Alternative league tables: taking leads, repairing matches and holding onto leads

The future of watching football?

While the waves of football’s big data revolution are currently flowing over the top-5 leagues in the world, our beloved Eredivisie still has to do without in-match data of any significance. That is not to say there is no interest to be found in the old-school team stats of shots, score lines and possession, but limiting this blog’s analysis to Dutch football carries the danger of missing out on very interesting developments elsewhere. If only for the sake of keeping up the pace with the rest of the world, let’s just hope that the Eredivisie gets their data sorted out real soon.

That being said, this post will be the first of a planned two-part series that looks at different ways to project the league table. Both ways may not necessarily be a better way of ranking the teams, but offer complementary information that adds to understand why certain teams have obtained more points  than others and it may help to identify potential areas of improvement.

This first post will look at the performance of teams in three different match situations and to prevent low numbers from the still young 2012/13 season, it will display last season’s results


Level scores

First, how successful teams are in obtaining leads, either by scoring the first goal of the game, or by turning a drawn score into a single goal lead. Obviously, at the other end of the spectrum, this stat can inform us how successful teams are in preventing their opponents from grabbing leads.

The table below shows the success rate that team had at level scores. That is, how did teams fare when matches had reached (or started with) a neutral score line. In which fraction of cases did they concede, did the match end in a draw, or did they score a goal. This table gives relative rates, as absolute numbers would be very misleading, since not all teams have encountered equal amounts of level score situations.


Outcomes at level scores (2011/12 Eredivisie)

GD 0 -> -1GD 0 -> FTGD 0 -> 1
PSV Eindhoven0.250.120.63
AZ Alkmaar0.270.160.57
Den Haag0.450.160.39
NAC Breda0.510.150.35
VVV Venlo0.600.080.32

The best  team when it comes to grabbing leads in the 2011/12 season is PSV, who turned 63% of level score situations into a single goal lead, while conceding goals in only 25% of cases. Slightly behind them, Ajax, AZ, Feyenoord and  Heerenveen follow, while Twente are shown to struggle a bit here.

At the lower end of the table, Excelsior sticks out, with only 21% of level scores turned into leads.


One goal down

Another interesting score line to look at would be the one goal down situation. How often did teams succeed in repairing those situations?


Outcomes at GD -1 (2011/12 Eredivisie)

GD -1 -> -2GD -1 -> FTGD -1 -> 0
AZ Alkmaar0.290.210.50
PSV Eindhoven0.530.070.40
NAC Breda0.380.260.35
VVV Venlo0.640.090.27
Den Haag0.630.210.17

We can see that Ajax was the best team in terms of repairing matches. After going a goal down, they recovered in 58% of cases. This number is closely followed by Feyenoord, but their pattern signifies a different, perhaps more cautious approach. It seems that Ajax took a bit more risk trying to repair matches, as they settled for a -1 score line only once, while Feyenoord conceded less second goals, but also ended up repairing a slightly lower fraction of matches.

The difference between PSV and the other top-6 teams is also worth mentioning. PSV repaired matches in only 40% of cases, while all other title pretenders scored significantly better in this regard. In fact, PSV conceded a second goal in 53% of cases, which would rank them only 11th in the Eredivisie in this regard.


Single goal leads

The third and final table will rank teams according to their results after going a goal up. How often did the teams bring these leads home?


Outcomes at single goal leads (2011/12 Eredivisie)

GD 1 -> 0GD 1 -> FTGD 1 -> 2
PSV Eindhoven0.320.160.53
AZ Alkmaar0.320.230.45
Den Haag0.580.050.37
NAC Breda0.450.250.30
VVV Venlo0.350.150.50

This area is where Ajax made the biggest difference with the rest of the pack. In 71% of cases, Ajax succeeded in extending a single goal lead to a two goal margin. This number is only followed at a distance by the other title pretenders, with AZ not even exceeding the 50% mark here.

Being unable to extend leads also seems part of Groningen’s problematic 2011/12 season, as their 26% success rate here is nearly at the bottom end of the table. The best defenders of single goal leads are not necessarily the top ranked teams, as the top-3 in terms of not conceding single goal leads were Roda (16%), Vitesse (19%) and RKC (20%).


In the end

This post introduced another interesting metric. These table break team performances down according to different match stats. Are teams able to grab enough leads? Do they bring these leads home? And do they repair situation where they did go a goal down? Three important aspects to judge their game on, and three match situations that require different skills and different tactical approaches.

Obviously, different score lines are infrequent events, so an interim analysis over the current season would suffer from very low numbers here and there. So far, Twente have a perfect score, converting all three level score situations in leads and extending those leads in two out of three cases. NAC and Roda are the only teams to have conceded every level score situation into a goal conceded. Both repaired only one out of three instances of being a goal down. To be continued…

A solution toward the low number problem might be to use shot numbers, or total shot rates as proxy for goal scored. Shot are about nine times as frequent as goals, so total shot rates at different match situation sound like a perfect solution here. But unfortunately, going back to the opening statement, such a level of detail in match data isn’t available in the Eredivisie (yet)…

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