In the past, a renowned coach once said a phrase that has ended up being very popular: in football you play better with 10 than 11 players. Sending off a player seems to have a psychological effect within the team, which leads them to exert a greater effort during what’s left of the match. It is about engaging even more in the game to counterattack such an unfavourable situation.
However, the results from some scientific research papers seem to dismiss this beneficial effect of playing in numerical inferiority. It has been demonstrated that the total distance covered by the teams that have a player sent off, is higher in 11 vs. 11 situations, especially in moderate-intensity actions. Also, the recovery time between high-intensity efforts decreases 1. It has also been demonstrated that teams who miss a player, end up receiving more goals than before the player has been dismissed.2
A recent research3 has also studied which technical-tactical indicators of a game, have a greater impact when playing with a missing football player. The study published in the International Journal of Performance Analysis in Sport, in 2016, analyzed 75 matches of the English Premier League (n=9), the French Ligue 1 (n=16), the Spanish La Liga (n=19), the Italian Serie A (n=21), and the German Bundesliga (n=10) during the 2014/2015 season where a player was dismissed. Matches, where referees sent off a player in the first 5 minutes or in the last 5 minutes of each half, were not included, nor those with more than one player dismissed. The performance of the teams that played with an extra player or with one less, were compared before and after the dismissal. The teams that had one more player (11 vs. 10) modified their performance as follows:
- The ball possession increased by 7 %, (51.07% before the player being expelled and 58.28% after).
- The number of short passes and total passes increased by 20% and 14%.
- The percentage of successful passes was 6% higher after the dismissal.
- A 30% increase in shots to the goal.
- Interactions with the ball increased by 9%.
- The number of defensive actions (clearances, fouls, interceptions and tackles) decreased by 8%.
The teams that went to play 10 vs. 11 suffered a loss in performance such as ball possession (7%), number of short passes (20%), the total number of passes (18%), the percentage of successful passes (3%), the number of shots (10%), and the number of interactions with the ball (19%).
So, it seems that with 10 players, teams do not perform better than those when playing with 11 players. Coaches should try to prevent as much as possible having a player sent off by controlling their hype levels before the match and changing the player that has received a yellow card or who shows an excessive level of activation in the match. Identifying which aspects of the game affect team performance might help better prepare these two different scenarios.
Carlos Lago Peñas
1 Carling, C. y Bloomfield, J. (2010). The effect of an early dismissal on player work rate in a professional soccer match, Journal of Science Medicine in Sport, 13, 126–128
2 Bar-Eli, M., Tenenbaum, G. y Geister, S. (2006). Consequences of players’ dismissal in professional soccer: A crisis-related analysis of group size effects, Journal of Sports Sciences, 24, 1083-1094.
3 Lago-Peñas, C., Gómez-Ruano, M.A., Owen, A.L. y Jaime Sampaio (2016) The effects of a player dismissal on competitive technical match performance, International Journal of Performance Analysis in Sport, 16, 792-800.