Liverpool’s ‘Moneyball’ Approach is Paying Dividends

The last time Liverpool football club lost a Premier League game at Anfield was in April 2017. Likewise, they are currently on an impressive 23-game unbeaten run. Whilst there’s still some way to go in order to challenge Arsenal’s Invincibles record, Liverpool fans will not be thinking about this. Instead, they’ll be enjoying being the current best team in the world, playing incredible football and blitzing some of the other top team in England, such as a 4 nil away win at Leicester City.

Liverpool are not a case of buying the league title. Liverpool rank 7th in net spend over the last five seasons, behind Brighton, Arsenal, Everton, Chelsea and both Manchester clubs. The value from the players purchased has been astounding, getting incredible returns on modest buys. It is for this reason that analogies to Moneyball can be drawn.

Moneyball, the 2011 biographical sports drama starring Brad Pitt, was based on the Oakland Athletics baseball team in 2002. Led by coach Billy Bean, the team had a limited budget for bringing in players, and thus devised a system in which they acquired undervalued players and picked acquisitions based on sabermetrics. This numerical approach led them to an overachieving success. Such number crunching is also now becoming a big part of online betting too, to help forecast results more accurately.

John W. Henry, owner of Liverpool football club since 2010, has taken a similar approach. Henry utilised a Cambridge physicist’s mathematical model to select coaches and reinforcements. Henry himself is an expert in statistics in fact, and when he saw the study by Ian Graham, he realised that this method would be an appropriate blueprint for Liverpool.

Upon Ian Graham’s arrival at Liverpool as head of analysis, Liverpool began bringing in great undervalued players that were the perfect fit. Sala, Van Dijk, Mane, Wijnaldum, Robertson, Fabinho and Firmino mark the core of Liverpool’s team, which were all modest purchases except a few. Of course Van Dijk was a stand out purchase, who cost £84 million and was the most expensive defender in the world at the time. This however was still stat-based, as he had not been dribbled past for 64 games in a row by a player.

Since taking over, John Henry has taken Liverpool from mid-table to a champions league win, and an imminent Premier League win as they sit 13 points ahead of Leicester, who are in second place, as well as having an extra game in hand.

Klopp is no stranger to this quantitative approach to football either. During Klopp’s tenure at Dortmund, his previous club, he had a very innovative and smart team of analysis around him too. Whilst Klopp didn’t analyse data himself, he would have been familiar that it was becoming a part of football.

What is ironic however, is that this is how Graham suggested Klopp as a manager to Henry. Graham had fed all of the passes, shots and tackles by Dortmund players, and determined that the team should have finished 2nd instead of 7th in what ended up being Klopp’s final year.

The conclusion was therefore that the disappointing finish to the season had little to do with Klopp, and was instead a slightly anomalous and unlucky team. Unlike Dortmund though, Liverpool appear to have squashed out any room for luck.