One area that has seen significant development in recent times in football is the investigation around chance creation. This is a phenomenon we have explored in our analysis of high ball possession, but we want to take this even further by looking in more detail at the different ways in which chances are created. Does there seem to be a trend in how teams create their opportunities? Is it possible to identify specific team dynamics in which certain players’ relationships lead to a greater number of chances? If all of this could be packaged, analysed and presented in a clear way, would that open an opportunity for clubs to study their own and other teams’ strengths/weaknesses and enable them to tailor their tactics accordingly?
Our focus has recently migrated to Major League Soccer (MLS), based on its growth in the American sports landscape and due to the fact that data and analysis is embraced in the States. Over the last decade, LA Galaxy have received significant media attention in Europe. This could be attributed to several factors, but the most obvious catalyst was in 2007 when David Beckham signed for the Los Angeles side after leaving Real Madrid.
From this point, the level of investment into the club grew exponentially, and they enjoyed a number of successful years. However, in the last three seasons the story has been less positive, with the team either struggling to reach the play-offs or suffering elimination in the early stages. This overall decline may have played a part in the decisions of two of the club’s star players – Robbie Keane and Steven Gerrard – to part ways with the club. The team suffered another blow when their head coach, Bruce Arena, was announced as the successor to Jürgen Klinsmann as the USA national team coach.
So what happened on the pitch last season? Are there any apparent reasons why LA Galaxy didn’t click? Let’s dive into the data around chance creation to see if we can find some explanations.
Before we get started, it’s important to note that there are a few restrictions in this analysis. Firstly, we have only looked at LA Galaxy’s regular season (2016) games, so the data does not include the three play-off matches they participated in. Secondly, when referring to chances, we only account for successful cases consisting of any play inside the danger zone (including shots, passes and headers around the attacking third) that constitute a threat. However, when we graph or refer to the number of actions* when attacking, we have included the complete chain whether the attempt was a successful chance or not.
*An ‘action’ is any movement in the build up to a chance e.g. passes, dummies, shots.
To explain the visualisations, the first graph is a stacked bar graph illustrating the proportion and type of chance created at different stages in the game. The line graph within displays the proportion of the total number of chances for each time period in the game (broken down into 15 minute bands). The second graph follows a similar structure but looks at the average number of actions before a chance was created. This is split by the team’s game status at the time (Winning/Drawing/Losing). Graphs three, four and five build on this and illustrate the average number of actions for LA Galaxy and their opponents, depending on the state of the match (split by full game, first and second half.) These are visualised in bar graphs to enable an understanding of performance. With this information, managers (or opponents) could strengthen play in the existing patterns, or look at developing their team in attacking at certain stages of the match.
The final graph splits out the top 10 players in LA Galaxy, identifying the resulting action of the chances they were presented with over the whole of the regular season. Again, the proportions are displayed within, with the total number of chances for each player found at the top of each graph. This provides a clear visualisation for managers to identify the type of chances that were most common with each player. Using this, they could work on specific tactics to ensure individual players are in their optimum positions for goal scoring.
Let’s see what the stats say...
Looking at the graph above, we can see that there is an upward trend in the proportion of chances as LA Galaxy’s matches progress, ranging between 14.0% and 18.8%. We can also see that the time bands 31-45+ and 76-90+ see the highest proportion of chances created. It’s worth pointing out that whilst the graph suggests that more chances are created towards the end of each half, the data includes injury time for each half and this inflates the measure slightly for these time bands. When looking at particular chances, we can see that right-footed shots outside the box follow a fairly constant proportion throughout the series. However, the right footed shots inside of the box see a distinct increase towards the end of the game, with peaks in 61-75 and 76-90+ minutes – representing 5.3% and 4.5% of the total chances created. In terms of left footed shots inside of the box, the graph illustrate that their frequency was highest towards the end of each half, with a total proportion of 5.0% in 31-45+ minutes and 3.9% between 76-90+ minutes.
We now move on to the next graph, which shows the number of actions that led to a chance:
The amount of actions leading to an opportunity peaks between 61-75 minutes, followed by 31-45+. When La Galaxy are losing, the peak is again between 61-75 minutes, at an average of 11.9 actions; this would indicate that the team have to keep the ball and work it around their opponents, who are most likely sitting deep and trying to hold on to the game. When LA Galaxy are winning, the average number of actions leading to a chance seems to fluctuate throughout the game, with the lowest average sitting at the end of the game at 6.0 actions, followed by the very first 15 minutes at 7.3. When the game is tied, the results tell us that the most number of actions (an average of 14.6) are taken before a chance towards the end of the first half, indicating a conservative approach to play before the break. But how does the bigger picture look? And how does this compare to LA Galaxy’s opponents?
This graph provides an even more powerful observation when looking at the game as a whole, as we can see that LA Galaxy are far more patient in their play when the game is even. Here they require an average of 11.3 actions in the lead up to a chance, compared to 9.9 when they are winning and 10.2 when losing the game. The trend follows a similar pattern for their opponents, especially when they are losing and likely to use a more urgent and direct style to level the game.
So, how does this compare when we split the data into first and second half?
When breaking down the two halves, it is clear that LA Galaxy have the lowest number of actions prior to a chance when losing in the first half, with an average of 8.4. In contrast to this, they require the highest average number of actions in the second half when losing the game at 10.9. They show the opposite trend when winning the game, which suggests that the team is more comfortable in playing a direct style early on in the game when losing, or in later stages if they are in front. LA Galaxy’s opposing teams seem to have a clear trend of fewer actions when losing the game, regardless of if it being the first or the second half, with an average of 8.1 in the former and 9.4 in the latter. Yet again, they have the highest number of actions before a chance when the score is tied.
With this in mind, the next graph delves deeper and looks at the resulting event when chances fell to specific players:
We can see that Dos Santos was identified as having a successful chance on 62 occasions, and a large percentage of these he took as left footed shots outside the box at 40.3%, followed by left footed shots inside the box at 27.4%. Further down the graph, we find that Robbie Keane had the second highest number of chances, with roughly 1/4 of his chances coming from headers inside the box and left footed shots inside the box. Interestingly, Keane had roughly half as many chances as Dos Santos and doesn’t seem to have the same obvious preferred way of finishing. Right behind Keane we find Magee, who took 41.2% of his chances from right footed shots inside the box, followed by left footed shots inside the box at 38.2%. Another interesting player in this graph is Gerrard, who sits in fourth place; he took 48.5% of his chances through right-footed shots outside the box, and 36.4% inside the box, adding up to 84.9% of all of his chances. Interestingly Dos Santos, Keane and Gerrard all are designated players and are expected to contribute to the majority of chances and goals. This is something we will look closer at in a separate study.
A final observation from this graph is that a significant amount of Gordon and Van Damme’s chances were from headers inside of the box at 62.5% and 47.6% each. When we consider that both payers are almost 6’ 3”, this stat becomes less surprising. However, this is a useful take out for managers who could use this knowledge when chasing a win with tactics revolving around this height advantage.
We have looked at chance creation for LA Galaxy during their last MLS campaign (regular season 2016). LA Galaxy tend to gradually work their way into games, creating a greater number of chances as the match progresses, as displayed by the upward trend in the first graph. From our analysis, we can deduce that the team adopts a more direct style of football when either winning or losing a game, as they record fewer actions in their development play compared to scenarios where a match is tied. When looking at opposing teams to LA Galaxy, the trend is even more significant as they require a lower number of actions before a chance when either winning or losing the game. We have briefly touched on LA Galaxy’s designated players and their importance for the team. The extensive dataset at our fingertips will allow us further investigations into this, so stay tuned for more in-depth analysis coming soon.
The Stats Zone provides bespoke services for some of the leading teams, associations and confederations in world football. This analysis on the LA Galaxy was part of an internal study and not used in a commercial sense. Please do not hesitate to get in touch with us through our ‘Contact’ page - http://www.thestatszone.com/contact if you would like to discuss any bespoke research projects for your organisation.