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Dec 2011
19:52 Comments (29)

At this time of year, towards the end of December, it is usually time to reflect, to analyse what has happened during the year. So I don't think we should miss the chance to analyse the data in different big leagues in the world.

Opta give us an enormous amount of technical data from which we can make some interesting conclusions when comparing the figures. In other articles that we have published on our website, Is La Liga better than the Premier League?, we analysed the strongest European leagues and now we have the chance to include the MLS (the US league) in the comparison. We will try to analyse what we consider to be the most interesting data, where there is an appreciable difference and where the data has credible criteria.

It should be noted that this is not a scientific study but is an evaluation of the data collected accurately by Opta, trying to quantify different aspects of the game.

The analysis consists of 4 sections: attack, passing, general play and disciplinary aspects. We will use this format to facilitate the analysis, although the format is only significant in presenting the information.


The most significant aspect of the attacking analysis is the difference in average goals per game between England (2.89) and Italy (2.39).

In other aspects of attack, such as shooting accuracy, chances created and headed goals, Italy is behind the others. However the percentage of saves by goalkeepers (72.03%) is the best. It should be noted, for example, that the Premier League has the lowest percentage (69%) of all the leagues.

Does this mean that Italian football is poor in accuracy? Or is it that the goalies are better?

As for the average number of shots, the English league is the best, with 21.4 per game and the worst is the MLS with 19.6 per match.


2011-2012 EnglandFranceGermanyItalySpainMLS
Average goals per game 2,892,552,862,392,652,56

Set Pieces

With regard to efficacy in set pieces, the best, without doubt, is the French league, with 37.50% of goals scored coming from set plays and surprisingly the worst is the Spanish league with 32.10% of goals from set pieces.


2011-2012 EnglandFranceGermanyItalySpainMLS
% Set Piece goals 32,40%37,50%33,80%34,10%32,10%33,90%

Does this mean they score more goals in open play or that the spanish league is simply worse in taking set pieces?


When we analyse the data of the matches, possession and passing, we notice that the data shows that the American league has the lowest number of passes per game (775.9), passing accuracy (76%), accuracy in the opposition half (67.7%), passes in the final third (232) and passing accuracy in the final third (58.7%).

A strange detail is that Italy, with the poor data we noted regarding efficacy and conversion, has the best data in the following: passing accuracy (79.2%), passes in the opposition half (503.8), passing accuracy in the opposition half (72.6%), passing accuracy in the final third (65.6%) and crosses per game (37.3).

We also notice a strange detail in long passes. The American league (MLS) has the highest percentage of long passes (15.8%) and the Italian league has the least (13.1%).



2011-2012 EnglandFranceGermanyItalySpainMLS
% Long passes 13,30%13,40%14,40%13,10%13,2015,80%
Final third accuracy 64,90%59,40%60,90%65,60%64,60%58,70%

Why does the Italian league have such poor accuracy in front of goal but in build up it has the best figures of all the leagues in many aspects? Is the game slower and therefore more precise but at the same time allows the opposition to drop off and organise?

Does the distribution data of the MLS show a lack of technical quality compared to the other leagues?

Aspects of the game

With regard to the general aspects of the game, dribbles per match, success rate of the dribbles and challenges per game....there is a discrepancy between the leagues as to the definition of what constitutes a dribble, a successful dribble or a challenge, so we cannot compare the data with objectivity. The only thing we can point out is that the Premier League with one of the lowest for dribble attempts but with a high percentage of successful dribbles. Strange? Or true?

Regarding what Opta call disciplinary aspects, the Bundesliga stands out as having more fouls than the others (31.1) but nevertheless is slower to issue yellow cards (7.67 fouls committed per card shown).

England, with 22.6 fouls per match, is the country with the fewest fouls given and Spain, with 4.71 fouls per card shown, is where cards are shown more easily.


2011-2012 EnglandFranceGermanyItalySpainMLS
Fouls per game 22,631,833,130,629,324,1

Is the German league more 'physical' even than the English league?

We have left a lot of questions dangling, why? It's simply because we believe the data, the figures, show us many things but they cannot be absolutely categorical, and they do not necessarily show an indisputable truth if they are not submitted to deeper investigation. The important thing is to know how to analyse them, with more depth, to use them properly.

So we are open to your interpretations on our website. It will be a pleasure to see your points of view and ideas.

29 Comments Send us your opinions
27/12/11 at 14:04:04 #1
the reasons why italian teams hav the lowest goals per game is that most teams in the serie a normaly play with one striker.
27/12/11 at 14:14:06 #2
The lack of technical ability in the MLS does not surprise me at all.
27/12/11 at 15:58:17 #3
The fact that England has the lowest amount of fouls per game could just mean that their referees are more lenient- a tackle which would be considered a foul in any other league may not be flagged up as readily. Furthermore there is a strong anti-diving culture in the English game that is less prevalent in other leagues (eg. La liga) which could also help explain the data. Therefore the data can be used to support the opinion that the English game is still the most physical!
27/12/11 at 16:02:48 #4
Data analysis is very dangerous. Although collecting it has gotten easier and far more accurate over time, the interpretation becomes more complicated.

With regards to MLS, we get numbers to say that the football is not as technical as others. MLS will evolve as soon as one or two teams step up the technical aspect and win trophies.

Football is like fashion. It follows a trend.

There was a time when 4231 was called negative, defensive and boring, now it is the de facto for so many international and club teams. Why? It has the right balance.

Barcelona and Arsenal have been playing their way for so long, but it is only now that Barca are monopolising the competitions that people are having to backtrack.

Data analysis helps to find the trend(s) which matter most at the time, and that's probably why Rafa never really got to "enjoy" all the games, because he was monitoring everything so the fans could enjoy :)

This data analysis was why Rafa was ahead of the curve.


Hello V5, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Thanks.
27/12/11 at 16:19:45 #5

I don't think the reason Italy has the lowest goals per game is because of one striker systems. Lots of teams play with only one striker (Real Madrid, Man City, Arsenal etc) and attack perfectly well. In fact Barcelona often don't play with any central strikers but often have two wide men of the front three (Pedro/Villa last season) as the highest men.

A lot of an attack depends on the movement of both the striker and the link up between the team as a whole to create space to create goalscoring opportunities. I think (though this may be just a stereotype) that in Italy, there is more culture weighted on organisation and tactical knowledge which possibly may explain why there are less goals - because teams may well be better organised to deal with attacking threats, not necessarily through lack of attacking threat. A lot of Italian teams also tend to play quite narrow which makes space tight.

You've managed in Italy Rafa, what do you think?


Hello Jonny, I have my idea, but it is important to know also yours. You make a good point with the only striker. Happy Christmas.
27/12/11 at 16:25:46 #6
Except, perhaps, for the statistics on fouls, most of these comparisons show no significant differences between the different professional leagues. Before you argue that these small differences say something meaningful about differences in playing style between these leagues, you (or Opta) needs to figure out whether these differences are meaningful.
As it is, I think trying to construct a narrative from data like this is more an exercise in creative fiction than in analysis.


Hello, as I said in the article. The stats can't be the explanation for differences or style, some of them are similar, but, at the same time, some of them are totally differents. We have to analyse the numbers without obsession but something can be say after watching some stats. Happy Christmas.
27/12/11 at 17:40:01 #7
Fair enough Rafa. Happy Christmas to you too.
27/12/11 at 19:36:18 #8
All these statistics are good,no wonder for me as a liverpool fan would like to see you back at club,as these made you the best from the rest in my opinion,I'm sure liverpool would have won epl by now if you would have enough support,I would like to see you back in managment very soon and hope at lfc,as for me I think 4231 was best and it worked well with liverpool specially 08/09 seoson happy new year
27/12/11 at 23:39:55 #9
@myles it doesn't surprise me either... however for a 16 year old league, the MLS progressing quite well! Thanks for the article Rafa, prob the most interesting data comparison regarding the different leagues that I have seen. YNWA
28/12/11 at 00:41:24 #10
If I'm not mistaking great polish coaches Kazimierz Gorski and Antoni Piechniczek were using stats and maths when they were preparing for match and that helped them to create in 70's the best team Poland ever had.I think that stats are very helpful as long as they are balanced with preperations for the game.
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