Rafa Benítez Blog RSS Rafa Benítez Blog

Sep 2011
19:30 Comments (17)
Stats and data

General Articles

Rafa Benítez

First of all, thanks for all the contributions you have made. Some of you have brought up some very interesting points for discussion and I am thinking of writing some articles to give my opinion on the subjects. These are some of the more brief questions you have asked:


With regards to the article that compares La Liga and the Premier League one question asked was “do the top 4 teams in both leagues distort the data?”

I would like to be clear about how I use data. As I said in the article, we have experience in three different leagues, so we know how to treat the information carefully because statistics do not always reflect reality and you have to put them in context. I have been in football since I was a boy and in professional football for about 30 years, so I know that statistics can mean nothing when you are going into a final.
We know that the difference between the top two teams in Spain and the rest is relevant and yet it is not quite the same in England. We could address this issue in other articles if you would be interested.
Just to let you know, my specialist subject at University was football, so I learnt how to analyse the game from different angles.
These days we see some crazy comparisons of statistics of teams and managers without putting them in to context. When people discuss these statistics they try to compare managers from different eras or they try to compare money spent on players without considering facts such as the value of the previous squad, the money available for players, or the competitions in which the team is involved. It will not be the same if you are playing in the Champions League as it would be in other competitions with less psychological demands.

So, we can use statistics, but because we have some experience, I have always told my staff, be careful, if it looks as if we have run more, it could be because we are taking up poor positions or it could be that we have had a lot of possession in our own half. We realise this and we would only use the stats if we think them appropriate.


Another question you raised was about systems of play and if you can use the 3-4-3 used by Barcelona in the Premier League.

“You will never lose a game on the blackboard” so it is possible, but as always, for me it depends on your players. We will talk about systems in another article, but the real question is “what system is the best for your team?”


Another question was “Does the different climate affect data in both leagues?”
It is not just the climate but also the systems, the style of football and the refereeing style, so the data can change a lot. We have to use them as information, but we need to know how to analyse them and not lose focus on the game and never forget that we manage human beings and everything that entails.

17 Comments Send us your opinions
12/09/11 at 11:00:39 #1
Hey RAFA, so true how stats are mis-interpeted! Also how true that players are human beings. So ofetn we ans forget how just mood can effect a player & then obviously that effects stats! hence negativity in fans /crowd can influnece their own team negatively!
12/09/11 at 11:27:41 #2
the obssesion with data by media houses could be annoying.It has to be used in the right context
12/09/11 at 14:18:21 #3
Hi Rafa

Is there any chance you could right a balanced article on the benefit of Zonal marking over Man marking, it would be nice to hear this subject from an experienced manager as apposed to same old ignorant pundits who used to work on sky.

I would like you to kill the same old diatribe clichéd myths about Man marking being better, due to the advantage “The oposition running man gains over the static man in a zonal marking system”

Loving the work, much appreciated.

Thanks for everything at Liverpool and YNWA


Very interesting comment and I will say to you that one of the subjects in the Gala Dinner to raise funds for the Montse Benítez Foundation in October will be the zonal marking. More than one will be surprise with the analysis.
13/09/11 at 15:53:01 #4
"so we know how to treat the information carefully because statistics do not always reflect reality and you have to put them in context."

well put, especially something as complex as football. I use data in my line of work as a trader, and I believe that football and the futures market are both very complex in nature, and data without the right context is completely useless. The trick is then to determine what is the right context.

It is right, the context is the key. For example, you can see people talking about the money spent in players for two managers. Do you think that these experts have any idea about the initial value of the squads, the money available or the objectives of the Club? That is part of the context and the conclusion of the analysis it will depends on the intentions of "the expert" or the quality of his analysis Thank you.
13/09/11 at 16:01:28 #5
Milivoj Milani, Croatia
Dear Rafa,

I was wondering did any manager tried to use man-marking against today's Barcelona, and if not why it wouldn't work?

From many games I've watched Barcelona these years, I have always questioned why don't the opposing teams try to press Barcelona with man to man marking instead of zonal as it seems that Barcelona players are extremely effective in playing between the lines, like drops of water in the sand.

It's just an idea and probably not a good one, but if you would be so kind and educate us.

Thanks in advance and thanks for everything in LFC.


Could be a good idea against other teams, but, how many players will be necessary to stop Messi or Iniesta?
13/09/11 at 18:13:08 #6
Good article Rafa.

As Rafa said, it's very hard to man mark players such as Messi and Iniesta but another thing is how much space it leaves behind the player closing down or marking them. If you have, for example, a defensive midfielder marking them then if they drop deep, the space in between your midfield and centre backs is huge and all it takes is for Messi to turn quickly or for Villa or Pedro to cut inside and you're in trouble.

Perhaps the best way is to either press high, stopping them starting moves from their centre backs and pushing them back but taking the risk in behind, or sitting deep and very compact, blocking the space between midfield and defence and making it hard for them to thread short diagonal balls in between the full backs and around the edge of the area but taking the risk that you can't get forward. It really depends on players but the key in both is closing down space and remaining compact.

I agree 100% the key is to remain compact. The rest of your game plan it depends on the players that you have.
14/09/11 at 09:07:00 #7
Does this explain the reasoning behind Liverpool's transfer summer to buy mostly Premier League players?

Sabre-metrics couldn't be used in 2 different leagues because of a different context so Liverpool probably decided to get value for money in Premier League context using stats (among other things).
14/09/11 at 13:01:20 #8
A classic example of this for me is the overuse of statistics like Pass Completion % in order to prove one or another player is a better passer.

For example, in a team which builds up slowly, the centre backs and full backs might pass to each other three or four times, manipulating the opposition's shape before launching an attack. Several easy passes would inflate their completion %.

Their opposition might play a more direct counter-attacking style which requires a "killer pass". The best passer in the world might get the ball ten times in the game and pull off a key pass three times, of which one created pass is scored. 3/10 passes does not equate to a good completion %.

This is an example of a statistic where the context of the game, the styles of the teams and players involved, are infinitely more important than the skill of the players involved.


I agree with you, you have to analyse carefully the statistics. As I said in another answer, my staff works with this idea when we check the data after every game. Thank you.
14/09/11 at 17:46:31 #9
Hi Rafa.

You hit the bulls-eye with this statement:
"It all depends on the players we have."

Very often I have wondered how we would've done if Hicks & Gillete and given you the money to complete the team after we came 2nd. That missed opportunity still rankles deeply within my heart. What was lacking in that Liverpool team was a midfield maestro (eg David Silva) and some pace down the wings (eg: Alexis Sanchez).

Can't wait to see you back in management with a top team and a proper owner who'll furnish you with the necessary funds to build up a team. Watching you win a league or Champions Trophy will prove to the thousands of ignorant people (pundits, journalists, fans, non-fans etc)how great a manager you really are.


15/09/11 at 00:00:46 #10
I always think of the statistic for Paolo Maldini's tackle rate being 1 tackle every 2 or 3 games! It proves how potentially dangerous the misapplication of stats in the transfer market could be. I also read during the summer that Modric at Spurs actually provided very few assists last year but clearly he is central to Spurs' play. And of course, a lot of the fuzziest thinking comes in when you start talking about transfers and sums of money spent not only on transfers, but wages (I don't know if you've read Simon Kuper's "Why England Lose" - it shows the strong correlation between league position and the wage bill whereas the link between league position and transfer money spent is actually much weaker - for me the book is an example of CLEAR thinking when it comes to football stats).

Desde Madrid - un abrazo fuerte de un aficionado de Liverpool de toda la vida. Con muchísimo respeto y cariño

We knew about the correlation between wages and league position. I was trying to explain that and manage the pressure on players from outside, but the media doesn't allow you and it is easy to influence the fans. Without the right message from inside the club is even more difficult for the manager. Thanks. Gracias.
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