How Neuer, Mbappe, Messi, Salah, Lewandowski and others built the perfect possession in 2021

By the end of Sunday, Dec. 19, 111 teams had played 3,902 games across Europe's Big Five leagues in 2021. Within those 3,902 matches, according to Stats Perform's army of game coders, there have been 1,663,433 touches. Of those 1,663,433 touches, 1,161,551 were passes. Of those 1,161,551 passes, 30,365 of them immediately led to shots. Of those 30,365 shots, 11,238 were on goal. And of those 11,238 shots on goal, 3,704 actually ended up in the goal.

If you've watched all of those goals, good for you. It's doable, though doubtful. Say each goal takes about 15 seconds, on average, from start to finish. If you watched just the goals, it'd take you about 15 hours over the course of a year. During your 15 hours of tape-grinding, no one goal would have stood out. Of course, Robert Lewandowski would've scored the most goals, would have flickered onto your screen most often, but he still accounted for only 0.7% of all the goals scored across Europe this season.

There are too many goals -- and way too many shots, passes that led directly to shots, passes in general, and simple touches of the ball -- for anyone to make sense of it all, but some simple math suggests some patterns.

About 70% of all the defined touches in a game come from passes, but just about 3% of the passes directly lead to a shot. And as for the shots themselves -- you know, the theoretical finish line every possession is heading for -- they make up just about 2% of all the touches in a given match. For shots preceded by a pass, about 37% found the goal frame, but just about 10% turned into goals. Put another way, less than one-half of 1% of all the recorded actions that took place at the highest level of the most popular sport in the world this season resulted in a point being scored. We are gluttons for failure.

Of course, some players fail less than others, and that's what greatness in this game is: being bad, just not as often as everyone else. So, if we wanted to create the play-by-play for an imaginary possession that had the best chance at success by ending in a goal, what would it have looked like in 2021, and which players would have been involved?

All graphics courtesy of Stats Perform