By Graham Ruthven
When Brendan Rodgers left Swansea for Liverpool he took his football philosophy with him. He began implementing his trademark attractive, passing style of soccer upon arrival at Anfield.
However, what Rodgers left behind at the Liberty Stadium has not been wasted. His replacement has used it to develop a side and style of his own. Is Michael Laudrup’s Swansea even better than Rodgers’?
Although hyperbolic, Swansea was labeled the Barcelona of the Premier League last season. Stylistically there were similarities between the two teams. And the comparison could be drawn this season too.
Laudrup has taken Rodgers’ ideology and developed in much the same way Tito Vilanova has taken on Pep Guardiola’s philosophy at Barca. Both inherited a side of passing pedigree but have focused on maximizing attacking potency by favouring a more direct approach.
Laudrup has made three key personnel changes. With Joe Allen, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Scott Sinclair all leaving the club in the summer, Laudrup signed Ki Sung-Yeung, Pablo Hernandez and Michu to replace them. This shrewdness in the transfer market has been central to Swansea’s continued progression this season.
As a passing pivot in the centre of midfield it could be argued that Ki has been even more effective than his predecessor in that position, making on average three more passes than Allen per game.
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After Liverpool’s exhilarating draw against Manchester City on Sunday, one or two commentators were quick to comment how Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool are “undeniably progressing” this season. In fact, the entire managerial narrative arc under Rodgers’ Liverpool depends on the notion that once Liverpool adapt to his style perfected at Swansea, the club will return to the former heights of glory.
Borrowing a method from James Grayson, I plotted the rolling average of Liverpool’s total shots ratio (TSR) this season against their per-game PDO. Liverpool’s PDO averages to 1000, remarkably straight down the middle. They’re not particularly lucky or unlucky, but this average is slightly below that which you’d expect of a league-leading side.
Their TSR meanwhile has plateau’d around the .615-.620 mark. That’s an improvement over their Christmas TSR average of .608 (as Grayson has written, TSR has predictive power in as little as 4-6 games), but it’s also similar to the average Liverpool ended up with last season under Kenny Dalglish (.619). For comparison, Man City finished with a TSR of .654 last season.
Liverpool’s run of recent form may not seem that impressive considering the improvement in these numbers, but two draws against Arsenal and Man City respectively, preceded by three wins against smaller sides with a loss to United thrown in, indicate Liverpool could improve on their current 7th place position a little bit.