Stats as Signposts & Scottish Premiership Chance Creation Maps
“I just don’t buy it,”
One Scottish football pundit was about to go “on one” at me.
“First it was corners, then it was possession…now it’s something or another. At the end of the day stats don’t win matches: footballers do.”
One of the most common criticisms when writing about stats in football is precisely that. At its most basic level, the result will be decided by the abilities of the twenty two men on the field. You can’t just do a fancy sum and “solve” football.
But that’s not really why we’re here.
Stats and analysis are designed to help make things that wee bit clearer, not fix them forever.
Your car’s dashboard isn’t going to drive you to your office in the morning. Nevertheless, it’s still useful to know what speed you’re going at, whether you need to refuel or if you’ve got a flat tyre.
There will be days where you hit every red light going. You still run the risk of someone smashing into the back of you. Shit happens and you can’t win all the time.
Yet with better information, you can consistently make your life a bit easier.
It doesn’t just apply to driving. Whether finance or fitness, holidays or housework, it generally pays to be in the know. Of course, this applies to football too.
One area which I think is a quick win for football analysis is knowing how your opponent is going to try to score goals.
On a basic level, anyone with a computer can find out that if their team is playing against Kilmarnock this weekend, they should watch out for Kris Boyd because he was the league’s top scorer last season.
But what does “watch out” for him mean?
Does he score headers? Does he try and get in behind defences? Is he only their top scorer because he takes all the penalties?
I can’t tell you the answers to all of that with a stat.
However, going back to the aim of analysis in football to make things a wee bit clearer, I can show you where Killie want to create from. If we know that, we might be able to figure out a plan to stop Boyd from scoring.
With that in mind, here’s a heatmap showing the locations Killie passed the ball from before one of their players took a shot.
With heatmaps, there’s more activity when the shade’s darker.
As you can see here, Killie’s attack is mostly down their right hand channel. While there’s also a decent amount of activity centrally, it appears as though Steve Clarke’s side will try to get the ball onto the touchline on the right hand side.
Sure enough, when we look at who’s providing the most chances for Kilmarnock, it’s right back Stephen O’Donnell who comes out top:
Combining this knowledge with the heatmap used earlier, we can now see that a lot of Kilmarnock’s activity will come down their right side with O’Donnell pushing up to swing the ball into the box.
The next stage would be to identify how O’Donnell receives the ball in this area of the pitch, and whether or not his runs forward leave Killie exposed down the back. Or you could consider what other attacks Kilmarnock might try if they can’t get the ball to O’Donnell.
There’s always going to be more questions, and you can really go however far down the rabbit hole you want.
However, for now I’ll leave you with every chance creation heatmap for every Scottish Premiership side last season. Does this look familiar? Or does it reveal a weakness in your team you might not have previously considered?
If you have any questions about these maps, please don't hesitate to let me know!