Football/Soccer

German marks under-valued after Northern Ireland game

Did Germany's Serge Gnabry - scorer of their second goal - really merit a lower rating than six Northern Ireland players?

THE wisdom of crowds?

That concept suggests that the more opinions you seek on a subject, the more accurate an assessment you will attain.

Recent political developments (arguably most election results over the centuries) might give the lie to that theory.

However, in a sporting context, having a ‘brains trust’ can provide a good means to rate players, especially in relation to recruitment and transfers.

It can also offer pretty accurate ‘match ratings’; all supporters of all clubs are biased, but when ‘their’ players perform poorly most of them will make that clear rather than being blinded by club loyalty.

One exception to the usefulness of the wisdom of crowds comes when there’s a mis-match which ends up in a close contest; when underdogs put it up to the big guns – but still lose.

Northern Ireland against Germany was a prime example of that.

The hosts played very well at Windsor Park, could – probably should – have scored at least one goal, and only conceded a ‘worldie’ early in the second half and then a second goal in the second minute of added time.

Yet they still lost 2-0 – but the player ratings offered by the public on the BBC Sport website would have made you think that the result had been the reverse of that.

The highest average mark for a Germany player was the 6.52 earned by Serge Gnabry, scorer of their second goal.

Somewhat strangely, no fewer than six (6) – yes, SIX! – Northern Ireland players received higher average marks than that.

At the other end of the scale, the lowest average mark received by a man in green was the 5.83 for substitute Josh Magennis. Yet that was still higher than the marks awarded to seven (7) – yes, SEVEN! – German players.

Go figure.

Looking at the numbers overall, the average mark for NI players was almost 6.56; that’s higher than Germany’s best player, Gnabry.

The average German mark was 5.80 - lower than that given to any home player.

Chin-scratch.

Some of this is understandable; people are obviously awarding ratings based on their expectations of what players can and ‘should’ do.

The Germany side, even after its post-World Cup re-vamp, still included 10 players who are with Champions League clubs – Bayern Munich (4 – Manuel Neuer, Niklas Sule, Joshua Kimmich, and Serge Gnabry), RB Leipzig (3 – Lukas Klostermann, Marcel Halstenberg, and Timo Werner), Borussia Dortmund (2 – Julian Brandt and Marco Reus), and Real Madrid (1, Toni Kroos). The three subs they brought on are all at CL clubs too – Jonathan Tah and Kai Havertz at Bayer Leverkusen and Emre Can at Juventus, although he has been omitted from their squad for that competition. Even the exception, Matthias Ginter, is with Borussia Moenchengladbach, who are in the Europa League group stages.

Clearly these players all operate at a higher level than all the Northern Ireland players, and most of them feature regularly for their clubs too.

NI’s only players at English Premier League clubs are goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell, and defenders Craig Cathcart (Watford), Jonny Evans (Leicester City), and Jamal Lewis (Norwich City) - and the keeper hasn’t been playing for Burnley. With all due respect to the SPL and the, ahem, ever-green Steven Davis, Rangers is not a top level side.

Midfielders George Saville and Corry Evans started despite not getting much game-time with their clubs in the Championship.

So there’s no doubt that Northern Ireland played above themselves to push Germany so hard, to make them work extremely hard for their win.

However, as an assessment of actual performance, these ratings are flawed analysis.

As well as Northern Ireland played, particularly in the first half, Germany were better.

They had much more possession, more shots (20 compared to five), more efforts on target (seven to one), and more corners (seven to four).

More goals too.

The ratings offered by the public were the triumph of perception over performance.

Clearly people were rewarding effort and application - or maybe, in a strange way, they weren't giving Northern Ireland enough credit, sub-consciously downgrading the Germans because they didn't win more comfortably...

The problem with expectations is that they tend to be unfair to the 'better' players, or those who are supposed to be better.

As I’ve noted before, a Peter Canavan '7' was always the result of a better display than that which earned Joe Bloggs a '7' in the same match.

Sympathy and admiration can be expressed, surely, and my own average mark for the NI players was close to 7 – but had I been asked to, the Germans would have rated higher.

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Perception can skew perspectives in every sport, of course.

Ahead of this weekend’s All-Ireland Senior Football Final replay the narrative has largely been that Kerry faded in the closing stages of the drawn game.

It’s certainly true that Dublin scored the equaliser in the fourth minute of added time and then had an opportunity to win it in the 77th minute, when Dean Rock dragged his free wide of the near post from out on the left side-line.

Yet that late leveller, by Rock, was arguably only Dublin’s second score of the final quarter, following a successful 65th minute free from the same player. Even if you add in Jack McCaffrey’s score in the 55th minute (the 20th minute of a 42-minute second half), the Dubs only managed 0-3 in that last quartile of the game.

In that same period, Kerry registered 1-4, all from play, including a brilliant 1-1 from substitute Killian Spillane.

Huge credit goes to Dublin, of course, for refusing to be beaten despite having to play the entire second half with only 14 men (albeit after the fully merited dismissal of defender Jonny Cooper).

However, a largely young Kerry side can hardly be categorised as ‘chokers’ either, despite struggling to make that extra man count in the third quarter, in which both teams score four points.

Come Saturday night many be proven right in the belief that ‘Kerry have missed the boat’; but for now the fact is that their hopes remain afloat - thanks largely to their scoring in the final quarter.

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