Real Madrid vs Liverpool: Who have been their best players in Europe?

In my last article I took a look at who Liverpool’s player of the year has been when it comes to the stats in the Premier League. With the Champions League final coming up on Saturday, it’s now time to take a look at how the players of Liverpool and Real Madrid have fared in Europe in 2017/18.

It won’t surprise anyone to see Cristiano Ronaldo lead the way from Liverpool’s fabulous front three, as those four players are the top four scorers in the competition this season. However, it will probably confound people to see Dejan Lovren sneak into the top five, just as he did when looking for the Reds’ top players in domestic football.

While the top four have clearly relied a lot on shots and goals (the blue bar) to reach their high scores, Liverpool’s Croatian centreback has understandably relied upon his defensive (red) points. But his off ball bar (yellow) is relevant too, and in fact Lovren leads the way on this particular attribute, either in total or on a points per minute basis.

Jürgen Klopp appears to value Lovren’s brand of front foot defending, even if it has Liverpool supporters tearing their hair out at times. Twelve value his contribution here too, as we can see on his map.

However, if anything is more surprising than Lovren’s inclusion in the top five players, it’s the fact Ronaldo has racked up far more defensive points than any of Liverpool’s front three, as that feels counter-intuitive when the Reds love to defend from the front.

The Portuguese legend is a useful asset when defending set plays though, thanks to his aerial prowess. Ronaldo has made one more clearance than the Reds’ attacking trident have between them, and here’s his defensive chart.

In terms of actual defenders, both Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos have amassed more points for defending than Lovren has, and in fewer minutes on the pitch too. So how have Liverpool conceded two fewer goals in the competition this season?

An easier batch of opponents has obviously helped, but any Kopite will utter three words when asked why the Reds’ defence has improved recently: Virgil van Dijk. Sure enough, the Dutchman is top of the defensive pile when the scores are sorted on a points per minute basis.

That’s impressive work from the former Southampton man, and let’s not forget he has only featured in the knockout stages as he joined Liverpool in January. Van Dijk’s figures have not been boosted by facing lesser sides in the group stage.

Will his impact help in the final though? After all, Ronaldo is more inclined to drift to the left anyway (as his attack map testifies), and that is where the weaker side of Liverpool’s defence resides too. Then again, van Dijk should prove to be useful in marking Ronaldo on set pieces, even if they don’t face up too often in open play.

In the attack stats, it would be natural to assume James Milner would lead the way, as he has clocked up eight assists in the 2017/18 Champions League, yet he only takes the silver medal.

The fact the winner in this category has set up a single goal in the competition illustrates the random nature of assists nicely. Toni Kroos has created 24 goal scoring opportunities in the Champions League this season, so perhaps should’ve assisted more goals. Mohamed Salah is the only player on either side to create more chances, and he is behind Kroos on a per 90 minutes basis.

The German international has boosted his creativity figures with set plays, but he clearly contributes plenty to Madrid’s attack. While Liverpool will need to be wary of Kroos in Kiev, there’s clearly players on both sides who can cause damage. That makes the match both a mouthwatering prospect but also incredibly difficult to call. Don’t be surprised if one of the top four players in the Twelve rankings makes the key difference in the final.

Salah, Firmino & Mane all make Twelve’s top 5 Liverpool players, but should Lovren and Matip be there too?

Using algorithms and points to assess the performance of footballers is nothing new. But how do Twelve shape up against the likes of WhoScored and Squakwa? I’ve taken a look at Twelve’s stats for Liverpool’s players to see if their ranking for the Reds’ player of the year matches what Kopites would believe.

However cynical you might be about football statistics, and whether you don’t really care about how many goals and assists he’s racked up, you’re going to say that Mohamed Salah is Liverpool’s player of the season, right?

It’s a relief for all concerned to see Salah atop this chart. The runner up aligns with public perception too; I ran a quick Twitter poll to see who Liverpool’s non-Egyptian player of the year is, and Roberto Firmino was the runaway winner with over 90 percent of the vote.

Few Reds fans would disagree with the notion that Sadio Mané would be in the top five either, but Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip? Careful now, Twelve, this is how football stats pick up a bad reputation.

They have an advantage over some of their colleagues in that they are ranked sixth and eighth respectively for minutes played in the Premier League, but amending the chart to ‘Points Per Minute’ does not dislodge them from the top five.

Defensive contribution is highlighted in red, so of course the players in third to fifth here would perform well as it’s what they’re paid to do. But do they really contribute to attack (which is the green bar, and excludes shots) more frequently than Salah? And not just them either; there are 15 players who contributed more points per minute to attack than the newly crowned Golden Boot winner.

It seems Twelve rates contribution from further back on the field more highly, as the likes of Firmino, Ings, Solanke and Sturridge are all outside the top fifteen too. While my scepticism surrounding these figures remains, I am at least heartened by seeing Jordan Henderson at the summit of the attack rankings.

The skipper is a very divisive figure among Liverpool fans. I’m of the opinion the Reds have looked better with him in the side, and while it’s easy to quibble over Twelve’s scoring system, it’s clear that Henderson is definitely contributing to the attack and not just playing safe, sideways passes as his detractors will tell you.

When it comes to off ball work, my player of the season for Liverpool was undoubtedly Roberto Firmino. What he provides when the Reds don’t have the ball is a sight to behold, so why is he so low down in the Twelve rankings?

As with the attack figures, it seems the system rates these actions more highly at the back end of the pitch. Jürgen Klopp would beg to differ though, as he famously stated that “no playmaker in the world can be as good as a good counter pressing situation”, and it’s for this reason that Bobby Firmino will always be one of the first names on his team sheet.

Even if Twelve doesn’t value Firmino as highly as Klopp does, the level of off ball work done by the Brazilian is abundantly clear from their interactive widget. It will initially appear blank, so make sure you select the ‘Only important actions’ button.

Look at how many actions there are, and note how they’re across the whole width of the pitch, even with the final third excluded. Click on any of those bubbles, and it will say ‘Pressure on Pass’, illustrating how the former Hoffenheim man is a master of closing down opponents with the aim of springing Liverpool into attack.

There aren’t any surprises with regards to the top points scorers for shots or errors, only to add that the latter emphasises why Klopp was right to abandon Simon Mignolet and opt for Loris Karius between the sticks for the run in.

No model will ever be perfect, and Twelve don’t claim that theirs is. While I don’t agree with their scoring system entirely, with Salah and Firmino in first and second place for Liverpool’s player of the season, Twelve are on the right track here in many ways.