Ian Graham: How Liverpool integrate data, analysis and coaching
Written by Simon Austin — June 15, 2020
LIVERPOOL Director of Research Ian Graham says that although manager Jürgen Klopp “intuitively understands the numbers”, he does not have "day-to-day or week-to-week" contact with the club's data team.
Welshman Graham has worked for Liverpool since 2012 and heads up a six-man research team that is widely regarded as the strongest of its kind in English football.
He told Liverpool’s official website: “Jürgen is very open and receptive to our area. In terms of our week-to-week relationship, I don’t have very much interaction with him, but that’s not a bad thing because he knows the analysis we do and how it feeds into the various reports and the weekly work that him and his team do.
“Just the fact that he is open to it and intuitively understands the numbers, that’s enough. And if there is anything in particular that needs addressing, we’re there for the coaches.
“They’re aware that we can help out with stuff and give an opinion on it, which is great. Jürgen is really open to it and understands it. He doesn’t work too much with it day-to-day or week-to-week, but that’s not a bad thing at all."
The link between the research team and coaches tends to be via the club’s analysts - Head of Post Match Analysis Harrison Kingston, post-match analyst Mark Leyland, opposition analyst James French and opposition scout Greg Mathieson.
“Pre-match, there’s a set of reports that James and Greg put together and then post-match there’s a similar thing that Harrison and Mark put together,” Graham explained.
“What we’ve built is a platform where the analysts can either look at the opposition analysis or post-match analysis from our point of view, so we’ve got expected goals models and expected possession value models that are linked to video to say: ‘This is what we thought was a dangerous situation.’
“We rarely work directly with the coaches, but the analysts’ department have got access to all of our stats resources and they use those in their reports and meetings.
“We have done one-off bespoke pieces of work where they’re concerned about a particular area of play or want to know something about travel before a game and whether that affects performance.”
Graham admitted his department’s primary focus was on recruitment, but added that the overall remit was more holistic than at other clubs he had worked for. Prior to joining Liverpool, Graham worked for Decision Technology and consulted for Tottenham.
“At Spurs, it very much was ‘can you tell us your opinion on these players?’ and we would rarely work on anything else, but I think with being inside the club you can help out with different departments, it’s not just recruitment.”
Liverpool's research department is six-strong. Four of the staff, on the 'stats side' are fairly well known - Graham himself, Lead Data Scientist William Spearman and statistical researchers Tim Waskett and Dafydd Steele. The other two, who work on the 'technology side' are less well known - Mark Howlett and Mark Stevenson.
“The four of us work on the stats side, but also we’ve got people who were originally in the technology department but I brought them into the research department, Mark Howlett and Mark Stevenson,” Graham said.
“They are responsible for the technology side of it - so maintaining the database for us, building our research website and so on. They do all the tech stuff and that lets the four of us focus on the data science part of it.”