Separating winners from losers in Major League Soccer…

We are past the halfway point in Major League Soccer this year and if you recall from this previous article I promised I would revisit my Expected Wins analysis again at about this stage.

To continue to chart the progress of PWP, to include the data points behind the calculations, I am offering up some diagrams on what the data looks like after:

  1. The 92 game mark of the MLS Regular Season (184 events).
  2. The 183 game mark of the MLS Regular Season (366 events).
  3. The same data points for World Cup 2014  (128 events).

For background details on Possession with Purpose click this here.

To begin…

A reminder of how things looked after 184 Events (92 Games)…

MLS EXPECTED WINS AFTER 184 EVENTS

Trends indicated that winning teams passed the ball more, completed more passes, penetrated the final third slightly less but completed more of their pass attempts in the final third.

For shooting; winning teams shot slightly less by volume but were far more successful in putting those shots on goal and scoring goals.

For details you can enlarge the diagram and look for your specific area of interest.

As for how the trends show after 366 Events (183 Games)…

MLS EXPECTED WINS AFTER 366 EVENTS

Winning teams now average less pass attempts and complete slightly fewer passes.

There is a marked decrease in pass attempts into the opposing final third and slightly fewer passes completed within the final third.

In other words – teams are counter-attacking more and playing a style more related to ‘mistake driven’, counter-attacking, as opposed to positive attacking leading into the opponents final third.

As for shooting; winning team are now taking more shots, with more of those shots being on goal and more of those resulting in a goal scored.

In my opinion what is happening is teams are taking advantage of poor passing accuracy to generate and create turnovers .

In turn those turnovers are generating cleaner and clearer shots given opponent poor positional play on the transition.

My expectation is that more teams will now begin to focus on bringing in newer players that have better recovery skills and can defend better.

In contrast, here’s how these same data points look after completion of the World Cup of 2014… there is a difference…

WORLD CUP EXPECTED WINS AFTER 182 EVENTS

 

Winning teams average more passes attempted and far more completions than losing teams.

In addition winning teams penetrated far more frequently than losing teams, and that increase in penetration also translated to an increase in passes completed within the final third.

With respect to shooting; winning teams shot more, put more shots on goal, and scored far more goals.

Clearly what we see here is that quality in player skill levels also translated to an increase in quantity.

That should become even more apparent in looking at the PWP outputs for MLS and World Cup Teams…

Here they are for MLS at the 184 Events point this year:

MLS SIX STEPS OF PWP AFTER 184 EVENTS

 

A quick review of the data outputs shows winning teams averaged 51% possession and are 2% points better in overall passing accuracy.

That passing accuracy advantage also carried into the final third but when taking shots losing teams averaged more shots taken, per penetration, than winning teams.

Bottom line here is that winning teams had those fewer shots taken generate more shots on goal and more goals scored than losing teams.

After the 366 Event point this is how those same outputs look…

MLS SIX STEPS OF PWP AFTER 366 EVENTS

Like the indicators, in the PWP Data points, the percentages here are beginning to reflect the counter-attacking style of football taking over as the norm.

Winning teams now, on average, possess the ball less than their opponents… wow… mistake driven football is taking hold across the MLS.

As for Passing accuracy within and outside the final third…

Winning teams continue to be better in passing – and that level of accuracy is driving a large increase in shots taken, per penetration, by winning teams compared to losing teams (almost 2% different).

That is a marked difference (4% swing), from earlier, where losing teams shot more frequently, per penetration, than winning teams.

In addition that increase in shots taken, per penetration, also results in more shots on goal, per shot taken, and more goals scored, per shot on goal.

The margin between winning teams, and losing teams, for goals scored versus shots on goal, at the 184 Event point versus 366 Event point, still remains > 29%.

 So how about teams in the World Cup???

WORLD CUP SIX STEPS OF PWP AFTER 128 EVENTS

Like earlier, winning teams not only passed the ball more frequently they possessed the ball more, by 5% (52.56% to 47.89%).

So contrary to what others might think – tika-taka is not dead, it’s just been transformed a wee bit…

With respect to passing accuracy…

I’m not sure it can be any more clear than this – winning teams averaged 82.40% and losing teams averaged 80.46%.

What makes these outputs different from MLS is that the level of execution is far higher in passing accuracy; by as much as 6%.

To put that in perspective; if  a team looks to attempt 500 passes in MLS that equals 380 passes completed – compared to 412 passes completed by World Cup teams; clearly the level of execution is much higher.

That difference of 32 passes completed can have a huge impact when penetrating and creating opportunities within the final third.

What makes it even tougher is that the quality of defenders is significantly higher at the World Cup level as well.

With respect to penetration and creation within the final third…

World Cup winning teams averaged 2% greater penetration per possession than winning teams in the MLS.

By contrast World Cup winning teams generated fewer shots taken per penetration than those in the MLS.

Does this speak to better defending?  I think so…

What I think is happening is that quality gets the team into the box, but then the quality of the defenders and goal keepers, in that confined space, is taking over.

This should be evident, even more so, when seeing that winning teams in the World Cup also put fewer shots on goal per shot taken than winning teams in MLS.

And that also translated to goals scored for winning teams in the World Cup also scored fewer goals scored per shot on goal…

In closing…

All told, winning teams in the World Cup displayed slightly different (average percentages) than winning teams in MLS with one exception – passing accuracy.

And given the importance of the tournament it’s no wonder…

Without having the data, yet, I’d expect that the better teams in the EPL, Bundesliga, and other top European Leagues that difference in passing accuracy would remain.

As for the difference in possession (winning teams clearly possessing the ball more than losing teams) I’m not sure – mistake driven football, if memory serves is an approach Chelsea have used in the past…

I’d imagine it’s a pendulum type effect – as more teams work towards mistake driven football more teams will strengthen their ability to recover and open the game up a bit with direct attack to force the opponent from pressing so high.

I’ll be looking for additional trends as the year progresses to see if direct play increases – perhaps a good indicator of that might be even fewer penetrations and more crossing?

With respect to statistical relevance of the data and the outputs generated…

In every case the relationships created, be them Exponential or 4th Order Polynomial all had correlations that exceeded .95.

In other words the variations are minimal and should really reinforce just how tight the difference is between winning and losing in a game of soccer…

Best, Chris

Re-tweets appreciated…

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