Liverpool are never shy of innovating, and one Jürgen Klopp hire has had a clear impact. However, another of his choices may need to come under some scrutiny.
Just tell me where the package should be delivered and I will put it there.” Is this pre-Christmas talk among people ordering presents or code used by spies to disguise their true intentions?
As this is a website dedicate to chronicling the adventures of Liverpool FC, it won’t surprise you to learn that this was a conversation between Kostas Tsimikas and Pep Lijnders, as detailed in the latter’s book. They had been discussing the Greek’s crossing skills, with the Reds’ assistant manager referring to the full-back as ‘Cross-tas’.
Tsimikas recently gave an interview to The Athletic, in which he discussed the work he has done with neuro11, the neuroscience company enlisted by Liverpool to help their players in set piece and penalty situations. There is evidence to suggest their approach has worked.
“I remember before they came along our free kicks and corners weren’t so good but they’ve improved a lot,” Tsimikas said. “It’s about the mental side. They check your mind — how you are thinking, how focused you are. To keep that focus under big pressure when the crowd is screaming is very difficult. They help you block that noise out and stay relaxed. They do a great job.”
While Tsimikas’ first two this season were of negligible value (beyond taking a big win over Bournemouth into record-equalling territory), his last three assists have been almost priceless. The Greek set up winning goals against Ajax and West Ham United, as well as an equaliser at Ibrox after the Reds had fallen behind in a white-hot atmosphere.
With an eye on the influence of neuro11, it’s interesting to note that a trio of his assists came from corners. Per WhoScored, Tsimikas has set up three goals via this method in 16 appearances in 2022/23 when he had one in 92 matches for his clubs and country prior to that.
In that sense, the improvement is clear for all to see, and Jürgen Klopp’s decision to get the scientists involved has been wholly vindicated. Yet in one way the success has been achieved by going against the grain of how Liverpool’s set pieces have evolved over the last five years.
Between 2017/18 and 2021/22, the proportion of the Reds’ corner deliveries which were out-swinging consistently rose year on year, to a peak of 73.4 per cent last season (per FBref). While they have dropped back to 67.6 per cent in this campaign, that’s still a higher proportion than any other Premier League side has recorded in the last six years.
For his part, Tsimikas has remained north of 70 per cent out-swinging corners in league and Europe both last season and this. This is where it gets interesting though. When he assisted Luis Díaz and Roberto Firmino against Bournemouth and Rangers respectively, the crosses were sent in to the edge of the six-yard box at the near post. Per FBref, the two headers were both struck from five yards out and were just 0.01 different in expected goal terms.
Tsimikas’ 10 in-swinging corners have delivered two goals where his 26 out-swingers have only provided one (for Joël Matip against Ajax). The plot thickens when you see on Understat, that his expected assist rate per key pass from corners is a shade lower in 2022/23 than it was last season. The 26-year-old is getting a better output from a less successful process, and from a style of delivery which Klopp’s side use less often than anyone else these days.
To confuse the analysis further, the assist corner against Rangers was the only one of Liverpool’s three that night which was crossed in the in-swinging fashion, while just three of eight were presented in that style against the Cherries. Was it random choice from Tsimikas at that moment, and fortune that they led to goals? Could it have been specific tactical instruction from Klopp and the coaches? Or did a secret brain implant from neuro11 make the difference?
Probably not the last option (we’re back to talking like spies again), but it’s fair to wonder where to assign the credit. As with many things in football, perhaps it was all just random. Only 13 players have provided Premier League assists from corners this season; it’s not an easy thing to do.
Klopp would no doubt credit neuro11; retaining their services is looking like a great decision. But it might also be asked why the manager and coaching staff continue to prefer out-swingers, when Tsimikas’ data tells a different story. In any case, as long as the Greek believes he’s doing the right thing, with his quality of crossing that should be enough for him to keep delivering packages to the Liverpool attackers.