Wednesday 30 April 2014

The Similarities Between Football Analysis And Web Analytics

What Does Football Analysis Have In Common With Web Analytics?


Give me a chance to entertain you a bit, and inform you a bit, and teach you a bit about how soccer games can be analyzed almost as accurately as we analyze the performance of websites using Google Analytics, or other digital analytics tools.

In a previous article I spoke about attribution in Google Analytics using some famous Spanish soccer teams as examples. 
I am sure that article was a bit difficult to understand, so I will try harder to make this one a bit easier for those who know little to nothing about web analysis.

I want to draw your attention to the recent European Champions League match between FC Bayern Munich and Real Madrid that took place on April 29, 2014.

It was a very close match but it ended 4 - 0 in favor of Real Madrid.

What was that again?!

If it ended 4-0 for Real Madrid, then why would I say that it was a very close match?

Well, I said so because I am an analyst not a mere football fan.

I do not base my understanding of the game on just the outcome of a few matches, but I try hard to understand every separate event that takes place within the 90 minutes of the match as they occur, and discover patterns and meanings that repeat themselves across a wide number of football matches in general.

This behavior in digital web analytics is like focusing on micro-conversions instead of focusing on macro-conversions.

Okay, here’s a quick description:

Macro-Conversion – 
This is something that occurs on a website that is very important to your business, like a transaction (e.g. someone purchased a pair of shoes on your website); or it could be an additional subscription to your blog, if you are a blogger. It may also be that a visitor to your site, found and used your phone number to make inquiry about your services. 

Therefore, in soccer, we can say that a macro-conversion occurs when a goal is scored. That should be simple enough. 

Micro-Conversions – 
Now these are measurable steps that a visitor takes on your website on the way to a macro-conversion.  
It is important to measure micro-conversions because it will give you a clearer picture on how to optimize your website as well as your marketing campaigns in such a way that they help your visitors along their journey to macro-conversions more easily.

Examples of web micro-conversions could be when a user visits your website and sees some shoes you are selling, and then clicks to see a larger image of the shoes. Or when the visitor also clicks on the Special Price Offer button for the same pair of shoes. 

Such actions give you insight into the fact that that customer is at the very least mildly interested in those shoes, even when they did not end up purchasing it.

So, micro-conversions in football would be the things that happen during the build up to a goal.

1. a defensive interception from Sergio Ramos, who gives a quick and accurate pass to Angel DiMaria,

2. an even quicker one-two by DiMaria with Karim Benzema through the left flank,

3. Next a spectacular left-footed cross from DiMaria down the left flank.

4. Headed down by Gareth Bale for....

Cristiano Ronaldo to blast the ball into the net for a goal. Which would be the Macro-conversion in this case.

Cristiano Ronaldo' enjoyed a lot of fantastic assisted balls from Angel DiMaria during the LaDecima season , after Carlo Ancelotti's reprisal of the Argentinian's role in the team.

Now back to the matter at hand:

Why I say the game between Bayern & Real Madrid was a very close one.
It is simple, most soccer pundits today, begin to analyze football from the Final score, and then go back to explain the game with that bias.
I do the opposite. 

I rate a team’s performance by the events of 90 minutes, often times irrespective of the number of goals scored. 
In fact, I often try to assume what would have happened if no goals had been scored... how I would describe the game then.

In fact, most of the members of my community True Football Analysts have gotten used to (or tired of) me arguing about this issue over and over again by now.

I have come to accept that, there was, there is, and there always will be a significant amount of luck that affects how goals are scored in soccer.

And one goal that goes in by luck can easily change how the rest of the match plays out. 

For example, how many times does Sergio Ramos score two headed goals in a month? Not to talk of in one match? 
Yet, by the time Bayern Munich tried hard to reply those two goals, all that happened was they suffered a painful counter-attack goal from Cristiano Ronaldo.

Does this suddenly mean that Bayern have suddenly become a poor team?

Certainly not! 

Or does it really mean that Real Madrid play so much better than they did against Bayern at home (in Spain) where they won by just 1 - 0 ?

Of course not!

The stats of both legs of the tie (from are almost completely identical.

In game 1 Real Madrid had 7 shots on target and only 36% ball possession. While they had the exact same numbers in game two as well....Only this time, 4 of those 7 attempts ended up becoming macro-conversions in instead of 1.

But what I find to be so amazing is the fact that Real Madrid’s chances created in the first leg looked much more dangerous (to me) than at least 3 of the ones that went in in game 2 (you may need to refer to highlights of both matches to understand what I mean here).

Now, I believe that Real Madrid deserved to win both games, no doubt. Ignore the fact that I am a Madridista (since 1990). 
Yet, doing proper analysis helps me to develop a system of understanding patterns that may happen repeatably, and hence, make football matches reasonably more predictable to me. Doing proper analysis is also tons of fun for me. :-)

Analysis Is For Predictability

But, anyway, at a certain level, football can be indeed very predictable:

Imagine, if you lined up a star-studded squad like Real, Bayern Munich, or Barcelona against a Canadian secondary school soccer team? You can bet there is going to be a 15-0 thrashing in that one.....

But things start getting less predictable as we gradually reduce the disparity between each sets of players.  We look at second division sides with professional footballers: they would also most likely be thrashed by Madrid, but not as badly as the Canadian high school squad. 

Then you come to the lower class LaLiga sides like Osasuna and Rayo Vallecano. 
We always expect Real Madrid to thrash such teams as well, but it doesn’t always happen like that. Occasionally, the Osasunas actually get to beat Madrid.

And when we come to opponents like Barcelona or Bayern, that's when we see the predictability really blurring out.

This is the stage when you need to pay greater attention to the finer details of a match, in order to know why a team may have lost or won. 
If you want to keep winning the big games, you would need to learn how to properly analyze.

Your accurate analysis is what helps you optimize on these fine details and improve your team.
I honestly doubt that many professional coaches today do that so well. :-)

It Is Really About Increasing The Chances

But anyway, in web analytics, we optimize our site based on what we have learned from the customer journey and behavior. 
We examine their clicks and behavioral trends on our websites, and this gives us context on what they may have been trying to do or why they are not doing it. (Notice I use that word may, quite frequently)

By properly analyzing the micro-conversions in the analytics reports, we are able to increase our chances of knowing what is actually going on with the visitors on our sites. And this can lead to us taking concrete steps towards helping customers to actually purchase something. Or score a goal. :-)

Just like a good coach will do in football match to ensure that he increases the chances of his team scoring goals and preventing others from scoring against them. 

It requires proper analysis.
And for that, you need a healthy dose of skepticism in your system. And if you can get that by drinking something, then I suggest you do so before becoming an analyst.

Proper analysis for me is about understanding of the proper context of each scenario. You should not just assume that because you recently increased your Facebook advertising, it therefore means that Facebook is responsible for the soaring page views and micro-conversions on your site.

You must painstakingly try to know what other stuff could have possibly affected your site's popularity.

Practice Makes Perfect

So here are some examples of the micro-conversions needed to maintain repeated victories in football. 
Can you try to imagine what could replace each one when it comes to your digital marketing campaigns for your business?

1. You would need to work on your team’s ball possession. This is built through team work, good individual ball control across the team, and confidence.

Forget the fact that FC Barcelona had better BP and lost to Bayern Munich over two legs some last year, or that Bayern Munich had even better BP but lost to Real Madrid over two legs this time. 
The truth is that both of these clubs win a lot more matches than they lose. And they almost always drive the fear of God into most of their opponents hearts with this dominant ball possession.

2. Other micro conversions include having players who constantly LOOK UP while they move with the ball, to spot the best positioned players to pass the ball to. 
They shouldn’t just pass to the first one they see. 
So not all passing is good passing.

3. It pays to have some players who are very good in the air, with heading balls. Both in defense and in attack.

4. Accurate shooters (who usually keep their shots below the crossbar, and often close to either sides of the posts).

5. Great dribblers are also very good in unlocking tight defenses, by causing them to panic and commit fouls, and also by drawing them away from marking the dribbler's team mates.

6. Ball Winners who recover quickly to help the defense are a very precious commodity indeed.

Trying to keep your team playing with these elements intact and working, is a very difficult task indeed (Especially after your team has won so much and achieved so much very recently). 

But the truth is that any team that consistently tries to maintain a highly optimized set of micro-conversions would find itself winning almost every game it plays. 

Eventhough it may experience the occasional unfortunate 4-0, 3-0 or even 7-1 defeats, the reality is that, if you can analyze a team’s micro-conversions very well and do the required "engineering" to improve them, then you would be a winner MORE times than a loser. And the same goes for websites.

If you can identify the weak links in their passing game, how they fail with ball control, or where they fail in ball winning or why the strikers don’t finish properly, then you are on your way to becoming an outstanding manager.

Likewise, if you are frequently reading your analytics reports in the right context to know...

- where your websites visitors are coming from?
- how many people actually visit your website?
- are they all human?
- which of your pages do they usually seem to gravitate towards?
- which websites sends the most visitors to you?
- how many of your visitors leave immediately they arrive?
- how long visitors spend on your pages on average?
- can you know if people ALMOST bought something on your website?

If you do stuff to answer these kinds of questions, or at least hire someone who will do them conscientiously for you, then you'll gradually become an insightful businessman in your industry. Believe me.

But at the end of the day, let’s face it, neither Jose Mourinho, nor Pep Guardiola, nor Carlo Ancelotti, is going to desire to manage a club like Sunderland in England or Ancona in Italy. 
No way! 

They are going to move to teams that are already packed with gifted players like Angel DiMaria, Frank Ribery, Oscar, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Leo Messi. 
The same way it is generally better in online marketing to use digital analysis along with great marketing strategies and paid (but track-able) advertising campaigns.

Thanks for reading.

Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below. I will surely read them and get back to you. 
Also visit my other, deeper article on the same subject.


1) We are True Football Analysts 

2) We have a Facebook Group (the facebook Group is now closed, but if you send two of the Admins, Tal Baryosef or myself a private message saying that you found us through this blog post, we will surely let you in.

3) We also have a much younger GooglePlus community which is open to the public and currently needs level-headed soccer enthusiats as Moderators. Take a look.