Friday, 3 June 2011

Why Liverpool need Leighton Baines

So, the silly season has begun. The top six teams in the Barclays Premier League are all on the lookout for players and it will be an exciting summer trailing newspaper websites, newsnow and twitter in search for transfer updates. It is rumoured that Kenny Dalglish will look to acquire a left back already playing in Britain which brings Leighton Baines, Emilio Izaguirre and Jose Enrique into strong consideration. Liverpool need a starting left back and as Jonathan Wilson has discussed, full backs are key positions in the modern game:

I’ve always been interested in statistics and would count the number of times “Jay-Jay” Okocha would attempt dribbles compared to passes when playing for Nigeria or count how many times Taribo West would attempt “Maradonas” otherwise known as dribbles in his own half. I like statistics. They are useful but can be wrongly manipulated to support even the most rudderless of arguments. But that is a post for another day. But statistics can be useful to uncover how promising certain players are. So when a fan says Jordan Henderson is “rubbish” and debates whether the youngster has made any meaningful contribution in the past season, I can look through Opta Joe’s posts on twitter and find this:

“82 – Only four players created more goalscoring chances in the 2010/11 PL season than Sunderland’s Jordan Henderson (82). Target.”

Anyway, back to Leighton Baines. When players are linked to a club, it would be useful to really examine why that player will be of use as opposed to hunches. Many have been impressed with Baines this season with his performances but there's more to it than that which I'll come to later. It's essential to procure new players according to your needs and Liverpool need a left back who is mobile, defends well, works for the team and puts accurate crosses into the penalty area. This may sound simple but from watching games in the league this season, it is quite hard to find. Yet Baines fits this profile more than any other full back who is not at a top six club which is why he would be a good addition for Arsenal or Manchester City if they were looking to improve the left side of their respective backlines. Baines may not yet be available for transfer but he has performed excellently in the Premier League against clubs in the top half and bottom half. Liverpool have a striker who is the best header of the ball (well, in his position) in the league and £35 million sterling is an awful amount to spend on a player if Liverpool aren't going to sign players to exploit his strengths.
"Carroll could be benefiting from Baines' crosses instead of Cahill"
Many will probably think "well, that's quite obvious" but with so many ill-judged signings at Liverpool over the last 2 years, this doesn't seem to be the case! More often than not, Liverpool have purchased players who don't seem to fit any sort of profile for the club such as Paul Konchesky and Christian Poulsen who have proved to be poor signings. Then there are signings who look to be potentially excellent such as Joe Cole and Alberto Aquilani but I won't be addressing their respective merits today.

Apparently, Kenny Dalglish has realised this in his infinite wisdom and has made Baines his number one target. If this is true then this would be a key signing to improve Liverpool's first eleven and increase our chances of attaining Champions League football next season. I realise that Everton are Liverpool's local rivals and a transfer such as this would be unlikely. David Moyes is a good manager who understands the worth of his players and would not be accommodating in Baines moving across the Mersey. I would advise Liverpool's team to reserve up to £18 million to try to force Everton into a sale. Everton's problems in finding money to improve their decent squad are well documented and we need a left back of his quality to exploit Andy Carroll's ability to attack the ball in the box. A mutually beneficial deal!

Damien Comolli, Liverpool's director of football, has already spoken of his use of statistics to understand why certain teams perform well and which players are most effective:

Leighton Baines is 26 and will be 27 in December. He should be around his peak and isn't young enough to prevent the rise of our promising left back Jack Robinson in a few years’ time. He has played 3 full seasons for Everton and his season’s productivity in goals and assists read as follows:

2008/2009: 26 Premier League games played (5 as a substitute) - 1 goal & 6 assists
2009/2010: 37 Premier League games played (0 as a substitute) - 1 goal & 8 assists
2010/2011: 38 Premier League games played (0 as a substitute) - 5 goals & 11 assists

* It should be noted that Baines is an impressive set piece taker for Everton, who shares key responsibilities with the impressive Mikel Arteta. His goal and assist record, if under scrutiny, will have been boosted by corners, penalties and free-kicks. He may not be such a prolific set piece taker at Liverpool which would affect the potential to maintain these solid figures. However, it should be noted that in his 3 full seasons at Everton only Didier Drogba and Cesc Fabregas has provided more goals than Leighton Baines. Illustrious company. In the same time, Dani Alves has been the sole defender (well, all but in name!) hovering above Baines in the assists chart from the top leagues in Spain, Italy, England and Germany. Impressive.

"Defending as well as attacking puts him in many player of the year lists"
So Comolli likes to take stats into account when assessing players. I would always try to consider a player's performance and appearances in the previous season when considering a transfer, which maybe wasn't scrutinised enough with Aquilani (even though he seems to have shrugged off his injury woes for another club) and Joe Cole. Past glories will not suffice (which is different to seasonal consistency). In that case, I would implore Liverpool's management team to consider these stats for the 2010/2011 season:

11 - Leighton Baines has provided more assists than any other defender in the Premier League this season. Nani (14) and Drogba (13) were the only two players to have provided more assists. Fabregas, Arshavin, Rooney are all tied with Baines.

351 - Leighton Baines has supplied more crosses from open play than any other player.

38 - Leighton Baines played for every single minute in all of Everton's league games this season. Only Chuck Norris' rival Martin Skrtel can share this accolade.

5 - Leighton Baines has scored more goals than any other fullback. Brede Hangeland and Robert Huth are the only defenders who have scored more with 6 goals apiece, whilst Nemanja Vidic has scored as many as Baines.

Most of these stats were sourced from Opta and I would recommend anyone who is a fan of numbers to follow Opta Joe on Twitter for some insightful, interesting and illuminating posts. I don't even have a Twitter account, just a link to the page:!/optajoe

In addition to these impressive numbers, Baines is an offensive fullback who can provide width and stretches the play. Liverpool are well stocked with options at right back in Glen Johnson, Martin Kelly and John Flanagan who are mentioned in my order of preference for the position. But Liverpool have a vacancy for a starter at left back with the injury prone but talented Fabio Aurelio and the precocious 17 year-old Jack Robinson who performed better than many other fullbacks against Theo Walcott and Samir Nasri at the Emirates. Baines is included in many player of the year lists because he has improved every year and has done excellently in the 2010/2011 season.

But players are not just about stats, stats and more stats. We need to be entertained or at least appreciative of an individual's endeavours on the field of play. I have been impressed by Baines' general performances, consistency, willingness to go forward, energy, stamina and set piece ability. Whenever I've watched Everton play, I've always noticed how good Leighton Baines is in both attack and defence. He seems to be a quiet member member of Everton's dressing room and Moyes is a manager who won't suffer for disruptive influences for too long so he'd fit in well at the club in that respect too. As an admirer of David Moyes' impressive tenure at Everton and his tough persona, I know that he will prove to be an obstinate barrier to this potential transfer. However, if you combine Baines' verve in his performances with these various figures and the type of number 9 Liverpool have in Andy Carroll, it's easy to understand why Liverpool need Leighton Baines.

So if Liverpool do manage to get past Everton's manager David Moyes, sit at a negotiating table with Bill Kenwright, provide a sum of money which will soothe irate Everton supporters, convince Leighton Baines to make a decision which will make life in Liverpool quite uncomfortable for him, beat off competition from rival teams promising endless foot massages and bundles of cash and finally acquire Leighton Baines, I'd logically and emotionally say "well, it was money well spent" in conventional parlance. For it is not just how much you spend in life and football that dictates value, it's what you get for it.

What do you think? Is Baines a realistic target for Liverpool or should he go to a team which will play in the Champions's League next season? How important are statistics in assessing a player?

Also, join the debate about the relationship between the media and football @


  1. Great blog - I'm sold!! Baines does look a quality LB, and aside from the outstanding Ashley Cole, I think that he is even more consistent than Evra (who I admit, on his day is world class).

    How about a blog on England, after the Switzerland match...I'd love to hear some analysis on that!

  2. ...actually, after that "performance", perhaps you might want to wait until after the Netherlands game; otherwise that will be one short blog!!

  3. Thanks bro. Baines does look good as a left back. I do wonder how long Moyes can hold onto him? He should be at one of the top six and I believe the only vacancy is at Liverpool and Man City in that position. Switzerland have some talented young players but I was surprised when a friend told me England were two nil down at one stage. Will post a follow up on Baines in the next 24 hours.

  4. Mate, I think you love Baines a bit too much. Are you his dad or something? Lots of other full backs would do a decent job such as Enrique or that young lad Robinson Liverpool fans keep banging on about. Not sure Merson's wise to watch a player once and say he's the "next Ashley Cole."

    Good read tho.

  5. Enrique isn't as good as Baines from watching them both last season. I didn't know Baines' stats were so impressive.

    He'd be better off at a team in the Champion's League like Arsenal and Man City. Less grief and an opportunity to play at the highest level at 26/27. Clichy and Kolarov are both pants.

  6. You make a really good case for Baines from a playing perspective, but financially I think it makes less sense for Liverpool.

    You're right, it would probably take a sum of around £18m or more to get Baines from Everton. The fee would need to be something Everton couldn't turn down anyway, because Baines signed a new five-year contract last summer and they won't want to sell him.

    Contrast that with someone like Gael Clichy who only has one year left on his Arsenal contract and is a year younger. Liverpool know that Clichy has rejected a new deal and that Arsenal don't allow players to enter the final year of their contracts. With this £5m bid they've offered Arsenal a tempting way to quickly resolve that problem while getting roughly the market rate for Clichy.

    Another factor is their resale value. At these prices, in two or three years' time, Clichy's transfer value won't have diminished quite as much as Baines's will. You'll struggle to sell a 29/30 year-old full back for anything close to £18m.

    By that time, Liverpool will hope to have a younger home-grown replacement (like Jack Robinson) ready anyway.

  7. Hi David, it's good to hear from you. The case for Baines is strong but the Clichy deal makes better financial sense. Like you, I'm mindful of Liverpool's promising youngsters when assessing our transfer targets. I think Arsenal will push for £7m or maybe even £8m which would still be fantastic business for us.

    Clichy is young enough to be rejuvenated as a top level full back. He's athletic, technically competent and forward thinking. It's just the defensive side of his game which needs to improve and hopefully Steve Clarke will be instrumental in bringing it up to an acceptable level.