Stats say: Penalty woes come back to haunt Kielce

Before Sunday’s final of the EHF Champions League Men, Barça and Lomza Vive Kielce were level according to the statistics. This was exactly what was seen in the EHF FINAL4 2022 decider, which was still tied after extra-time and the Catalan club only won after a penalty shoot-out.

Controlling the game

Kielce went into the game with a similar game plan as they had against Telekom Veszprém HC in the semi-final and in many other games this season. They tried to slow the game down, control the pace and thus the game. Against Veszprém, Kielce’s possessions were 10.3 seconds longer than their opponents (Veszprém 29.6 seconds, Kielce 39.9), which is a remarkably high difference.

Since Barcelona has been known to play a similar fast-paced style as Veszprém (they had the third shortest possessions this season, Veszprém the shortest), Talant Dujshebaev tried the same approach. Their possessions were even 11.6 seconds longer than Barça’s, which is the eighth highest difference in 127 games this season. In total, the Polish champion had almost 11 minutes longer possession of the ball than Barça.

But Kielce couldn’t capitalize on it. 10.9 turnovers per 50 possessions (12 overall) was their second-worst performance of the season in that regard. Carlos Ortega’s team, by contrast, lost the ball only 4.5 times per 50 possessions (5 times in total) - despite their fast play. That was their third-lowest number of turnovers this whole season.

For Kielce, however, fortune favoured the bold. While the defending champions had only one offensive rebound, they had eight and thus were able to rectify their surplus of turnovers.

Balance everywhere

And in keeping with the evenly matched teams, the shooting percentages were also the same for both teams in the 70 minutes. Both had 62.7% successful throws and thus 29.1 goals per 50 possessions.

All these are relatively average numbers for both teams this season. On the one hand, this reflects the very even game, on the other hand, this was also to be expected in advance due to the very even statistics.
Before the final, the Polish club had slightly better numbers in attack with 30.5 goals scored per 50 possessions compared to Barça’s 28.8. Barça, on the other hand, clearly had the best defence in the competition with only 25.8 goals conceded per 50 possessions (including the lowest shooting percentage allowed, highest save percentage and most turnovers faced), while the Kielce conceded 27.9.

The penalty favourites win

Of course, the fact that the statistics of the two teams are already equal before the match does not mean that it can be assumed that the match will go into extra-time. On the contrary, there is usually so much statistical variance, chance and luck involved that this is not the case.

But that was not the case in the final. So, it came as it had to come and the game went into a penalty shootout.

Looking at the statistics of the games before the final the favourite was clear. Kielce had the worst penalty scoring efficiency of all EHF Champions League teams this season, scoring on just 63.9% of their attempts. That is even worse than their field goal shooting percentage. The Spanish champions, in turn, were the third-best team with 79.6%.

But of course, their good percentage stemmed from their first choice penalty taker Aleix Gómez, who shot just about every time for them. The right wing was not just the top scorer of this season with 6.1 goals per game. He also scored on 82.0% of penalty throws taken (excluding shootouts). This made him the second-best penalty shooter this season after Mikkel Hansen.

Kielce, on the other hand, had tried different shooters again and again but had not found one they could completely trust. In the decisive penalty shoot-out, however, all this played only a subordinate role.

In the end, it was again variance, chance and luck that lead to the first back-to-back winners at the EHF FINAL4 in Cologne: Andreas Wolff got a touch to the first two shots but could not keep them out, while Gonzalo Perez de Vargas was able to make the one decisive save against Alex Dujshebaev.

Julian Rux is a data analyst and data journalist. More of his work can be found on his website and blog Handballytics.de as well as on social media: InstagramFacebook and Twitter.

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