Friday 28 November 2014

City will take crown – but year belongs to Liverpool

Rodgers' amazing success has defied logic and brought romance to cold, money-driven world

Joe Molloy

Published 07/05/2014 | 02:30

Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge
Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge

Barring a collapse of epic proportions, it would appear that the principles of Stefan Szymanski and Simon Kuper, authors of 'Soccernomics', have won out once again.

Manchester City, the team with the highest wage bill in world sport, have prevailed and as Szymanski and Kuper have shown, the wage bill explains 92pc of any variation in a club's mean league position dating back 40-odd years.

City's wage bill this year was a tidy £220m. Chelsea come next on £190m, then Manchester United on £176m, Arsenal on £160m and Liverpool on £129m. The table once again highlights the staggering failings of David Moyes at Manchester United and it will be a statistical miracle if Louis van Gaal doesn't improve things.

The other big takeaway is the genuinely exceptional performance of Liverpool under Brendan Rodgers. But for a Steven Gerrard slip against Chelsea and the blip at Crystal Palace, this Sunday could have marked a team beating the odds in glorious style.

The excellent work of people like Szymanski and Kuper is a double-edged sword in many ways. It deepens our understanding of the game. It blows holes in received wisdom and stale cliches.

On the other hand, it can cut through the romance of proceedings somewhat. Not so long ago, a few big summer signings sparked dreams of success and silverware.

These days we know that transfer fee outlay accounts for only a 16pc variation in a club's mean position. In short, a few signings make no great odds. It is easy to become blase about proceedings when analysis is such that we even know blond players do better then they should at trials, but that's a tangent for another day.

Liverpool have been this season's great antidote to the statistics and data, beating the odds in numerous ways.

There's the wage bill issue primarily, but also the signings of Daniel Sturridge and Philipe Coutinho in January 2013, which boosted performance levels far more then the money spent could have predicted.

Another key finding of Szymanski and Kuper is that older players are considerably overrated, but with his 14 goals and 12 assists from a deep-lying role, Rodgers has found an unlikely way to make Steven Gerrard massively influential.

Most welcome, though, is that the current iteration of Liverpool have something which can't be properly quantified or predicted. They have chemistry. You can't predict chemistry.

Suarez and Sturridge just worked. And the title race was lit up by a team blazing their way through 12 league games on a wave of euphoria in the Anfield sunshine.

An energy seemed to take hold; at its peak, they stood in a huddle on the 25th anniversary of Hillsborough and Gerrard screamed as the Kop lost its collective mind.

None of it really made much logical sense, but it was compelling to watch and perhaps encapsulates why sport will always suck us in, even in its most monetised, predictable form.

The money will win out, of course. City will win more league titles over the next decade than Liverpool. But the past few months have provided a sweet reminder that big sporting organisations will always be a little incompetent and that others will over-achieve for reasons unforeseen.

It's a league title for City, but Liverpool have been the team of the year.

Irish Independent

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