The Big Game
Depending on where you fall on the scale of Everything's The Worst-est, you may feel varying degrees of anxiety with each match. As the season draws to a close, that anxiety has no doubt "gone to eleven," where even the most optimistic supporter is feeling nauseous as the weekend approaches.
This weekend's match is of course no exception. "The biggest game this season" can mean different things to different people. To keep things simple (and objective), I've analyzed Liverpool's performance against the top 4 teams (below Liverpool ha!) in the league. They are Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal, and Everton. Here are those results (minimum 121 minutes):
Reminder: goals for and goals against are adjusted to take into account the quality of the opposition. "0" means the player performs the same as the rest of the league against our opponent. A positive GF means Liverpool performs better offensively than the league average against the same opponent with that player in the lineup. A negative GA means Liverpool performs better defensively against the same opponent with that player in the lineup.
Skrtel, Henderson, and Mignolet have played every minute against the top 4 contenders to our title. Suarez is close behind, having missed out on only five minutes. Studge is by far the best overall. Our best CB is Toure and our best FB is Cissokho! Folks, I only report the numbers.
Let's look at the home "Big Games." For this we'll widen the net a little bit and include Man Utd and the Spurs (minimum 91 minutes):
One thing that pops out immediately is the "points" column - we've won every "Big Game" at Anfield.
We also see Flanagan rise to the top - the team performs better defensively without him but offensively he is the tops. Last week I hinted that this week's edition would be about the mysterious Jon Flanagan, and more specifically why he is rated so highly. My theory (from watching the games) is the opposition seems to figure he is a liability and they concentrate their attack down his side. As a result, they leave the middle and right side of the park wide open, and wide open against the Reds is asking for trouble. The data appears to back that theory up as well.
Finally, according to this data, I give you our best Big Game lineup:
FB Cissokho, Flanagan
CB Skrtel, Toure
MID Sterling, Coutinho, Gerrard, Henderson
ST Sturridge, Suarez