Christian Poulsen has been one of those players that Liverpool fans were seemingly determined to hate from day one. He was a Roy Hodgson signing after all, and as the fans were not prepared to give Hodgson a chance, his signings had to be discredited at all costs. Paul Konchesky (and his mum) discovered this to be the case.
Despite costing less than a third of what Javier Mascherano cost Liverpool, being a player that seems suited to the transitional period Liverpool are in, rather than a title-contender, and the universal truth that all players coming to play in the Premier League the first time need time to adapt to the increased pace and physicality of the English game, Poulsen was judged on what he did immediately and was dismissed by fans just as quickly. He has been labelled by many with goldfish-like memories ‘The worst player in Liverpool’s history’, believe me there’s been many worse players just in the past ten years.
Worse than being dismissed, he turned into a regular target for the fans ire. I was at the home game against Napoli and as he was substituted, the man sat next to me was treating Poulsen like he’d just spat on his sainted aunt and desecrated his ancestors graves, rather than misplace a pass or two. The treatment of Poulsen by the majority of Liverpool fans has been a disgrace.
The thing is, every time I’ve seen him play, whether in the flesh or on TV, I’ve always though he’s done a pretty good job. He can’t make the eye-catching tackles that Mascherano could, he doesn’t have the pace to do so, but I think his reading of the game and positioning is better than Mascherano’s was, so those sorts of tackles aren’t necessary in the first place.
So, I’m going to present some stats that show that Poulsen is a positive influence on the team.
Firstly, let’s consider how the team does when he plays compared to when he doesn’t. (Correct up to and including the Chelsea game on Feb 6th)
|Liverpool||With Christian Poulsen||Without Christian Poulsen|
|Goals Scored (Goals per game)||23 (1.21)||22 (1.38)|
|Goals Against (Goals per game)||13 (0.68)||24 (1.5)|
NB: The games against Arsenal and both legs vs Rabotnicki have not been included as Poulsen joined the club after those games were played.
So far from having a negative effect on the team, Poulsen is actually a positive influence. When he plays, the team wins more, loses less, concedes fewer goals and keeps more clean sheets.
Now, I can see where you can pull my argument apart from these stats alone. The games Poulsen played includes the win against Bolton, where he only played for the last 20 seconds or so, he didn’t even get chance to make a tackle. In the home win against Napoli, Poulsen played, but the team were losing when he went off.
So instead of judging it from results alone, which are a team thing, let’s try to look at some individual stats. Christian Poulsen plays in the defensive midfield role, so I’ll be comparing him to the three other players who’ve played in that position extensively this season; Steven Gerrard, Lucas and Raul Meireles. We can adapt from Hockey the +/- stat and use it for goals, so we can see how many goals each player is ‘worth’ to the team. Poulsen comes out at +4, better than Gerrard (+2), but nowhere near as good as Lucas (+10) or Meireles (+13).
Again though, that stat is probably more about the team than the individual so let’s consider Poulsen as an individual.
Poulsen plays as a defensive midfielder. That means that his primary role for the team is to break up opposition attacks and prevent goals being scored. Another facet of this role is after he has broken up an attack or made a tackle, pass the ball to a more creative teammate to start an attack off. Poulsen’s primary role is not to score goals, make dashing attacking dribbles, or create chances, there are more creative players put in the team to do just that. If Poulsen does any of those things (and he has), it’s a bonus rather than the reason for playing him in the first place.
So I think that the best stats to judge Poulsen on are; Passing and Tackling as these are his main roles within the team. As earlier, I will be comparing Poulsen’s numbers with those of Gerrard, Lucas and Meireles. As all of these players will have different amounts of game time, I will use percentages.
Passing: Poulsen’s pass completion percentage is 83.26%. This is just a little higher than Lucas (83.21%) and higher than Gerrard (74.61%) and Meireles (76.09%). The Premier League leader in passing accuracy (at the time of writing) is John Obi Mikel with 89%. So I believe this proves that Poulsen is doing his job effectively.
Tackling: Poulsen’s tackle success percentage is 60.71%, Lucas’ is 58.03%, Gerrard’s is 54.03%. Weirdly Raul Meireles, much-maligned for his tackling ability/bravery, has a very good tackle success rate of 67% (though he doesn’t go into as many tackles as the other). The Premier League leaders at present are David Vaughan of Blackpool and Scott Parker of West Ham with 77%.
To summarise: When Poulsen is in the team Liverpool wins more, loses less (therefore are unbeaten more), concedes fewer goals and keeps more clean sheets. Poulsen has a high pass completion percentage and a reasonable (if admittedly not fantastic) tackle percentage, which compares favourably to that of his teammates.
I believe that far from being the liability fans believe him to be, Poulsen is an effective team-member that has a positive effect on the team. He fulfils his role, defensive midfielder, very well as Liverpool’s defense is better when he plays.
I think Poulsen may be somewhat of a victim of his position. It’s easy to notice when he makes a mistake, as invariably it will lead to an opposition chance. It’s harder to notice the donkey work he does in the middle, breaking up play and making short passes to the more creative players to help start attacks off.
Not bad for the player who's supposedly ‘The worst player in Liverpool’s history’ eh?
P.S I’ve got no problem at all if you disagree and still think Poulsen’s useless. Just back your opinion up.