The biased game

The DNA of football is to win. Especially in the professional side of the game. The world of football is ‘black or white’; there are winners and losers - nothing in between.

That is a premise we all have to accept. The professional teams are judged and evaluated every week on this simply aspect; did they win or loose?

For us operating inside the game this can be fascinating as well as frustrating at times. As the external view on our work therefore can be simplified whether our club/team won or not.

For myself this is 100% acceptable. This is the name of the game. A premise I early in my career accepted as a potential bias in the understanding of my job.

Football deserves more

But when it’s about analyzing games and performances; I still believe football is undeveloped and have a long way to go. Our view is biased by goals and results.

And as a love for the game it won’t accept this. Not for the sake of a coach, but for the game.

We seem to forget football is 15-20% randomness (over time) meaning teams/coaches can be lucky = the score ‘cheats’.

For example this past week in the ¼-finals of the Champions League; Liverpool won 3-0 against Manchester City and delivered a great performance – no doubt about that. They were publically said to crush Manchester City in the first half being 3-0 up half time.

But when I re-watched the first 20 minutes of the game (muting the sound) the picture looked very different. It’s 2-0 – yes, but looking at the underlying parameters it’s more a coincidence than due to a superior performance. Manchester City and Liverpool both have similar situations on the last 3rd in the first 10 minutes – both a transition from a set piece-situation. Manchester City are in periods controlling the play - not giving away last 3rd entries or chances.

The first goal is (again) from a set piece-transition where City looks unorganized, but also unlucky as it’s a second or even third ball leading to the Salah-goal.

Similar to 2-0 where City are in balance in the defensive organization with 6-7 players behind the ball (a few positional details could be improved). It’s a random tackle suddenly giving the ball to Oxlaid-Chamberlain in between the City-lines. Play that situation again 100 times and it won’t happen again. Ever.

Taking nothing from the fantastic shot by Chamberlain – but statistically he also won’t score the next 50-52 times he will try from that distance (average stats for shots outside the box are 1:51,4).

2-0 - 19:57min played. “Liverpool destroying Manchester City”. Actually not. The game so far was equal on the underlying parameters. Possession (control), last 3rd entries, ability to maintain possession on the last 3rd, xG-situations (chances), etc.

But the pre-mentioned 15-20% randomness in football gave Liverpool the advantage.

Now down 0-2 in a very difficult away-game; the City-players were effected and Liverpool are having the momentum in the next twenty minutes (20-40min of the first half) creating more situations, maintaining the ball on the last 3rd and not allowing City to enter the last 3rd – showing them outside their defensive organization. Really impressive period, but these 20minutes of dominance are build on the mental effect after the two early goals, which clearly will effect a favorite-side who lost once this season at this stadium already.

So to sum up – nothing taken from Liverpool – they played a very good game and deserved the win (xG-rates were around 2,3 vs. 0,8), but it’s important we don’t let us bias too much of the effect of goals.

This beautiful game deserves a much deeper analysis to show how much football has to offer.