How to be successful in the German Bundesliga: What the numbers say

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Knowledge of success factors in professional football is crucial. Despite being one of the top leagues in Europe, the reasons for being successful in the German Bundesliga have rarely been studied. To gain knowledge on the Bundesliga, we analysed the numbers of 918 matches from the seasons 2014/2015 until 2016/2017 to find out why teams in the Bundesliga are successful, which essentially means to win a game.

Building on research from other leagues, we selected a total of 29 variables to find good explanations for success. The variables referred to 1) goal scoring, 2) passing and organizing, 3) defense, and 4) context. We did not only include an unusual high number of variables, we also included two contextual variables that have only rarely been used in studies on success: market value and average age of the starting formation. Furthermore, to account for the influences of the match venue results, we divided the sample between home team and away team. To further enhance validity, we excluded unbalanced games in a two-step cluster analysis to account for influences like a team not playing at their best because of an overwhelming defeat. Next, we performed a generalized ordered logit regression and used marginal effects to interpret the results.

With regard to goal scoring, we found that goal efficiency, the number of shots from counter attacks, the number of shots on target, and the number of total shots are significant success factors. Goal efficiency, which is the proportion of goals scored out of 100 shots, was the most important success factors in this group. For each additional percentage point of goal efficiency, the probability to win increased by 2.4% and 1.5% respectively (depending on playing at home or away). The results underline that not only the frequency of shots, but also the quality of shots is critical. Shots and shots on target increase the chance of winning by 0.9% to 1.9% for each shot.

When it comes to passing and organizing, only crosses showed a significant effect. Each cross decreased the winning probability by 1.2% and 0.7% respectively. However, it was highly interesting to find out that ball possession and distance covered showed no significant effect on the probability to win a game.

The variables related to defense showed that defensive errors and duel success (%) are significant factors for winning. Defensive errors showed the highest influence of all performance statistics with a value of -9.8% (home) and -7.5% (away). While the total number of defensive errors in a match is generally low, the numbers show the high relevance of defensive errors in relation to other success factors. The percentage of duel success showed to be only significant for away teams. Each additional percentage point of duel success increased the chance to win by 0.8%.

Finally, we found that three out of four contextual variables had significant effects: market value, the quality of the opponent and home advantage. Home advantage resulted on average in a surplus of 0.36 goals. A one million Euro increase of the market value of the starting formation resulted in an increase of the probability to win by 0.03% and 0.05% respectively. The difference of the teams with the highest and the lowest market value was more than 400 million Euros. In this case the probability of winning would increase by 12.3% (411×0.03%) and 20.6% (413×0.05%) respectively. Hence, our study clearly showed that market value is a substantial success factor. To our knowledge, market value was investigated for the first time in the context of football-specific success factors. Interestingly, the average age of the starting formation, was the only of the included contextual variables that showed no significant effect.

Overall, the results emphasize the finding that efficiency and accuracy are more important than the absolute number of game actions. Quality, as reflected in goal efficiency and duel success, is more important than mere quantity, as reflected in ball possession, distance covered or the average age of the team. Moreover, our study provided empirical evidence for the widespread saying “money scores goals”.

Read the full text here:

Lepschy, H., Wäsche, H., & Woll, A. (2020). Success factors in football: an analysis of the German Bundesliga. International Journal of Performance Analysis in Sport, 20(2), 150-164.

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Image caption:  © 9parusnikov –

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