by Tony Attwood
One of the most extraordinary things about football in England is that we are given a mountain of data and statistics about the game in general and each game in particular, but no one ever says why these statistics are important or even interesting. Meanwhile other statistics (such as one referee’s habit of awarding home wins all the time, and another of hardly overseeing any home wins) are never offered, let alone discussed.
One such set of data, the obvious example in fact, is the ongoing list of transfers most of which (97% or 98%) of which will never happen. And now here’s another irrelevant factor. Possession.
Possession for yesterday’s game: Manchester United 42%, Arsenal 58%. That sounds good. That sounds like Arsenal were on top. That sounds like possession is important.
But the key to realising that something is amiss is that no one in the media ever seems to link possession to any other statistic – like how it relates to winning or losing. The implication is that with possession a club is likely to win and without it likely to lose. It seems obvious.
But therein lies the clue that something is amiss, for when something is “obvious” it normally means it is irrelevant.
In fact, as the difference between a club’s position in the possession table and the actual league table shows, we can have a club that is seven places lower in the league than the possession position suggests. And we can find a league position being eight places higher than possession.
And it is the fact that both of these statements are true that shows how irrelevant possession is. Of course, you can’t score without possession, but dominating possession does not imply a club is going to win.
Yes Manchester City are top of the possession league and second in the actual league table, but Newcastle are 11th in the possession league and third in the actual league table – and it really only took me five seconds to work that out.
So why do the commentators go on and on about possession statistics when they are effectively irrelevant?
I’ll come to that in a moment, but first the data. This table is in the order of overall possession in matches by the “Big Seven” clubs that we are particularly following this season.
Now if you don’t want to get into all the statistics, columns two (league position), three (possession position) and four (difference between league position and possession position) are the key factors. The last three columns are there to show the details of possession.
|Club||League Position||Possession position||Difference||possession overall||Possession home||possession away|
|Man City||2||1||-1||65.6 %||64.7 %||66.4 %|
|Liverpool||9||2||-7||60.3 %||60.0 %||60.6 %|
|Arsenal||1||5||+4||56.5 %||59.0 %||54.0 %|
|Newcastle Utd||3||11||+8||49.1 %||53.7 %||44.4 %|
|Chelsea||10||4||-6||56.9 %||53.6 %||60.1 %|
|Tottenham Ho||5||9||+4||50.3 %||52.0 %||48.5 %|
|Manchester Utd||4||6||+2||51.9 %||50.4 %||53.3 %|
As we can see the league position and the possession position are related, but only very slightly. The difference between the two numbers can be up to eight places either way. Newcastle are third in the league but 11th in the possession chart. Chelsea are 10th in the league but fourth the in the possession chart. Possession is helpful, but not that helpful.
In fact possession has become a very misleading statistic, because the media present it as being meaningful, with the implication that more possession is better (undoubtedly explained through the notion that “of course it is” and “if you don’t have the ball you can’t score”). But it’s not that important.
So why do journalists and reporters keep mentioning possession?
One very possible answer is that they do it to make it sound as if they are informed. Another is to avoid the statistics that they absolutely do not want to have discussed, such as the referee statistics which show that some referees have an enormous home team bias while others are the opposite.
Here’s another set of data that is quite interesting, but not one you will ever see in the media. The top four places for this season were predicted throughout the media, and virtually all the main outlets went with first, Manchester City, second Liverpool, third Chelsea, fourth Tottenham Hots. So let’s see where they are at the moment…
And did those pundits get the sack with their irrelevant gibberish? No of course not.
Indeed none of them has explained how they came to make such wild and whacky predictions. And if you are interested, we predicted Arsenal to be third – and of course we are off line with that, but at least we explained how we did it, based on the progress of the previous two seasons, and the results of the last 35 games of last season.
Ah well, it was ever thus.
Arsenal and the hunt for the title
- After 18 games: Arsenal’s position and the top team’s tally – and the ultimate target
- How are the big seven clubs doing against each other? There are some surprises
- Everton v Arsenal: a happy video, line-up and what the league table will look like after
- Everton v Arsenal: Injuries, points needed for 4th, and Arsenal the first to 100?
- Everton v Arsenal: extraordinary figures seen in the last 6 games table
- Everton v Arsenal: how this referee treats the home and away team
- Everton v Arsenal and the oddity of referee behaviour