Liverpool boast one of football’s most sophisticated analytics teams, led by Michael Edwards, with Tottenham‘s loss their gain when it came to a director of research.
The Reds have become renowned for their nuanced approach to recruitment, with this allowing them to get the best of a difficult market in recent years.
This has led to many those brought in exceeding expectations, with Firmino a prime example having been plucked from Hoffenheim, where he was operating as an attacking midfielder, to establish himself as one of the world’s best No. 9s.
Edwards, in his role as sporting director, gets much of the credit for the club’s excellent business in terms of incomings, outgoings and new contracts, but there is a team working under the 40-year-old who also deserve praise.
Ian Graham is one of those, with the University of Cambridge graduate fronting a six-strong team that focuses on data analysis, including recruitment.
Graham has been credited with identifying Salah and Naby Keita as primary targets for the club, while one of his first duties was studying Philippe Coutinho ahead of his £8.5 million move from Inter Milan in 2013.
He joined Liverpool in 2012, after four years of consultancy with Tottenham—where he first met Edwards—and speaking to the club’s official website, Graham explained how Edwards, John W. Henry and Damien Comolli all had a role to play in his switch.
“Part of Damien’s first attempt to build something at Liverpool was to get someone in who could do the football interpretation and video side, but also understand the data side and make a judgment on whether the quality of the analysis is any good or not,” he said.
“He asked us if we knew anyone who could do this sort of job and we mentioned Michael’s name as a possibility, given that we’d worked with him at Spurs, and he took Michael to Liverpool in late 2010 or early 2011 or something like that.
“It was only after Damien left that Michael and the owners decided that…they could ask me if I wanted to work directly for Liverpool, which happened in April 2012.”
This fulfilled a long-term ambition for Graham, who explained: “When I heard the news that John Henry had bought Liverpool back in 2010 I thought, ‘Liverpool is the place to be’.”
A series of changes behind the scenes, including the promotion of Edwards and the instalment of an analytics team with Graham at the forefront, have given the Reds an advantage over many of their rivals.
Comolli’s stint as director of football can be considered a dry run, as FSG got to grips with life as owners of a top-level football club, but now the setup has been refined and the club are reaping the benefits.
Effectively poaching both Edwards and Graham from Tottenham has proved a masterstroke, allowing them to steal a march on the north London side when it comes to recruitment.
Liverpool are now a well-oiled machine under FSG, Edwards and Jurgen Klopp, and the establishment of such a strong analytics staff—who also focus on tactical data as well as research—has been one of their biggest positives.
It is the product of a series of successes, from Moneyball to Edwards’ blossoming reputation as sporting director, that has made Anfield an elite destination.
Mainz have provided a positive injury update on Taiwo Awoniyi following the Liverpool loanee’s clash of heads, on a weekend that brought heavy defeat for Marko Grujic.
Concerns were raised over Awoniyi after the Nigerian fell to the turf following a collision with Augsburg defender Felix Uduokhai early on in Mainz’s 1-0 home defeat on Sunday.
The 22-year-old was stretchered off in a neck brace and taken directly to the university hospital, but regained consciousness and was responsive while undergoing tests.
Mainz have now confirmed that Awoniyi suffered a concussion, spending the night in the hospital as a precautionary measure, and the striker issued a positive update on the club’s official website.
“The last thing I can remember from the incident is how I hit the ball with my head, then I passed out,” he explained.
“It was difficult for me to regain consciousness on the field and be really awake.
“And it also took a little while before I could remember everything. But I feel much better now.
“I would like to praise our medical department at Mainz 05 and the Mainz University Medical Center. They looked after me very well.
“And I thank our dear God who protected me in this situation and made everything possible for me anyway.
“Unfortunately I will not be able to help my team on the pitch at Dortmund, but I will support them as much as I can.
“Together we will give everything for the fans and avoid relegation, I’m sure of that!”
Awoniyi’s absence will be a big blow for Mainz as they take on Dortmund on Wednesday night, with just three games left to play as they aim to fight off relegation to 2.Bundesliga.
He had claimed a regular starting spot in recent weeks, but now will be forced to watch from the sidelines as Jurgen Klopp‘s old club look to finish above the likes of Fortuna Dusseldorf, Werder Bremen and Paderborn.
It is not the first time a Liverpool loanee has suffered a head injury this season, with Kamil Grabara ruled out for an extended period due to a bleed on the brain inflicted in Huddersfield’s 2-1 win over Hull back in January.
The Pole has since recovered but has lost his place in the side to Jonas Lossl, though it is likely he will remain at the John Smith’s Stadium for the remainder of the season.
Elsewhere in the Bundesliga, Saturday brought a big loss for Grujic and Hertha Berlin, who scored first but went down for a 4-1 defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt.
Dedryck Boyata’s sending-off at the end of the first half proved decisive, as Frankfurt netted four after the break to leapfrog Hertha into 10th.
Grujic played all 90 minutes in his 28th appearance of the season, but was left frustrated in one of his final outings before returning to Merseyside.
There was also defeat for Nat Phillips in the German second tier, as Stuttgart continue their disappointing attempt at promotion since the restart with a third loss in six games, this time away to Karlsruher SC.
Phillips has started just once in that six-game run, and been an unused substitute in four, but at least came off the bench for the final four minutes on Sunday.
The loss leaves Stuttgart a point behind second-placed Hamburg with three games left to play to secure their return to the top flight.
Dejan Lovren has reflected on the scale of Anfield ahead of the Liverpool’s return, and insisted they are focused on their “main target” despite the absence of fans.
The Reds are back in action on Sunday, with the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park, before their first game back at Anfield next Wednesday night against Crystal Palace.
There is little pressure on Liverpool to get the job done early given their 25-point lead over City, but they will be eager to do so as soon as possible regardless.
Without fans, it will certainly be a different experience at Anfield, and ahead of another training session at the stadium on Sunday, Lovren took in the sights of empty stands that will become familiar over the coming weeks:
Today before training session I thought myself how massive this stadium is, today peaceful and quiet, but on match days on fire. Hopefully in the near future will play again in front of our supporters. It will not be the same without you, but we know what is our main target! YNWA pic.twitter.com/QZrFHApWc2
— Dejan lovren (@Dejan06Lovren) June 14, 2020
The sentiment is clear: the impact of a sold-out Anfield on Liverpool’s game is significant, and now Liverpool will need to adapt to playing in front of only their team-mates, opponents, coaches and stadium staff.
That “fire” of a roaring Kop will be lacking, but Jordan Henderson has already insisted “if you have the right mindset the intensity can be as high as you want it to be,” and Lovren signed off with a similar message.
Liverpool know their “main target” in the next nine games.
Firstly, and most crucially, it is to clinch the title; and secondly, they will be looking to finish the campaign as strongly as possible, and possibly with an all-time record points tally.
City currently hold that distinction, with their 100 points from the 2017/18 season, with Liverpool needing 18 more from a possible 27 to match that, and 19 or more to beat it.
Though it is a lofty target, the Reds are also 24 points off the all-time record across the English football pyramid, with Reading totalling 106 points from 46 games in the Championship in 2005/06.
The Reds have dropped just four points all season, and if they pick up where they left off that is not out of the realms of possibility—but it should certainly not be the focus at this stage.
It has now been over three months since the Reds were last in action, and by Sunday’s Merseyside derby, it will have been 103 days since their last game.
After an unprecedented break, Jurgen Klopp‘s side looked to be eager to impress as they put Blackburn to the sword with a 6-0 friendly win last week, as they bid to restore momentum in the title charge.
Such a lengthy spell without football has led to concerns over how games will be played—particularly sides like Liverpool, who employ an intensive pressing game—but Henderson believes that will not be an issue, even behind closed doors.
“When you were little and you used to play for your school there was no crowd watching then really,” Henderson told Chris McLoughlin for the Liverpool FC Magazine.
“So you’ve just got to enjoy your football and appreciate that we are able to go back doing what we love doing
“We’ve got to embrace that and make the best out of the situation that we can. The intensity can still be at a high level.
“If you have the right mindset the intensity can be as high as you want it to be.
“In that sense, when we do return, I expect the intensity to be high and the football enjoyable to watch.”
One issue with maintaining the intensity, Henderson feels, will be curbing his bad language, with the captain wary that without the noise of the crowd, microphones will be able to pick up every word.
“For the players it will be different playing in a big game in a stadium where there’s no crowd because you can hear everybody talking,” he continued.
“Again, we’ve got to adapt to that situation and try to keep the swearing down to a minimum.
“I’m more worried about my language when I’m playing! I don’t want to be having to apologise to everybody after every single game so I need to be careful, especially in the heat of the game.
“I’m sure the manager will have to be careful with his language as well!
“But he’ll also know we can’t blame the crowd for not being able to hear what he’s saying at certain times of the game.”
It is a minor concern that few fans will be genuinely worried about, particularly if Liverpool are back in form and winning games on their way to a first Premier League title.