Starving for stats… interesting ones

Andrew Timbrell, 10 March 2019

In a clickbait climate and stats coming from all angles, Andrew Timbrell wonders whether football analysis is giving fans ‘value for money’…

I’m slumped on the sofa after a long day’s work and decide to scroll through your Twitter feed. I spot a rather humorous yet fascinating tweet stating that, as of today, ‘Sol Bamba is Cardiff’s top scorer in the Premier League.’

While retweeting this, Sky Sports News are showing a comparison between Declan Rice, Eric Dier and Jordan Henderson; displaying analysis of ground covered per 90 mins, goals and pass completion.

Bear in mind that they’ve just finished talking to Paul Merson about Kepa’s involvement against Fulham after his Sarri showdown last month (are we still talking about Kepa?). And I begin to wonder, is the new statistical world we live in beginning to put the avid fan off the beauty of the game – the natural beauty.

Analysis comes from all angles. Gone are the days where this in-depth discussion would be offered via Andy Gray’s ‘hi-tech Subbuteo’ screen post-match. Fast forward twenty years, and that’s Carra & Nev’s job. But add in multiple platforms every day of the week from a range of sources, and we might begin to question if this is all necessary.

Does this add to our enjoyment or merely provide us with meaningless data to boost our following and likes count when thrust into an online debate?

In an ever-changing, ever-evolving sport (magnified by the latest addition – VAR) plenty of fans are left with a degree of scepticism, wondering why we should bother with detailed stats when football managed perfectly well without them for years before.

We have to consider whether there is far more clutter than statistical gems found on our feeds and TV screens

Others are happy to embrace them. Debate is enhanced when someone has a numerical fact to back up a point. Assists, shots, tackles, passes and fouls help us find answers that might not have previously been there.

Interceptions can highlight an impressive reading of the game; conversion rate can help to prove Higuain has better finishing than Cavani; distance covered and sprints by Mesut Ozil let us prove he really is (or isn’t) lazy. Great! But where is the line?

We have to consider whether there is far more clutter than statistical gems found on our feeds and TV screens. Football has not followed the path of other sports, particularly those in America, where in-depth analysis is common practice and much more readily available.

Perhaps we need our statistical analysis to provide deeper revelations that aren’t as vague

In baseball for example, exit of velocity and launch angles are shared to back up the truisms spurted out by pundits and ex-pros.

So instead of showing me why Declan Rice is the best choice for England’s defensive midfield area because he has run 1.8% more Jordan Henderson this season, perhaps we need our statistical analysis to provide deeper revelations that aren’t as vague as the aforementioned.

Yes, Rice may have covered more green stuff, but is he more dynamic on the turn than the Liverpool man? Does he have fresher legs after Champions League weeks? Or frankly, is he just having a better season?

While chats regarding Pogba’s transfer fee or Ozil’s ‘laziness’ will inevitably always be the basis of ‘locker room’ debate (and so it should, we all love a table-tennis styled argument), it is now time for the world of football to bring in more intrinsic, meaningful and relevant data to provide us fans with the insight we deserve.

I am fed up of Ref Watch telling me Salah’s fall wasn’t a yellow card, or hearing Danny Higginbotham’s predicted line-ups for next Saturday’s North London derby.

Fans are more knowledgeable than ever and that brings a higher demand for compelling discussion

Coverage has certainly improved but the quality of analysis has some ground to cover, and we can cite the amount of hours of a week dedicated to football shows as the primary reason for this.

The conventional wisdom of pundits isn’t standing up; fans are more knowledgeable and that brings a higher demand for compelling discussion.

I guess the final question is this: are we willing to read a 2,000 thesis on why our most aggravating player is actually the driving force behind the gaffer’s plans, or would we rather a statistical nugget formed in the shape of 140 characters?

The thirst is there. The audience are receptive to stats; now is the time for data analysis – along with VAR – to be thrust into the modern world of football.

And yes, Sol Bamba really is Cardiff’s top scorer in the Premier League so far with 4 goals (all inside the area, for those starving for stats).

By |2019-03-10T15:17:13+00:00March 10th, 2019|

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