My Football Ramble: Using stats

In the modern age of computers and technology, everything becomes much easier, much more accessible. For example, a footballer’s performance before was judged only by how fast he ran, how many goals he scored, what good pass he made, how “emotional” “heartfelt”,etc. But now, we do not have to come to the stadium, maybe do not even need to watch the game itself, to judge a player’s abilities. Because we have stats.

The life of a modern day football fan is easy: they watch matches live on large-screen TV, have post-match analysis pieces. They can even do the “analysing” themselves by using stats provided by the likes of Opta, Whoscored and Squawka. Who completed more passes? Who had a higher passing completion rate? Who ran more? How does his heatmap look like? Who is given a higher rating?etc. Then, each fan can draw his/her own conclusion: this guy played well, this guy played bad, he did not fulfill his duty, she was defeated in an one-on-one battle against her direct opponent…

Is it not?

But those stats can be very misleading. Sadly, many people handle stats carelessly, thus letting themselves misguided by the data. A player with a high pass completion rate is not a very good passer if he only passes less than five metres. One that registers high amount of assists is not necessarily a creative player (Leighton Baines, a left-back, is certainly not “creative”; neither is Andy Carroll if he knocks ball down for Kevin Nolan to score). A high conversion rate does not tell the whole picture, since not every shot is the same. Likewise, a high saves percentage does not guarantee an excellent goalkeeper.

Is it a winger’s fault if he keeps getting into good position, beats his man, but his crosses are all cleared because his teammates were all woeful? Does a centre back play badly when his numbers of tackles, blocks and interception per game is low, but in fact it is because 1) the midfielders and full-backs cover him well and 2) he keeps getting into good positions, so that all he needed to do was nicking the ball swiftly instead of lunging inrecklessly? Is a defensive midfielder considered “good” when he makes the highest number of tackles per game in the league, but actually all he does is having poor positional sense and just running like a headless chicken?

A team may have high shots number as well as high conversion rate, but if most of their shots and goals in that period is outside of the box, is it sustainable?

Football is not really science, but quite close to it. Statistics are there, the easiest experiments can provide them – however, how to use them to analyse correctly is an entire different matter.

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