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.

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In this post, we look into some of the explanations to why a dominating team sometimes ends up losing in real football, and why this knowledge is relevant to FIFA players as well..

Shots on goal

As the saying goes, “you don’t win if you don’t shoot.” But to what extent does the number of shots actually improve the probability of winning a matchThe answer may perhaps surprise you.

Data and football analyst 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 is is that if you keep having more shots than the opponent for 100 matches, it’s likely that you will win more matches than you lose, but you will most likely still lose some matches where you hade more shots.

This corresponds well with another, equally interesting study. Martin Lames, a professor in Sport and Health sciences, examined how many goals were coincidental rather than the product of skill. Lames and his team watched videos of more than 2,500 goals, carefully coding each one for instances of luck. They found that 44.4 % of all goals are the product of coincidence.

With real football matches containing around 2.6 goals on average, it’s easy to spot why it can be quite difficult to predict the winner of a match and hence also why having more shots sometimes doesn’t help.

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. Although Cruyff is considered a mastermind of football, other equally successful coaches have come to another 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.”

And Mourinho has a point. 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 %.

What this tells us is that possession may improve your chance of winning – but it may weaken it aswell. Football merely isn’t merely a question of moving the ball around to maintain possession. If you follow that strategy, you will end up with more possession and still lose a lot of the time.

Passing accuracy

The story about passing accuracy is very much the same as with possession. It doesn’t really help you to have 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.

Eightysixforever, a Vancouver Whitecaps fan site, published this study, which discusses passing accuracy as a topic. It concludes that better passing accuracy doesn’t win you matches. Although passing accuracy is slightly correlated with points earned over the entire season, the real differentiator between winners and losers is the type of passes they complete.

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. This doesn’t happen because FIFA is scripted but because it, 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 empirical studies dealing with real football are relevant to FUT. But this is a nonsensical type of argument.

The fact is that EA Sports has created a football simulation. Although you can point to many areas where FIFA isn’t realistic – the match length or goal frequency for example – FIFA and FUT resemble football in so many ways that it inevitably will carry many of the same traits as real football.

After all, this is a computer game played largelyh 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.

What this means is that you have to accept losing matches despite dominating. But if you dominate consistently, you will win more than you lose.

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