Soccer Stats

How I do my research

I’d like to delve a little bit on how I do my soccer analysis. I think the best place to start is with this star-graph piece:

Almost all of the raw data comes from a company called Opta. They do all of the live tracking stuff which ends up getting post-processed by Stats Bomb, 4-4-2, Michael Caley, and a couple of others. Michael Caley’s xG maps are probably the most accessible and well distributed work outside of generic heat maps and crossing maps. Caley’s stuff can be found on his twitter feeds:
He does a good weekly podcast with another stats nerd named Michael Goodman called Double Pivot. Caley’s voice and speaking style are stuttery and grating, but he’s really smart and earnest.
I’ve tried a few other soccer podcasts and they’re mostly terrible including the Spurs-centric Wheeler Dealer Radio. Most of them are 2-6 guys taking turns shitting on average players and making pleas for the manager of their choice to sign/start/drop Player X.
Soccer stats are in their infancy. At least the public face of it. There are a couple of guys doing analytic videos breaking down how players take space but I haven’t seen anything on the regular so I can’t remember where I’ve seen any of it. There’s so much room for smart analysis of formations, player movement on and off the ball, and strategic breakdowns. Dozens of times I’ve wished that I had an easy way to capture a quick, high quality clip from my DVR as I’m watching the game. It would turn my 1-hour email into a 6 hour email but it would open up the conversation so much more.
When I come across the good stuff I’ll pass it along.

League Cup

Gillingham

Tomorrow is our League Cup match against Gillingham. I haven’t even bothered to see if this is on TV. With Kane injured, a thick schedule going forward, and an offseason of clearing out non-future starters, I expect our youth team to get a lot of run.

I don’t know anything about Gillingham so almost everything below is from this article:
The author is proposing a lineup that looks like this:

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Alderweirald in the back line for the first half just as an token of stability. Poche doesn’t tend to swap out his entire starting lineup. Whether that’s to keep a cohesive playing style or because he doesn’t trust his youngsters, I’m not sure. But as we’ve discussed before, League Cup matters to no one. I guess it would be good to win it but I think the payout is less than a week’s wages for the club so in the face of a $40-50M payout from Champions League, this is not the place to put our resources.
Gillingham, again from the above article, is pretty blah this season. They’re mid-table in the third division (League 1) and feature mostly over the hill players and one central playmaker, Bradley Dack. Dack will be playing his heart out hoping to get noticed by a big club, but we should be able to shut down their attack. Carroll, Erikson, and Onomah are all very creative players, and it will be good to see what N’Koudou can do (that’s satisfying to say out loud).
Hopefully out youth proves themselves worthy, we score early, and run the game out. This is a good chance for them to make their case for first team minutes. Given the cramping of Walker, Dier, and Dembele, the injury to Kane, and the possible shittiness of Sissoko, there will be minutes available in all bands of the pitch. Last year 4th choice defender Kevin Vimmer got an extended spell in relief of the injured Vertonghen and played like a boss. It’s really important for our depth and club finances to keep developing useful players that can step in and bang, or be sold for a profit. It’s an aspect of club Chairman, Daniel Levy’s financial strategy; buying young so they can either develop or be sold when their wages are cheap and their value on the rise.

Champions League Group Stage Match 1

A first Champions League match to forget…

So Fox Sports West fucked me. I’m pretty sure they singled me out and fucked me. Tuesday’s CL match between Man City and Borussia Mongeloidbach (sp?) was canceled because of rain and lightning. The game was rescheduled for Wednesday and they–the evil masterminds Fox Sports West – pulled a switcheroo and showed the City-‘Bach game instead of Spurs v not-Spurs. I found a later showing but it was already in the 22nd minute. And the Spurs were down 0-1 and Monaco was holding the ball and dancing around it like a conga line. I was….not calm.

We started the game in a 4-2-3-1 with Alli and Dier at CM, and Son, Lamela and Erikson at AM. This was the “here’s our dick, bet you can’t suck the whole thing” lineup. That’s not exactly how it worked out.
Monaco on the ball was very composed and played tight 1-2s and outside-in overlaps. They gobbled up the space outside of the CMs and then worked back toward the middle to find shooting angles. Their chances weren’t amazing but they were slippery despite being predictable. It was frustrating to watch. When we would get the ball in possession, we would string together 4 or 5 sideways passes between the defenders and then play long passes to the wingers. The wingers would push up the field in the face of 9 defenders. Monaco packed in their D tight and organized. Kane and whoever had the ball were always surrounded by 3 Yachties. I don’t know what Monaco’s mascot is but Yachties sounds better than Genetic Recessive Blood Disorders, and clearly they’re one of the two.
A replay revealed that the first goal was scored when Lamela gave up possession, the ball moved to a striker out wide who turned inside between Davies and Vertonghen and fired low and inside the far post. Opportunistic but worthy goal. Fuckers. Around the 30th minute, we were back defending and Erikson and Walker had their men pushed into the corner. The Yachtiest played around with it, pulled it back and whipped in a cross into a mass of 3 Spurs defenders and 2 Yachtie attackers. The ball ping ponged around touching all 5 guys before popping out at the foot of a surprised attacker who smashed the ball into the roof of the net. 0-2 Yachties and it wasn’t looking good.
Somehow the Spurs started to turn it around. Some over the top passes to Walker on the sideline created some openings in the Yachties’ defense. We were controlling possession and linking to our attacking band, but couldn’t find a gap wide enough to get a shot. A Lamela corner kick found Alderweirald’s head like a hair gel-seeking missile and he smashed it into the net in the 44th minute. 1-2 at halftime.
Spurs shuffled their lineup at halftime. Dembele came in at the pivot, Alli moved to AM, and Son went to the bench. It was a fair benching. Son was not very productive or thrifty with his touches in the 25 minutes I watched him. Other than his corner kick, Lamela wasn’t much better. The second half started way better for Spurs. We took possession and basically bombarded their goal for the next 20 minutes. It wasn’t until the 67th minute that the Yachties had their first scoring chance of the second half and a few more minutes before they strung together 5 consecutive passes. Spurs, on the other hand, were purposeful and probing in their attack. When he was on the ball, Dembele used his body to dribble past defenders with a long, galloping stride. It would interrupt the defensive alignment as players are pulled toward the ball. Erikson and Alli were very potent in their on-the-ball movement and passing. Lots of cool cheeky stuff to create chances. Erikson fizzed a couple of crosses inside the 6 yard box but was unable to find feet. Alli ripped a gorgeous volley from 25 yards out that was dipping under the bar and forced a good save from the Yachties’ GK. Kane, on the other hand, just couldn’t find his stroke. Extraneous touches meant that every shot he had was blocked by the defender. I don’t know if he’s lacking confidence or has tired legs or is just having a bad run of luck but we really need his finishing. The following shows his shot chart. Two of the gray arrows are from so close that he has to score at least one of those. The blue arrow up the middle I’ll get to.
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For comparison, here’s Erikson’s pass chart. He takes corners so that accounts for some of the red arrows but look how many times he put the ball into a dangerous area:unnamed-1
And here’s Lamela’s pass and shot chart. Too many backward passes although he did get the corner kick assist and nearly had a second on a sweet dipping cross than Kane and Alli both came up short on where the slightest touch would have been a goal.
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In that 20 minute burst we created so many chances and not all of them turned into shots. The announcer repeatedly referred to Monaco’s defense as “besieged” but we could find the touch that would put it in the back of the net. In the 70th minute Lamela came off and Janssen came on. Kane slid back as a central AM. Janssen was well suited for the game. His physical off-the-ball play negated the Monaco CBs and opened up the channels for through balls. Again we created a couple of good chances but couldn’t put them in the net. The best was a through ball that Janssen won in a footrace turned Greco-Roman wrestling match. He managed to get around his defender right at the touch line, gathered the ball and hit Kane with a tight pass. Kane hit it right into the hands of the dumbfounded GK–the blue arrow in his shot chart. The whole Spurs side basically sighed and the game was over. Sissoko came on for Erikson in the 80th and Monaco enjoyed spells of possession. Some of our guys walked while they had the ball. It was frustrating and the Yachties conga lined their way around the ball not doing much but not giving it away and the clock ticked away. We managed a few more chances but it all felt increasingly desperate and far-fetched. The game ended 1-2 to the Yachties. Fucking Yachties. Below is our xG map. I think it undersells how dominant we were in creating chances since a chance only gets an xG value if it becomes a shot. For example, one of those tiny dots from the top right of Tottenham’s chart was that teasing ball that either Kane or Alli could have gotten before the keeper snapped it up at the back post. Either touch would have been a goal and xG of close to 0.5. The end result and the xG tally would look a lot different.
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This was a poor result. We really needed to win this. I blame Fox Sports West.
The upside is that we’re a better team that Monaco and we can win there. More importantly, Levekusen was supposed to destroy CSKA at home but managed a draw. Our next CL match is away to CSKA in 2 weeks. That will be one of the 3 matches we have to win.

Transfer Deadline

The window closes…for now!

The transfer window just closed and there was some last minute craziness.
  1. Son is staying despite Wolfsburg offering big money.
  2. Isco turned us down to go back to his previous club Malaga.
  3. The N’Koudou/N’Jie swap is done.
  4. Out of nowhere we bought Moussa Sissoko, of Newcastle and the French national team, for 30M pounds.
Sissoko is a “box-to-box” midfielder in the same vein as Dembele. Plus they have the same first name, Moussa, so we have to come up with a new nickname other than Moose. This gives us 2 incoming defensive players and 2 incoming offensive players, in lieu of a bunch of replacement-level talent that was shipped out. I don’t know how to justify his price tag of 30M pounds as TransferMarkt.com has him rated about 75% as high as Dembele.
That gives us the following quality players at each position band:
  • Striker – Kane, Janssen, Onomah
  • AM – Lamela, Alli, Eriksen, Son, N’Koudou
  • Pivot – Dembele, Sissoko
  • CM – Dier, Wanyama
  • FB – Rose, Walker, Davies, Trippier
  • CB – Alderweirald, Vertonghen, Wimmer
If we consider positional flexibility (Kane playing AM, Dier playing fullback, etc) we actually have a lot of depth out of not that many players. That gives us 6 strikers, 8 AM, 5 CM, 5 FB, 5 CB out of 19 possible players. Hopefully this means we get to play a lineup of 11 good players regardless of who’s getting the day off, instead of a team full of scrubs for early round League Cup and FA Cup matches–more critically, it should mean we can play our best line up in either the BPL matches or the Champions League matches and not experience a huge drop off in the other as we did last season.
As you can tell, I drank the Kool-Aid.

Transfer Deadline

Before the window closes…

The international break is upon us and so is the summer transfer deadline. It closes at the end of August. We’ve done a furious bit of business the last few days so here’s the recap:

I don’t (care to) know how to get my computer to do the pound sterling symbol so I’m using the telephonic symbol instead.
In:
Janssen (striker) – #17M from AZ Alkmaar – Looks good so far. Half the cost of some of the other striker transfers this season.
Wanyama (CM) – #11M from Southampton – Has played ably. Scored the winner against Crystal Palace. About half the cost of his nearest comp, Wijnaldum, the new Liverpool midfielder.
N’Koudou (AM/Winger) – from Marseilles – This was a swap with N’Jie but Marseilles’ board quit mid-transaction and it was unclear if it was going to happen. There are reports that he’s in the building and training with the team so I’ll assume this is done.
Out:
Chadli (AM/striker) – #13M to West Brom – Good business by us. Sold an unwanted part for a profit.
Mason (CM/AM) – #9M to Hull – Thank god he’s gone. I look forward to destroying them twice this season. Maybe Lamela can nutmeg all of the former Spurs players.
Bentaleb (CM) – #16M loan-to-buy to Shalke – More good business. Sold an unwanted part to a different league.
Yedlin (RB) – #5M to Newcastle – Sad to see him go but he’s stepping right into playing time so that makes it good for the USMNT
Alex Pritchard (AM) – #9M to Norwich- Was potentially one of our budding academy players. Never seen him play.
Clinton N’Jie (Winger), Dominic Ball (CB), Fazio (AM) – Don’t care
Unknown Out:
Son Mihn-Hueng (AM/Winger) – There are simmering rumors that he’s headed back to Germany. Not a lot of reliable information because he just got done with the Olympics.
Targets:
Isco (AM/winger) – Real Madrid – Seems like he wants out of Real Madrid because it’s hard to get playing time ahead of Ronaldo and Bale. This would be a score for us.
Calhanoglhu (AM) – Leverkusen – This was probably a speculative rumor. Leverkusen is the third best team in Germany, playing us in Champions League, and I think the guy gets regular playing time.
The takeaway is that we’ve shed a lot of players that won’t end up being contributors and brought in quality to replace them. In doing so, we’ve still managed to do thrifty business. Many other teams in the league have spent upward of #20M to get the same crappy recycled strikers that are getting relegated. We grabbed contributors, but we still lack depth. Hopefully another player of quality comes in before Thursday because we start Champions League group play and League Cup in September in addition to 3 BPL matches.

Spurs Week 3

A draw at home with Liverpool

1-1 Draw at home with Liverpool. This was the Choose Your Own Adventure game. So many incidents that could have dramatically altered the course of the game.

“Alternative Universe 1 – Coutinho sits due to a tight hamstring”
Up until the day of, this was what was being reported. Coutinho is one of the lynch pins of Liverpool’s attack. He played an excellent game, creating chances through smart passing and dangerous runs. Had he not played, Liverpool probably wouldn’t have been so effective through the first 65 minutes of the game.
“Alternative Universe 2 – Coutinho can finish”
Maybe 5 minutes into the match Liverpool’s domination of the midfield resulted in some nifty work down the right, inside of Rose, then behind Vertonghen, and a tidy pass horizontal pass to an unguarded Coutinho at the 6 yard box with 2/3 of the goal at his disposal. Vorm made a hockey kick save and then lept on the ball securing it. Going down 1-0 5 minutes in would have completely changed the game. As it was, Liverpool was the sharper, more aggressive team. Their high press and superior numbers in midfield meant Spurs had to move the ball around the back a lot and look for 25-yard passes through the midfield. We were much too stretched and many passes were intercepted. There were several instances of poor back-passing that lead to Liverpool scoring chances.
“Alternative Universe 3 – Healthy Hugo: Not a Sweeper Keeper”
Vorm was fantastic today. He’s so obviously less talented than Lloris, and yet I think he did a better job today than Lloris would have. Vorm made some great reaction saves and several furious out-of-the-box tackles on streaking attackers. His tackles were athletic, and superbly timed and one was probably 35 yards from his goal. So often we see keepers caught out where they can’t use their hands and the “no, Brain, we have to use our feet” thought process is almost visible as they change their posture and haphazardly fling their lower bodies at the dancing feet of the attacker only to draw a card and a penalty. Vorm did it with aplomb and in a way that I doubt Lloris could have matched.
“Alternative Universe 4 – Kyle Walker wasn’t ill”
In the 35th minute Kyle Walker came off. Dier moved to right back, Alli moved to cover Dier at CM, Kane moved to center AM, and Janssen came on as the new striker. It wasn’t until halftime that the announcers let us know that he was off due to being ill rather than an injury. Walker was pretty lackluster for his short stint. I’m sure this was the reason. Regardless, Firmino, Llana and Wijnaldum were having their way with Walker. When Coutinho got free at the back post, it was on Walker’s side and he was nowhere to be found. I don’t know if a healthy Walker would have made an appreciable difference in the game but Dier at right back did. More on that in a minute.
“Alternative Universe 5 – Sadio Mane gets sent off”
In the 35th minute Mane committed a clumsy foul on Alli. It earned him a yellow card. 2 minutes later his committed the same foul on Rose. Then in the 48th minute he did it again. Each time heavier and clumsier. The second was clearly worthy of a yellow and third definitely should have had him sent off. Why the ref allowed it to continue I don’t know. But had Liverpool lost their 2nd best attacker by the 40th minute and been a man down it would have been a radically different game. Instead of cutting our defense to pieces with a 3-man front line, they might have brought on Sturridge to act as the lone striker in a 4-4-1. Instead, he didn’t come on until basically stoppage time. Had he gotten his second yellow in the 48th minute with Liverpool up 1-0, that too would have change the game. They would have brought on extra defenders and tried to lock it down. Liverpool is not good at traditional defending. Moreno coming on would have been a gift.
“Alternative Universe 6 – Lamela doesn’t try to put his fingers up Firmino’s ass”
Around the 40th minute, Lamela got beat to the touchline by Firmino, who turned the corner and moved torward the goal. In his attempt to catch up, Lamela accidentally clipped Firmino’s trailing leg bringing him down and the ref had no choice but to award a penalty. Despite being their starting left back, James Milner took the penalty and calmly pinged the back of the net. Given the run of play, it was amazing that Liverpool wasn’t already up 2-0. I’m not sure what Lamela could have done differently, he got beat but tried to work back. One of the announcers kept admonishing him for “getting too close” but that’s like scolding cupcakes for having frosting. Uh, he’s Argentinian. They invented the Tango and anal sex. Of course he got too close. Also, there’s some discussion that Firmino might have been outside the box. I’m a giant homer and at no point did I think it was an unfair call.
“Alternative Universe 7 – Coutinho doesn’t get subbed”
In Alternative Universe 1, Coutinho’s hamstring keeps him out of the game. Instead he played and created a lot of chances and missed a total sitter. But he wasn’t net neutral. We know because he was subbed out in the 67th minute for Origi, another striker, and the game immediately shifted. Suddenly, Dier was able to play the right back-attacking winger role. Repeatedly he pushed up the wing and fired in crosses. There was a beautiful cut back to Erikson that was wasted, and a couple of other good chances created, before he whipped in a far post laser for Lamela. Lamela had a defender on both shoulders and the three went down in a heap. The ball deflected off of someone and Danny Rose streaked in for the follow up. In a classic defender’s goal he aimed for the far post and barely nipped it in at the near post past the on-rushing goalkeeper. 1-1 Spurs. Why didn’t Klopp sub on Sturridge? Why didn’t he shift to a more defensive 4-4-2? Why Origi? Why Klopp?
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Here’s how The Guardian put it “74 min┬áJurgen Klopp growls with frustration, punches the air in anger – and then, a split-second later, motions for his team to calm down!
1-1 was a better result for Tottenham than for Liverpool. Liverpool dominated the first 65 minutes of the game with crisp passing, an energetic press, and smart defending to cut off our passing lanes. Liverpool’s new defender Matip was particularly effective and probably the best player on the pitch. The second best was Toby Alderweirald. He was incredible, constantly mopping up for his defensive cohorts’ lapses and mistakes.
Player ratings (-5 to 5):
Janssen 0 – He worked hard but didn’t produce much. Zero shots.
Kane 0 – See Janssen.
Erikson -1 – He had moments, he had opportunities, and he was not productive. Kane and Janssen didn’t produce but they never had the opportunity to do so. Nothing made it up to them. Erikson was part of the reason why.
Lamela 1 – Committed the penalty that gave Liverpool the 1-0 lead. Worked hard and was involved in most of our chances.
Alli 2 – Put in a good shift as a CM. Was not effective at linking up with the attacking band. But defended well when his role changed.
Wanyama 2 – lots of good tackles in the middle of the pitch. strong on the ball but couldn’t link up with the attack.
Rose 3 – His goal outshines some bad passing and putting Vertonghen in a bad spot with Mane more than once.
Vertonghen 0 – Sloppy defending. Tim Howard once referred to him as the best defender in the BPL. I haven’t figured out why.
Alderweirald 4 – Was outstanding. The Janitor mopped up everything that his partners let through. He even got his head on 50% of our corner kicks and was unlucky not to get a goal. Our best player.
Dier 4 – Didn’t get much going from CM but was our sole offensive creator when he replaced Walker at right back.
Vorm 4 – Great GK’ing. Three incredible open field tackles. Several awesome reaction saves. Could be better at distribution.
Walker -3 – Was off his game for understandable reasons. However, his mark should have scored at least twice in the 35 minutes he was on the pitch. Them not scoring was by no credit to him. Should buy Alderweirald dinner at a nice taco stand.
Onomah 1 – Normally I hate this guy. But he wasn’t bad in his 10 minutes on the pitch.
Winks 0 – Name rhymes with twinks and he looks like it. Was only on the field for a hot minute. No touches no chances.
Liverpool ratings:
Just kidding. Booooooo the Reds.
Liverpool played really well for most of the game and showed why they are a team to be feared. They also showed why they won’t win the league anytime soon. They can’t finish the great chances they create, and they can’t defend enough to protect a lead. Tottenham showed that on a flat day, they’re very beatable by the best teams. They also showed that beyond their best 13 players, they have very little to offer that might scare thine enemy. When they control the middle of the pitch, they’re awesome. It unlocks the offensive pivot and allows the full backs to create from the wings. When they don’t have control of the middle of the pitch, they’re forced to resort to long passes and but lack the speed to be dangerous in that manner. The announcer pointed out as much late in the game when Kane was subbed off. It will be interesting to see what happens in 2 more matches when Dembele comes back. Wanyama and Dier are similar players and neither is particularly inclined to keep their ball at their feet and claim the 10 yards of space in front of them. I’m hoping that Dembele’s controlled attacking brings the Alli-Erikson-Kane triumvirate back into the game. Lamela doesn’t seem to be getting frozen out by the lack of service, but the others need a smart pass at their feet to be able to work their magic.

Champions League Draw!

Favorable for the Spurs

Spurs update for the day:

In exciting cup news, we got our League Cup draw. Home against Gillingham. What the fuck is a Gillingham? No idea, so I looked up Gillingham on Google Maps. Then I zoomed out. Then I zoomed out again. Canterbury off in the corner of the screen. I zoomed out again. Ah, London to the West. This team is assuredly from a bucolic countryside town and probably our best case scenario for an early round draw. A handful of BPL teams have drawn each other. This will be a chance for our deep reserves to get some first team action.
In actual exciting cup news, Champions League group stages were drawn today and I think we got really lucky. Here’s the draw:
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Based on the quantity of German and Spanish teams we were pretty much guaranteed to get at least 1 of them. We got the 3rd best German team, the worst team from Pot 1, and a blah Monaco team. This is definitely a group we can win, and we only need to finish in the top 2 to go through to the knock-out stages. It’s important for the club to get to the knock-out stages because it a) cements us as a world class club, b) payouts are really large–potentially more than we’ll earn from finishing in the top 4 this season in the BPL, and c) good performances by English clubs will guarantee that we keep 4 spots in CL and 2 spots in Europa. If the BPL teams crash out quickly again this year it may knock us down to 3 and 3.
Otherwise, the groups are pretty even. We could have been drawn into Groups B, D, E, F, or H and we got the best one. Leicester’s Group G looks pretty easy as well. Arsenal and City got tougher draws. Groups B, C, D, and maybe F are probably the toughest.
Liverpool fans, Champions League is a club competition in Europe. It’s for the best teams in each country. You can read about it in the history of Liverpool. Or you can follow Brendan Rodgers. He’s in the Champions League with Celtic. Maybe Liverpool was holding him back and not the other way around.