A central defender steps up, cutting off a potential pass to a forward. His partner lets his mark float free, and after the ball is passed, must close down, tackling the ball away. It skits away, and is picked up by a winger, who makes a run and whips in a cross. The defender who made the earlier tackle has sprinted back. He flies in and desperately heads it away, conceding a corner.
The superior defender would seem to us to be the first, who aborted an offensive chance before it got going, and wasted none of his energy doing so. Statistics would show that his teammate made a successful tackle and a successful defensive header. Football is the beautiful game that defies logical explanation. It’s always been statistics-resistant. Until now.
Football author Simon Kuper writes in the Financial Times about the evolution of a statistical revolution taking place in soccer similar to the one that swept baseball early in the 21st century. From the first awkward steps, tracking basics like shots, passes, and tackles, and decisions based upon those statistics (Sir Alex Ferguson sold Jaap Stam because he was looking at the wrong numbers), the science of boiling down soccer to its most basic actions has become a huge growth industry among the top clubs all searching for the competitive edge that will give them an edge over their rivals. For example, apparently Chelsea are now able to crunch 32 million data points from over 13,000 matches.
Read the full article for some great anecdotes about the spread of statistical analysis in soccer.