Stats and Learned Helplessness

Can stats lie to you and tell you that everything will be OK when it won’t? I think so, and we will take an example from the Premier League to show how. Right now Jurgen Klopp has a problem. His Liverpool team couldn’t win a game of soccer if they were the only team playing. They have created more chances than any other team, averaging 19.6 shots a game, and are allowing only 8.4 shots per game against – the second fewest in the Premier League after Manchester City. In fact, they lead second placed Manchester United for shots on goal, shots against, and possession. Klopp keeps talking about strong performances, and how they are dominating games. For some reason the stats and strong performances don’t equal success.

So what’s the problem?  The reality is that for all their chances, Liverpool have the 4th highest number of goals scored (13) which is not too bad, but with 12 goals against they are =3rd for goals against. That said, overall, the performances from a stats perspective seem solid. There are three stats that cause concern though – goals scored compared to the number of shots, goals allowed compared to the number of shots against, and of course points. They are creating chances, allowing few chances against, and yet lie 7th in the table, already 7 points from the top.

I believe the problem lies one step deeper – in a recent game against Burnley, Liverpool tied 1-1. Liverpool had 35 shots compared to Burnley’s 5. Burnley had 4 shots on target, Liverpool had 9. This is the stat with the most detail – Burnley had an 80% success rate at getting the ball on target, Liverpool had 26%. Klopp had this to say:

“When you have shots on goal it’s not about their defending. Their keeper made a few outstanding saves.”

He may be right about their goalie, but 74% off target suggests that maybe, just maybe, the quality isn’t there. In their last game against Newcastle, Liverpool again tied 1-1. Liverpool had 17 shots on goal compared to Newcastle’s 8. Liverpool had 2 shots on target compared to Newcastle’s 5. Klopp had this to say:

“We created five or six outstanding, big chances. Usually we score with one of them. I didn’t see one more chance for Newcastle.”

“It will be like this until we score. We play like this it makes sense that we play like this usually we score in situations like this. We have to accept this and carry on.”

But Jurgen, you aren’t scoring, at least not as freely as the stats suggest you should be. You are not creating quality chances, and if you are, you’re not finishing them. Even worse, you’re giving the power to fix things over to fate.

Here are the three takeaways for today:

1 – Confidence is a qualitative factor that cannot be discounted. When you are failing to hit the target 74% of the time, confidence takes a hit. You are using energy on failure, which reduces the belief of success. You begin to believe you cannot achieve your goal.

2 – When numbers seem to suggest you are doing all you can, this leaves only external factors as the reason for failing. When you believe the world is against you and you are powerless to change it, you lose hope.

3 – When you believe you have no ability to change anything, and external factors are the reason you are failing, this is learned helplessness. This is where hope is lost and defeat, regardless of the effort put in, seems like the only outcome.

The moment we stop thinking about what we can do better, how we can improve, and we give control over to external factors is the moment we are destined to lose.

Disclaimer: Things in the Liverpool camp may be different to how I have presented it, I can only go off things I read and the stories they want us to see. Klopp may know what the problem is and may be dealing with it.
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