Stats. They’re everywhere. It’s become an epidemic in modern football where there seems to be a stat for just about anything you can think of relating to the beautiful game. I’m sure I’m not the only person who is getting a little tired of it either.
People seem to rarely have opinions anymore, and everything is just broken down into stats and numbers now instead. If you ever dare announce that you thought a certain player had a poor game, you will invariably be met with someone armed with a bunch of numbers to prove you wrong.
Maybe it’s stuff like Fantasy Football that has made us so stat crazy. Fantasy Football doesn’t really care if a player plays well or not, he could do nothing all game but so long as he gets an assist then his stats will look good. Games like Fantasy Football and Football Manager just break the game down into a bunch of numbers; numbers that only reward a certain type of player.
Or maybe it’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi’s fault? Those two freaks keep racking up such incredible numbers each season, and now we’ve forgotten how to quantify any other player by any other means other than how many times he scores a goal.
A lot has been made of Gareth Bale and his struggles at Real Madrid this season. A lot of people feel he has been underperforming, especially in the bigger games, and he is being booed, chastised and vilified by his own fans. In contrast to him, someone who hasn’t been struggling this year is Eden Hazard; winning the league with Chelsea and scooping the PFA Player of the Year award in the process. Two players having completely contrasting seasons; but it’s all about your perspective.
The recent buzz on social media has been to compare the stats of Bale having a bad season, to the stats of Hazard having the best season of his career. The stats would show that they are having very similar seasons. In all competitions, Bale has played 48 games, scoring 17 goals and racking up 12 assists. Again in all competitions, Hazard has played 51 times, scoring 19 goals, coupled with 17 assists. So what’s the problem?
Well, as is normally the case, stats can be misleading and they don’t always tell the full story. For a start, Real Madrid and Chelsea don’t play the same style of football. Chelsea play a more conservative, pragmatic style, which can be just as much about stifling the opposition as it is overwhelming them. Real Madrid on the other hand are much more attack minded, as they look to pummel teams from every angle, and often just forget about defending at all.
Lets, ironically, use some stats to back that up, and hopefully paint a fuller picture: both Chelsea and Real Madrid played 38 games in their domestic leagues this season; but Chelsea only scored 73 goals to Real Madrid’s 118. Chelsea also play in a more competitive league – sure La Liga might be more top heavy with their better sides, but from top to bottom, the Premier League is more competitive – Madrid routinely smash other teams, while Chelsea will have more narrow victories. Case in point; Read Madrid scored 3 or more goals in 21 league fixtures this season, compared to Chelsea scoring 3 or more in just 10 games. Of those games, Real Madrid’s winning margin was 3 or more goals in 17 games to Chelsea’s mere 4 games. Madrid scored 5 or more goals in 7 games this season, while Chelsea scored 5 or more goals just twice this season. You can hopefully see the picture I’m painting here.
Another point to consider about Chelsea often deploying negative tactics, is that sometimes Hazard might be the only real creative outlet in the side, and the burden falls to him to provide something special and win his side the game. This is never the case for Bale. He is in a side overflowing with attacking talent, be it Benzema, James, Isco or that other fella; Ronaldo. Basically, my point is an attacker in a free scoring side is going to have better looking stats compared to an attacker in a defensive side.
As illustrated above, stats don’t always tell the full story. The can provide an extra bit of weight to an argument, but they should only ever be a side dish, and not the meat of the meal. The Bale v Hazard stats looked very similar at first glance, but the stats don’t take any other variables into consideration, like the different leagues, styles of play etc.
Sometimes it doesn’t matter if a player has covered 13km, got a passed completion rate of 91% and even has an assist. The 13km could have been run in ineffective areas, the completed passed might have been safe, unadventurous, 5 yard square balls, and the assist might have been completely accidental when he scuffed a shot inadvertently into someone elses path. Sometimes you don’t need stats; sometimes you can just use your eyes, absorb the game and make a judgement for yourself.