The Paradox of Silverware: A Truth Unveiled by Statistics

ISL 2020-21

The Indian Super League season 2019-20 is over, narrowly escaping the jaws of the ongoing global crisis. ATK came out victorious in the final which was played behind closed doors, clinching the title for the third time in six seasons.
But along with the Champions, there are others teams who impressed with their gameplay and could have been the winners.

One of them is the league stage winner Fc Goa, who were struck by two back to back blows of coach sacking and injury to their most important player, Hugo Boumous. A series of unfortunate events caused them eventually miss out on the title.

The other team is the runners up, Chennayin fc, who showed an unbelievable streak of resilience and fightback after they were pinned back to the wall early in the seasons. Their rise through the ranks was commendable.But despite of their amazing run, they were unable to end it with a high.

These performances have raised a question in the minds of the people.The League winners shield or the ISL trophy, which one defines the best team?A decorated gameplay or a silverware, which one is true success? Or is there another twist in the tale?

There is, and the untangling of this riddle would be really tough, if not for this tweet.

The Data viz. in this tweet compares the statistical data of all these three teams who were arguably the three best teams of the season and the data of all the goalkeepers of the league. This has made answering the question partly easy.

Today, we will breakdown all these statistical parameters made on the basis of performances of this three teams in ISL 2019-20 and compare how things looked on the pitch and how statistic represented the output,interpreting the results and thereby hoping to reach a conclusion.

Expected Goals

If we compare the aggressiveness of all three teams, Fc Goa comes out on the top in both reality and statistics. Being the master of high tempo penetrating passes they face the least problems in breaking down opposition defence. The presence of a creator and progressive carrier like Boumous makes it further easy to create the most goal scoring chances, scoring 12 more goals than the second placed ATK.

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FC Goa has created most goalscoring chances thanks to their positional play

ATK and Chennayin are struck at almost similar position. They are the teams who allow opposition deep in their own half. Which indicates the counterpress of Goa helped them in winning balls in advantageous positions resulting in more goal scoring chances.

Expected Goals Against

Teams who press high, has to keep their last line high to make the press a collective and organized one. This high line or high block leaves a huge zone in behind free and which can be executed by quick transitions and in behind balls. Stats confirm it as Fc Goa has the highest goalscoring chances created against them while ATK and Chennayin who keep low and mid block respectively were more compact between the lines and in defensive organization, giving away less goalscoring chances.

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ATK with their low block are hard to break down


In the most celebrated statistical parameter of Football, Fc Goa came out with flying colours. A no brainer as Fc Goa embraced this style of football long back under their recently sacked manager, Sergio Lobera. With an intention of domination and focus on enjoying the possession for longer times, Fc Goa stands out, as the more direct teams like Chennayin and ATK lag behind.

Long Pass

Long Pass is a measure of directness and quick transitions and a parameter where Fc Goa is nowhere to be found. The teams dominating this statistic is ATK and Chennayin, with ATK edging past Chennayin by an inch.
The accurate in behind deliveries of Anas, Agus, Arindam and Johnson for Roy Krishna to latch on by his explosive pace has clearly identified their directness of play.

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ATK played the most number of Long Passes

Passes Per Defensive Action

A measure of press and shape, this is a statistic which interpretes the number of passes opposition plays before a team makes their defensive move.
As discussed previously, the aggressive high press and counterpress of Goa has made them stand tall in this parameter too. Their first two lines are more reliable in defensive action than their last one.
On the other hand, teams like ATK and Chennayin who pressed deep in their own half had focus on closing down the space more, making it a space oriented press, holding their shape.

ATK executed this low block to the fullest, conceding just 19 goals. 10 and 13 less than Goa and Chennayin respectively.

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High Block of FC Goa is like a double edged sword

Touches in the box

A proof of getting into the box only doesn’t make the chances a goal scoring one.
Both Fc Goa and Chennayin comes neck to neck in getting the ball into the box thanks to excellent playmakers like Boumous and Crivellaro, pacy wingers like Chaangte and Jackiechand, positional masters like Valskis and Corominas. But Goa are the one who converted those touches into goalscoring chances and Goals, while Chennayin has been wasteful despite using frequent quick transitions to get into the box.
ATK on the other hand, are quick on transitions but they are not frequent in doing so.

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Chennayin underutilized their chances inside the box

Defensive Duel

A parameter important for every style of play. Winning ground and aerial duel is important in every zone of the pitch and all three teams has done it successfully as they are the best three teams of the ISL.
Fc Goa with a high block need to win the 50-50 ground duels more while ATK, who generally faces crosses from the flanks, need to win the aerial duels to launch e quick counter attack.

Anirudh Thapa and Edwin Vanspaul, being two of the best counterpressing agents India possesses right now, helped their cause of defensive duels

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Thapa and Vanspaul at the centre has won them possession several times

Goalkeeper Performance

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Arindam was the weapon to overlap every other statistic in which ATK underperformed

Last but not the least, the statistic which cancels out every other one, the expected goals vs the goals conceded by a Goalkeeper, and here Arindam Bhattacharya outperforms both his counterparts of the league and the chances created against him which could have ended in a goal, giving ATK that extra bit of edge that took them to the title despite creating lesser chances than Fc Goa and Chennayin fc.


Every statistic comes with an interpretation and in this case the statistic describe the playing styles of all three teams

ATK : Direct counter attacking team with a low block.

Fc Goa : Possesion based high pressing team with a high block

Chennayin Fc : A balanced style with both possession and directness with a mid block.

Here again resurfaces the unanswered question. What defines true champions?

Despite all these statistical analysis, nothing concrete has been found.

This brings us to the quote of Rene Maric, the assistant coach and analyst of Borussia Monchengladbach.
In an interview given to The Athletic he said,

” You can go out with certain ideas of how you’ll play. Then the opposition react, change the way they attack the ball or position themselves, and you have to change in response. It doesn’t always happen because of the manager, either. Sometimes, a player realises he needs to be four metres to the left to close a gap and by that simple act, he solves a problem for his team and creates a new one for the opposition. There are infinite decisions made in a game of football. It’s impossible for the coach to make this decisions for the players. We can give them a guideline or a “solution space” through principles, they have to perceive, decide and execute on the pitch.”

Thus, Champions are decided the way they present themselves on the pitch on that particular day.No playing style can ensure you guaranteed success.That fine line between good football and Championship is what we call, “The Paradox of Silverware”. A Paradox which will make us forget the amazing run of Owen Coyle’s Chennayin, as it didn’t end in a trophy.