Why Scoreboard Journalism? Can you lose by four and be unlucky?

So, Co Adriaanse’s phrase sums up the phenomenon of luck in a single match beautifully for me. We’ve all seen plenty of matches in which luck played a major part in the final result. Simply put, the best team doesn’t necessarily win which is one of the factors in making the sport a worldwide success. However, is it really possible for a four goal defeat to have been unlucky for the losers?

One of the two biggest aims of this blog is to investigate that very question and others like it. The second is, as I said in my initial post, to introduce the Eredivisie to a wider audience. I hope those two goals can sit comfortably next to one another.I will also tweet more about the Eredivisie in general to as an accompaniment to this blog (follow me at @simongleave).

The role of luck and the process of regression to the mean are, in my opinion, the biggest challenge we face in understanding the game of football. If we don’t understand those processes first, we can really forget about the rest. To illustrate this, think about Spain and the way that they have played over recent years. Holding possession of the ball for long periods reduces the role that luck can play against your team because the opposition cannot hurt you without the ball. However, the way Spain play goes a lot further than this and I believe that Vicente Bosque and his coaching staff are primarily attempting to minimise the role of luck against them in their matches. Spain probably do currently have the best team of players but that doesn’t guarantee victory in important one-off matches. I will write more on this in a future blog post and explain how it almost went wrong for them at Euro 2012.

Going back to the match which from which the phrase ‘scoreboard journalism’ originated, a 5-1 home defeat for Co Adriaanse’s AZ in November 2003. Can it really be the case that a club can lose by four goals in a match which they should have won? It is now possible to investigate that.

It is now possible to make a rough assessment of the chance that a goal will be scored – something that Mark Taylor of The Power of Goals has done some excellent work on. To put it very simply, the chance of AZ scoring from the penalty spot with the score at 0-0 was around 75% but the chance of Roda’s opener going in (look at the first video in my previous post) was probably less than 1%. We can assess all of AZ’s goalscoring chances and those of Roda’s to produce an expected number of goals for each club and thus an expected score. I am not going to do that here, not least because the shot data wasn’t collected in those days but I would guess from the highlights in my last post that Adriaanse had a point despite the final scoreline.

If readers of this blog come across any examples of scoreboard journalism, please tweet them to me or put them in the comments here and I will investigate and hopefully be able to make a blog post. However, I am not only interested in analytics. As I said earlier, I would also like to talk about the Eredivisie in a wider sense, one of the most fascinating leagues in the world. Its position at number six in the most supported competitions in the world is fully deserved for a number of reasons including the conveyor belt of talent it produces for other competitions. This will also be the subject of a future article.

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