Why I became a Liverpool fan

In mid-April 2005, I was on the District Line train from Mansion House to South Kensington, in London, and in the Victoria station, a huge number of people got on to the train. They were all dressed in red, and carrying Liverpool scarves and cans of Carlsberg beer. They were on their way to Stamford Bridge, to watch Liverpool take on Chelski in the Champions League semis at Stamford Bridge. And they started singing. 

It was magical, as they first sang “you never walk alone”, and then followed it up with personalized songs for each of the players, and for the coach Rafa Benitez. I remember one going “Steve Gerrard Gerrard, pass the ball forty yards .. ” . And another, to the tune of “La Bamba”, going “Rarararararafa Benitez, Xabi Alonso, Garcia and Nunez” (honouring all the Spaniards in the team). I was sold.
Till then, I hadn’t been much of a football fan, though I would watch the odd World Cup or Euro game. I had never really followed club football, and never supported any team. That day, things changed. I went to a crowded pub in Kensington to watch the game, perhaps I was the only Red fan there. I got to know the names of the Liverpool players (I’d heard of Gerrard and Milan Baros thanks to their exploits in Euro ’04, and I knew Alonso, Garcia and Nunez (never saw him play) thanks to the song). And quietly cheered for Liverpool in that semi final.
It has been a roller coaster ride for the last eight odd years, with more downs than ups. The undoubted high came just a month after I’d declared myself a Liverpool fan, when they came back from 0-3 down to beat Milan in the Champions League finals in Istanbul. There have been several low points, the one that hurts the most is them failing to win the Premiership in 2008-09, when they came a close second. And then, they were to sell Xabi Alonso, who had been my favourite player.
The kind of passion I feel when I watch Liverpool play is unmatched, even by what I feel when I watch the Indian Test cricket team. There is a kind of tension that develops that I seldom feel otherwise. The disappointment when they lose (or fail to win) is the kind that I normally reserve for personal debacles.
And to think it all started with a random train ride with a bunch of loud drunks.

Goalkeeper Mishmash

So one of the comments on my previous post about goalkeepers talked about how the relegated teams (Wolves, Bolton and Blackburn) had the worst keepers. So I wondered how they would have done had they had better goalies. I’ve still not figured out how to correlate a goalie’s distribution success to goals scored and so I’ll simply stick to shot stopping criteria.

I use the ratio of big chances to goals in each game to figure out how a different goalkeeper would have reacted. So if I have a goalie with a 90% shot-stopping ability and the opposing team has 10 big chances in the game, then I concede 1 goal. However, if my goalie has a 50% stopping ability I let in 5.

Based on the shot-stopping success ratio of each goalkeeper and the number of big chances faced by each team in each game, I have estimated the number of goals the team would have let in in each game. Comparing this against goals scored, I have come up with a hypothetical points tally for the season.

I know I abuse excel graphics a lot but I couldn’t think of any non-excel method to present the data here. I paired each goalie who played at least 1000 minutes during the season with each team and estimated how many points the team would have raked up.

Goalie Mishmash

Some pertinent observations.

1. The teams on whom the quality of goalie had the most impact are Arsenal, Blackburn, Wigan and Wolves. This goes to show how much Arsenal have to credit Sczsesny for their ability to reach the Champions’ League.

2. Everton is the team where the maximum and minimum possible points due to change in goalie is minimum (4, opposed to 14 for Arsenal). Shows that they have a pretty compact and tight defence, and what stops them from a top four slot is the quality of attack.

3. Due to the low number of big chances that occur in each game and due to rounding of goals conceded, you see some kind of a discontinuity in scores as you go down the list, as well as lots of ties. There is no mistake in the data or the calculations.

4. Manchester United has a much lower “goalkeeper impact” than Manchester City. With a lesser goalie than Joe Hart, it is unlikely City would have won the title.

5. Since we use overall averages of a goalie’s shot stopping ability, these simulations show different numbers for “real” goalie-team pairs than what the teams actually achieved.

6. The difference in maximum and minimum possible points as a function of a goalkeeper is a good indication of the overall quality of a team’s defense. The table below ranks the teams as per quality of defense.


7. While Blackburn and Wolves both had poor defence, part of Bolton’s relegation blame can be attributed to the quality (or otherwise) of their goalkeepers (Adam Bogdan and Juusi Jaaskaleinen). Which makes it even more surprising that West Ham (upon re-entry to the Premier League) sold Robert Green (to QPR, where he warms the bench) and recruited Jaaskaleinen in his place.

8. Last season, Liverpool had a pretty good defence (especially their first-choice back four of Johnson-Skrtel-Agger-Enrique). Their attacking ability (and especially their finishing – same story this season) let them down badly.