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Quantifying Lucas’ absence

2 December 2011

Can we predict how Liverpool will perform without Lucas? (Image: Flickr/Ben Sutherland)

The widespread disappointment that met the news of Lucas’ injury is a reflection on the Brazilian’s progress; his tale of zero to hero is now well-repeated in mainstream discussion.

Statistics have justified his continued role in the team. He’s been the league’s most prolific tackler both this and last season, and also produced a fine ball-winning display in his most recent league match.

His sudden absence has sparked speculation as to how Liverpool will cope. It’s entirely fair to suggest areas where Liverpool may be weakened, but what isn’t fair is to release misleading information.

Shortly after the news, a prominent football tweeter posted:

Liverpool have a 48% win rate when Lucas starts and 29% when he doesn’t [since the start of the 2010/11 season]. He’s almost impossible to replace.

Such is the nature of social media that said statistic was perpetuated through over 100 retweets, undoubtedly frenzying already concerned fans, including initially myself. 19% sounds like a heck of a difference.

But as the table below begins to clarify, there are all sorts of issues with this statistic, issues that I have previously addressed in assessing Mikel Arteta’s absence at Everton:

Lucas has only failed to start 7 league games in 18 months, remarkable in itself but also ultimately the problem with the aforementioned statistic: 7 games, or even 13 for that matter, are simply not enough to draw conclusions from.

Liverpool have won 2 of their 7 matches without Lucas starting since the beginning of the 2010/11 season – but what if Pepe Reina hadn’t scored an unfortunate own goal against Arsenal, and what if Liverpool had converted another one of 20-odd chances at home to Norwich? One more win and Liverpool would’ve had a 43% win percentage without Lucas; two more (57%) and we’d be saying Liverpool are better off without him!

Essentially, the difference in win percentages is attributed to chance, and Liverpool fans (or fans of other clubs for that matter) needn’t pay attention to scare-mongering statistics.

Of course Lucas’ injury will be felt, but the fact is Liverpool have not yet played enough without the fully-matured Brazilian to draw any causal conclusions from previous absences. Even over the span of his entire Liverpool career, results cannot be attributed to the presence of Lucas on the field, much like Arteta at Everton.

Let the results speak for themselves, and analyse the effects rationally ex-post. I must stress that I do think Liverpool will suffer from Lucas’ injury; this is merely an exercise in getting the facts straight.

Opponents’ average points per game is a measure of the strength of opponents in each scenario. 

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. 3 December 2011 9:06 am

    Good stuff mate, using the context of the Arsenal and Norwich games is great, as both could easily have been won.

    Such a shame that by the end of this season there will have been around 30-40 games without Lucas since 2010/11. Might make for a slightly better comparison of win percentages, but that’s no consolation for his absence!

    • 3 December 2011 9:12 am

      Cheers mate, and absolutely will be interesting to check at the end of the season. However, always going to be very difficult to statistically prove one player’s absence as crucial in results given that there are so many variables at hand.

  2. 4 December 2011 1:12 pm

    Lucas is, somehow, extremely overhyped. I can understand their own fans trying to support, defend and exaggerate an own player’s contribution, but this has gone too far, like he’s the reason why Liverpool win or lose. Mediocre player at most.

    And about your piece, as soon as I checked that Opta stat, I went to check my statistics to see the games Lucas had missed. I love stats, but we always need context and interpretation, because without that, a stat is deceiving, is useless. So good call this time.

    • 4 December 2011 1:18 pm

      I think you’re being a little harsh. A lot of the work Lucas had done in the past was taken for granted, and now that’s not only recognised by Liverpool fans but also mainstream media. I would agree though that the reaction to a simple statistic can be over exaggerated.

      Thanks though!

  3. 8 December 2011 4:26 pm

    It would be interesting to see something like a WAR (wins above replacement) for players like Lucas. We can measure the contribution of strikers or creative midfilders with assists and goals, but a defensive player’s contribution is far more complex.

  4. Qal permalink
    11 January 2012 10:11 pm

    I’ve never been a doubter of Lucas since he arrive. You can imagine how happy i am when all the haters are now eating their own word. He is immense at CDM.

    Still no Mascherano but that c*** is happier hunting trophies with Barca while saying his wife isn’t happy in england. Lucas is not aggressive on man marking but his interceptions and positioning almost always are spot on. What a blow his season is over but this will be the chance for Spearing and Shelvey to shine.

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