Stats for Defenders

July 9, 2012

As mentioned in the prior post, non-orthodox statistics in soccer (Things other than goals, assists, etc.) are notoriously difficult to cite in a meaningful fashion.  Below is an attempt by EPL Opta Stats to quantify Arsenal’s Brazilian left back Andre Santos, who many have reservations about because of his inclination to press forward and seemingly neglect his defensive responsibilities.  It’s an impressive comparison chart, but does it really capture all a defender does?  If a defender closes his man down and a pass isn’t even attempted, how is that recorded?  I wonder if a lower number of 50-50’s and aerial challenged signals a superior player that opponents don’t want to confront.

Santos Table2 How Bad A Defender Is Andre Santos? A Stats Analysis

As we can see, Santos is just marginally behind his own team-mate in % of Ground Duels won but ahead of the other three left-backs. The Brazilian is well ahead of everyone in the Aerial Win %. The Brazilian’s minutes per Ground 50-50′s stat is way better than the others, his per minute Aerial 50-50s is behind Gibbs but comparable to two of the other three. And he makes interceptions with more regularity than any of the other four.


Spain Like Each Other

July 9, 2012

Via Bloomberg, it seems some academics have put together a fancy paper and set of graphics that diagram the connectedness of national soccer teams as determined by their passing patterns.  Not unsurprisingly, Spain are the most inter-connected team, in which players pass more often and more diversely throughout the team.

What the researchers found is that the World Cup champion Spain team boasted not only the largest number of passes per game, but the highest scores for clustering and the biggest clique. It sounds like the description of a high school prom, but what the math says is that Spain won by sharing the ball well and sharing frequently, and by being broadly and evenly connected to each other.

The PDF of the paper looks very interesting, and the authors openly disclose that there are limitations to interpreting the results.  But as they and a number of people have noted of late, soccer’s stubborn resistance to statistical assessment is being chipped away at every month these days, and this is a great development for fans like us/me.

Goodbye RVP

July 9, 2012

As an Arsenal fan, I feel very unmoved by the Robin Van Persie drama.  Our star forward, coming off an outstanding season in which he single-handedly won us many games, is pushing for a more lucrative contract with another team.  Despite the fact that he has a year left on his contract and we would desperately like to resign him, his public statements last week are essentially forcing us to deal him now.

Too much has been written elsewhere that is of a largely typical character: he’s a sellout traitor, he’s a gold-digger, etc.  But I would be glad to see him go.

He has a great year for us, but in the eight years he was with us, he had exactly two full seasons of high performance.  The rest were either his early adjustment years or marred by injury.  He is 29 years old, which means he has a few more peak years, but probably not the 4-6 years that he will want for a contract.  These things make him something of a risk to throw a bunch of money at.

More than that, I don’t blame him for leaving if that’s what he want to do.  In the real world, people leave jobs all the time for all kinds of reasons.  Maybe he wants more money, maybe he wants a better chance at a trophy, maybe he just wants a change.  I don’t care.  If he wants to move, let him.

On a larger level, we at Arsenal need to evaluate why we keep losing players at the peak of their careers.  Is it the lack of trophies in the last seven years that makes them leave, or is the fact that they keep leaving the reason for our lack of trophies?  Either way, I harbor no ill will towards individual players.  I don’t root for players; I root for a team.


Friday Links

June 29, 2012
  • Nike passes $2 billion in soccer sales. (Total revenue for Nike was $24 billion, up 16%.)
  • Is the NBA done drafting international players? (The article is good, though it doesn’t go into the developmental structures in place in Europe for grooming talent, so it’s hard to to know what’s really going on.)
  • Jonathan Wilson offers and excellent tactical intro to the Euro 2012 final.   (The most interesting insight actually regarded Germany and whether Sami Khedira’s developoment into a better, more attacking player disrupted the cohesion in the midfield between him and Bastian Schweinsteiger.)



Thursday Links

June 21, 2012
  • A Real Madrid midfield of Luka Modric, Xabi Alonso, and Sami Khedira?  That would make a talented team even more lethal.  It’s the classic midfield trifecta of creator, passer, and destroyer.  (Though of course Modric and Khedira can pass, and Xabi Alonso can tackle, if clumsily at times.)
  • Poland and Ukraine are not likely to come out ahead financially from the Euros.  (It’s not about the infrastructure, it’s about the corruption.)




June 21, 2012

This NPR report on American consumption of alcohol is fascinating:

Out of every $100 American consumers spend, about $1 goes to alcohol. That hasn’t changed much over the past 30 years.

But where we spend our money on alcohol has changed quite a bit. We spend a bigger chunk of our booze money in bars and restaurants. We spend less money buying alcohol at the store to drink at home.

As the article states, this doesn’t necessarily mean we go out more to drink.  Because the price of alcohol at the store has gone down over thirty years while the price of drinks in restaurants has gone up, it could be that we are just shifting our booze money around.

I think in the implications relating to soccer and sport are interesting parallel, and I’d be interested in knowing how the consumptive pattern of the average soccer fan has shifted over the past thirty years.  Do we spend more money at the stadium because prices have gone up, or do we spend less because more of us stay home to watch on TV?  Do we spend more or less on merchandise and shirts?

However, the most interesting part for me is this last nugget:

Of the money we spend drinking at home, more goes to wine and less goes to hard alcohol. The percentage of our booze dollar that goes to beer hasn’t changed much.

I’m very interested in how this relates to sports and how they fight for market share.  For instance, for the last thirty years the wine industry did not need to steal market share from the beer industry in order to grow; it just ate into the hard liquor market. (Whether they did this consciously, I don’t know.)

If you look at the lower tier sports in America, they might be thinking along the same lines: from which sport above us can we most readily poach fans and participants?  Since I talk about soccer here, it bears repeating where we stand in the pecking order in the US:

  1. American Football
  2. Baseball
  3. Basketball
  4. Hockey
  5. Soccer

I actually think the numbers here are not set in stone.  The NHL may be more popular than MLS, but then hockey doesn’t have the World Cup or international teams that visit and sell out large stadiums for exhibitions, so there is a degree here in which soccer’s popularity isn’t measured in full.

Nonetheless, if we are going to poach fans, it might behoove us to think about which sports are most ripe for plunder.  Target #1, and not just because it is #1, is football.  The sport is is so violent that fewer kids are going to be playing it in the next decade, and these kids might not ardently follow football as a result.

I think the slow pace of baseball also makes the sport ripe for plunder, since frankly the strategic subtleties don’t make up for the lack of consistent athletic dynamism during a game.  Basketball, on the other hand, if soccer’s biggest competitor and offers a very engaging, fast-paced experience that has some real advantages, such as higher scoring and a more frenetic pace.

Thinking more broadly, how does a sport go about poaching fans?  What does that mean?  I’ll have to think about that some more.


Australia, Ireland, US

June 20, 2012

Australia is similar to the US in that unlike the rest of the world, over the past two centuries it developed its own sports and soccer did not become one of most popular.  If you look at the attendeance figures here, you see that the most popular Australian sports are:

  1. Australian Football (#1 by far, doubling the attendance of #2)
  2. Rugby
  3. Horse Raising
  4. Soccer

Here’s Ireland:

  1. Gaelic Football
  2. Hurling
  3. Soccer
  4. Rugby

Here’s the United States:

  1. American Football
  2. Baseball
  3. Basketball
  4. Hockey
  5. Soccer

It’s fascinating how all three countries developed their own form of football different from that of the “association football” that arose from England (the “soc” in association is where the word soccer comes from).  It can’t be coincidental that all three countries are former colonies of England.

By the way, here is what Gaelic football looks like, and here is hurling.  They seem to me to be the exact same thing, except where Gaelic football is played with a regular round ball, hurling it played with a small ball and stick.  And here is Australian Rules Football.  All three look like a lot of fun, if a bit rough-and-tumble for my taste.


Baseball’s World Classic

June 20, 2012

As I’ve noted before, David Stern is trying to organize a basketball version of the World Cup.  I had forgotten about the World Classic in baseball, but it looks like they are very organized about this tournament in 2013, and extended participation from 16 to 28 teams.  I don’t have much to say about this other than just like soccer, the level of play won’t be as high as the teams who play together all season long, but it should be fun.  And it will definitely promote the sport of baseball.

How to Blog

June 20, 2012

Note to self: re-read this post on blogging by Felix Salmon.


Why would two soccer sides try and score on themselves?

June 20, 2012

Check this out: