Hello and welcome to Average Opposition .com.
What’s this all about then?
It’s a site looking at the average opposition that teams beat/lose to/draw with, keep a clean sheet against, score against etc… However, the main focus will be on the average opposition that the players score against.
Who does it apply to?
At the moment it's just a hobby so I've based it around the four biggest European leagues - the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga and the Bundesliga. Depending on how this goes, I'll add other leagues such as the French, Portuguese and Dutch. There will also be the odd piece here and there about selected topics outside of these leagues, some international comparisons and also some retro reviews. If I can get that going, then hopefully i’ll be able to apply it to other sports.
How does it work?
Pretty simple really, I look at all the players and weight their goals based on the opposition at the time of playing (or more specifically at the start of that round of fixtures). So you’d expect the average to be 10.5 (20 teams). Anything significantly higher than this would suggest the player thrives or delivers in the big games and in theory could be described as a “big game player”. Anything lower would suggest that maybe they flatter to deceive, or are simply a bit unlucky in the big games. If significantly lower, then the old “flat track bully” line can be rolled out.
If we take the start of the 2011/12 season as an example, Robin van Persie is flying in terms of goals scored, but also with a very high average opposition (9.69 as at December 1st 2011). Goals against Man Utd (ranked 2nd at the time), and a hat trick against a then 3rd placed Chelsea have helped push him near the top of the table. On the other hand, Edin Dzeko can count himself quite unlucky. He scored a whopping 4 goals vs Spurs, but due to the postponement of their opening game and their second game being a 3-0 defeat at Man Utd, it meant that Spurs were bottom of the league at time – compared to the 3rd place they’re in at the moment – thus resulting in a lower average opponent per goal. With that in mind, there’ll be a retrospective look at the end of the season based on final positions, and all historical seasons are based on final positions.
So not an exact science?
In so far as presenting the averages, it’s bulletproof. All of the data is formula driven to take into account all angles (Nationality, Home/Away, Position and Age). However, there are caveats. As like the Dzeko example, it’s also slightly unfairly weighted to players playing for teams ranked above 10.5. They have less opportunities against better teams, as their own team is taken out of the equation. I’ll chuck the stats up, and on occasion will add my interpretation or notes on them. That last bit is definitely not an exact science!
Hasn’t this been done?
I've searched far and wide, and as of yet I can’t find anything that seems to measure the same average opposition data on a consistent basis. The aim of this blog is to show something new. With that in mind, i’ll try to avoid adding stats that’ve been done before.
How did it come about?
I happened to be looking at top international goal scorers and noticed that Pele (77) and Puskas (84) had a similar number of international goals. They were both rated as amongst the best in the world and played in a similar era (for national teams – Puskas 1945-56 and Pele 1957-71). It got me wondering if there was a weighting to their goals to see who scored against the better opposition at the time (not taking into account Competitive/Non Competitive games). I wrote into the excellent The Knowledge column on the Guardian football site, but unfortunately all the compilers seemed to be out of the office at the time so the question never got published. Either that or they just didn’t like the question….
When looking at just goals per game it can be misleading. Take Australia’s Archie Thompson for example, his international strike rate is an impressive 21 goals in 33 games. That strike rate of 0.64 goals per game is better than:
- Marco van Basten – 0.41 (goals per game)
- Ruud Gullit – 0.26
- Alan Shearer – 0.48
- Raul – 0.43
- Jurgen Klinsmann – 0.44
The difference being that whilst the legends above have done it on the biggest stages against good opposition, Archie Thompson scored 13 of his goals in one game (vs American Samoa #203). Take that game out and it’s a less impressive 8 goals in 32 games (0.25). And if you dig a little deeper, the list of opponents scored against and their FIFA World Ranking at the time is:
- Tonga #178 – 1 goal
- Samoa #174 – 2 goals
- Solomon Islands #125 – 1 goal
- Solomon Islands #136 – 2 goals
- Jamaica #40 – 1 goal
- Bahrain #52 – 1 goal
Including the 13 goals against American Samoa, then his average opponent per goal is ranked 174th. Better than my record but significantly lower than the more celebrated players mentioned above.
Now this isn’t a witch hunt against Archie Thompson. His club strike rate is also very good, it’s just his example is the best to illustrate the point about goals per game, and also the 13 goals in one match is an eye catching world record. I’m sure you could do the same with the top international goal scorer of all time – Iran’s Ali Daei who has 109 goals in 149 games. Some of the opponents he scored against include Sri Lanka, Chinese Taipei, Guam, Nepal, Maldives and several others of similar rankings. Again, this isn’t a dig at the player – anyone who earns a move to Bayern Munich is no cart horse, i’m just highlighting that although he has the most international goals of all time – it’s a slightly misleading stat.
Sadly, the Pele/Puskas debate is destined to live on, as I can only find monthly FIFA rankings back to 1997. Anyone that’s able to help on that, please feel free to let me know. You’re also more than welcome to write a guest article!
What do you expect to find?
I’m going in without any preconceptions and will rely on the data from the database (the Average Opposition Index). You’d expect even the big game players to have an average of around 10.5 as they’re likely to score against all opposition, but it’ll be interesting to see if that’s the case or not. I’ll also measure the big game players based on ranges – Top 6/Middle 8/Bottom 6. I’ve got a good few ideas for articles so far, but welcome any suggestions – whether it’s to settle an pub argument (Ronaldo v Messi), or you’re trying to back up some universally accepted themes – like Everton being slow starters to the season.
Just a hobby? Doesn’t that make you a bit of a nerd?
Firstly, shut up. Secondly, I find it interesting. And Thirdly, who knows where it might lead! Probably nowhere, but one can dream – just look at Ali Daei, the all time Top Scorer in International football. He probably didn’t think he’d reach that milestone when as a lanky 24 year old and still waiting for his first international goal, he lined up against the might of Chinese Taipei….
Who do you support?
I’m going to keep that one to myself initially, in case of accusations of bias! I will say that at the time of writing, they haven't won a trophy for over thirty years. So it's not one of the big teams.
What next then?
Well I've found a new way to present the data, so it's a case of stop messing around asking myself questions, and start producing things. There's plenty of good content now (after a year), so visit the player comparisons page of the Features page for some lunch time reading.
I hope you enjoy it or at least find it interesting enough to waste a few minutes reading. To be perfectly honest, i’ll be happy as long as you visit regardless of your enjoyment as it’ll put my visitors number up – and I love stats.