Direct play with quality are keys to success in football – A research review by Dan Bernardin

The predictors and determinants of inter-season success in a professional soccer team, by Kite & Nevill, in the Journal of Human Kinetics (2017).

The main objective of football is to outscore your opponent. It has previously been suggested that successful teams need to have a higher number of shots, successful passes and more possession (1).


1) To compare the performances of a professional football team competing in the English League One competition over 3 consecutive seasons
2) identify key variables that discriminated between a successful or unsuccessful performance
3) identify variables that best predicted success


Data was collected from the 2012/13, 2013/14 and 2014/15 seasons using Prozone Matchviewer and the variables investigated were predominately offensive actions related to:
Goal scoring – total shots, shots on target and shot effectiveness
General offensive play – total crosses, final third entries and penalty box entries
Possession retention – total passes, completed passes and passing effectiveness
Match location – home and away

What happened?

Season 1 was the team’s most successful season with more wins, more goals, more points and a better overall league position.
Season 2 & 3 were very similar with one additional point earned in season 3 despite a lower final league position.
Table 1 shows the comparison of variables between seasons, as can be seen the results may be what you expected to see in goal scoring but maybe not what you expected to see in possession retention and general offensive play.
Table 1. A comparison of variables between seasons.

Table 2 shows the comparison of variables between the results of the match and again the results are similar to those in Table 1.
Table 2. A comparison of variables between results of the match.

When the team won or drew the number of goals scored was significantly higher however, the total number of passes was significantly lower compared to when the team lost.


1) The team attempted significantly fewer total passes when they won or drew compared to when they lost.
2) Shot effectiveness (conversion percentage) rather then the total number of shots and shots on target was 4.5 times greater when the team won
3) Final third entries were not a predictor of success.

Practical Application:

Based on the results of this particular teams performance across 3 consecutive seasons they should adopt a more direct playing style that utilises fewer passes that are accurate, they should focus on shot effectiveness and not simply total shots and shots on target, and the act of simply entering the final third is not as important as what you actually do in the final third. Thus, the objective should be to move the ball directly with few passes into a position that affords a quality opportunity to shoot.


1. Castellano, J., Casamichana, D., & Lago, C. (2012). The use of match statistics that discriminate between successful and unsuccessful soccer teams. Journal of Human Kinetics, 31, 139-147.