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Analyzing The Beautiful Game Essay

3117 words - 13 pages

Analyzing the Beautiful Game
Sports analytics, no matter the field’s renegade posturing, has now been around long enough to have its own pieces of conventional wisdom. Baseball’s cognoscenti know all about the primacy of on-base percentage over batting average, and they have also come to realize once-treasured strategies like bunting and stealing bases are best used sparingly. In basketball, the mid-range jump shot is slowly being phased out as an inefficient relic of antiquity. Spreadsheets are shaming football coaches into rolling the dice more often on fourth downs.
But for many American fans tuning into the World Cup, soccer’s nuggets of analytic insight remain as foreign as the game ...view middle of the document...

At the Major League Soccer (MLS) for example, every touch is tracked by Opta. MLSsoccer.com boasts a pair of columns – OPTA Spotlight and Central Winger – devoted to diving into those reams of data and pulling meaningful numeric representation out every week.
Likewise, the teams themselves are in on the game, hiring data analysts to give them a leg up on the competition. We're hoping to pull the cover back a little bit, to give the fans a chance to understand where our understanding is going. And make no mistake: We're maintaining a healthy level of skepticism ourselves; it took baseball 100 years to realize batting average was less important than on-base percentage, after all. In order to take a truly scientific take, we need to be wary of our own biases and blindness.
There are still years and years of data that need collecting.
But we're getting there. We're learning. That's the point of science, after all. (3)
This literature review considers whether there are statistics that can prove a soccer team to be more successful than others by scoring more goals and winning games by answering the following questions:
Does increased possession equate to a better chance of winning?
Can statistics even be used to analyze the possibility of winning matches?
Does increased possession equate to a better chance of winning?
Possession has become one of the most contentious of the newly available range of soccer statistics that are regularly quoted in live match analysis. It is generally assumed that enjoying more possession is a positive, but does this assumption hold water, and to what degree should bettors use possession stats in handicapping a team’s ability to win games?
The success of sides that take a possession based approach – such as Barcelona at club level and Spain at international tournaments – coupled with the aesthetically pleasing brand of passing football practiced by these teams, has made domination of possession an aspiration for many teams.
In addition, Liverpool’s Brendan Rodgers’ often repeated quote that “if you can dominate the game with the ball, you have a 79% chance of winning” is also taken as an endorsement of possession based football.
The success enjoyed by a short passing, possession orientated approach is much more mixed than advocates of this approach imply
However, if we take a more measured view of recent competitions, the success enjoyed by a short passing, possession orientated approach is much more mixed than advocates of this approach imply.
Holders, Spain bowed out of the 2014 World Cup at the group stage, despite having over 60% of the possession in defeats to first the Netherlands and then Chile. Also their success at Euro 2012 owed much to a semi-final penalty shootout win against Portugal, a side that had enjoyed only a minority share of possession throughout the tournament.
Barcelona conquered Europe in 2008/09 and 2010/11 with tournament possession figures in the mid to high 60% and pass numbers...

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