With many services like Opta, 2010MisterChip, Infostrada Sports and our very own – OptaBernabeu existing, stats make for crucial pieces for media and the teams alike. It helps in doing analysis of a team’s performance at a later stage, for build up before a game in respect to the two team’s record recently and against each other. Numbers also make for good reference in keeping track of records such as Ronaldo becoming the top goal scorer in a single La Liga season with his 40 goals last season surpassing the records previously set by Hugo Sanchez and Telmo Zarra (38 goals). But, it raises a question. Are all stats relevant?

Many argue that at the end of the day, the only stat that matters is goals scored. While this is the fundamental stat which decides if a team gets 3 points, 1 point or draws a zero but one can argue if the other stats play a role or not in judging a game. In most people’s opinion, possession is a crucial stat which reflects which way the game went. But, does it also say the team with higher possession deserves the win? Do more passes suggest “dominance” of one team? One tweet by OptaJoe after the 1st set of games in the UEFA Champions League said:

1394 – Barcelona (768) & Man City (626) produced the most passes in the CL this week yet neither side managed a win. Futile.

Barcelona here drew 2-2 with AC Milan and Manchester City got a point at Napoli as the game finished 1-1.

Many say Xavi Hernandez is the best passer of the ball and holds the midfield well. Further, he is claimed to make many many passes in a single game, which in fact is true. But another stat reveals, just one in five of Xavi’s passes in La Liga went forward in the 2010/11 season. This stat can be seen in two ways. One, he maintains possession of the ball and doesn’t lose it. Other, it’s not creative or attacking at all! It is all about the interpretation of the stat and to some extent, it matters who is doing the interpretation. A Madridista for example would consider the Xavi stat to be defensive while a Cule would think of it as keeping the ball or playing their usual “tiki-taka” style of football.

Another stat which can be taken as an example of how the game went is “shots on target”. In my personal opinion, this is not the best way of ascertaining how the game went and it’s not a clear cut stat either. The shot could be taken from any distance, it could be a thunderbolt or it could be a tame effort, it could be the right decision to take the shot or it could be the wrong one etc.

Taking Real’s UEFA Champions League game against Zagreb and La Liga game against Getafe as an example here. In the La Liga game (won 4-2) we had 26 shots and 10 were on target. 4 of those were converted into goals, which means accuracy of 40%. In the Champions League game on the other hand, we had 24 shots, 11 on goal and 1 goal scored meaning an accuracy rate of 9%. The shots on target in both scenarios are more or less the same but the conversion of those shots makes a lot of difference. Therefore, the interpretation of the stat changes based upon the rate of accuracy.

Another recent example brought about during Real’s away game to Espanyol. Iker Casillas had made many saves in the game. He was kept on his toes throughout the 90 minutes but if only the stats are read then it produces a different story. He made 3 saves from 15 shots by Espanyol of which 3 were on target. However, if the game in itself was any indication then Casillas was needed on more than three instances as the stat claims.

What do you guys think? How much do stats matter in ascertaining how a game went? Do all stats matter or some do? Which stats matter in your own opinion?

[This post inspired by a conversation between Jose and Sid Lowe on Twitter on 14th September, 2011)