« Six things we (Japan) learned from the 2011 Asian Cup – Part 2 | Main | Ready to go – Part 1: The ACL quartet »

Go figure II – defence vs. attack revisited

18 Feb 2011(Fri)

Two years ago this month, I penned a piece for this column that investigated which of football’s two most fundamental elements – scoring goals, and ensuring that the opponents do not – bore the closest association to points accumulated over a given season in a given national league. The correlation figures generated as a means to this analysis provide interesting evidence with which to apply hindsight to individual years, but when considered collectively, hint toward a hypothesis with deeper, wide-ranging implications. Attack is usually more significant than defence, but when a certain league becomes the dominant force, this trend is reversed.

 

Correlation coefficients (Premier League, England)

1997/98: 0.905, -0.822 Attack most influential

1998/99: 0.827, -0.845 Defence

1999/00: 0.852, -0.806 Attack

2000/01: 0.905, -0.901 Attack

2001/02: 0.911, -0.798 Attack

2002/03: 0.931, -0.833 Attack

2003/04: 0.889, -0.899 Defence

2004/05: 0.837, -0.891 Defence

2005/06: 0.914, -0.914 No difference

2006/07: 0.954, -0.859 Attack

2007/08: 0.879, -0.945 Defence

 

Above is a list of the coefficients representing the positive correlation between goals scored and points achieved, followed by the negative correlation between goals conceded and points achieved, for each of the eleven English Premier League seasons originally surveyed. In very simplistic terms, a correlation coefficient is a statistical measure that gives a figure between -1 and 1, and the closer it is to either extreme, the stronger the relationship between the variables in question. So, for example, a positive correlation of 0.905 in 1997/98 suggests that season’s goals for column had a stronger bearing on league position than goals against, since the negative correlation for the latter was only -0.822.

 

A trend immediately apparent in this list is that while attack translated to points more effectively than defence in five of the six seasons between 1997 and 2003, this was only the case once in the subsequent five seasons to 2008. The turning point corresponds almost perfectly with English football’s ascendancy to relative dominance over the UEFA Champions League – with Manchester United’s 2008 victory over Chelsea in Moscow the culmination of a five-year period in which the Premier League had produced two European champions, three runners-up, and five beaten semi-finalists. Before 2003/04, there had been just one title for United in 1999 and a combined three other semi-final appearances since English clubs had been invited back into the continental fold post-Heysel in 1990.

 

Correlation coefficients (Premier League, England)

2008/09: 0.925, -0.925 No difference

2009/10: 0.895, -0.879 Attack

2010/11: 0.858, -0.808 Attack*

(* 2010/11 figures correct up to and including Fulham vs. Chelsea, 14 February 2011)

 

The reason I felt this topic worth revisiting – he says, 400-odd words in – is that the timing of the previous article in February 2009 now appears to have coincided with a bit of a high water mark, for the time being anyway, in both English and Japanese club football. As it had the previous season, the Premier League provided three of the four UEFA Champions League semi-finalists in spring 2009, but on this occasion, those not eliminated by a domestic rival were accounted for by the magnificent Barcelona side of Pep Guardiola. A year later, only two teams from England made it as far as the last eight – both fell at this hurdle – as the seemingly eternal concept of the ‘Big 4’ suddenly began to disintegrate. Each of its former members (with the possible exception of Arsenal, who nonetheless dropped off the pace for two seasons before bouncing back in style this term) can reminisce fondly about the respective peaks they reached in the latter part of the previous decade but have since slipped from.

 

Pleasingly – for fans of a mathematical hypothesis if not a supposed elite football team – this retrogression is reflected in the correlation coefficients. When Barcelona finally broke the English hegemony in the final season before Cristiano Ronaldo too headed for Spain, there was no longer any difference (to three significant figures) between the influence of the goals for and against columns in the Premier League table. In 2009/10, attack regained its status as the more decisive factor for only the second time since 2003, and this turnaround is further underlined by the mid-season data for 2010/11 so far.

 

Correlation coefficients (J. League, Japan)

2005: 0.807, -0.710 Attack

2006: 0.877, -0.740 Attack

2007: 0.820, -0.795 Attack

2008: 0.667, -0.810 Defence

2009: 0.839, -0.648 Attack

2010: 0.817, -0.776 Attack

 

Though its data range is limited by the less analysis-friendly two-stage season format that persisted until 2004, the J. League has shown near-identical trends in terms of both regional performance and domestic correlations over the past few years. Scoring goals was originally a clearly more effective way of winning points than keeping things tight at the other end, but this tendency became much less significant when Urawa Reds won the AFC Champions League (ACL) in 2007, and was comprehensively reversed the following year as Gamba Osaka romped to Asian glory – beating Urawa in an all-Japanese semi-final. Like England, however, Japan’s clubs have quickly lost their continental superiority, with Nagoya Grampus the only ACL semi-finalist in 2009 and nobody even making it past the round of 16 last year. Over this time, attack has once again replaced defence as the largest contributor to league points.

 

Correlation coefficients (K-League, South Korea)

2007: 0.785, -0.806 Defence

2008: 0.769, -0.749 Attack

2009: 0.834, -0.662 Attack

2010: 0.924, -0.873 Attack

 

So, what of Japan’s biggest rivals, on the opposite side of the sea on whose name they still cannot agree? Unfortunately, the K-League offers the smallest (and thus least reliable) data set of all, with the current single-stage format only in place for the past four seasons and just 14 (to 2008) or 15 teams (to 2010) competing. Over this period, defence was the more significant factor in 2007 alone, before the goals for column took precedence thereafter. South Korean fans could make the case that their league had not yet been knocked off its perch for most of 2007, with Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors entering the year as Asian champions (having overcome compatriots Ulsan Hyundai Horang-i en route, in the last four) and Urawa needing a tense penalty shootout to finally see off Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma in their ACL semi-final that autumn. Two successive continental titles for K-League clubs in 2009 and 2010, however, do not appear to have had much impact on the correlation coefficients above.

 

Perhaps, though, this latter point should bring us back to the word ‘dominant’ within our original hypothesis. When Pohang Steelers won the ACL in 2009, they had been the only remaining Korean side in the last four; ditto Seongnam last year, even though all four K-League representatives had reached the quarter-finals. The East Asian section and Seongnam’s performances in particular certainly made club football in South Korea look superior to Japan, but overall results suggest it would be premature to proclaim a dominant force. This provides a handy explanation for the ‘goals for’ correlation remaining stronger, and is further supported by evidence from Europe.

 

Correlation coefficients (other European leagues, 2009/10)

Germany (Bundesliga 1): 0.861, -0.824 Attack

Italy (Serie A): 0.856, -0.741 Attack

Spain (Primera Liga): 0.941, -0.811 Attack

 

The hegemony of the Premier League may be over, but in an era of few really good European club teams, no one country has yet stepped up to present a clear frontrunner as far as domestic competitions are concerned. As such, attack remains a more significant contributor to points gained than defence in each of the other three leagues to have produced Champions League finalists over the past two seasons (and, indeed, since 2005); just as was the case in the original article two years ago. Of course, the figures may be influenced by the respective styles of football common to each nation, but our hypothesis still comfortably passes the test if we consider the genuinely dominant European leagues of the past few decades.

 

Correlation coefficients (dominant European leagues)

Italy (Serie A) – 2002/03: 0.883, -0.916 Defence

Spain (Primera Liga) – 1999/2000: 0.640, -0.827 Defence

Italy (Serie A) – 1993/94: 0.658, -0.889 Defence

England (First Division) – 1980/81: 0.706, -0.856 Defence

 

Internazionale are the reigning Italian, European, and world champions, but the last time you could argue hands-down that Serie A was the best around was 2002/03, when AC Milan won a last four derby to set up an all-Italian Champions League final with Juventus. Three years earlier, Real Madrid beat Valencia in the first ever final to feature two clubs from the same country, with Barcelona falling to the latter in the semis, and Deportivo La Coruña pipping the lot to clinch their first ever La Liga crown. 1993/94 was perhaps the peak of the Football Italia era, with Fabio Capello’s Milan winning a ridiculously strong Serie A for the third year in a row before demolishing the Barcelona ‘Dream Team’ 4-0 in Athens. Finally, way back in 1980/81, Liverpool secured the fifth in an unprecedented run of six consecutive European Cups for English clubs, with Bobby Robson’s Ipswich Town taking the UEFA Cup for good measure. In all four cases, the goals against column had the greater influence on points accumulated, and often considerably so (even if Milan’s miserly record of just 36 goals scored and 15 conceded over 34 league games in 1993/94 suggests the trend isn’t necessarily conducive to greater entertainment for the neutral).

 

So, what now?

 

Without wishing to recycle the Benjamin Disraeli and Homer Simpson quotes with which I concluded the previous article on this topic, the caveat remains that the sample discussed above is relatively small and thus not necessarily all-telling. But the hypothesis does at least appear to provide quantitative support for a trend, qualitatively evident in events on the pitch over the past few seasons, which has left the positions of ‘dominant’ league in both Europe and Asia very much up for grabs. With the former, periods of domination have been cyclical in the past and it seems reasonable to expect a continuation, but the Asian situation is rather different as countries like Japan and South Korea look to further their impressive development in global terms. As a consequence of rapid improvement at both club and international level, a succession of East Asian players are now transferring to and thriving in higher-profile European climes. It may, therefore, be desirable for the J. and K-Leagues to weaken slightly in the short term in order to reach yet higher levels in future.

 

And if anybody wants to commission a more exhaustive survey of these correlation trends, they know where to find me.

Permalink | Comments (19) | TrackBack (0)

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://app.cocolog-nifty.com/t/trackback/222697/50904630

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Go figure II – defence vs. attack revisited:

Comments

Attractive portion of content. I simply stumbled upon your weblog and in accession capital to assert that I acquire actually enjoyed account your blog posts. Any way I will be subscribing to your feeds or even I success you get admission to constantly rapidly.

Posted by: primewire | 06/27/2014 at 09:05 PM

Wonderful post however I was wondering if you could write a litte more on this topic? I'd be very grateful if you could elaborate a little bit more. Appreciate it!

Posted by: watch movies online for free no download no signup no surveys | 06/28/2014 at 01:18 AM

Hi there, just became alert to your blog through Google, and found that it's really informative. I'm gonna watch out for brussels. I'll be grateful if you continue this in future. Many people will be benefited from your writing. Cheers!

Posted by: free movies online | 07/03/2014 at 07:20 AM

Hi there tօ all, how is everything, I think every onee is getting more from this website, and yоur views are fastіdious inn favor of new viewеrs.

Posted by: http://anitaprezioso.mywapblog.com/istruzioni-1-giocare-pentola-doro-slot-g.xhtml | 07/30/2014 at 10:50 AM

Great article! That is the kind of info that are meant to be shared around the internet. Shame on the seek engines for no longer positioning this post upper! Come on over and consult with my website . Thanks =)

Posted by: minecraft demo | 09/13/2014 at 09:24 PM

Hey ʝust wanted to give you a quicƙ heaԀs upp and lеt you kow a few of the images aren't loading properly. I'm not sure why but I tɦink its a linking issue. I've tried it in tաo different inteernet browsers and both show the same results.

Posted by: dentist Tools | 10/26/2014 at 08:20 PM

Excellent goods from you, man. I have understand your stuff previous to and you are just extremely great. I actually like what you have acquired here, really like what you are saying and the way in which you say it. You make it enjoyable and you still take care of to keep it smart. I cant wait to read far more from you. This is actually a wonderful site.

Posted by: marriage Quotes and unknown authors | 10/29/2014 at 03:15 PM

Heƴ there! I just wanteԁ to aask iff you eveг have any problems with hackers? My laѕt blog (wordpress) was hacked and I ended uρ losing months of hard work duue too no data backup. Do you have any methods to preѵeent hackers?

Posted by: specific gender | 10/31/2014 at 02:21 AM

Hi, of course this article is genuinely good and I have learned lot of things from it about blogging. thanks.

Posted by: Best dating Sites | 11/22/2014 at 01:28 AM

Great info. Lucky me I ran across your blog by chance (stumbleupon). I have saved it for later!

Posted by: best dating sites | 11/24/2014 at 03:14 AM

Hi Dear, are you in fact visiting this web page on a regular basis, if so after that you will without doubt get fastidious experience.

Posted by: best dating sites | 11/25/2014 at 04:16 AM

I've been exploring for a little bit for any high-quality articles or blog posts on this kind of area . Exploring in Yahoo I ultimately stumbled upon this website. Studying this info So i am glad to convey that I've an incredibly good uncanny feeling I discovered exactly what I needed. I so much without a doubt will make sure to don?t omit this site and provides it a look regularly.

Posted by: best dating sites | 01/09/2015 at 05:39 AM

Information about a number of the websites to look at full movies on-line free is provided hereunder on your steering.

Posted by: Best Of Disney Full Movies | 05/26/2015 at 01:25 PM

Woah! I'm really digging the template/theme of this site. It's simple, yet effective. A lot of times it's very difficult to get that "perfect balance" between usability and visual appeal. I must say that you've done a excellent job with this. In addition, the blog loads super quick for me on Chrome. Excellent Blog!

Posted by: Marlon | 06/14/2015 at 12:53 AM

We're a group of volunteers and opening a new scheme in our community. Your site provided us with valuable info to work on. You've done an impressive job and our entire community will be thankful to you.

Posted by: Marylyn | 07/29/2015 at 11:17 PM

fantastic points altogether, you simply gained a new reader. What would you recommend in regards to your publish that you just made a few days ago? Any positive?

Posted by: The Necklace Owl | 08/06/2015 at 05:21 AM

I know this if off topic but I'm looking into starting my own blog and was curious what all is needed to get set up? I'm assuming having a blog like yours would cost a pretty penny? I'm not very web savvy so I'm not 100% certain. Any suggestions or advice would be greatly appreciated. Kudos

Posted by: hair loss treatments | 08/14/2015 at 09:13 PM

Howdy just wanted to give you a quick heads up and let you know a few of the images aren't loading properly. I'm not sure why but I think its a linking issue. I've tried it in two different internet browsers and both show the same outcome.

Posted by: Alyce | 08/15/2015 at 07:34 PM

Superb site you have here but I was curious about if you knew of any message boards that cover the same topics talked about here? I'd really love to be a part of online community where I can get feed-back from other experienced people that share the same interest. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. Kudos!

Posted by: Glenda | 10/08/2015 at 09:45 PM

Post a comment