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It is hardly a secret that not all goals in football have the same importance. Their relative importance depends on many factors, such as the opponent, competition, etc. Quantitatively measuring (giving numerical value) the relative importance of goals scored is not easy, since any logic used might have its natural dose of bias and subjectivity. Here we show a way that probably is not some new or innovative idea but maybe presented in a different way. As it will be explained and illustrated further, it represents a way of dividing or categorizing goals and assists in terms of their relative importance.

The main and simple logic here is valuing goals/assists according to the result of the game prior to the moment when the goal/assist occurred. Simply put, one goal/assist has not the same importance scored/assisted when the game is in equilibrium and when the team is winning by 2 or 3 goals. To achieve this categorization, goals/assists for individual players (just goals for teams) have been classified, as the following images show.

g-dist-player

g-dist-team

Here, we have distributed (in percentages) each player’s goals/assists and each team’s goals according to the result of the game in the moment prior to the goal/assist occurrence. For example, Benzema has zero goals/assists when his team is behind in the score, he has 43% of his goals/assists when the result is in equilibrium (0-0; 1-1; etc) and so on. For teams, Barcelona scores 10% of their goals when they are losing, 32% when the result is in equilibrium, 24% when they are winning by 1 goal, 18% when they are winning by 2 goals, and 16% when they are winning by 3 or more goals.

These distribution charts give us the possibility to do many analysis. For example, we can see that Atlético Madrid are an extremely efficient team. They have concentrated 87% of their goals when the game is in equilibrium or when they are winning by 1 goal. They have 0 goals scored in those moments of the game when they are winning by 3 or more goals. The same can be said for their main forward, Griezmann. He has 86% of his goals/assists in the most crucial moments of the game.

In contrast, Real Madrid and their main forwards (Cristiano, Bale and Benzema) have ‘inflated’ their numbers with goals/assists in moments of the game where the winner is practically decided. For example, Cristiano has 35% of his goals/assists when Real Madrid is winning by 3 or more goals and he has 0 goals/assists when his team is losing.  Similar numbers are displayed for Bale and Benzema, although not at such a high contrast.

Barcelona and their main forwards (Messi, Suárez and Neymar) are situated in a middle ground between Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid, showing a good balance. Messi, yet scores the most important goals and gives the most important assists, having 57% of them when the team is losing or the game is in equilibrium.

Maybe a final note would be that this way of categorizing goals/assists is more representative than doing it taking into account the ‘quality’ of the opponent, based on opponent’s ‘name’ or ‘ranking’. Simply because the name or ranking of a team might not coincide with the specific difficulty a match might have. For example, one late winning goal against a very low ranked team is more important than the 4th goal scored in a 4-0 win vs Real Madrid (or any highly ranked team). From the other hand, these charts should not be read ‘literally’ and some context is needed when being analyzed. For example, we can’t exclude the possibility (as it has happened in various precedents) that games with 3+ goals differences might turn around, hence, goals scored in those moments gain a big value.

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Last Wednesday, in the Copa del Rey match against Espanyol, Lionel Messi scored his fourth seasonal goal coming directly from a free kick. This was Barcelona’s fifth seasonal free kick goal, if we add Neymar’s equalizer against Atlético Madrid.

In the below image you can find a schematic visualization of these free kick goals, along with some free kicks that hit the goal post and/or cross bar.

free-kicks

So, thinking about fouling Barcelona’s players close to the penalty area and preventing their run? Maybe that is not a great idea.

The importance that Sergio Busquets has in the Barcelona team is crucial in many aspects, one of them being his ability to effectively press in the attacking third of the pitch, when Barcelona is attacking and lose the ball. Here is where Busquets excels his game. Considering all Barcelona’s players, he has the most balls won back during this season, exactly 145 balls won back in 23 appearances in Liga, Champions League, and FIFA Club World Cup (Rakitic is second with 122).

Busquets’ ball recovery in the attacking third of the pitch has two very positive and straightforward consequences for Barcelona:

  • Prevents the opposition team from starting a counter attack.
  • Enables Barcelona to build a very fast attack when the opposition team is not well positioned (since they expected to start their own counter attack after they recovered the ball). Actually, Barcelona can score in less than 2-3 seconds, starting from when Busquets intercepts the ball.

During this season we have been able to witness a large manifestation of the second point expressed above. Actually, Barcelona have scored 5 goals which are directly a consequence of Busquets’ ball recovery (interception), the last one being Suárez’s first goal vs Real Betis during the 16th round of the Liga. These goals and their respective sequences are listed as below:

1 – European Super Cup, vs Sevilla: interception by Busquets – Suárez – Goal

2 – Liga, round 8, vs Rayo Vallecano: interception by Busquets – Suárez – Neymar – Goal

3 – Champions League, game 3, vs BATE Borisov: interception by Busquets – Alba – Neymar – Rakitic – Goal

4 – Liga, round 11, vs Villarreal: interception by Busquets – Neymar – Goal

5 – Liga, round 16, vs Real Betis: interception by Busquets – Suárez – Goal

A graphical representation of these 5 goals can be seen in the below image:

busi-int

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