Old Trafford – Brendan Rodgers could have Lucas Leiva back from injury. Andrew Lawrence takes a look at the stats when he and/or Steven Gerrard start. Do they confirm what we’d all expect?


BALTIMORE, MD - Saturday, July 28, 2012: Liverpool's Lucas Leiva and captain Steven Gerrard before a pre-season friendly match against Tottenham Hotspur at the M&T Bank Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)
What does the future hold when Lucas Leiva returns to fitness? Pic: David Rawcliffe / Propaganda

This article started as a comment on Oliver Smith’s piece asking ‘What is Wrong with our defence?’ but I thought it might be interesting to delve into the issue in more detail. In essence, let’s explore whether we can draw any observations about the impact that both Lucas and Gerrard have had on Liverpool’s Premier League results this season, by looking at the results we have had while they are on the pitch.

First let’s look at the results for Lucas:

LL-SG_1

The assumption at this stage is that when Lucas was subbed on or off it had little impact on the scoring in the game. For this reason subbed on is included in the ‘did not start’ section.

Now let’s compare that to Gerrard using the same assumption:

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ll_SG_2

Obviously the assumption that the substitutions made no impact is a flawed one. The above tables don’t factor in the timings of the substitutions or the state of the game when the subs are made so we need to make some adjustments to the figures to more accurately reflect the players influence while on the pitch.

You can jump straight to the next table if you wish, but for those who like detail. The figures below have been adjusted to reflect the following games.

Everton (a): Lucas started the match but was subbed off when the score was 2-2. The final score was 3-3.

West Brom (h): In this match Gerrard was taken off due to injury and replaced by Lucas. At the time Gerrard went off Liverpool were leading 2-0. The final score was 4-1.

Spurs (a): Lucas started the match but was substituted when Liverpool were 3-0 up. After the substitution we went on to win 5-0.

Aston Villa (h): Lucas did not start the match, but when he came on to the field Liverpool were trailing 0-2. When Lucas was subbed off (injured) in the same match the score was level at 2-2.

Adjusting for these matches we can now start to get a feel for how Lucas and Gerrard may have impacted matches while on the pitch (including both starts and non-starts).

ll_SG_3

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Before we discuss the results let’s look at one more comparison. The impact on results when one plays but the other doesn’t.

Fortunately, whenever Lucas hasn’t started, Gerrard has, and vice-versa so the results are fairly easy to calculate. We only need to make a few slight adjustments to the ‘did not start’ figures calculated previously.

First we need to reflect the brief period at Spurs when neither were on the pitch (Alberto replaced Lucas for the final 11 minutes, Gerrard was injured), and adjust for the effects of West Ham (h) when Lucas replaced Gerrard.

We also need to adjust for the Villa match when Lucas was brought on at half-time and two goals were scored while he was on the pitch. This figure had previously been recorded in the ‘did not start’ figure.

The adjusted figures are recorded in the table below:

ll_SG_4

For those that might be interested let’s also look at Gerrard’s last eight games, those he has played as a defensive midfielder.

ll_SG_5

Conclusion

JAKARTA, INDONESIA - Thursday, July 18, 2013: Liverpool's Lucas Leiva and captain Steven Gerrard during a training session at the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta ahead of their first match of the Preseason Tour. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)
The results confirm what we’d expect. Less goals against with Lucas but more goals for with Gerrard. Pic: David Rawcliffe / Propaganda.

Obviously, this analysis does not factor in the implications of home and away form, or the quality of the opposition. It does not factor in the direct role that the players may have made in relation to specific goals, both via mistakes or assists. However, it does provide us with a general flavour as to how the team performs when the two players are on the pitch.

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Using the above stats, it does appear to confirm several things you’d expect, namely:

  • Liverpool concede slightly less goals per game when Lucas plays – and this figure is better if he does not play alongside Gerrard
  • Our worst defensive record occurs when Gerrard plays as a defensive midfielder
  • Liverpool score fewer goals with Lucas on the pitch
  • When Gerrard plays Liverpool are better offensively
  • Liverpool score more goals per game when Gerrard is on the pitch, and score even more when he is not partnered by Lucas
  • Our best offensive record has occurred when Gerrard has played as a defensive midfielder

The bottom line is that this analysis suggests what I suspect that many people already know: if you want Liverpool’s best defensive team on the park, play Lucas. If you want a higher scoring, but defensively more vulnerable strategy, play Gerrard.

The only caveat: you shouldn’t play them together.

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41 COMMENTS

  1. Nice to have the stats infront of you, but it kindof just proves what everyone has already known. Since Lucas has been injured our defense has been shocking, people dont realise his importance and defensive qualities until hes gone, he is vital to our defence. And its kindof a no-brainer with Gerrard, even at the age of 33 he is essential to our attacking form even if he is playing in that deeper role, he is the greatest attacking midfielder to come from Europe, and even in the the DM position hes getting results. Its obvious that Lucas is a more viable option defensively as is Gerrard in attack, the trick is to try and incorporate the both of them TOGETHER and use their qualities in all aspects and get results. We also have to look to Hendo, hes a captain in the making and turning into a quality midfielder and as soon as he can polish his finishing, our midfield will be golden.

    • hendo is a very unintelligent footballer. snatches at every shot, always flicks/tricks because he’s too scared to keep the ball because he thinks he might to lose it.

      Can’t go past anyone with the ball and the moment he is pressured on the ball he panics and the back/side pass comes out.

      He has no “game” vision in his head and no composure on the ball. Just runs. That’s about it.

  2. the conclusion that we leak goals with Gerrard in the quarterback role is a bit unfair. He needed a couple of games to get a hang of things and a lot of goals conceded were due to horrible mistakes by the defence. They were not Gerrard’s fault..

  3. ultimately I think you play both in a DM pairing a la Xabi and Masch somehow…. One concentrating on controlling play like Xabi the other just on a seek and destroy mission. the key issue is then how do you fit LS7, Dan the Man, Hendo, Coutinho and Sterling in the team?? 3 at the back with Sterling operating as a wing back on one side with Glen Johnson playing as one of the three at the back? that don’t work. We just don’t seem to have any solutions that balance the team and allow Stevie’s tired legs to play…So I guess its horses for courses and some genuine talent regularly rotating on/off the bench which ain’t a bad thing really… YNWA …

  4. Lucas is brilliant off the ball but never evolved into being positive, had the skill but not the imagination, naturally the team is better defensibly but less potent going forward, Allen could be a step up for the future, just an opinion ynwa.

    • Lucas is brilliant off the pitch end of , comparing him to Steven Gerrard well the mind boggles , like comparing Shergar to a Blackpool donkey , and I’m sorry if any donkey owners are offended by that remark

  5. Look at stats all you want but you’d be better off watching the play. There’s an old saying that the best form of defense is attack. Any team pushing up on us now must fear our counter attack no end. Steven’s passing ability out of defense is the master weapon that ignites these counter attacks. While Lucas is a fine player & will suit certain fixtures, for me he has lost far too much pace and commits far too many needless fouls in dangerous areas of the pitch. The problem clearly lies with the quality of the centre backs in particular. Sadly we must admit Rafa’s three signings of Skyrtle, Agger & indeed Johnson are not justifying their salaries or positions in this team and really need to be upgraded of this summer.

    • U my friend need to sit down and watch more TV (Liverpool games to be exact)
      Lucas does the Job, but got no pace i agree, but Steven is the master in those needless fouls in dangerous areas as a DM. So what i’m suggesting is they both be on the pitch dropping Allen giving Stevie the attack role. Stevie, Lucas & Hendo Thumbs UP! one more thing, I see nothing wrong with those Rafa signings except Johnson. He be playing like its his Fathers team.

  6. In my opinion…..it’s good to have the options. 18 months ago we’d of struggled to put a team together if either were injured, never mind both.

  7. Great analysis. However, maybe I missed it, but please can you show similar stats with both Lucas/SG on the pitch together to demonstrate your point that they can’t/shouldn’t play together.

    In my view, Lucas is a starter whenever he is fit. And then you pick 5 attacking players around him, eg SG, SAS, and then two from Hendo, Sterling, Courtinho, et al.

    The current use of SG as a defensive mid makes LFC a very open/fluid team which is reflected in the stats. 3 goals per game is simply outstanding (almost Barca like) but for me the defensive instability is too much of a risk. We can’t always be relied on to always outscore the opposition. History says to win the league, you need to eke out 1-0 wins when you don’t play well. We did that at the start of the season when Lucas was playing. Not many recently. Great viewing – but not good for my heart :-)

    • Compare the adjusted figures to the figures where they play without each other. If the latter stats are lower, than playing together has to be higher, and vice-versa.

    • yes but a win is still a win regardless of 1 goal or ten. it doesn’t matter if its not good for the heart, its still a victory.

  8. Lucas is a hindrance. Sometimes a shield is more effective than a sword, but in the PL firepower rules. Given our new found dynamism, BR may opt to do away with playing pace slowing, sideways passing DM’s altogether?

  9. It should read West Ham, not West Brom (round 15), but you are right about the Villa game. The app I was using had some mistakes in it. I caught some of them by cross checking ESPN but I must have missed that one.

  10. Absolutely agree about your comment about correlation. This piece was not about definitive answers but the search for clues.

  11. lucas fit lucas plays end of and your stats show nothing ,he went off when we were drawing against everton we should have been cruising but for the allen miss
    and as for the villa game we were all over the place,gerrard may well turn out to be a good DM but i would play lucas all day long against man ure
    gerrard would still be in the midfield and coutinho would be dropped on current form

  12. Would we rather win 1-0 or 4-3? I think both have their merits but I’m liking Stevie in there and more importantly Brendan does. Lucas will improve our bench as will Sakho. If we had a penalty to win 3 massive points in the 94th minute at Old Trafford, would you rather have Stevie or Lucas on the pitch?

  13. Great Analysis!!! But why try to fix something that isnt broken??? We are killing teams off with our pace away from home and dominating them at home with possession and goals!!!!!! But I’m sure BR has a plan and a bigger role for him next year coz UCL demands a more tactical approach……..

    • @ JonnyS : Sorry bud, hv to reply you here. Your comment is under moderation.

      Anyways, that was what I was wondering about!!! But I’m sure Rodgers will tweak his strategy according to the opposition……..And he will get the opportunity to actually sign the players that he desperately wants coz of UCL money……….Tactically he his brilliant and a very quick learner…….And not afraid to experiment with different formations!!!! Again that is becoz of a lack of mid week fixtures that he gets ample time to work with the players on the formations!!!!!!

      And would just like to say that we should be Indebted to FSG for saving the club from freakin Administration!!!!!! Some people who are bashing them on this site should just have a look at Leeds United or Portsmouth before criticising them!!!!!!!
      YNWA!!! Justice for the 96!!!! : )

  14. I don’t think its quite as straightforward as that. Although its great to see the lads banging in goals galore there will be games (possibly the Man City and Chelsea games for instance) when restricting the opposition and going for a 1-0 by including Lucas will perhaps be viewed by BR as more important than going for 3 or 4 goals, and of course, the league position will be another factor to consider when the time comes. I don’t envy the manager as it will be a tough call to make. I can also envisage games where Gerrard plays the first half and we get a lead to hold onto, then replace him with Lucas in the 2nd half.

    • Lucas’ defensive solidity will be hugely important in the CL too. but it’s true we can be quite lethal without him and when BR commits players forwards.

  15. Credit to the writer for the stats and the analysis,but in my honest opinion,stats can be misleading.It’s also important to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Lucas can contribute more towards the defensive aspect of the game(breaking up opponent’s attack,fill in the gap in defence left behind by teammates) while Gerrard on the other hand, can contribute more towards our distribution,tempo and of course,leadership. The point that I would suggest to be discussed by us fans and the writer himself is, whether these two can combine to get the desired effects. With Hendo is excelling in his ‘workhorse’ role for the team, Sterling terrorizing opponent’s defenders with his pace and trickery and the masterclass Coutinho performing very well in his no.10 role,it is interesting to see how BR would fit in Gerrard,Lucas,Coutinho,Hendo,Sterling,Suarez and Sturridge(SAS) in his favourite 433 formation. One person has to be sacrificed for the benefit of the team but who would that be?

    • Coutinho provides a different kind of attack than Sterling so it’s a nice variation to play. Add in a KonoUplonka type player and it’s another alternative.

      Allen and Lucas provide more holding / combative capability. Allen can put his foot on the ball and holds possession well and Lucas protects and allows Gerrard further forwards. These qualities will be important in the CL where an open midfield would be suicidal.

  16. Credit to the writer for the stats and the analysis,but in my honest opinion,stats can be misleading.It’s also important to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Lucas can contribute more towards the defensive aspect of the game(breaking up opponent’s attack,fill in the gap in defence left behind by teammates) while Gerrard on the other hand, can contribute more towards our distribution,tempo and of course,leadership. The point that I would suggest to be discussed by us fans and the writer himself is, whether these two can combine to get the desired effects. With Hendo is excelling in his ‘workhorse’ role for the team, Sterling terrorizing opponent’s defenders with his pace and trickery and the masterclass Coutinho performing very well in his no.10 role,it is interesting to see how BR would fit in Gerrard,Lucas,Coutinho,Hendo,Sterling,Suarez and Sturridge(SAS) in his favourite 433 formation. One person has to be sacrificed for the benefit of the team but who would that be?

  17. What would somebody from Melbourne Australia know about football let alone Liverpool football club!!!

    Go follow your eggball

    • Feel free to share your English wisdom. Or is tourettes like racial generalisations the best you can do? Lmao.

    • Maybe you forgot that 90,000 Aussie Liverpool fans cheered the team and sang one of the best renditions of YNWA during pre-season in Australia.

      You should shut-up now.

      • ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ is from Melbourne Australia knuckleheads.

        Let me type it again for you to read slowly….

        S
        A
        R
        C
        A
        S
        M
        !

  18. You don’t need stats to work out our defence is weaker when Gerrard plays DM, just watch any of his games in that position.

    You will notice two big issues.

    1) Gerrard’s natural instinct is to go forward and all his footballing life he has played “following the ball” and he does that now, which puts him out of position( for a DM). It’s a natural instinct that you can’t just switch off.

    Watch the Swansea game for clear reference, especially in the first half.

    Shelvey was running riot and seemed to be “an extra man” mainly because Gerrard was drawn to either flank following the ball, exposing the centre of midfield/defence. And it finally cost us as Shelvey scored on his third attempt at a “free” shot at goal if i am not mistaken.

    2)We are a 4 man attacking central midfield as he has the ability to start attacks from deep.

    Lucas is soooo much better at protecting the area in front of the defence, reading he play & intercepting that if you compared him to Gerrard in this regard you would think that Gerrard has just started playing the game.

    Where Lucas lacks is what he does with the ball once he has it. He can’t pass a ball more than 5m with any accuracy let alone a pass to turn defence into attack. Let’s not even compare “hollywood” balls.
    He gives virtually nothing going forward, as was clear evidence when he was put further up the pitch with Gerrard in DM. He looked like a headless chicken with absolutely no idea where he was or what positions to run into which was surprising as eh brought to the club as an attacking midfielder.

    We have an attacking advantage with Gerrard especially with the potent strike force we have & are playing 2 out & out strikers but in tight games Lucas would give us the defensive advantage.

    If only Lucas could pass a ball half as good as Gerrard.

    • actually, against Swansea Hendo was at fault for the goal. He had taken the right back position in the box as Flanno was over on the left and coming back, however hendo was just marking space.

      Had he stepped up 3 yards he would have covered Shelvey who wouldn’t have got the ball or been able to make the shot un challenged, but he’s not that smart.

      Alternatively Flanno should have gone back to the covering midfielder’s position as Hendo was in his FB position but he didn’t work that out quickly enough.

      Gerrard was on the right side of the pen box addressing the threat from the player holding the ball. Not his fault.

      Lucas will be key in the CL games.

  19. Gerrard is NOT a DM, he’s a play maker sitting back.
    When Lucas is alongside him it doesn’t seem to work. Lucas gets over loaded and there’s a lack of forward thrust.

    It tends to work better so long as there’s separation between where the two play.

    However in the CL we’re going to need Lucas’ defensive nous as Stevie will be exposed badly in that comp.

  20. I feel that Gerrard’s talents are more suited as an attacking midfielder rather than as a holding midfielder. What Liverpool should do is try to get another defensive midfielder to compete with Lucas for the long run.

  21. good analysis but not one i think BR is losing sleep over because he will use both players as often as he can to suit the situation.

    i feel relatively confident that if you play chelsea at anfield, you don’t necessarily play lucas and go defensive. a good coach may like the idea that his team is set up offensively to send a signal of intent to the opposition.

    i’m not sure if BR knows how to field a defensive side. his motive is to play attacking football. haven’t seen much else from him since he began at LFC. whichever side lucas plays in i believe it will be an attacking formation.

    LFC are in a better position now because of players returning from injury and thus presenting more options. i think the above headline is too dramatic, speculating whether lucas and gerrard should play in the same midfield is redundant because they will as soon as the situation demands.

  22. Good analysis. Seems when attack is is needed Gerrard is the best option. Lucas for defense. But until we have the back 4 settled, meaning the CB pairings, we will still have problems against the stronger teams. A settled pairing would also give Mignolet a better command of the area.If all else fails, just score more than they do.

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