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You'll Never Walk Alone

It was never going to be an easy game. But with a measure of luck behind the offensive genius of Mo Saleh, there was a betting man’s chance LFC would beat Real to finally hoist the Champions League trophy for the first time in a generation.

Then at the 31st minute, it all fell apart.

Goalkeepers don’t win games but they sure can lose them. That’s why it’s the hardest position in the beautiful game – all the guts and rarely the glory. Strikers are allowed plenty of mistakes; mids and defenders maybe one; for goalkeepers, mistakes are fatal and unfortunately Loris Karius made not just one, but two.

Our mission at Stopper is to help goalkeepers and coaches use in-depth performance data and analytics to understand their strengths and weaknesses. One of the key metrics we measure is decision making around distribution, by tracking completion percentages across a range of actions. Based on the data from the goalkeepers we’ve analyzed to date, I can almost guarantee that if we tracked Karius’ game performance and development over the years, a pattern of making distribution mistakes in high pressure scenarios would appear. I’m pretty sure that Stopper would also show a pattern of compounding errors – where a first mistake leads to a loss of composure that almost inevitably leads to yet more mistakes.

Moral of the story: the more objectively coaches can assess goalkeeper performance the better. By integrating Stopper into their high-performance training, teams can identify player performance trends and subsequently make the appropriate coaching decisions. When the Dutch team swapped keepers in the dying minutes of their game against Costa Rica in the 2014 World Cup, it was lauded as a bold move: that brilliant coaching call by van Gaal was exactly the kind of decision-making Stopper is designed to support.

Let’s say that Jürgen Klopp had our analytics at his fingertips and knew that once Karius had made his initial mistake, there was a very high-percentage chance of getting scored on again due to loss of composure. Then the decision would have been a no-brainer – sure, a tough call, but imagine for a second that based on that data, he pulled a play from the hockey book. Imagine he had substituted Mignolet or maybe Bogdan for Karius – and then imagine that subsequently Bale’s shot in the 83′ minute never went in.

Football is a game of what-ifs and might-have-beens, but if Klopp had the data to support that call, there’s an even chance that the Champions League trophy would be standing tall at Anfield today.

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