Why you sometimes lose despite being the better player

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Why do you sometimes lose despite being the better player overall? Is this evidence of EA intervening or is there a natural explanation?

matchstats

1 shot, 1 goal. 24 shots on goal, no goals. This scenario could never happen in real life according to some people. In this article, I will challenge the validity of that claim.

 A very common claim goes something down the lines of this:

“If I’m getting shut out or its 1-0 to them & I have like 20 shots then no its manipulation hands down.”
— Comment on Ultimateteam.co.uk

“If I have not allowed a goal in the first 44 or 89 minutes what helps my opponent score in the last minute or stoppage time? Don’t say fatigue, it is not even an option. It is coding.”
— Comment on Ultimateteam.co.uk

In the example below, you should notice that the guy with the most shots actually won in the end, but that his opponent had the highest percentage of successful passes.  The picture was accompanied by the following comment:

“This image below shows obvious scripting/momentum statics.
I’m the winning side but I teared my hair out to to win this game. 26 shots, 45 tackles, 7 goal post! Opponent has 1 shot and 1 goal! Fuck! Its from penalty!! 120 minutes of super stress makes you a bullshit man. Do not play this game or you will get CANCER. Really don’t play and be healthier, funnier, richer. Share it to everyone until they remove scripting.”
(– Anonymous at fifa13scripting.blogspot.dk)

The guy with the most attempts won
Winning 2-1  after having had 18 shots on target (source)

It is not completely clear why these people are so absolutely convinced that these results wouldn’t happen unless scripting, but the underlying logic appears to be that it has to be scripting, because these results are too unlikely to happen under normal circumstances, i.e. by pure coincidence.

You may have the most possession, shots and passing accuracy – and still be the lesser player

I would like to start out by stating something which should be quite obvious, but obviously isn’t: Having the majority of possession, the larger passing accuracy and the larger amount of shots on goal does not always imply that you are dominating and ought to win. This may well be the case in most matches, but definitely not in all matches.

Leicester won the Premier League with an average possession of 45 % so far and was able to win away against teams like Tottenham and Manchester City despite having fewer shots, less possession an lower passing accuracy. This is just one way of playing football, and there is no rule saying that just because you had more shots, you should be winning. Defending and counter attacking can be a very effective way of playing football.

If we look at a stats like possession, it actually isn’t a very reliable predictor of who is going to win a match. In the Champions League, the team with the lowest possession won in 33 % of the cases. This is a considerable number, but still pretty low compared to some of the major, European leagues (40 – 45 %) or for that matter the Australian A-league, where an 57 % of all matches was won by the team with the lowest possession. There is no reason to assume that this should be different in FUT. The risks associated with possession are present in FUT as well as in real football: You may lose the ball and give the opponent a counter attack.

With regards to shooting, having more shots isn’t always the same as having the bigger chances. As exemplified in this video, some players have a tendency to finish too soon and too often instead of being more patient and wait until a really large chance pops up.

What the law of large numbers tells us about match results

The next topic that I would like to bring up is probability.

Let me start this part out by stating that there is no such thing as too unlikely to happen. A well known theorem in probability theory is the law of large numbers. It states that given enough chances, even the most unlikely events are certain to happen. Every year, players will play millions of FIFA matches, and many players play well over a 1,000 matches a year. Within one million matches, and even within 100 or 1,000 matches, there will be results which deviate significantly from the norm.

In real life, improbable things happen all the time, no matter whether we are talking football or everyday life in general. Thus, the mere fact that something improbable happened, doesn’t prove that it happened more often than it ought to or for that matter that it happened according to some kind of sinister plan.

In real football, improbable results do happen. An example is Albania beating Portugal away in a EURO 2016 qualifier in September 2014. Portugal was a huge favorite odds-wise: 1.32 against Albania’s 10. There are many other examples of matches being won by a team which didn’t appear to stand a chance. Who would have thought that Iceland would beat Holland twice in the same qualifiers?

Obviously, results like these doesn’t prove that real football is subject to handicapping or for that matter that this match must have been fixed. Sometimes, the team least likely win defies the odds.

portalba
When Albania beat Portugal away

The better player usually wins

7-0 and all is fine
A perfectly normal 7-0 win

Take a look at the results page above. It’s a perfectly normal 7-0 win. The player, who clearly dominated the match, won by a large margin. Although matches like these occasionally end 0-1 instead of 7-0, the vast majority are won by the better player. The chart below is based on a sample covering ~2,100 matches and ~2,000 different players. It shows that in the majority of the cases, the player who was predicted to win based on his previous performances, also did win – by a large margin.

Do the better players win?

Do the better players win?

The better you are relative to your opponent, the larger the chance that you will win. That being said, someone will defy the odds once in a while. Even a player who only has a 1 in 20 chance of winning will win 1 in 20. Football is not, and shouldn’t be purely about skill, and I doubt it would be the most popular sport in the world if coincidence, i.e. pure luck, wasn’t part of it. You can however discuss whether coincidence players a bigger role in FIFA than it should, and that is a debate I’m more than willing to participate in, as  long as we can agree that we are talking about coincidence, not scripting.

In this article, I found that the average number of goals in FUT 14 matches was 5.5. Although that number is down to 3.5 in FUT 16 seasons, it still is considerably more than in any of the major European leagues.  It’s beyond questioning that the goal frequency is a product of the game programming and thus intentional. It is also beyond questioning that a lot of matches are decided by, whoever is lucky enough to score more easy goals than the opponent.

Yet, the leap from having established that the goal frequency is intentional and onto concluding that EA intentionally manipulate match results, is huge. That would be jumping to conclusions.

Concluding remarks

  • There is no such thing as too unusual
  • We cannot conclude, that something which happens more often than it ‘ought to’ must be intentional
  • Having the majority of possession, passing accuracy and shots does not always indicate that you ought to win