Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner. Facebook Messenger An icon of the facebook messenger app logo. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Facebook Messenger An icon of the Twitter app logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. WhatsApp Messenger An icon of the Whatsapp messenger app logo. Email An icon of an mail envelope. Copy link A decentered black square over a white square.

Stats: Does data back up Fergie’s ‘could have been five or six’ Aberdeen v Real Madrid assessment?

We asked StatsBomb to apply modern football stats collection to the 1983 European Cup Winners' Cup final.

We got StatsBomb to perform their modern match analysis on the 1983 European Cup Winners' Cup final between Aberdeen and Real Madrid.
We got StatsBomb to perform their modern match analysis on the 1983 European Cup Winners' Cup final between Aberdeen and Real Madrid.

What does modern stats analysis reveal about Aberdeen’s 1983 European Cup Winners’ Cup win over juggernauts Real Madrid? Does it match 40-year-old memories of how the final played out? We found out.

Thursday marks 40 years since the Dons’ 2-1 extra-time victory in Gothenburg.

In the intervening years, the mythology around one of Scottish football’s greatest-ever victories has grown – almost at the same rate data and statistics have evolved into a fundamental part of interpreting teams’ and players’ performances.

There is an accepted narrative around the Reds’ iconic extra-time victory which has solidified in the decades since the final.

It reads: A very talented Aberdeen side, reinforced by previous (sometimes difficult) European experiences, adapted far better to the wet conditions at the Ullevi Stadium and dominated Real, with far more and far stronger chances over the 90 minutes and additional half-an-hour, their fitness seeing them take a stronger grip on proceedings in the latter stages.

But do the numbers from our provider StatsBomb – who have watched the game back and meticulously collected the data from the final for us – back up this assessment of Aberdeen’s greatest night?

Aberdeen might have ‘battered’ Madrid – but had less of the ball

How Aberdeen and Real Madrid lined up on the night in Gothenburg. Image: StatsBomb

During our series of exclusive Press and Journal interviews to mark four decades since Gothenburg, legendary boss Sir Alex Ferguson gave an assessment of Aberdeen’s part in the showpiece game, where he recalled: “We actually battered them, we played them off the park and it could have been five or six.

“How the game ever reached the stage where we were into extra time is one of the great mysteries of football.

“It would have been a tragedy if we had lost, because we were so much the better team on the night.”

Legendary Aberdeen manager Alex Ferguson in Gothenburg. Image: SNS

Looking at the stats, Fergie’s assertion the Dons “battered” their opponents should not be read as Aberdeen having all of the ball during the tussle, because they did not.

In fact, on the night, the Reds actually trailled Los Blancos significantly when it came to possession (40% to 60%) and in pressuring their rivals to regain possession (44 times against Real’s 57 pressure regains).

Aberdeen were also behind on tackles won (47 to 94), total passes completed (317 to 527), and pass completion percentage (72% to 80%).

Aberdeen v Real Madrid – the overall stats. Image: StatsBomb

Dons had far more chances than rivals

But the difference in the final was what Aberdeen did with the ball when they had it…

Real Madrid defender John Metgod suggested to The P&J the conditions on the night in Sweden were more suited to Aberdeen’s approach of getting the ball forward quickly.

The BBC commentators at the game accused Madrid of trying to be too “meticulous” in their play, given the wet weather on the night.

And the numbers show Real struggled to turn their possession into threat.

Aberdeen “battered” them, like Ferguson said they had, when it came to what counts – chances created.

Real’s Isidro and Aberdeen’s John McMaster. Image: Shutterstock

Madrid, with lots of possession and passing, only managed three shots on target in 120 minutes of action, while the Dons had 10.

Fergie was right to feel Aberdeen should have scored more, according to StatsBomb, who rated the Reds’ expected goals (xG) for the game at 2.59.

The Dons, of course, netted two goals, through Eric Black – whose early finish was quickly cancelled out by Juanito’s penalty – and then John Hewitt’s iconic extra-time winner.

StatsBomb rated Aberdeen’s two goals as also being their two best chances in terms of the likelihood the players would stick the ball in the back of the net.

Perhaps interestingly, Black’s swivelling close-ranger was rated as an easier chance (0.69xG) than Hewitt’s 112th-minute header (which they awarded an xG of 0.44).

Both were near to the goal, but Black had the keeper to beat, while the flight of the ball meant Real keeper Agustin was out of the equation for Hewitt’s header.

Eric Black scores to make it 1-0 Aberdeen against Real Madrid in the 1983 European Cup Winners’ Cup final. Image: Shutterstock

According to the data-crunchers, the Dons’ next two best chances in the final were Gordon Strachan’s 53rd-minute shot at 1-1, rated as being worth 0.21xG, and Mark McGhee’s 114th-minute attempt to make it 3-1, rated the same.

Another effort, two minutes later, from McGhee was rated 0.17xG.

As you’ll see from the list below Black’s near-opener on the volley, which came a minute before he did net, was a put down as a relatively low-value opening – even though he managed to smack the ball off the bar – while the second-half header where he injured his ankle and was forced off (for Hewitt) was also rated as having no more than an outside chance of going in.

For Madrid, their penalty, awarded when Alex McLeish’s back-pass forced Jim Leighton to wipe out Santillana, naturally rated as their best chance – at 0.78xG.

Real Madrid captain and scorer Juanito, right, with Aberdeen’s Willie Miller, left, and Neale Cooper. Image: Shutterstock

After this, their next highest-rated chance had an xG of just 0.09xG – when Isidro got his head to the ball at a corner.

Aberdeen had seven chances in the game with a higher probability of going in than this Isidro effort, according to StatsBomb, so in one respect, Ferguson wasn’t wrong to think there should have been a larger gap between the sides on the scoresheet.

How necessary was divine intervention for Madrid free-kick at the death?

The much-talked-about late Madrid free-kick, in the 120th minute with the Dons leading 2-1, where Peter Weir prayed to God to intervene and force the ball wide?

StatsBomb, experts in chances which tend to – and tend not to – lead to goals, rated the set-piece opportunity at just 0.05xG.

So the Lord’s hand was never likely to be needed in Aberdeen making it to the final whistle with their lead intact and securing European Cup Winners’ Cup trophy glory.

Aberdeen and Real Madrid’s chances in their 1983 meeting, with StatsBomb assigning each an expected goals (xG) rating. Image: StatsBomb
Continued… Aberdeen and Real Madrid’s chances in their 1983 meeting, with StatsBomb assigning each an expected goals (xG) rating. Image: StatsBomb

These graphics (complete with key at the bottom) further illustrate the difference in quality between Aberdeen and Madrid’s chances in the game:

Aberdeen’s chances in Gothenburg. Image: StatsBomb
Real Madrid’s chances in Gothenburg. Image: StatsBomb

‘As the final progressed we were dominating more and more’

Aberdeen’s superior fitness – a focus of Ferguson and his assistant Archie Knox – was a key part of eventually getting them over the line in the final, the players will tell you.

This factor was suggested by both Neil Simpson, who told us: “We were fit as a squad, and when it went to extra-time, we knew we’d have the energy… I ran as much in the 120th minute as I did in the first.”

Meanwhile, legendary Dons skipper Willie Miller said: “As the final progressed we were dominating more and more.

“I think anyone watching the game will accept that we were the team on top.

“Going into extra-time there was no doubt in any of our minds that we would win the game.

“It was wave after wave of attack.

“There was only going to be on winner – it was just a matter of could we get the breakthrough goal… then John Hewitt scored.”

Real Madrid’s Agustin comes for the ball too late and Aberdeen’s John Hewitt heads home the Dons’ extra-time European Cup Winners’ Cup final winner. Image: Aberdeen Journals

While we do not have access to the distance run by both sets of players in the game, what we do have from StatsBomb is this race chart below, which shows how Aberdeen’s threat and grip on proceedings increased as time wore on, especially during the additional half-an-hour.

It would seem from this the players were right about outlasting Madrid. At least it is clear they were able to turn the screw increasingly as the minutes ticked by.

If we forget about goals actually scored, you can see from the lines representing both sides that, from the start of the second half onwards – and especially throughout extra-time – the multiplication of Dons chances compared to Madrid’s was pronounced.

By full-time, the difference in the sides’ threat over the piece reached a point where StatsBomb reckon Aberdeen had a 65% chance of coming out on top, with Real Madrid’s quality of chances meaning they were rated as having just a 15% chance of taking the trophy back to Spain.

This race chart shows how Aberdeen’s grip on proceedings grew at the minutes ticked by, especially in extra-time. With StatsBomb estimating Real Madrid only had a 15%.