An Introduction to… Statistics in Football

(By football I don’t mean the American kind but the one that is also known as soccer)

Statistics are becoming increasingly more useful to help analyse the intricacies that are intertwined within the beautiful game. In recent years new measures have been developed to revert away from the often misleading simple statistics such as goals, assists and clean sheets. These never have and never will be able to truly indicate how talented a player is and cannot assess the full package that a player offers. With revolutionary new breakthroughs such as the introduction of possession adjusted statistics and the expected goals and expected assists model, scouts can gain a much better understanding of the quality of a player.

It is no surprise then that recruitment in many clubs, not just from Europe’s top five leagues, have embraced the statistical revolution that has taken place due to advancements in data science and machine learning. Companies such as Statsbomb, who specialise in football statistics, have been able to work with and guide recruitment for clubs in the Premier League, Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue 1 but have branched out to work with sports teams from the MLS, Superliga and as far down as English Football League Two.

But why are statistics and analytics so important to the average football fan? Statistics can help fans to evaluate for themselves how valuable or not valuable players at their club are. During the turbulent phase, which is the transfer window, fans can make much better assessments by analysing data for their club over what types of players they need. For example, if the number of key passes and tackles and interceptions from the midfield were lower than clubs placed similarly in the table then a deep-lying playmaker with a formidable defensive output would be perfectly suited. Once analysing the statistics some of the top players that fit this mould are Frenkie De Jong, Toni Kroos and Marcelo Brozović

Looking at the radar graphs above it is clear to see why these two players would fit a club in desperate need of a deep-lying playmaker to give them more defensive solidity but yet provide creativity from the base of the midfield. Both Brozović and Kroos had strong key passes per 90, expected assists per 90 and expected goals build up per 90 numbers last season, showing how valuable they would be in a sides’ chance creation. Defensively, both are sound, with Brozović conducting a mammoth 4.6 tackles and interceptions per 90 in Serie A and an ageing Kroos still putting up 2.8 tackles and interceptions per game in the Nations League despite Germany dominating possession.

Statistics are also working this way into mainstream media with Match of the Day and Match of the Day 2 (British BBC programmes which show the highlights of the recent Premier League games and amass a viewership of 7 million people each weekend) show the expected goals of each team at the end of the game as well as the usual shots taken, possession etc.

For you, the average football fan, it is important to understand what these new statistics actually mean and why they are important otherwise you will be left behind as football turns towards a more statistical and analytical chapter.

By Anmol Gupta

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