Why the better player sometimes loses

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It’s an indisputable fact that you sometimes lose a match that you dominated. Our data shows that in around 8 % of the matches, the winning player neither dominated on passing accuracy, shots on goal or possession. Being behind on all three stats and still winning is however far from unusual in real football. Take as an example Albania’s World Cup Qualifier match against Portugal.

portalba
When Albania beat Portugal away

In this post, we look into some of the reasons why the dominating team sometimes loses in real football and explain why this knowledge is relevant to FIFA players as well..

Shots on goal

“If you don’t shoot, you don’t win.” Everyone knows that. But to what extent does the number of shots taken by a team influence the probability of that team winning the matchThe answer is, perhaps surprisingly, “not a lot”.

Martin Eastwood, author of this study, measured the degree of correlation between “Total Shot Ratio” on one hand and on the other, “Goal Difference” and “Match result”. Total Shot Ratio is in this case defined as ShotFo(ShotFor+Shots Against). He found that Total Shot Ratio had little influence on the likelihood of a team winning a particular match. However, he also found that the Total Shot Ratio throughout the season had a reasonably strong influence over the total number of points earned.

What this means in human language is that if you keep having more shots than the opponent for 100 matches, it’s likely that you will win more than you lose, but it ‘s also likely that you will lose some matches.

This corresponds well with another, equally interesting study. Martin Lames and a team of researches examined how many goals were coincidental rather than the product of skill. He found this to be the cases with 44.4 % of all goals. Lames and his team watched videos of more than 2,500 goals, carefully coding each one for instances of luck.

With real football matches containing as few as 2.6 goals on average, it’s easy to spot why it can be quite difficult to guess the winner of a match and hence also why having more shots sometimes doesn’t help. And it’s exactly the same thing with FIFA:

Shooting headlessly doesn’t improve your chances of winning.

Possession

What about possession then? Surely, “if you play on possession, you don’t have to defend, because there’s only one ball”, as Johan Cruyff once said. But even though Cruyff was a great coach, there are other, equally great coaches who have come to the exact opposite conclusion.

Allegedly, Jose Mourinho has a seven point plan against high level opposition. This is point 4: “Whoever has the ball is more likely to make a mistake.”

The fact remains that statistically speaking, possession is a poor parameter when trying to predict the winner of a match.

Leicester won the Premier League with an average possession of 45 % and was able to win away against teams like Tottenham and Manchester City despite having less possession and by the way also fewer shots and lower passing accuracy.

The team with least possession won 35 % of the matches in FUT. That’s actually a pretty low number when comparing to real football. In the Big 5 European leagues, the team with less possession won 40 – 45 % of the time, and in the Australian A-league, 57 % of matches were won by the team with the lowest possession. The Champions League is the only larger tournament where the team with the lowest possession won fewer matches than is the case in FUT: Namely 33 %.

In regards to FUT, I believe it’s key to understand Mourinho’s logic here: If you start thinking that football merely is a question of moving the ball around to maintain possession, you are going to lose. The difficult part is to complete those passes that make a difference by moving the opposing team out of shape without taking on any huge risks.

Passing accuracy

The story about passing accuracy is very much the same as with possession. It doesn’t really help you to have the better passing accuracy if all your passes are made on your own half. What matters is the type of passes you are able to complete.

This study focuses on the MLS, but the conclusion applies everywhere: Having better passing accuracy does not win matches. Although passing accuracy is slightly correlated with points earned over the entire season, the real differentiator is the type of passes you are completing.

I do encourage you to read these results and to consider how they match with the current rendition of FIFA. In my experience, the type of passes that decide matches aren’t the same every year. During FIFA 14, crosses could be real killers. In FIFA 16, over the head through balls were my favorite pass when attacking. In FIFA 18, the flat through ball is the most effective weapon. The point: There isn’t one, general answer to this.

Why this is relevant to FUT

The main point I want to make above is that you sometimes lose even if you were dominating because FIFA, like real football, is a very random game.

I know that particularly those who like to think that their losses can be attributed to foul play will reject the entire notion that data from real football are relevant to FUT. But this is basically a nonsense argument.

The fact is that EA Sports has created a football simulation. Although you can point to many areas where FUT differs from real football – the match length or goal frequency for example – FIFA and FUT resemble football in many ways.

This is a computer game played in accordance with the football rules, containing a ball and 22 players and build upon one of the most accurate physics emulations available. Given these facts, it makes absolutely no sense to expect FIFA to be any less random than real football.

It is meant to be random, so of course it is random!

FUT matches may contain more goals than real football, but it’s still mostly luck that decides your fate.

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