Thursday Links: Interesting Soccer Analyses

I have read some noteworthy articles that delve into some interesting soccer stories over the last few days. I will post the links to these articles and offer my thoughts on their topics below.

Tempo-Free Soccer posted an extremely well-written article on statistical analysis in soccer. Tempo-Free soccer poses an interesting question – while goal differential does explain approximately 85% of the variance in league table, are goals the best tool to predict future success? Through statistical analysis, Tempo-Free Soccer illustrate that goals and assists are not persistent year over year. Instead, shots and key passes are far more likely to be predictive of next year’s performance. Some of you may be wondering how this could be.

It becomes obvious to those who have played or watched the game voraciously. Goals and assists are infrequent events that carry a disproportionate impact. For instance, player A may score 13 goals one season, and player B may score 10 goals in a season. Based off this information, you would conclude that player A is a better scorer and more likely to score more goals during the next season. However, if I tell you that player A took 26 shots during the season and player B attempted 80 shots (hitting the post a handful of times), your opinion may change and the statistics support your about-turn.  Tempo-Free Soccer discovered that shots attempted are more predictive of next season’s goals than goals scored.

While this may seem like a simplified example, remember that goals and assists are far and away the two most cited statistics in soccer and many people rely on these statistics to form their opinions on teams and players. Similar to the situation with goals, assists have a superior metric to analyze – key passes. Assists, even moreso than goals, depend on factors outside of a player’s control. Even if player A has only 10 assists as compared to player B’s 16 assists, player A may be a superior playmaker if he generated more key passes. An assist only occurs if the receiver of the pass converts the play into a goal. Player A may put his teammates in prime goal-scoring position often, but if the teammate does not score the goal player A will not be credited with an assist. Therefore, given an assist’s dependence on a teammate’s ability to convert the chance into a goal, it is better to evaluate playmakers on the basis of key passes generated.

Grantland’s Mike Goldman wrote an article on the Luis Suarez’s importance and influence on the Liverpool offense. Suarez shot 5.3 times per 90 minutes (a half shot more than anyone in the BPL). Additionally, Suarez created 2.6 chances per 90 minutes for his teammates, tying him for seventh in the BPL. Morever, the article utilized cool goals graphics which highlight the critical areas where teams generate the most shots and score the most goals.

ESPN FC’s Rory Smith laments the lack of appreciation for good but not great players in his most recent piece. I could not agree more with this sentiment. As much as soccer fans, and myself alike, love to watch the special players play the game, it is important to not dismiss the reliable stalwarts that are vital for every top team. Smith critiques fans’ penchant for denigrating these non-superstars and offers perspective on their value to their teams.

Sports Illustrated profiled Messi’s trip to India for a friendly between Argentina and Venezuela in Kolkata’s 120,000-capacity Salt Lake Stadium (second largest in the world). The article is worth a read. In it, the author captures the essence of Messi’s global superstardom and the rise of soccer in India. The influence of the sport’s growth in a country boasting a population greater than a billion should not be ignored and will be a development to watch going forward.

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