Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Things Start to Even Out

After their third consecutive loss, things are looking quite dismal for Real Madrid. Their most recent loss to Getafe has been the most painful as it was the result of an embarrassing lack of attention by the players. What has happened to the team? Has all the talk of the league being over gone to their head? Is Robinho that important to the squad? Have the players collective taken a dip in form? While all those factors have contributed, the main cause for this situation is a little thing called statistical regression.

I realize that statistics are not a major part of soccer, but having been raised following baseball, I can’t help but be interested in the numbers of the sport. The basic idea behind statistical regression in sports is that a team or player can’t escape its natural talent level. There will always be peaks and valleys, but over the course of a season, teams and players will end up where they belong as far as stats and results (usually). Simply put, statistical regression means that the high and low points of a season even out to place a team where it should be.

Looking at Real Madrid’s season with this in mind, one finds a few things. First of all, Madrid is a good team but not a great team. In the first half of the season, they were getting the results of a great team. They were winning games where they were getting outplayed, getting all the breaks, and frankly getting a little lucky. Granted, there is a little bit of luck in winning any competition, but after a certain point the luck runs out.

This is where statistical regression comes to play. Now it seems like Madrid is outplaying their opponents but can’t win. All of a sudden, Madrid seems to be creating chances but the team is not able to finish them. The injuries, the bizarre goals given up, and the few goals created are all a result of this regression phenomenon.

This statistical regression is being seen by two of the other big clubs in Spain; Barcelona and Sevilla. Sevilla have quietly been shooting up the table and are only two points away from a Champions League spot despite a horrific start to the season. Barcelona have reaped all the benefits of Madrid’s drop off and now find themselves only two points down in the league, and are sitting quite comfortably in their Champions League tie. This after the team was mired in player controversy and general lackluster play.

Just to be clear, I’m not arguing that statistical regression is the only factor in determining a season for a team because that is obviously not the case. There are plenty of intangibles that have a heavy hand in determining a league or a cup. However, statistical regression does have a part in explaining why teams play over their head or under perform, and then magically seem to end up where they should at season’s end.

Recently the Spanish newspaper “Marca” published an article stating that Real Madrid has statistically shot and defended better than their last few opponents, yet the results haven’t come. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll be reading the phrase “Regresion Estadistica” in the paper any time soon.

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