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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
28/12/11 at 11:53:05 #11
Re: Molecule

How do we know that there are no significant differences? I imagine with the large numbers of passes in a league over a season the confidence intervals would be quite tight. Half a percent could be significant. It shows Rafa's professionalism that he is leaving this open to debate while the media that hounded him will tell us that player A is better than B based on a few games. I still think he is wasted doing this and would love to see him manage again soon.

Hasta La Rafalucion Siempre!
28/12/11 at 13:56:44 #12
It is always difficult to analyse differing formations and styles with pure data. It suits a team to understand what they are doing best, and improve on their individual statistics. The preferable way would be to look at the competitions between the teams and analyse the percentage wins with differing formations.
For example, a team playing on the counter attack but remaining in a defensive formation will not have the great numbers of passes in the final third, however their pass percentage needs to be higher as they are reliant in the few passes in this area of the pitch to score goals.
28/12/11 at 14:14:49 #13
Hi Rafa,

One of the key stats I find interesting is in the Clear Cut Chances at Goals and the relationship between the CCC and the position of the league leaders.

Also I am unsure of the availability of data, but in the modern game, speed is an important element of a team, would it be possible to get stats on this. For instance there is the ability for a medium paced defender to still do a good job, but when the defender falls below a certain point does his worth become less. Are there teams with slow defenders and still successful, what about the opposite?
With strikers the speed element is obviously important, however when the tactics, for instance Torres at Chelsea where he does not have space to perform, therefore speed is less important, mean that it is more important for wingers to have pace?
I understand I have more questions than answers,but I suppose that is the game of football.
Well Done for your time at Liverpool, I would love that in the future you manage Liverpool again


Hello Leron,

With 11 players on the pitch and different systems we could be talking about options for months. So, It is better if you continue asking questions, but also thinking about your own answers. For example, a striker with pace in a 4-3-3 formation playing as a winger is not the same like playing as a centre forward. If he is a winger right footed playing on the left or on the right. Too many options. Keep thinking. Happy New Year.
28/12/11 at 15:16:29 #14
Another surprising aspect is the less nujmber of fouls in a premier league game than than other major leagues. Surely the premier league is more physical. It might be because the refs are lenient.
28/12/11 at 16:14:16 #15
Neil K
Serie A's goal to game ratio was to be expected, with Italians famous for their caution, but I think it would be much improved if the top teams played with more than 1 quality forward. AC Milan do not even play Pato every game, despite his ability upfront. Why do you think this is?


Hello Neil, the key for me is the number of players getting into the box, not the number of strikers.
28/12/11 at 16:21:55 #16
Neil K
Hi Rafa, great article, but to be honest, there were not many surprises. We all know that the quality of the MLS is lower than that of the other leagues, and the top leagues all have their own characteristic trait. A surprise was the quality of passing in Italy compared to Spain, who are world renowned for this. Your point about a slower game is possible explanation, but are their any others?


Hello again Neil, I agree about the analyisis, not too many surprises, but the confirmation of different styles. Do you have any other idea about why the italian football has more accuracy passing the ball? Thanks.
28/12/11 at 16:22:25 #17
great analysis..thank you rafa for the analysis
28/12/11 at 22:32:10 #18
Hi Rafa,

Just a thought that perhaps the general style of the Italian play is to hold the ball longer and build up play from the back, avoiding a quick counter, allowing not only the other teams to organise, but, waiting for their own players to organise as well. When both teams play like this then you have a situation where they are both allowing each other to reorganise, therefore slowing the game down even with fast passing of the ball. This would benefit teams such as AC Milan under Ancelotti who relied on older more experienced footballers, with less speed in the midfield. This in turn would lead to fewer clear cut chances and more difficult shots in and out of the box.

Also wishing you and your family a happy 2012.
29/12/11 at 01:15:44 #19
Interesting article, Rafa.

Can you offer an opinion as to why Liverpool are not scoring freely this season and missing so many chances?

I know you say that it is more important to have men in the box when you attack rather than a single striker, but wonder how you see our current scoring problems.


Hello, I remember that we had a lot of shots off target and everybody was talking about a 'new striker' was necessary, so It is the same problem now. The strikers are special players, one week they will score three goals and they will not score in one month. So, we have to be patient. Happy New Year.
29/12/11 at 14:54:39 #20
Conrad Lodziak
I am of the opinion that some statistics are meaningless. For example, the possession statistic. Barcelona, for example, invariably dominate possession around the 70 to 30% divide. But Barcelona's possession is done for the purpose of moving the opposing defence around, creating gaps, and exploiting the gaps for a scoring chance. On the other hand (and this is my abiding memory of the last World Cup) many teams use possession as a defensive strategy, ie to play the ball around at the back, and slowly, merely to stop the opposition from getting the ball, and with no intention of the kind epitomised by Barcelona.