How Game State impacts player mentality


In the first feature of our Game State series, we focused on player behaviour. We explained why Liverpool sit a little deeper after taking the lead and how this directly impacts the threat of Mohamed Salah. 

This time around, we’re going to take a look at how game state impacts a player’s mentality. We often hear that some clubs have bogey teams and there’s always a feeling that some players tend to have an off day against certain opponents. These claims tend to be unsubstantiated because, well, it is difficult to prove. 

But the game state function within the Twenty3 Toolbox allows users to look at how teams and players react to different scorelines. You can highlight whether previous matches have had an impact on players and managers. 

With the help of Bundesliga writer and co-commentator Chris Williams, we’ve been able to find a couple of examples. 

“If certain teams don’t score first, you can see the panic,” Williams told Twenty3. 

“Take Borussia Dortmund’s match against FC Bayern last season, after the restart. BVB had all the play and they’re having the better of the chances. Manuel Neuer then denies Erling Haaland before the prolific forward pulls one wide. On another day, the hosts are 2-0 up before Joshua Kimmich cheekily lobs Roman Bürki.

Borussia Dortmund's shot map against FC Bayern when the game was level.

“Bayern score against the run of play and Dortmund close up shop, looking to ensure the damage was limited after their 4-0 loss earlier on in the season when the two sides met. It brought an end to their title challenge. They’d scored eight goals in their previous two matches but once Bayern took the lead they looked like a side who couldn’t find the net if they’d been given all day.”

Borussia Dortmund's average position map when the game was level compared to their average position map after falling behind.

Both graphics back up what Williams watched unfold. Neither side had gilt-edged chances, but BVB did have the better opportunities when the game was level. Kimmich’s lob, just before the break, changed the entire shape of the game. Dortmund went from feeling as though they could get at Bayern, to sitting deeper, as evidenced by their average position maps. 

“I was co-commentating on Mainz vs RB Leipzig last season. Julian Nagelsmann’s side ran out 8-0 winners in the reverse fixture and from kick-off, Mainz were on edge. However, they started well and had opportunities early on, only for Timo Werner to score after 11 minutes. The hosts never really recovered, it finishes 5-0 but could’ve been another 8-0. It could’ve all been so different had that early chance found the back of the net.” 

RB Leipzig's shot map after taking the lead against Mainz.

Again, the graphics complement what Williams said. After taking the lead, Die Roten Bullen peppered the Mainz goal, racking up 17 shots in 78 minutes. They averaged an effort every 4.5 minutes while their season average was a shot every 6.4 minutes. Nagelsmann’s side definitely sensed there was an opportunity to rack up another big win. 

Mainz retreated in an attempt to prevent another 8-0 mauling but by doing so ceded possession and space. They offered very little threat and it turned into something of a training exercise; attack vs defence. All because the fear of another thumping prevented them from playing their natural game. 

Maybe bogey teams do exist.

All the graphics and visualisations in this article use Wyscout data and were produced in the Twenty3 Toolbox.

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