How Long Can Aston Villa Make a Mockery of the Stats Men?

Aston Villa Stats – a Cautionary Tale

When it comes to getting an insight into your team stats are a flawed science. For example, Aston Villa are second in the league in terms of long balls played in a game. No surprise there, you think, but what is a renown passing team like Southampton doing in the number one spot? In terms of long balls away from home, Villa and Southampton are equal in second place…in number one spot? Swansea. Hardly the long ball aficionados.

To be honest, when it comes to masses of punditry and Opta stats of today’s game, I much preferred the time of my youth when life was simple. It was just Football Focus, Saint and Greavsie , Match and Shoot magazines, and occasional glances at the newspapers. In short, it was all you really needed.

The recent Southampton vs Aston Villa game was a perfect example of how stats cannot read the beautiful game. A team has 77% of possession and still manages to lose. They didn’t lose with silly mistakes either. Of course, there’s always results that defy results. But a bunch of people sitting in front of monitors counting every pass, tackle, assist etc, with their findings then distilled into stats packs, can never tell the real story.

Away from home, Villa certainly seem to defy all the logic presented by stats. This season away from home, only Hull City have had less possession than Villa’s total of 38.6%.  Even worse is Villa’s pass completion percentage on their travels – 71.8% is the worst in the league. Villa also have the lowest percentage of shots within the six-yard box on both their travels and overall. Yet, before Villa came unstuck against Fulham, their five -game away unbeaten run was the best away run in the league and they had the third best overall away league record in the league. It’s currently the sixth best record, which you’d take every time, if offered.

Their recipe for beating the stats men away from home perhaps can be explained in other stats. Villa have the highest amount of away goals on the counter attack in the Premier League and as previously mentioned, they have the third highest amount of long balls played of any team on their travels. It doesn’t make for very watchable football as any long-suffering fan can testify.

The problem is it’s also a predictable style of football that teams are getting wise to. Even Fulham, who had the worst home record in the league before playing Villa could work it out, going onto comfortably beat us 2-0.

The fact that Villa’s away form belies the stats is a concern when you then consider their home form. Only Sunderland possess a worse home record. Traditionally, if a team takes care of business at home and picks up the odd points away, they’ll be ok. But if Villa’s luck runs out on their travels, then what have they got to fall back on? It’s also a damn waste of the decent away form Villa have been enjoying. If they had been reasonably solid at home, then they would be top eight without much of a problem and above Manchester United.

It could be argued that Villa have had a tough run of fixtures at Villa Park. Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Everton and Spurs have all visited within the eight home games Villa have played. Despite getting one win, which you’d hope Villa would be capable of at least even against these teams, a couple of extra draws should also be expected.

In Villa’s eight home games, they’ve only scored three goals from open play, only Hull have scored less. Worse than that, is the fact Villa have yet to score a goal in the first half of a game at Villa Park, which can only add pressure on the team and crowd unrest.

The next four fixtures of Stoke (a), Crystal Palace (h), Swansea (h) and Sunderland (a), offer a chance to redress the stats imbalance. Last season Villa won three of the corresponding fixtures, so will be hoping to pitch up with a similar amount of points this time round.

To be honest though, as long as we get a decent tally of points from these December games, to hell with the stats! Beautiful performances, possession and tiki-taka football, as long as they’re Paul Lambert’s New Year’s resolutions, all should be fine. If not, then we might find at the end of the season, the stats men haven’t been lying at all.



  1. We have been long ball since O Neill, except Houllier. But I am of the firm opinion that last season we only survived because in the last 10 games or so the players decided to do their own thing and basically forget everything Lambert said in the dressing room by the time they ran out onto the pitch. Long balls work if you pick your moment, and they can have a pyschological effect in a game given certain situations (preying on a defensive weakness) but I dont think they work these days any more as a pre-determined and we have definitely set up that way in a few games this season already. This guy has had more than 18 months and the only reason he is still here is about to move to a London club.

  2. Agree statistics can be usefull and I’m one of the biggest critics of their use , by many who only look for the negatives
    And the Tonev example is a good one , but one that could be countered by the law of averages that predict that the more shots on goal there are the greater the chances are that one will go in , something Villa’s defence suffered under in recent past seasons

  3. I’m a big supporter of statistics in general, although I know many aren’t. The key is realising when they’re useful and when they’re not, and also that they should often be treated with caution. You have to remember that football clubs use statistics to meticulously perfect areas of the game in which a football club can improve, for example, distances of metres ran is a key indicator for fitness coaches.

    Of course, the limits need to be understood too. You could argue that Villa are more threatening when Tonev is on the pitch because we get more shots in on goal. However, is this just because he has been too wasteful? Like I have hinted at, the skill is knowing how to use them and when not to.

    A good read.

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