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Possession stats do not matter | Stats Analysis

Hatty gets on base more than Pena, in fact 20% more… His fielding does not matter

Moneyball, 2011

This quote from the film Moneyball demonstrates the fact that some aspects of the game were unimportant to the way Billy Beane wanted to play baseball. This quote also rings true when talking about possession stats in football, every fan tries to justify that their team played better because they had a higher amount of possession than the other team. Well possession doesn’t determine the winner of the game, goals do. Teams who score more of their shots that are on target will be more successful than the team who holds on to the ball for longer, a team could have 70% of the ball and score only 1 of their 8 chances, while the opposition could have the other 30% of the ball and only 2 chances but if they score from both chances they would be more clinical and successful than the opposition. Possession stats do not matter.

Now generally the team that has more of the ball will create more chances to score and go on to win than the team with little possession, however, if the team sets up to defend and stops the opposition from being able to get shots away that are on target, they give themselves a better chance to take something from the game provided their strikers are clinical. Take Chelsea as an example, in the champions league semi final and final against Barcelona and Bayern Munich respectively. Chelsea set out to defend in those games knowing that both Barca and Bayern would have a lot more of the ball than they would, however, working on the philosophy developed by Jose Mourinho a few years previously at Inter Milan.

They knew that if they could prevent the opposition from getting shots on target and manage to score themselves from the limited opportunities they got, they would win. The fact that Chelsea had limited possession and less shots demonstrates this, Chelsea also blocked more of Barcelona’s shots on goal showing that they were attempting to get men behind the ball and stop shots on their goal. In the first leg Chelsea had a shots on target to goals rate of 1, meaning for every one shot on target they scored (they only had one shot on target in the game) while Barcelona had a shots on target to goals rate of 0 as they did not score from their 6 shots on target. In the second leg Chelsea again had a significantly less amount of possession but scored a goal every 1.5 shots on target while Barcelona again had a lower rate of a goal every 3 shots on target. This demonstrates that while Chelsea had less of the ball they were the more clinical team over the 2 legs and did what needed to be done to win the match.

20120603-154347.jpg Statistics from the first leg (left) and second leg (right) of the champions league semi Chelsea vs Barcelona

The pass attempts chart below shows that Chelsea prevented Barcelona from entering their penalty area through short passes as they got men behind the ball and prevented them from scoring.

20120603-161806.jpg The passing attempts of Barcelona in the 1st leg vs Chelsea

Once again in the final of the champions league Chelsea used the same tactics that got them the result against Barcelona having only 43.8% possession in the game. They defended deep, got men behind the ball and bodies in front of shots on goal, Bayern Munich had 43 shots on goal during the match with only 7 of these on target and 22 shots blocked by Chelsea defenders. The match finished 1-1 and went to penalties but importantly, Chelsea again were more clinical scoring a goal every 3 shots on target compared to Bayern Munich’s goal every 7 shots on target.

20120603-160112.jpg Statistics from the champions league final 2012, Chelsea vs Bayern Munich

Again in the final Bayern Munich found it difficult to penetrate the Chelsea area with passes, having to resort to shots from outside the box that were off target.

20120603-162005.jpg The passing attempts of Bayern Munich vs Chelsea in the final.

Another example of where one team dominated possession but did not win the game was the international friendly between England and Belgium. Belgium had 58.9% possession, more shots at goal and more shots on target than England did, however, England were the more clinical scoring from their only shot on target with Belgium not being able to finish any of their 6 shots on target.

20120603-160733.jpg Statistics from the England vs Belgium friendly

In the 2009/10 season Jose Mourinho used these tactics with great success in the champions league, by preventing teams from playing balls into their penalty area and stopping them from scoring they were able to win games by being the more clinical side. They may have only got a couple of shots per game but their strikers were able to score the shots they did have, while the opposition attempted in vain to break down the Inter Milan defence.

To summarise, this article has attempted to show that possession stats do not really mean anything in terms of who the better team is, as the only thing that matters is who is the more clinical team. Barcelona have been able to mix having high amounts of possession with being clinical finishers for the last few years, but while most people are amazed at how high their possession is, they should in fact look at how clinical they are in front of goal. The major examples given were from champions league and international football, it would be interesting to see if this trend of the more clinical team being the victor despite amounts of possession continues in leagues such as the Premiership, La Liga and Serie A.

This article was originally published on http://venners91.wordpress.com/2012/06/03/possession-stats-do-not-matter/

Sports science graduate, intent on becoming a performance analyst. Looking for experience and positive feedback that can be used in the future to enable me to provide insights in sport.
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