Monday, April 23, 2012

A Few Statistical Observations on Liverpool & Dalglish

With yesterday's loss Liverpool now has twelve on the season, is two points behind crosstown rivals Everton, is only three points ahead of 13th place Norwich, and only has a 21% chance of finishing higher than 8th in the table.  Most insultingly the latest defeat came at the hands of Roy Hodgson, the manager who was so reviled only a little more than a year ago that he was sacked to bring in King Kenny.  A season that started with so much hope after Dalglish's heroics last season is now ending in what can only be called a second-half collapse.

To get some perspective on how this season compares to previous ones, see the graphs below (click on either to enlarge).

Like last season, this is one of two halves.  After going below a 1.5 PPM 4-match average only once in the first 19 matches, Liverpool has not been above that barrier for the entire second half of the season.  Kenny Dalglish's side has not earned more than a single point per match on a 4-match average basis since Match 24 more than two months ago.  Sadly, not even Roy Hodgson had such a streak during his half season at the helm.  Dalglish is also approaching another Hodgson milestone.  He's currently earning a season-long 1.35 PPM (46 points from 34 matches), while Hodgson only earned 1.25 PPM (25 points from 20 matches).  If Dalglish only earns the single point per match he's been averaging for the last two months he will finish with a 1.32 PPM.  Anyone would be splitting hairs to say he has performed much better than Hodgson in terms of the league standings and performance, which means the obvious question must be asked.  Does Daglish deserve to be sacked?

There can be points made that some of this may not be Dalglish's mess.  The recently departed Damien Comolli certainly diluted the power of the manager within Liverpool's structure, being instrumental in the signings of Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez.  Hodgson was constrained by a lack of investment during the latter stages of the Hicks/Gillett regime.  Dalglish inherited that under resourced club and has been able to invest a net £20M pounds in new players.  That's not huge sum in today's Premier League, especially considering the lack of investment compared to rivals like Manchester United, Chelsea, and Manchester City.  Neither Hodgson nor Dalglish have had the best players at Liverpool, and a good number of those players were not brought in by them.  Finally, Dalglish has been far more competitive in cup competitions than Hodgson, having won the League Cup and getting the Reds to the FA Cup final.

There is, however, a bit of a crisis of confidence that the club may not be able to recover from with Dalglish still at the helm.  No one in the right mind would ever say he and Hodgson are equivalent in stature or accomplishments.  Dalglish was clearly a special player and has a Premier League title to his name as a manager.  He will always be loved by the Kop, perhaps more so for his leadership through some of their darkest times than his accomplishments on the pitch.

But just as Liverpool was too big a club for Hodgson, perhaps Dalglish just isn't the right guy for Liverpool's current needs.  Beyond being completely unable to finish off clear chances on goal, the statistics would suggest the team has completely capitulated in the second half of the season.  There's a real risk that this Liverpool side finishes much lower than eighth table position (49% to be exact), and the club is staring at their worst finish since the 1993/94 season.  Dalglish was viewed as the king-turned-savior at this point last season.  Now he may be viewed more as a savior-turned-poor-fit when it comes to the end of this one.  Perhaps such a view of a man with the history of Dalglish's at a club like Liverpool would be considered unfair, but sometimes a full change from top-to-bottom is needed to send a clear message to the players (both current and prospective) and supporters.  Managers don't get paid for what they did last year or decades ago.  They get paid for what they did this year given the expectations that were set at the beginning of the season.  I think everyone knows this is not the performance Fenway Sports Group expected when the season kicked off nine months ago.

Whatever Liverpool's management decides, they better have a plan that can be executed very quickly if they do plan on sacking King Kenny.  Replacing a legend is never easy, even if it is becoming apparent that it may be time to move on.  Letting things draw out over the summer won't provide a framework for the successful recruitment of the quality of players Liverpool desperately needs to contend again for Champions League positions.  Keep him or sack him, Fenway Sports Group needs to act decisively and definitively or risk a further slide in table position next season.


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