It seems hard to believe but there once was a time when football fans just watched the game waiting to discover if their team would emerge victorious. There were no stats to speak of beyond games won, lost or drawn, points accrued and goals for and against.
But today we’re positively drowning in stats from the number of assists and the distance covered in the course of the match by a player to the records of when the two teams have met in the past. This situation has developed as technology and computing power has become more sophisticated and now supplies not only a great deal of information for commentators to spice up their descriptions, it also provides sound statistical evidence both for teams to assess their players to help fans predict the outcome of a match.
But, as Benjamin Disraeli once famously said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” While we’re not quite as cynical as the then Prime Minister, it is true that statistics need to be regarded with caution as well as being taken in context.
Prepare for surprises
After all stats might give us a good indication but they’re never going to provide the full picture. There are many other elements to consider too, including many of that are far less objective than the data we’ve been given. Plus there’s also the key fact that stats only tell us about what’s happened in the past and, as anyone will tell you, past performance is no guarantee of future success.
For example, no-one could have predicted that Leicester City could have achieved the seemingly impossible in winning the Premier League in 2016 having been quoted at 5000-1 at the start of the season. Equally, they were very near the relegation zone only a few months later.
This is just one example of why using stats to help us make our football betting decisions is not universally accepted as being the wisest course of action. It’s also true that stats are limited as they will never tell us everything that we need to know so they can’t be relied upon without question. But as long as you acknowledge these limitations and use stats along with other considerations then they can definitely be of some use.
We’ve already said that the value of stats is a contentious area so your first decision will be whether to use them, but once you consider all the advantages it’s very likely that you should.
Enhancing the spectating experience
The most obvious of these is that they all stats are driven by real and quantifiable information that really isn’t open to debate and which can even make spectating an even more enjoyable experience. For example, the fact that last season’s top scorer in the Premier League was Mohamed Salah is a fact, as is that 60% of his shots were on target. So he can be directly compared with Alexis Sanchez who scored 9 goals to Salah’s 32 and already we’re getting an indication of who to bet on to be next season’s top scorer.
And it’s not just strengths that stats can help us with either. They can be equally good predictors of weaknesses too so this is a big help when it comes to assessing the overall quality of a team and starting to predict just how well they’ll perform over a match or even a season if we’re looking to make a longer term bet.
Using stats is an equally useful way to compare the relative quality of teams in order to make more informed predictions about how they will fare when they come up against each other in a match. But, as we’ve said, stats alone can be more than a little misleading and this is particularly true when we take it down to the individual player.
For example, how they perform is always going to be influenced by the other players in the team. After all, a striker is generally only as good as the midfielders who are providing the support that they’ll need if they’re going to be as effective as they could be in the penalty area. So even the most devastating goal scorer on paper can be found wanting if he’s not surrounded with the team-mates he needs to perform to his full potential.
Context is everything
This sort of context also matters for team stats too. Imagine we’re playing the eighth game of a season and two teams are about to meet. From the stats alone, the home team is leading their visitors in every single stat for the season so far. On paper it’s an open and shut case. The home team is definitely going to out-perform their opponents, or are they?
But the home team have a lot of new players for the season, a new manager and their leading goal scorer is suspended for the game. They’ve also had to play three matches in the last couple of weeks including a game in France midweek. The visitors, on the other hand, have a manager who’s been in place for years, last played a week ago and have their very best eleven available to play.
So can we still say that the home team is still going to win? The stats say we can, but the context surrounding those stats suggests the outcome could be far from what we are expecting. But it’s only when they actually play that the answer will be revealed.
It’s also important to consider that the richer the data that has gone into building up the stats, the more meaningful they will be. So the longer the period over which the facts have been collected, the better and the more accurate they will be in terms of being able to predict the future.
To sum up then, definitely use stats to help you decide how you’re going to bet, but use them with caution. Because if they really were infallible then we’d be able to predict every outcome of every match – and that would deny a lot of people a great deal of enjoyment every week of the season!