The (occasional) futility of analysis

Let me set my stall. I’m in no way condemning the analysis of football games as a whole. There are countless examples of delicious analysis morsels. But much like scone dough, if you over work it you’re left with a little dollops of rubbish which no amount of cream and jam can rescue.

The two most glaring examples that come to mind are; the Chelsea Vs Barca semi final(s) and the recent Spain Vs Portugal penalty shoot out. In both examples, the margins are so incredibly fine that the entire analysis would have completely changed if the trajectory of a strike was altered by a single inch.

With the Chelsea Vs Barca game, Roberto Di Matteo was lauded as a tactical mastermind for stifling Barca. Sitting deep and packing the box to frustrate, then pouncing on the break to snatch their improbable goals and earn a historic victory. Yet in the two legs Barca had; a penalty hit the post, a shot cleared off the line, and 3 other shots hit the post. If any one of these had actually sneaked in then the game would have drastically changed. Barca would no longer have had to be incredibly attacking, instead they would be quite comfortable stroking the ball around midfield in their own special brand of football masturbation, drawing a Chelsea side now desperate for a goal out from the depths of their box and thus making them more vulnerable to the Barca attacks. Roberto Di Matteo would have been lambasted for his unambitious tactics, portrayed as a man out of his depth and quickly removed from his post. As my girlfriend is fond of saying “the difference a few inches would make”.

The Spain Vs Portugal penalty shoot out is another example of a desperate search for analysis, when good fortune should probably be the main conclusion.

Both teams have their first penalties saved, both score their next two penalties to tie the shootout at 2-2. Ramos slots a cool chip into the net, giving Spain 3 goals from 4 penalties. Bruno Alves steps up, smashing his penalty into the crossbar, achingly close to the perfect penalty. Fabregas steps up for Spains fifth and final penalty, smashing it into the post, which then deflects into the net. This led to Fabregas batting away the praise, lauded as a man cool under pressure who consistently delivers for Spain when they need it most. Bruno Alves had “bottled it”, with doubts cast over Nani’s admittedly bizarre decision of stopping Alves as he reached the penalty box, only to nip in and steal his 12 yard appointment with fate. Ronaldo was also brutally cast as the glory hungry diva, opting (assuming he had any say in the matter) to take the potentially decisive final penalty, instead of taking all 4 of the previous penalties and securing his countries progression to the final.

One man hits the post and his country progress to the final, the other hits the post and sends his country home.

Allow me once more to venture into the realms of the “what if”.

Alves steps up to take his penalty. A fraction of an inch lower, it skims the bottom of the crossbar before straining the net of the top corner, the perfect penalty. Fabregas steps up to take his penalty, a fraction of an inch further to the left it hits the post and deflects wickedly away from the goal. Ronaldo steps up for the final penalty, smashing it home. Ronaldo is a hero, the perfect captain taking the brunt of the pressure away from his team mates and excelling. Fabregas “bottles it”, the pressure “too much for him”. Alves is lauded for shaking off the increased pressure heaped on him by Nani, his emphatic penalty compared to Pirlo’s glorious Panenka for psyching out Fabregas and inspiring victory.

Once again, just one inch the difference between glory and disgrace.

Now clearly it’s a leap to hypothesise these potential glories. Ronaldo could have missed, they all could have missed. It’s just an example of how extensive analysis is not always able to explain the victories or defeats. Sometimes lady luck really is to blame, and perhaps we should all just shut the fuck up every now and then.

by @Miketweetgood

Follow us on twitter @feetballsblog

  1. I understand your point, but two things:

    1) Analysis is still valid in the Chelsea v Barcelona match even though one aspect of Barcelona’s game was poor. Their finishing wasn’t good enough, but it doesn’t take away from the tactics employed by Di Matteo which [probably] gave Chelsea the best chance of winning.

    2) You suggest that we don’t need to analyse the Spain v Portugal penalties because they came down to luck. I’d argue that it’s certainly not luck in the cases of Alves and Fabregas – both had places where they wanted to put their penalties – one got it right and one got it wrong. Maybe a couple of inches difference and we might be talking a different story: but we’re not, because they executed their penalties differently.

    • Yes, Roberto Di Matteo’s tactics certainly gave them the best possible chance. But I would argue that it was good fortune as opposed to good tactics which were the deciding factor. The game was won because of their fortune in scoring goals at the right time, and as you mentioned Barca uncharacteristically not taking advantage of the many opportunities presented to them.
      As for the penalties I have to say I completely disagree. Given that both players hit the post they both incorrectly executed their penalties, so much so that in open play they would not be counted as a shot on target. Perhaps Fabregas’ was “less wrong” than Bruno Alves, but only by an inch. And from 12 yards I believe it is impossible to place your shot with a degree of uncertainty less than an inch, so I feel it was lucky on Fabregas’ behalf, unlucky on Alves’.
      Thanks for reading

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