Assessing Team Success in the Big-5 European Football Leagues

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Research

Completing a master's thesis dissertation is a significant milestone in the academic journey of any graduate student. This challenging and rewarding process involves extensive research, critical analysis, and the ability to communicate complex ideas effectively. That is why after months of hard work, I am proud to say that I am officially an Engineer and share the resulting work from my research. In this blog post, I will explore the motivation behind the thesis research topic, its central objectives as trying to build on the already available literature and the main conclusions reached.


Context and Motivation

Over the years, most sectors worldwide have adopted the expanding trend of collecting and analysing data to make better-informed decisions. These practices have grown to be commonplace as they are usually associated with their ability to create competitive advantages, innovate and increase productivity, which naturally leads to business growth. The reality in sports and football is no different. In an industry where just the European football market size is estimated to be worth €27.6 billion as of 2020/21, the slightest margin could mean the difference between a club winning or not the championship, qualifying or not for international competitions and being relegated or not to a lower league tier, it is clear that the adoption of these practices is in the best interest of all club stakeholders. From amateur to professional levels, teams strive to achieve the ultimate goal of winning, but what are the most important performance variables that contribute to a team's success? Understanding this can be crucial for teams, coaches, and players looking to improve their performance and gain an edge over their opponents. The advantages of employing such methodologies might bring benefits both inside and outside the field. On the one hand, by examining the most important performance variables, we can acquire a deeper comprehension of the critical factors that influence success in the sport and how to enhance them. On the other hand, evaluating data from various leagues and identifying their unique features can uncover valuable observations about players and their capacity to adjust to diverse playing conditions, insights which could be proven advantageous in crucial team management stages, such as the recruitment of new players.



Objectives

Entitled "Assessing Team Success in the Big-5 European Football Leagues", the objective of this work aimed to identify a set of performance variables suggestive of team success and provide insights into the distinctions between the Big-5 European Football Leagues.



Methods

For the accomplishment of the objectives, data from the FBREF website respecting the Big-5 leagues’ teams during a period of four consecutive seasons (2017/18 - 2020/21) was considered and analysed via Principal Components Analysis and Cluster Analysis. To distinguish between the teams' performances, clubs were categorized into three groups according with their ranking position at the end of the season.



Main findings

In the end, significant differences were obtained between high-ranked teams and the other groups, with the former teams displaying higher ball possession and presence in the attacking third of the pitch through more passes and shots taken from this area. Also, they showed consistent patterns with a higher number of passes leading to a goal, higher passing accuracy and shot attempts performed. On the other hand, low-ranked teams displayed salient patterns in all defensive statistics. Concerning the distinction between the leagues, results from the same study suggest a higher strong overall presence in all areas of the pitch for English and German teams. Italian Serie A clubs showed a prominent use of the defensive section of the field, while findings also suggest that together with Italian clubs, the Spanish teams committed the highest amount of infringements and received the highest amount of yellow and red cards for the seasons under analysis. Interested in more? Reach out to the team to get the complete version of the thesis!



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