A question I've been pondering

Well, it's hard to concentrate on the early stages of this season of The Beautiful Game while baseball is having such a wondrous theatrical feature unfold in its American League Championship Series (and a pretty good National League Championship Series that nobody is paying attention to because the ALCS has been so amazing), but a quick note on what I've been thinking about lately.

Oh, quick aside before I do: no match report this time, but that Aston Villa game was just magnificent. They're a damn good side, and the Arsenal just steamrolled them. Man of the Match was definitely Stefan Postma (and his riduclous mullet), though.

Anyway, having read halfway through Basketball on Paper, I've been pondering several questions about how some of those concepts can relate to soccer. It's probably impossible to get into as complex of an analysis as you can get with baseball (and even basketball) -- the game is so fast, there's 22 people to keep track of, there's so many facets to the game. And, most frustratingly of all, there is almost nowhere to get decent stats of games...nothing beyond shots and fouls and yellow cards, anyway. Of course, even detailed stats are likely amazingly useless in this setting...if a team passes at 75% efficiency, how many of those are little square passes to the guy next to them? But, then again, how often is that the best option, and the most effective use of the ball? If a team turns the ball over X amount of times, how many are because the ball-carrier made an error, and how many because the defender(s) made a great play?

On top of that, soccer statistics would have to incorporate a ton of subjective opinion in order to be useful at all. What constitutes a good pass? A good cross? A good save? A good shot? A good tackle? A bad yellow card? In Basketball on Paper, Dean Oliver introduces the idea of altering statistics somewhat to include the fact that for Player A, a "good pass" is different than for Player B. For example, Robert Pires putting a 30-yard long ball on Thierry Henry's foot is a good pass. But, if Kolo Toure is being pressured by the opposing forward, and he manages to get the ball safely over to Sol Campbell (who then clears the ball), you have to describe that as a good pass. But, if Super Rob is pressured by someone and takes that safe option, that has to be the minimum acceptable usage of the ball for him.

Perhaps even more interestingly, what makes a winning soccer team? Teamwork? Passing? Great goalkeeping? A 25-to-30 goal scorer? A fearsome backline? Depth on the bench? I want to start digging into these questions, but I admit to not really knowing where to start. But, as noted already, it is something I'm pondering. If I could come up with some kind of system of culling useful statistics out of what happens on the field, I may even make myself learn how to work standard deviations and variances and all that shit to start getting answers. And, Statistics was the luckiest C- I ever got.


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