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Featured Matches: highlights review - updated on: 27 Aug 2021

It's one of those late afternoons when the game has already started and by the looks of it, the referee will have whistled half-time before we get a chance to get home to watch a bit of the action.

In the meantime maybe we can listen to the radio, read the live commentaries or social media posts written by all those lucky people who are watching the game live so that we football-craving mortals may also get our humble share of the blessing.

But that game is important and a mere pop-up or notification in case of a goal isn't going to cut it. We want more. We want to know what's happening, how things are looking like for our team. We are 20 minutes in and it's still 0-0? Fine well then what did happen? Is it looking like our team is showing focus, a solid attitude, or is that engine still in low humming mode or possibly even showing signs of weakness? That's it, we need answers. And by answers, in such a situation, we mean stats.

Or do we? How good of an answer can a stat provide? Right there, let's keep clear from that debate, as this would carry us well beyond the scope of football. Let's just say that it mostly depends on the question.

Match statistics

So we set out to browse through the match's many statistical indicators. Here is how many passes such team has made, and over here we can see how many meters such and such players have run, what percentage of ball possession each teams has had. There sure must be some baseline metrics somewhere, against which such values could be compared, to give us an idea as to how different this game is looking like so far, compared to the average.


But then again, our team is playing and we're looking for answers. We know about the possession and number of passes, but we don't know how many of those passes are backward or lateral passes in the team's own half, and how many are for example through balls that actually created a real danger in the opponent's defense.

Passing and ball possession as a style of play

Depending on the play style, for some teams the number of passes merely represents an indication as to how long the midfielders have decided to keep possession of the ball, with no real pressure, patiently waiting for an opening in the opponent's defense.
Other teams do not look to create their chances following a long possession sequence. Most of their efforts are spent when they are not in possession, by keeping their opponents under pressure and ensuring they constantly remain in a position to quickly exploit any mistake.

So when we look at the stats and see that the visitor team has had half the possession time and half the number of passes as their opponents, that does not nessecarily mean that they have been under-performing. That could simply mean that they have managed to produce as much danger as the other team only with fewer attempts or a more precise execution.

Ball possession level due to tactical changes

Sometimes the same team, during the same match will show two types of attitude regarding how to go about their game. For example, the team has been in control of the game for most of the first half, scored two goals just before half-time, and then spent the second half letting their opponents use their energy trying to get an equalizer. So the team in the lead has spent most the second half basically waiting for opportunities to counter, saving their strength for a strong finish in the last 10 minutes.

Now if we were to evaluate the stats for that team in the second half, with a very low possession ratio, maybe 1 or 2 corners and hardly any shot at goal, there could be different interpretations but in such a context, we can see how these numbers have less to do with the team having a weaker second half, and more with everything just going according to plan.


Making sense of the data

It will take more than a statistical review to grasp the type of work that has been done by that team during that second half. That's why we watch the matches live, that's why as football fans, we listen to analysts, to the people who know how coaches think, and are able to explain what their intentions might have been, and which tactics they have put in place to try to get there.

When we have access to such type of resources, we are getting answers. When we don't, it is tempting to take a look at the gameplay stats and before we know it, we find ourselves delving deep into the details of each stat, forgetting about the big picture and maybe even without a clear idea of how big the picture needs to be anyway.

Match analysis

When we turn to stats because watching the action is no option, the part of the picture we are missing relates to perception. And of course, perceptions do not translate well into numbers. Perceptions need detail, nuances, and time to explain. It is only when that perception has been properly communicated that we can expect to get a clear and comprehensive picture of what has been happening on the pitch.

Sometimes we get to listen to such type of analysis at half-time or once the game has ended. After-match analysis are generally more complete but, being obviously put together in light of the end result, their focus will tend to lay more on the strengths demonstrated by the winning team and the weaknesses of the losing side.

Not that there should be much credibility put on reviews praising the losers or detailing the winners' shortcomings, but listening to a match analysis in the emotional context of a win or a defeat is different than listening to a half-time recap when the score is level and it's not yet clear which team is likely to come out on top. In each case, the analysis will have to take that type of context into consideration.

Focusing on the game highlights

Watching the game highlights is of course another useful resource to get a more complete the picture of the game. When the highlights' duration is long enough to cover all notable goal situations, we can get an idea as to the type of performance our team has achieved. We can see how close the missed chances were from turning into goals. How exactly a goal opportunity got created. How unfortunate or how fortunate some key actions have proved, and which players really made a difference and how.

In the absence of the real thing, a good highlights sequence could be as close as it gets to completing the picture of what exactly happened that impacted the game, beyond all the numbers.

Highlights review

For each of the Featured Matches, the Highlights Review section aims at describing a selection of the game action highlights, in a way that fits the statistical focus of the website. To that end, each reviewed highlight action is structured into three stages: Set-up, Attempt and Outcome.

Each stage is represented by one of the possible events or situations described below.

Stage 1: the Set-up

The Set-up is the stage that made the goal-scoring chance possible. It represents the answer to "What did that goal opportunity mostly come from?". The Set-up stage can be represented by one of the following situations:

Individual action A player has broken through the defense on his own, for example by dribbling an opponent, or outpacing the opponent's defense.
Thanks to that individual move, the team finds itself in a goal-scoring situation, where the player is now in a position to either shoot at goal or deliver an assist to a teammate in a key position.
Collective action The attacking team has created a goal opportunity through a sequence of passes or a cross.
Through ball This is another type of collective play, however in this case the chance was created following a single forward pass through the defense, setting one of the attacking players in shooting position or on a clear path to a shooting position as the opponent defense was driven off-position by the pass.
Rebound What is meant by the Set-up stage being deemed a Rebound is when the attacking player owes his goal-scoring position to a number of possible situations such as the ball boucing off another player or off the woodwork, deflected by the goalkeeper back into play, or intercepted following a missed clearance.
This is the category where we will also find most of the rather odd situations, such own-goals, missed backward passes and other types of fortunate or unfortunate events that directly had the effect of putting the defense at risk.
Indirect set piece The player in shooting position has been reached by the pass of a teammate from an indirect set-piece, which could be a free-kick or a corner, or on rare occasions even a goal kick from the goalkeeper. Such type of set-up will also extend to situations beyond typical set pieces, for example if a player is set up for a goal chance following a long throw-in.
More generally this category will cover situations where an attacking player was given the time and freedom of movement to try to get the ball to a teammate in a good position.

Stage 2: the Attempt

This stage covers what the player in a scoring position has done in his attempt to score.

Single touch The player did not take the time to control the ball or to choose a position before shooting at goal. The position the player was in as he received the ball was also the position he instantly pulled the shot from. For example when the player deflected the ball towards the goal following a cross.
Multiple touches The attacking player has touched the ball at least once before shooting, for example to control the ball, to find a better shooting position, or as an attempt to carry the ball through the defense prior to taking the shot.
Header This is another type of single-touch attempt but in this case the player did not use his feet, but rather delivered the attempt at goal via a header or a chest movement.
Direct set piece The ball was struck in the direction of the goal in one touch, directly from a set piece such as a free-kick, a penalty or even a corner, with no other attacking player involved.

Stage 3: the Outcome

The outcome is the situation that resulted from the attempt.

Wide The attempt at goal went wide, with no player from the defending team touching the ball.
Blocked The defending team has taken the ball back, for example the goalkeeper has gained control of the ball with both hands or a defender has blocked the attempt, thereby regaining ball possession for his team.
Deflected The attempt at goal has been denied by a one-touch save or other type of deflection that clearly prevented the ball from entering the goal, but did not result in the defending team regaining possession. For example, when the goalkeeper deflects a high shot over the crossbar.
Woodwork The ball came back into play after hitting the post or the crossbar.
Goal The referee has validated the goal.

Action description structure

Putting it all together, we end up with a list where each higlight action is featured using the same structure (Set-up -> Attempt -> Outcome) in the highlights review section.

For example:
"Through ball -> One touch -> Deflected"
or "Rebound -> Header -> Woodwork"
each represent a structural description of a specific goal-scoring opportunity.

Involved players

In addition to the "Set-up -> Attempt -> Outcome" description, each featured action also includes the name of the players involved, with the player taking the shot written in bold. Other key players that took part in the action may also be mentioned, including players from the defending team, when one of them has had a major inflence in the outcome.

Players star rating

For each reviewed highlight, the involved players can be awarded a number of stars, depending on how much of an impact each player has had in either exploiting the goal opportunity or defending against it. Here again, the number of stars to allocate to a player will be down to perception. Yet we can still provide some degree of structure here also, by explaining what each rating is meant to represent. The number of stars will vary from 0 to 3, with a view to evaluate players' involvement level according to the following:

Star rating for each action
0 When the player had an influence on the action but clearly not voluntarily (such as for an own-goal or a lucky/unlucky bounce or deflection).
1 One star pretty much means that the player 'did the job'. The player took part in the action, but not clearly above expectations. Some players happen to simply be at the right place at the right time. The more this happens, the more stars they will get, only one at a time.
2 The player did a good job, and managed to make something happen that did not seem easy at all. These are the situations where we watch the replay and say "nicely done there". For example the attacking player dribbling 2 defenders and keeping enough composure to wrong-foot the goalkeeper. Or this could also be a situation where the goalkeeper stops a penalty or another very dangerous shot at goal.
3 The player did something exceptional. We're not necessarily talking "once-in-a-lifetime"-kind of exceptional here. We're talking about those moments where we simply saw a piece of class that directly produced critical value. These are the moments that remind us every now and then why we like this sport so much.

If we take the example of a highlight featuring a player swifting past three defenders to deliver a cross to a teammate for an easy tap-in goal, the goal scorer may be granted one star for his contribution, and the player who provided such an assist might be given 2 stars, depending on how instrumental his move has proved in turning the action into a goal opportunity.

In another example, let's imagine the following situation: an attacking player sets himself free from his marking defender and delivers a powerful shot from mid-range that would have resulted in a goal had the goalkeeper not pulled out a brilliant save. In that situation, both the attacking player and the goalkeeper could be granted two stars for this action. As for the structural description, such a highlight action could be described as:
"Individual play -> Multiple touches -> Deflected"

Highlights action summary

As we like to focus on stats, and since each featured action gets defined with the same method, it can be interesting to browse through a recap of each team's type of actions. The Highlights action summary details the total number of times each condition has been observed in the featured actions for each team.

Highlights stars

This table lists the total number of stars assigned to each player that was given at least a total of two stars, considering all highlights listed on the page.

Avoiding pitfalls

The Highlights stars table should not be considered as an evaluation of the quality of each player's production as:

- The choice itself of which highlights to feature is, by nature, subjective

- A player that did not score but missed 4 chances may well end up totaling more highlight stars than a player that only took part in one action and scored a goal, as the ranking is mostly about how often each player has been involved in highlights.

- Highlights relate to a selection of events that typically took place in or around the penalty area only. Obviously a fair share of a match action, including either building up or mitigating the build-up of offensive plays, draws less visibility and yet accounts for a major influence in a game, as it determines the volume of goal chances that each team will be dealing with, either offensively or defensively. Players' involvement in such phases may be under-represented in this type of ranking.


You can view an example of a Featured Match highlights review on the following page:

Chelsea vs Villareal - Featured Match page (UEFA Super Cup - 11 August 2021).

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Acronyms and vocabulary
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Evaluating team performance
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Equalizers scored
13 Jun 2020
Form tables
12 Jun 2020
Lead-taking goals
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Halftime statistics
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Lead durations
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Relative form
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Team-specific results query
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League results query
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