Jan 31, 2018
Jan 31, 2018

# The importance of speed of attack in soccer

## How to use speed of attack data for betting

One of the many uses for expected goals is analysing how important specific tactics are in a soccer match. This article explains why bettors need to understand the importance of the speed of attack when betting on soccer. Read on to find out more.

In a previous article, I explained how to calculate expected goals and build your own simple expected goals (xG) model using data that is widely available on the internet. Whilst this xG data will provide you with a greater level of insight than merely looking at goal or shot figures, it is still limited as it treats all shots (big chances aside) from an area of the pitch as worth the same value.

### How does speed of attack impact the chance of scoring?

The speed of the attack has a massive impact on how likely a shot is going to be scored. Fast breaks usually occur during counter attacks, when the opposing team’s defence is not set properly. A shot in such circumstances will have a better chance of being converted than if a side has two banks of four players lined up to minimise the routes to goal.

The good news for bettors is more and more websites which provide expected goal data are appearing, and more importantly, some break the figures down depending on a variety of factors.

One such site is understat.com, and this article will take a look at some of their data to see what insights it can provide and whether they can assist with your betting choices. For the purposes of this study I have focussed on the 14 teams who have been in the Premier League for the last three full seasons, and are still there in 2017/18. These teams have the largest understat dataset available and will be of most interest to bettors as they remain in the top flight.

The earlier comment regarding the impact that the speed with which a team attacks has on the quality of a subsequent chance is solidified by the data.

## Attack speed xG data

 Attack speed Shots Goals Conversion Percentage of Total Shots xG xG/Shot Fast 2551 383 15.0% 6.2% 392.33 0.15 Standard* 10938 1262 11.5% 26.5% 1255.03 0.11 Normal 25821 2410 9.3% 62.7% 2468.46 0.10 Slow 1893 125 6.6% 4.6% 108.12 0.06 Total 41203 4180 10.1% N/A 4223.94 0.10

*"Standard" attack speed refers to all shots from a penalty, set piece or corner.

As we can see, shots produced from fast attacks are rare, but they are comfortably the most potent attack speed. For bettors to potentially use this information to their advantage, they need to know how different teams fare compared to the average. This is relevant both in terms of how potent their fast attacks are and how often they do them. Here are the team-by-team figures, sorted by expected goals per shot.

## Premier League attack speed xG data

 Team Shots For xG For xG Per Shot Team Shots Against xG Against xG Per Shot Man United 73 18.1 0.248 West Brom 86 9.9 0.115 Man City 110 23.0 0.209 Leicester 91 11.7 0.128 Arsenal 99 20.1 0.203 Tottenham 101 13.1 0.129 Leicester 148 27.2 0.184 Liverpool 73 9.6 0.131 Swansea 51 8.2 0.161 Swansea 85 11.8 0.138 Chelsea 117 18.2 0.155 Arsenal 94 14.1 0.150 Everton 92 14.3 0.155 Average - - 0.154 Average - - 0.154 Southampton 80 12.4 0.155 Liverpool 98 13.9 0.142 Everton 86 13.5 0.157 West Brom 48 6.7 0.139 Stoke 106 17.0 0.160 Tottenham 120 16.0 0.133 Chelsea 74 11.9 0.161 Stoke 102 13.2 0.129 Man United 67 10.8 0.161 West Ham 104 12.7 0.122 Man City 62 10.1 0.162 Crystal Palace 86 10.4 0.121 West Ham 101 16.8 0.166 Southampton 94 10.9 0.116 Crystal Palace 103 17.1 0.166

Bear in mind that the above figures are taken from three seasons, or 114 matches, so most teams don’t even average one fast attack for or against per game. But we can see which teams have been strongest and weakest at both ends of the pitch in terms of chance quality. The data can also be used to see how teams fare in terms of converting their fast attack shots.

## Premier League attack speed conversion data

 Team Shots For Goals Conversion Team Shots Against Goals Conversion Man United 73 21 28.8% Swansea 85 7 8.2% Everton 92 21 22.8% Leicester 91 9 9.9% Man City 110 23 20.9% Man United 67 7 10.4% Arsenal 99 20 20.2% West Brom 86 9 10.5% Leicester 148 28 18.9% Arsenal 94 10 10.6% Chelsea 117 19 16.2% Everton 86 10 11.6% Swansea 51 8 15.7% Tottenham 101 12 11.9% Average - - 15.0% Liverpool 73 10 13.7% Liverpool 98 14 14.3% Chelsea 74 11 14.9% Stoke 102 13 12.7% Average - - 15.0% West Brom 48 6 12.5% Southampton 80 13 16.3% Tottenham 120 15 12.5% Crystal Palace 103 18 17.5% Southampton 94 11 11.7% West Ham 101 18 17.8% West Ham 104 11 10.6% Stoke 106 19 17.9% Crystal Palace 86 7 8.1% Man City 62 13 21.0%
Most teams are understandably in a similar position here as they are on the expected goals per shot table, but there are also some big movers.

On the attacking side, Everton are the only team to have moved by more than two places in the table. The Toffees had the seventh best xG per shot on fast attacks over the last three full seasons, but the second-best rate of converting those shots.

Without watching the attacking moves back on video it’s impossible to say how they scored so many, but their underlying expected goal figure suggests it won’t continue. Indeed, Everton only scored one of their first 12 fast attack shots in 2017/18.

There are eight teams who have moved by more than two places on the defensive tables, which is in part due to the range of conversion rates being more tightly packed than it is on the attacking side. The main movers have been Manchester United, who have allowed the fourth highest expected goals per shot on opposition fast attacks but have the third best rate of shot conversion.

To explain why would again require a review of video footage, but it seems reasonable to assume that having a goalkeeper of the quality of David de Gea will have certainly played a part.

### Putting speed of attack data to good use

So how can we use this data? It’s key to remember that if we can access this data then so can the clubs. As an example, Jose Mourinho will know his side are strong on attacking counter attacks and Manchester City are weak at defending them, so it makes sense to defend deep and try to catch them on the break.

Shots produced from fast attacks are rare, but they are comfortably the most potent attack speed.

This, in turn, increases the probability of a low scoring match, and also that Manchester United will score first, as they will be tough to break down and can potentially exploit the opposition’s area of weakness. The recent derby match did not pan out this way, but that’s not to say the data should be ignored when selecting your bets.

As with any form of statistical insight in soccer, the information here is not without its issues and limitations. Whilst it makes sense to amass as much data about a team as possible to help inform your thinking, so much can change from one season to the next as to render any historic statistics far less relevant.

Teams change managers, stadiums and there is always a churn of players when the transfer window is open. Take Liverpool for instance; fast attacks have historically been below average in shot quality terms, yet their figure has more than doubled in 2017/18 since they bought Mohamed Salah. They aren’t having more fast attacks, but they are of better quality and more likely to result in goals when they do.

Perhaps the main issue bettors face when it comes to utilising data of this nature is that they have no way of knowing what tactics a manager will employ in advance. Fortunately, understat carry data on expected goals depending on what formations team use, so that will be investigated in a future article.

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