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Stat chat: Union v Real Madrid

I thought it would be informative to compare the performance of the Union starters to those of the Union’s subs in the Everton and Real Madrid friendlies. After all, much of the exciting offensive action for the Union was produced in the second half of each of those games, the highpoints being young Marfan’s cheeky chip against Real Madrid and the finish of the even younger Hernandez against Everton.

I was prepared to include some obvious provisos, most importantly that the nature of friendlies with their multiple substitutions and running out of players who might not otherwise see time in a league match on both sides of the ball makes for dubious comparative possibilities. As is the case generally with these stat chats, I’m looking for illustrative information rather than anything that suggests conclusive or predictive possibilities.

Well, it turns out that the statistics for the Union friendlies are either unavailable or incomplete. If you try to enter “http://www.mlssoccer.com/matchcenter/2011-07-23-philadelphia-union-vs-everton/stats” in your browser—the stat pages follow a standardized naming format which is useful when you go to the MLS MatchCenter to look at something you saw a day earlier and find it is no longer there—you get an “access denied” message: “You are not authorized to access this page.”

Well, that’s not very nice, but there you go, what are you gonna do?

Thankfully, if you click on the stat tab for the Real Madrid game at http://www.mlssoccer.com/matchcenter/2011-07-23-philadelphia-union-vs-real-madrid/stats you are taken to the comfortingly familiar series of charts laying out team and individual match stats.

The numbers show what you’d expect, with the Union having fewer attempts on goal and shots on target, fewer passes, less passing accuracy and less possession. The last few numbers are generally somewhat unreliable in terms of the final result. The Union has been greatly out-passed/out-possessed by their opponent and won a massive victory (Toronto). The Union has also greatly out-passed/out-possessed their opponent and lost (Dallas). Interestingly, the Union’s 80% passing accuracy against Real Madrid has only been bettered by the 81% they recorded in the away loss to LA.

No Marfan, no Cronaldo?

Moving on to individual numbers, a strange thing quickly becomes apparent: not all of the subs are listed. For the Union, for example, Mwanga, McInerney and–get this–goalscorer Michael Farfan are among those not listed. For Real Madrid, it is quickly apparent that that Cristiano Ronaldo fellow isn’t listed either. Presumably there are some space limitation with the form that is used to display this information online, what with friendlies having more substitutions than is otherwise normally the case. Still…

Chalkboard to the rescue

Luckily, the information in the Chalkboard tab is both more expansive and all inclusive for both teams. All 22 players used by the Union are listed, as are all 21 players used by Real Madrid.

The Chalkboard contains a wealth of statistics. Not only can you find shots on target and off target for a given player, you can learn how many of those shots came from headers. Similarly, not only can you learn the number of successful and unsuccessful passes a player made, you can learn how many of those passes were chips, crosses, flick-ons, layoffs, and so on. Because there are so many indicators, I chose a few key offensive stats in order to give a general sense of the offensive performance of the Union starters and subs. Note the closeness of the unsuccessful pass compared to the tackled and possession lost numbers: the latter category includes the numbers from the former category. The difference is a lost in possession resulting from something other than a bad pass such as being dispossessed, tackled, an unsuccessful dribble, and so on. I wish I could include all of the numbers the Chalkboard provides for each player but we have space limitations, too.

Comparing the first half offensive statistics with the second half offensive statistics, you see that the starters generated a total of seven shots: one shot on goal, four shots off target and two blocked shots. Two shots off target came from defenders, as did one of the blocked shots. The second half subs generated six shots: two shots on goal, three shots off target and one blocked shot. Not bad from a group that collectively had less time on the pitch. And, of course, one of those shots on goal was Marfan’s wonderfully cool as a cucumber chip.

Union compared to Real Madrid

I thought it might be interesting to compare the numbers of those who recorded a goal or an assist for each team to see how they give a sense of overall performance. Simply put, the Union substitutions who scored/assited compare very nicely to the Real Madrid starters who did the same. In number of successful passes, Marfan’s 24 is one behind the total recorded by fellow goalscorers Callejon and Ozil. Mwanga had significantly less time on the pitch and had more successful passes than fellow assister Benzema, fewer unsuccessful passes and the same number of key passes. While Mwanga recorded no shots, he did record the only successful dribbles of the group which suggest that it was lack of opportunity rather than lack of confidence that resulted in no shots. No doubt about it, Danny was game.

Finally, I thought it be fun to compare the performance of two of the biggest names in world football, Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo, with like players from the Union, Torres and Marfan, a comparison that is readily made if only because they were all subbed in at the start of the second half. The Real Madrid duo recorded five shots. More precisely, Cronaldo recorded five shots: one shot on target, two shots off target and two blocked shots. The Union duo recorded four shots between them: one shot on target, two shots off target and one blocked shot.  Of course, of the two players that had a shot on goal, only Marfan scored. Advantage Union.

Looking at passing success, Marfan and Torres’ each completed more successful passes than Kaka and Cronaldo for a combined total of 49 successful passes versus 31. Advantage Union.

Kaka and Cronaldo’s percentage of unsuccessful passes comes out to 9 percent and 29 percent respectively for a combined total of 19 percent. Marfan and Torres’ unsuccessful pass percentage comes out to 11 percent and 32 percent respectively for a combined total of 22 percent. Advantage Real Madrid.

Looking at key passes, the Union duo again combine for more than the Real Madrid duo with three compared to one resulting in a key pass percentage for the Union of 4.5 percent compared to Real Madrid’s 2 percent. Advantage Union.

Kaka and Cronaldo lost possession five times each for a combined total of ten. Marfan lost possession four times, and Torres lost possession 12 times, for a combined total of 16. Using each player’s combined total of successful and unsuccessful passes as a measure of possession to divide each player’s possession lost totals (yes, I’m making this up as I go along) results in a possession lost percentage of 22 percent for Kaka, 36 percent for Cronaldo, 15 percent for Marfan and 33 percent for Torres. Combined, Kaka and Cronaldo were likely to turn the ball over 29 percent of the times they possessed it while Marfan amd Torres were likely to turn the ball 24 percent of the time. Advantage: Union.

Bottom line? Marfan and Torres were better than Kaka and Cronaldo combined and Marfan was better than Kaka and Cronaldo individually.

Who said stats couldn’t be fun? Up the Union!


  1. Earl Reed says:

    Yes, Opta has really been a disappointment to me. I received the stat sheet in the press box, and saw they had incorrectly attributed the first goal to Jese Rodriguez, #28. I thought for sure it would be corrected in their final statistics, but obviously that has not happened. I’ve tweeted them in the past about mistakes, and they don’t respond and don’t change. It is almost as if they consider their version of events to be reality.

    In any regard, Ronaldo’s lack of touches indicates a lack of desire in this particular match on a relatively dismal night to be playing a soccer match. Didn’t earn his keep, that’s for sure. About half the touches.

    • Ed Farnsworth says:

      I use the official stat sheets provided at games when I can get them (Adam’s our guy in the press box for home games and the Union have been unable to provide them for away games) but only for first vs second half possession stats because I have found just about everything else on them to be very unreliable. (Why first v second half possession numbers are not readily available is beyond me. You’d think it would be a pretty useful indicator of the effectiveness of the adjustments a team makes at the half.) Usually the Opta stats are better but not so in this case.

  2. Good stuff, Ed! Stats show that the Union hung in there and competed admirably. Hope you were not working in the bar but were with us in the stadium; the atmosphere was ace!

    • Ed Farnsworth says:

      Hey Guido!I was there and it was awesome. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many brand new RM jerseys in my life, hope to never again. Had several interesting “discussions” with locals who were looking down their noses at the Union at the start of the game. By the end of it they were cheering them on.In fairness, they’re probably the kind of Eurosnob I was before Philly got a team but I still can’t understand what prevents someone from supporting their home team.

      • Agree; you can always support one on each Continent, like I do. Glad you were there as well!

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