Top Two Renew Rivalry – Are Liverpool Missing Key Ingredient?

Last season’s Premier League title race between Manchester City and Liverpool was widely accepted to be one of the most exciting in recent memory, with City securing their 2nd title of the modern era on the last day.

Liverpool, desperate to end a title drought which has lasted 24 years, haven’t had to wait long for the opportunity to bite back at their rivals – the two teams face each other tonight in their 2nd game of the 2014-15 season.

The most obvious difference between the two sides will be the absence of the Premier League’s top scorer last season, former Liverpool hitman Luis Suarez. But aside from the loss of the 33-goal striker, how do the two sides shape up against each other?

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City had no major shake-ups over the summer and keep a largely settled side. The imposing strike partnership of Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko contributed to the Premier League’s 2nd highest tally of goals – 102 – and should be back in action tonight.

Liverpool scored only one goal less than City last term – 101 – and went about their business in a similar way. Looking at games across last season, Brendan Rodgers’ side built attacks through passing-style (45.8 per match) and long ball (6.2 per match) moves in similar numbers to Manchester City (50.4 and 6.4 respectively).

Looking at the quality of these constructive passages of play – some 42% of Liverpool’s passing moves are classed as ‘quality’ to City’s 43%, while both teams share an identical 9% quality rate when it comes to long balls.

Sergio Aguero

Nobody can know exactly what the effect the Suarez loss will have on Liverpool, especially considering the imminent arrival of former City man Mario Balotelli on Merseyside. But leaving aside this question, the data shows the teams are strikingly similar in terms of their attacking powers.

City and Liverpool’s routes to creating dangerous attempts look remarkably alike. On average, 1.3 of Liverpool’s ‘dangerous’ efforts on goal per game come from crosses, compared to 1.5 of City’s. Both teams have a 1.4 average of ‘dangerous’ efforts after regaining the ball from the opposition’s defence, with 4.0 of the Reds’ threatening attempts per game coming from organic build-up, compared to 4.2 of the Blues’.

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Manchester City have the edge when we look at the two teams’ ‘Shot Index’ – calculated from a qualitative analysis of every shot in a match. While their average of dangerous shots per match is alike (City 7.5, Liverpool 7.6) the overall ‘Shot Index’, taking into account quality as well as quantity, rates Liverpool at 6.20 and Manchester City at 7.46.

So as we can see from last season’s final table and a scan through the relevant data, Liverpool and City are evenly matched both in their style of play and effectiveness when going for goal. This makes the Suarez question even more pertinent, and means tonight’s game could be act as a litmus test for the season to come. We haven’t got long to wait!

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