Stats And Learned Helplessness – Revisited

It’s October 2017 and Liverpool FC are struggling after only 8 games. They are creating more chances than any other team and taking more shots than my kid when he’s playing Fortnite. They are allowing the second lowest number of shots against, so in theory they should have been crushing it, but they weren’t. In 2017 Liverpool ended the season in 4th, with the second highest number of goals for, and the fourth lowest goals against. Shooting accuracy was 37% and goal per game was 2.21. Not bad – but only 4th. Liverpool has 16.70 shots per game, with 6.13 on target.

This season, Liverpool are top of the pile and looking much stronger than they usually do before their post-Christmas capitulation. Their strong start may even be enough to see them improve on last season and finish 3rd behind City (who will win by 7 points) and Spurs. Liverpool are currently sitting at 14.56 shots per goal and 5.88 on target. Here’s the big factor – In defence they have improved from letting in one goal a game to only 0.38, a hugely impressive feat.

Currently, 4 of the top 5 teams for shots taken are the top four in the Premier League. The other team? Southampton, who have the 3rd highest shots this season. Southampton are currently 19th, only two teams have scored fewer goals.

It’s not working for Southampton, and here is some of what Mark Hughes, the ex-Southampton manager had to say about some results:

“All we want in a game is the key match-defining moments to be correct. At 2-0 the game is over. It is unfortunate and a bad mistake. He admitted it on the pitch. I mean for goodness sake, he needed a bit of help. These decisions affect what we are trying to do here.” – After 1-1 vs Watford

“We have to get maximum points in games, everybody saw by the manner of our performance that we are a good side, we just have to keep working and performing.” – After 2-2 vs Manchester United

“I don’t think there is a huge amount wrong with how we are going about our business. For the most part we need to keep on going and make sure we are better in the key moments that define a result.” – After 3-2 loss against Fulham.

You don’t get to have the third highest number of shots and the 3rd lowest number of goals and get away with calling it a good performance if you’re not winning. The comments above are somewhat similar to the ones I wrote about last season from Klopp, the ones where he basically said “More of the same and it will come good.” It didn’t. This season isn’t more of the same, he fixed the leaky defence to such a degree that even though the attack isn’t performing as well as last season the defence is almost 3 times better than last season. When the defence begins to fail it will be interesting to see how Klopp and co react.

The moral of the story is this – When you see those quotes on social media that say “Keep going, success is around the corner” it does mean you have to turn a corner. Continuing on the same path and expecting something different isn’t enough. Expecting universal fairy dust to make your wishes come true just because you kept going won’t work. Eventually you will look at external factors and the “What ifs” as the reason things aren’t working. Things at Liverpool changed, they tightened up the back significantly and worked hard.

Here are the three takeaways for today:

1 – Things won’t just change on their own. Walking the same path will take you in the same direction. If success is around the corner, you have to turn the corner to meet it. That’s a change of direction.

2 – There is one way to be sure that performance is in fact improving – results. If results aren’t getting better, the performance isn’t getting better. An unlucky result can happen, but patterns tell a more accurate story.

3 – You can fix it. No matter what it is, it can be fixed. However, you have to be open to believe that change is needed, and that you have the ability to fix it.

Learned helplessness happens when we don’t believe we have the ability to change our world, and that external forces are against us. If that were true, we wouldn’t bother to learn or practice anything. The fact that Liverpool are now (temporarily) top of the table shows that hard work and focus can change the outcome. We can change our destination, but sometimes we have to turn the corner to meet the success that awaits those who persist.

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