Suarez and Points Strategy

This isn't about the actions themselves, but simply a thought exercise on whether the team should sell or not. I've seen a lot of folks write things like "We can't stay in the top 4 without him, so let's keep him" or even "We can challenge for the league with him, but not without him".

I wanted to think through what those claims mean. Suarez will be suspended for the first 9 games of the season. Assuming he provides positive value when on the pitch that means that the team should be expected to drop points over those games that they would have captured had he played. FWIW, we dropped 5 points in the 5 games Suarez was suspended last season, and it was only so few because Waffles saved a penalty and we somehow eeked out a series of 1-0 wins with a defense that would soon reveal itself to be quite error-prone. It's obviously no guarantee that all those points would've been ours if he was playing, but he might've been useful in the 0-1 loss to Saints at Anfield and 2-2 draw at Swansea. Those dropped points alone cost us the league so it could be fair to say that Suarez's previous suspension cost us the title that we've all been waiting for. It may have cost us a real chance at a top 4 spot the previous season as well. Overall, last season we earned 2 points per game without him and 2.25 points per game with him.

So here's how our possible worlds break down:

1. How many points is Suarez worth over 9 games? Last year the difference between 4th and 5th was 7 points, but in previous years the average was about 4 points. If anything I'd expect it to be narrower this year as ManU and Spurs improve. The top third of the league is deeper this year than any season since I've started watching the Prem. Any dropped points early could cost you spots later. Here are some scenarios:

2A The team drops 5 points during those 9 games that they otherwise would've captured (i.e. fewer ppg dropped without Suarez than last year). This almost certainly drops us out of title contention. It might be enough to lose out on a top 4 spot before November depending on how the rest of the season goes, but probably not.

2B The team drops 9 points during those 9 games, the same rate as last year. That definitely takes us out of title contention and puts the top 4 at risk.

2C The team drops 4 or fewer points during those 9 games.

If we say that LFC will earn 2 points per game without Suarez -- i.e. the rate they earned points on his last suspension -- then our baseline points total is 76. In the Premier League era that would've been good enough to place in the top 4 in every single season. Last year, we earned 0.25 points more per match with Suarez than without him, which brings us to 83 points. So that's the range that matters to us: are those points the difference between staying in the top 4 and dropping out of it? As noted above, historically the answer is "no" although it may be a bit tougher this year. Could we get close to the title with 83 points? It's happened, but over the past decade the average number of points for the title winner is 89. So basically we're in Arsenal territory here.

Of these scenarios, there is only one state of the world where keeping Suarez makes sense: that he would keep us in the top 4 over the ensuing 29 games. This is probably 2C and (sometimes) 2A. But this is possible in 2A and 2B even without Suarez. As noted above, last year's sans-Suarez points per game average would've put us in the top 4 in every single Prem season.

So the margin where Suarez is the difference between being in and out of the top 4 is very fine. It probably disappears completely when we remember that selling Suarez means bringing in new players who will be eligible for all 38 games. If the team is good enough to stay in the picture without Suarez then why sit around waiting for him to come back? Sell him at peak value and reinvest the money early enough to try to capture as many of those early points as possible. Maybe we move back into title contention instead of fighting for the 4th spot. This is especially true if you believe that other new additions move the baseline expected performance of the team upward. In that case, dropping any points in the first 9 games is critical. (The same is true for Champions League expectations, since we'll likely be in a very difficult group.)

Of course it depends on the fee and what could be purchased with it. Let's say the fee is £60mn flat with no makeweight players. This is well below market value, but it is also less than what Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo cost in combination. It's about the equivalent spend of Diego Costa plus Cesc Fabregas, with Rickie Lambert's fee left over. It also could have purchased both Eden Hazard and Robin van Persie. If LFC are canny enough to drive the price up further then they could reasonably end up with three players of the caliber of those mentioned above.

Could players of that quality make up some of those lost points from the first 9 games and perform well enough over the other 29 to keep us in the top 4?

I think they could.

Are 76 games of Aguero/Negredo or Costa/Fabregas or Hazard/RvP worth 29 games of Suarez?

I think they are. I think we'd have a better chance of winning the league without Suarez than with him.

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