What is Contest Possession? The latest World Cup statistics explained

The importance of statistics in football continues to cause great debate among fans.

Expected goals – or often better known as xG – certainly has divided opinions, but this particular metric represents just one new statistic among many.

Possession, on the other hand, was one of the first records to make its way into football. For several years it was primarily used to determine which team had more possession compared to the other team.

But in recent seasons – and in the World Cup – ball possession statistics have changed.

In addition to a percentage measurement for both teams, a “Competition Possession” section has been added in previous games.

So what does that actually mean? the athlete is ready to explain it to you.

What is Contest Possession?

With Qatar’s opening game against Ecuador barely 10 minutes into the game, fans were shown the possession graphic on television broadcasts around the world.

It didn’t take an eagle eye to notice that it was different than usual with three sections above the color-coordinated bar instead of the usual two.

There was a portion of the bar that indicated Ecuador’s dominance, another that highlighted Qatar’s inferiority, and a third that indicated how long possession had been ‘contested’.

While seemingly pretty self-explanatory, as a change from traditional statistics, it always caused a stir and raised questions.

Who better to describe it to you than Arsene Wenger, FIFA’s head of global football development and Arsenal legend. Ahead of the World Cup, he explained FIFA’s Enhanced Football Intelligence (EFI) metrics.

Wenger held a Technical Study Group press conference ahead of the start of the World Cup (Photo: Maja Hitij – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

“The possession control metric is a natural progression from traditional possession statistics,” he said. “The metric shows the breakdown of possession throughout the game.

“As well as taking into account the traditional, conventional state of the game, it also introduces a new state of competition when neither team is in controlled possession.

“It offers new insights into how competitive a game was and shows how dominant one team was in possession over the other.”

In what scenario might ownership be considered “competing”?

Now that the basics of statistics have been covered, it’s worth pointing out what constitutes “competitive possession”.

First, and quite obviously, when two players compete for the ball, whether in the air or on the ground, that is considered to be in competition.

Second, when a defender clears a ball from its intended target. It is not considered to be in possession of either team until recovered by the opposing defense or an attacker.

If a defender blocks or intercepts but does not have full control of the ball, it is considered in contention.

A goaltender who parries the ball away from goal during a save is also considered in play until recovered by either team. At this point, a player must make a second touch, pass, or other controlling action for the ball to be considered in their team’s possession.

There are other scenarios where it is not possible to judge whether the ball is in control of either team – i.e. in competition – but many of these are entirely game-specific.

Are the new ball possession statistics well received?

It’s very hard to say for sure. However, as with most statistical updates in football, opinions are divided.

Out of 30 randomly researched tweets from people talking about competitive possession on Twitter, it was found that 18 football fans were dissatisfied with the addition of the stat, with many believing it was unnecessary.

Meanwhile, the other 12 football fans have been impressed and interested by the launch, with a few notably adding that they would like to see it implemented across a wider range of leagues and competitions.

(Photo above: Matthias Hangst via Getty Images)


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