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Studies of Many Impossible Things

Studies: Welcome

Friday 6th August 2021

O N E   F O O T   F O R W A R D

The surprisingly difficult task of managing a penalty shoot out.

A penalty shoot out should be easy to manage. One goalkeeper, one shooter. One referee to watch the kicker, one assistant to make sure the keeper stands where he should. And now there is VAR too.

So why do so many, extremely important, shoot outs allow goalkeepers to pretty much do what they want?

This lack of observance of the laws of the game reached a zenith at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, where seven of the eleven saves should have been retaken due to goalkeeper encroachment.


Here is just one blatant example:





But it was happening in 2016, 2014 and earlier:


So before the latest Euros, IFAB made a change, so that goalkeepers only had to have one foot on the line. You can read our impossible friend Rob Haywood writing about it here in issue 412:

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The percentage of successful kicks in shoot outs has been dropping in the World Cups and Euros since they were introduced in the 1970s: 

penalty decades.JPG

With the new laws allowing greater goalkeeper movement it's not surprising that less penalties were successful than ever, but six of the ten saves at Euro 2020 saw the keeper have neither foot on the line:


Wednesday 11th August 2021

 F O O T B A L L ?  T O T A L L Y.

Which teams have exhibited the mythical Total Football more than any other, and how can it be measured?

What is Total Football?

Mention ‘Total Football’ and images are conjured of the Netherlands, Ajax and Johan Cruyff. It’s a fluid system that allows players to interchange positions seemingly at will, both across and up and down the pitch.


What would make a ‘perfect’ Total Football team? If unlimited amounts of data could be accessed covering teams back through history you could use tracking data to monitor player movements or look at passes made and received in different areas of the pitch. Such data, is unfortunately, not available, but one thing we can look at is goalscoring.  One measure of Total Football in a pure form would be if ten outfield players shared the goalscoring for their team perfectly. Each player would score 10% of their team’s total goals whether full-back or centre forward. If you want to compare historical teams this can provide a tangible way of seeing which teams shared the load most equally.


Study 1: Ajax 1972-73


League Record: Pld 34 W30, L4 Goals: 102-18


Number of league scorers = 12


Goals scored by 10 players with most starts = 81


Breakdown of goals scored per player (10 players with most starts):

17, 16, 12, 12, 12, 7, 3, 2, 0, 0


Study 2: Nottingham Forest 1977-78


League Record: Pld 42 W25, L3, D14 Goals: 69-24


Number of league scorers = 12


Goals scored by 10 players with most starts = 62


Breakdown of goals scored per player (10 players with most starts):

12, 12, 11, 8, 4, 4, 4, 3, 3, 1


Study 3: Liverpool 2019-20


League Record: Pld 38 W32, L3, D3 Goals: 85-33


Number of league scorers = 17


Goals scored by 10 players with most starts = 67


Breakdown of goals scored per player (10 players with most starts):

19, 18, 9, 5, 4, 4, 4, 2, 2, 0

Below are the results from these three teams. Many more will follow over the next few weeks. As you might expect, the results are unexpected.


The chart above shows the % of goals scored per player, per team.


If each player had a 10% share of goals scored, the team would have a net rating of ‘0’ for Total Football by this measure. The three teams above have ratings of Ajax 72, Liverpool 77 and Nottingham Forest 59. 


So the Brian Clough team shared the goals around the most and they were the only one of three to have goals scored by each of the 10 players with the most starts: from right-back Viv Anderson (5%) to left-winger John Robertson (18%).

Coming Soon

 R E W R I T I N G   H I S T OR Y.

The 1988 FA Cup Final was billed as the Crazy Gang versus the Culture Club. The Crazy Gang prevailed, but was it really such a monumental meeting of opposing styles?

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