Saturday, June 06, 2009

Flat stat chat

few weeks ago while reading my copy of the Bangkok Post (don't ask - long story), I happened upon a feature written by a moonlighting ESPN pundit who painted a none-too-rosy picture of this year's Premier League season.

While he acknowledged there had been undoubted high points such as the title race running to the 37th week, he wondered whether this season had been as good as a lot of people may think.

His ponderings were built on largely statistical foundations. For a start, he suggested (with the final week's matches yet to be played) that the highest scoring team in the league, Liverpool, weren't as prolific as Man United the season before. With Liverpool about to end their campaign against Tottenham, they'd scored only 74 points compared to United's 80 last season. Shock horror - a whole six goals short, yet even that was reduced to three thanks to the generosity of Harry Redknapp's defence on May 24th.

Not much of a claim to be made there, then. Luckily he had some better arguments up his sleeve when he said that the leading goalscorer this year, Nicolas Anelka, had bagged far less than Cristiano Ronaldo did last season. Fair point - Anelka scored 19 this season, well short of Ronaldo's 31 in the 2007/08 campaign. A shortage of goals then? Well yes, but it's not as bad as you might think. Overall, the total number of goals scored by all Premier League teams was down by about three goals per team in the end. Over the whole season, that doesn't amount to very much at all.

Then there was a claim that the average attendance at a Premier League match in 2008/09 was around 35,600 compared to around 42,500 in the Bundesliga. Quite a considerable difference, but (a) hasn't that always been the case in the recent past, and (b) it's still far higher than the equivalent figures for Serie A (25,300) and La Liga (28,500). What was more interesting was the point he made about Newcastle and Middlesbrough taking their big crowds down to the Championship and the effect that might have on the Premier League, but we'll leave that for another time...

So I guess you can see where I'm heading on this. Put succinctly, you can suggest a great many things with statistics - heaven knows we have often enough - but the skill is in using the right statistics effectively and in the right context. The ESPN chappy in question obviously fell a bit short where that's concerned, but the bigger issue is perhaps that he wrote off the Premier League rather too dismissively.

The Premier League isn't perfect. This season didn't provide the last-day excitement that the Bundesliga or Ligue 1 did, nor did it provide the winners of the Champions League or UEFA Cup. It didn't always provide a multitude of goals on a match-by-match basis, and it wasn't watched by the highest number of ticket-buying members of the public either.

It did, however, give us some fantastic goals, some brilliant results by teams playing beyond their means, and some wonderful individual performances that demanded the attention of television audiences worldwide... in other words, a lot of things that can't be quantified using mere statistics - and for that, we're all very grateful indeed.

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