3 things that the magic crystal ball of statistics can teach us, the Muggles, about football* – Champions League 15th-16th March

3 things that the magic crystal ball of statistics can teach us, the Muggles, about football* – Champions League 15th-16th March

[*This is, surprisingly, not a wholly serious title]

1. Football is a funny old game, that generally works out all right in the end.

There were no goals in 210 minutes of play during the PSV-Atletico Madrid, which might on the surface indicate that it was a deathly close tie. Atletico outshot the Dutch side 32-10 over the two legs, for a combined Expected Goals sum (according to Michael Caley’s numbers) of 2.9 against 1.4. This doesn’t mean the score ‘should’ have been 3-1 or 3-2 on aggregate, but it gives a hint that Atletico had the better chances.

Just going on the two clubs’ respective statures, you would expect that the Spanish side would go through too. But after all that time and all of those chances in their favour, when it came down to penalties it looked like PSV might be able to seize a chance the size of which they hadn’t had for the entire tie. Particularly when the spot-kicks went down to sudden death, as similar to the metaphorical coin toss as football can be, it seemed like a team who has muscled in on Spain’s Big Two could crash out at such an early stage.

But they didn’t. Narsingh missed his penalty and Atleti progressed. All is right in the world again. Just don’t look at the Premier League table.

2. Juventus did a Leicester (…for a while at least)

For a long while during the second leg against Bayern Munich it looked as if Juventus might come away with a win. In hindsight, they were often pegged back into their own territory even during the first half, well before Bayern’s first goal. As was noted by some on Twitter during the game, the Juventus goals had something of a Leicestershire air about them, as did many of their shots, coming from quick breaks.

Leicester, in the Premier League this season, attempt just a little over 26 passes per shot they have, the lowest in the league and significantly below the league average of 34. Juventus – though in a single game which will naturally have wilder variation than a 30 game average – attempted just 19 passes per shot they took.

It’s a shame they couldn’t hold on. (If you really want to know, Bayern attempted just over 35 passes per shot, which is actually almost exactly Arsenal’s average in the Premier League this season. Funny, huh?).

3. Neuer will probably go down in history books

Joachim Löw has called Neuer Germany’s “11th outfield player” and Pep Guardiola also seems to use him in this way. With a goalkeeper who can play on the ball, it helps a team when under defensive pressure, as opposition is unlikely to commit a forward to close down and cover a goalkeeper man-to-man. It also helps when the team is attacking high up the pitch, an able and eager keeper like Neuer able to collect opposition clearances far outside their box and pass them off to an outfield team-mate.

Neuer made six passes in the second leg against Juventus which came from outside of his box – ie he was standing outside of his box when he made those passes. Six times. Juventus had seven shots on target, two of which went in, meaning that Neuer made more passes from outside of his area than he did saves during the match.

With the ability to play quick, controlled football becoming an ever greater part of the game – and teams trying to emulate those of title-winning Spain, Barcelona, and now Bayern – better touch will be necessary all over the pitch, and that includes the goalkeeper. It’s probably unlikely that most goalkeepers will be Neuers within a decade or two, but they will almost certainly be a lot closer.



Michael Caley xG numbers for Atletico-PSV from the following tweets.

1st leg: https://twitter.com/MC_of_A/status/702612474969923585

2nd leg: https://twitter.com/MC_of_A/status/709875177572667393


Joachim Löw quote from this article



Other data by Opta, from Whoscored, Squawka, and the FourFourTwo Statszone app.


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