Assessing Tactics Statistically

As a statto whose tactical knowledge is rather limited, I find the task of trying to assess which manager in a match had the better of the tactical war a fascinating subject.

I will always rely on the key match numbers to try to determine who dominated a game irrespective of the result, but who do you award the tactical match up to, when such things come down to opinion rather than fact?

No less a tactical authority than Jonathan Wilson recently wrote in The Guardian (here) about trying to quantify who wins the tactical battle, and the difficulties in doing so:

Quantifying that is almost impossible, but perhaps, given the infrequency of goals, the best way of assessing match dominance is chance creation… imagine a match in which Team A would be expected to create 20 chances and Team B 10. If Team B’s manager can shift that to, say, 14-8, he has done a good job, whether or not his side wins the game or not.

That approach seems sound to me, so let’s look at some evidence; the following figures are taken from Liverpool’s last match, which was a 2-2 draw at Anfield with Chelsea. I’ve also included shots on target, as they obviously have a massive impact upon winning football matches, without being as definitive as goals.

LFC v CFC Stats

The Reds performed comfortably above their season averages (and against a very difficult opponent too) on all three aspects, whilst Chelsea were approximately half as potent in terms of chance creation, and at par for shots on target. It’s also important to note that the Blues created no clear-cut chances themselves (as their one such opportunity was the penalty that Suárez gifted them) too.

In fact, it’s hard to give Chelsea any tactical credit for either of their goals, as Liverpool were hugely culpable on both of them; this pictorial explanation of where the Reds went wrong on the opening goal is hugely informative.

As a fan who wants Brendan Rodgers to continue as Liverpool manager next season (and this article explains why), I realise it probably looks like I selected this match to prove a point here, but the idea for the article came about whilst discussing the match online in the aftermath of it (and for a break from the Luis Suárez hullabaloo too).

In fairness, an argument could certainly be made that Chelsea went to Anfield looking primarily for a draw, and so to be within seconds of a win shows that perhaps Rafa Benitez won the tactical battle.

For instance, in the final forty-eight minutes of the match (including the lengthy stoppage time period) the Blues had just three shots, one of which was the penalty.  Chelsea were ahead for most of this period, and leading teams usually shoot less than the team chasing the game, but it does suggest that containing the Reds was more important to them, rather than using attack as a form of defence.

But at the same time, if their main intention was to keep Liverpool out, can Chelsea be said to have succeeded when the Reds carved out so many top quality opportunities?

Liverpool’s tally of five clear-cut chances was remarkable considering the calibre of opponent; the Reds have only created more against Sunderland, QPR and Swansea this season, and only created five in total from their four home games with the pairs of clubs from Manchester and north London; last season’s top four, in other words.

I realise this post has perhaps asked more questions than it has provided answers, but hopefully it might have added something to the tactical debate at least, and I never thought I would be capable of that!

Statistics sourced from EPLIndexPlease check out my other articles, and follow me on Twitter or via Facebook. Thanks.

3 thoughts on “Assessing Tactics Statistically

  1. Pingback: 2013 Review (and a Thank You!) | Bass Tuned To Red

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