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Attack, attack, attack

Last Wednesday, Roma led 1-0 at half time against Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League. Their coach Eusebio di Francesco urged his team to continue attacking; not only had they outshot the Ukranians 9-4, they’d created by far the better chances. Roma had an opportunity to put the tie to bed.

Within seven second half minutes though, Shakhtar were level. Roma conceded another with 19 minutes remaining, and could easily have fallen 3-1 behind in injury time. Di Francesco was dismayed. “I told the team to play the second half the way we played the first,” he said after the match, “but what I saw on the pitch is that team was happy to defend. We need to work on that.”

Roma’s players were loss averse; after half time the thought of conceding a goal outbalanced the thought of scoring another. This is our natural instinct, and it’s evident across many sports. However, loss aversion often means we don’t maximise our chances of winning; in football we find that teams concede at nearly a 20% higher rate when leading by one goal compared to when the scores are level.

Quite often the research suggests that we go for what feels to be the ‘risky’ option. It’s true that an adventurous approach can sometimes lead to heavy defeats, but as long as we accept that this is a part of our strategy, and therefore manage the psychological scars that come with it, in the long run we’ll actually win more often than under the current status quo.

As it turns out, Roma will have to attack in the second leg in order to progress, but their task could have been easier had they done so in the second half in Kharkiv. Changing human psychology is never the easiest task, but knowing that we aren’t alone – and that there is a better way – is a step towards winning more games.

About Omar Chaudhuri

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