The biggest game of Chelsea’s campaign is approaching, with the Blues set to complete for the Champions League against Manchester City on Saturday night.
Given the two recent meetings between the two outfits, the upcoming clash is almost certain to be tight; Thomas Tuchel has beaten Pep Guardiola twice since his appointment in January, but with each victory by only one goal.
The two teams have gained strength from their defensive stability since the turn of the year, with Chelsea and City showcasing ultimate control more often than not.
If such a contest materialises in Portugal on Saturday, it is not unreasonable to suggest that the final could follow a similar theme to the Europa League final on Wednesday evening.
Manchester United fought Villarreal for 120 minutes, only to lose a penalty shoot-out by 11 goals to 10 after David de Gea failed to convert his spot-kick.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer stated after the contest that ‘anything can happen’ in those situations, with popular belief suggesting that the winners are determined by little more than pot luck.
While much of that is likely to be true, subtle edges can still be gained around penalties if the relevant insights are known and applied beforehand, which requires a degree of trust in the power of data.
Chelsea have explored such findings in the past, and they could benefit from doing the same this time around given the silverware which is at stake.
Professor Ignacio Palacios-Huerta – who is Athletic Bilbao’s former head of talent identification – has conducted research on the topic in the past, and he was once employed as an enemy of United in the build-up to the 2008 Champions League final.
Palacios-Huerta worked at the request of Avram Grant – who was in charge of Chelsea at the time – for a period of around two weeks and was tasked with conducting a report using data attached to United’s penalty takers, in case the upcoming meeting was undecided after extra time.
The professor of economics found that two of Sir Alex Ferguson’s players showcased specific biases, with those being Edwin van der Sar and Cristiano Ronaldo; the former had a very strong tendency to dive towards the right for right-footed players and the left for left-footed players, whereas the latter would almost always shoot to the right when he stuttered in his run to the ball.
Although the Blues eventually lost the shoot-out, Palacios-Huerta was correct regarding his two predictions, with Nicolas Anelka missing the decisive penalty after going against the data and shooting towards the side of his favoured foot, allowing Van Der Sar to make a stop.
Moreover, after the final whistle was blown at the PGE Arena on Wednesday, Bruno Fernandes won the coin toss, but decided that Villarreal should kick first, which is actually recognised as an advantage beneath the surface.
After the contest in Gdansk, Solskjaer stated: “I’ve not asked Bruno who won the toss, I let him get on with it, we had penalty-takers with confidence, we made some changes to get them on and take the penalties.”
If United had applied penalty findings to the clash, perhaps Fernandes would have been informed that roughly 60 percent of teams which kick first tend to win shoot-outs.
According to Palacios-Huerta, that is because of how the leading and lagging asymmetry affects performance; it is simply better to be leading than to be chasing.
Ex-Chelsea boss Rafa Benitez has profited from delving into the data ahead of a final, with his most successful night in charge of Liverpool happening largely with thanks to the application of penalty knowledge in Istanbul; the Reds managed to defeat AC Milan in the 2005 Champions League final after Jerzy Dudek made a series of vital stops.
Speaking years later, Benitez said: “Of the five (Milan) penalty takers, only Jon Dahl Tomasson we didn’t have penalties of, the others, we had the penalties. We won the Champions League and people say ‘oh, you were lucky’ but no, we did it because we had more control of the shoot-out.”
A game of football can be decided in a variety of different ways and while it remains unlikely that penalties will eventually be called upon, it is always a possibility and the high-profile failings of Solskjaer and United should act as a warning for Chelsea.
Ultimately, Tuchel would benefit from following in the meticulous footsteps of the man who led the Blues in 2008.
Source by Football London