Predictability in the Hyundai ‘A’ League

I have been analysing how goals are scored for a few years and the similarities in certain aspects of football are there year after year, which makes football quite predictable.  In most leagues there are between 2 and almost 3 goals per match. In the Hyundai ‘A’ League in 2011-12 there were 375 goals, which is an average of 2.8 goals per game. In 2014-15 there was a total of 401 goals making an average of 2.97 to be precise. In 2015-16 after 21 rounds the average for goals per game is 3.08, slightly higher than last year.

The percentage of goals scored in Open Play and from Set Plays does not differ much either. In 2011-12, 72% were scored in Open Play leaving 28% from Set Plays, including penalties. In 2014-15, 71% were scored in Open Play and this season so far the figure is at 72%.

In 2011-12 the number of goals scored inside the penalty area in Open Play was 85%, in 2014-15 it was 87% and after 21 rounds the figure this season is 88%.

The percentage of goals from headers in Open Play was 15% and 9% in the two seasons mentioned and is currently 10% this season. Although there are twice as many goals scored in Open Play compared with Set Plays the percentage of goals scored with headers from Set Plays is much higher: 30% in 2011-12, 23% in 2014-15 and this season the figure is at 30%.

The percentage of goals scored with one touch in 2011-12 was 63%; it was 58% in 2014-15 and is currently at 57% in 2015-16.

While these figures may be interesting I do not think they will necessarily influence how you might train or play in the future apart from the importance of practising goal scoring inside the penalty area. However information of a strategic nature might change your thinking, which is why I have gone down this pathway to research the events preceding goals.  If we know that between 80% and 90% of goals are regularly scored inside the penalty area then how you get the ball into the penalty area should be of particular interest. Other topics such as where possessions are regained that lead to the majority of goals and the number of passes preceding goals may influence how you play in the future and may even influence the type of players you recruit.

Scoring Methods

In the seasons I have analysed, the majority of goals in Open Play have been scored from passing the ball behind the opposing defence, compared with any other method or from crosses. In the three seasons mentioned the figures for scoring by passing the ball behind opponents were 42%, 45% and 54% (after 21 rounds this season), while goals from any other methods apart from crosses were 37%, 41% and 35%. The percentage of goals from crosses ranked third with figures of 21%, 14% and 10% this season. We all have different opinions about what constitutes a cross; my definition is a pass from outside and to the side of the penalty area, which is within a distance of 20 yards from the goal line.

Regained Possessions

The majority of goals have come from regained possessions in the middle third of the field; 48% in 2011-12, 45% in 2014-15 and so far in 2015-16 the figure is at 50%. Remarkable similarities. These figures might need further analysis to identify how many regained possessions were from free kicks, throw-ins, and long balls or from trying to play through the opposing midfield. One should not assume that all regained possessions are from trying to play through the opposition but obviously some will be. Further investigation might identify specific reasons that could be addressed to improve the success rate of playing through midfield or highlight certain situations when opposing teams are highly vulnerable to losing the ball; for example when midfield players receive the ball with their back to goal.

Goals and Passing Sequences

Another interesting fact is the high number of goals from 5 passes or less compared with goals from 6 passes or more. The percentage of goals in Open Play from 5 passes or less was 75% in 2011-12, 77% in 2014-15 and the figure is currently at 81% after 21 rounds in 2015-16. The message is quite clear from these figures: attack as quickly as possible when the opportunity presents itself or in other words when the opposition are vulnerable, which is usually just as possession is lost.

An assumption could be that goals from regained possessions in the Defending Third account for most of the goals from longer passing sequences. In 2011-12 there were
66 goals from regained possessions in the Defending Third, 34 (52%) were scored with sequences of 6 or more passes, but in 2014-15 there were 62% from 5 passes or less and so far this season the figure is at 80%.  These figures suggest that coaches in the ‘A’ have learned that moving the ball forwards quickly when the opportunity arises is paramount because playing slowly and allowing the opposition time to re-group just makes the task more difficult. I think it would be safe to say that all teams play a possession-based style of football but the majority of goals have not come from long passing sequences. It is possible that some teams attempt to play quickly in transition more often than other teams but I do not have any evidence to support that point of view.

Comparing Results

Analysing the patterns of goal scoring for all teams in the competition provides interesting data, which can also be compared with the teams at the top. After 21 rounds in the league the average figure for goals from 5 passes or less was 81%, while Brisbane and WSW had scored 85% and 90% respectively. The average for goals from passing the ball behind the opposing defence was 54%, while Brisbane recorded 58% and WSW recorded 53%.

Analysis always leads to more questions about what happened and the next question to be answered would be, ‘Where on the field were the passes made that lead to the goals being scored and which area produced the most goals? That information might influence how you train and prepare your team.

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