Chelsea vs. Arsenal: Challenge CBS and Soccermatics within the Twelve App

Think you know your football? Can you spot the best performers during a match before anyone else?

On Saturday you have the chance to prove yourself. Together with CBS, we are running a competition on the Twelve App. Download the App now (Google Play or App Store).

Once the starting line-ups appear (one hour before kick off) choose the three players who you think will perform best during the game, either for both teams or just for the one you support.

During the match, the Twelve Bot will crunch the numbers and everything the players do will be awarded points. You will see how you are doing compared to your friends. If the players you choose aren’t doing the job then you can change them live during play.

Before the game we will put up a link so you can follow Igor and Roger commentary on CBS. If you want a few tips about who is on form before the match then check out our match preview by Solomon Fowowe.

You can bait us and generally show off how well you are doing using #ChallengeTwelve and the @twelve_football Twitter account.

Prize: Last but not least, we will send a signed copy of David Sumpter’s book Soccermatics to the person with the highest points at the end of the game for Arsenal. Chelsea fans, you’ll have to wait until later in the season for your chance. If no-one beats David he will keep his book!

How Twelve’s algorithm understood the World Cup

Twelve

It has been an amazing World Cup.

And for us at Twelve, it was more than ‘just’ the football. It was a chance for us to test the algorithm we have been developing for the past year.

The World Cup as a test set

Football is a difficult game to quantify. Indeed, many TV pundits and journalists claim that numbers can’t do justice when assessing player performance. While we accept that it isn’t easy, we don’t see why it isn’t possible. We believe that statistics give an extra edge in understanding football and, when used properly, can give just as much insight as a human expert.

The key to achieving insight is using the right numbers. And that is what we aim to do with Twelve. As data scientists would describe it, the World Cup has been a ‘test’ data set for us. We  fitted (or trained) our model on club football and now we have tested how the model fit on data from the World Cup.

It was a tough test, because we did it live via our rankings pages and our match app. The aim was to see how well the model rankings captured the assessments of our users and those  in the media.

Now the tournament is over I’ll explain where we have succeeded and where we have more work to do.

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The Golden Ball winner is decided… (or is it?)

It has been a funny World Cup for the superstars. Messi performed well and scored a beautiful goal against Nigeria, but Argentina were already on the ropes at the group stages and were dealt a knockout blow by France. Ronaldo had his hat trick against Spain, but went the same way as Messi in the last 16. Neymar made it to the quarter finals, and despite the fact he dominated that match, he will be remembered mostly at this tournament for the 14 minutes of playing time he spent rolling around the ground. These three can count themselves lucky. Despite amazing performances, Toni Kroos didn’t even make it past the group stages with Germany.

So who is the real star of this World Cup? The Twelve Bot has a very clear answer: Luka Modric.

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The stats don’t lie! Sweden had a very good World Cup.

In interviews after their 2-0 defeat to England, Andreas Granqvist, Emil Forsberg and the other Swedish players gave a similar message. They were disappointed, feeling England had got the better of them on the day, but they were also proud of what they had achieved.

And so they should be. Granqvist, in particular, has put in amazing performances at this World Cup.

After the quarter-final match, Granqvist joined three other of our top five ranked players (all three from Brazil) on the journey home. His defence and his power driving the team forward remains something he should be proud of. He is the foundation on which Sweden were built.

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Sweden 1-0 Switzerland: the Swedes can deliver more goals

The pattern is familiar throughout football. A player shoots over and the crowd sighs, the people watching at home swear and the TV commentators say that “at this level” the finishing has to be better.

This was the picture for Sweden in the first half against Switzerland, as it had been in their first half against South Korea and Mexico. Sweden had created chances but they hadn’t been converted. The worst culprits, singled out by the pundits at halftime, were Emil Forsberg and Marcus Berg. Why do they keep missing or having their “weak” attempts saved? And quite soon the talk turns to a certain rather tall gentleman who now plays his club football in Los Angeles. The cry is the same as it has been since 2002: “in with Zlatan”!

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Sweden vs. Switzerland: make sure Durmaz plays

Despite the prospect of their first playoff-stage match at a big international tournament since 2002, many of headlines in Sweden continue to revolve around Jimmy Durmaz and the tackle that led to a free kick and goal for Germany in the final minutes of Sweden’s second match.

Racism has changed a lot over the last decades. It used to be simple and blatant. It came in the form of simple name calling and stereotypes of players being lazy or not committed to ‘their’ country. And alot of the racism seen on Durmaz Instagram account after the Germany match has been of this old-fashioned form: calling him a terrorist because he has a beard. Ridiculous stuff like that.

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Sweden 3 – 0 Mexico: Granqvist attacks and Toivonen defends as Sweden top group

The failure of Germany to perform to their usual standards at this World Cup shouldn’t take away from Sweden’s achievement in topping their group.

After Germany lost 1-0 against Mexico in their first match, it was viewed by many as a hiccup. And as Toni Kroos free kick flew past Robin Olsen in the last remaining minutes of the match, it might well have appeared that football’s world order had been restored. The Germans had dominated possession against the Swedes and had come back from behind to win their group-stage second match.

But while they had most of the ball (represented as the area of the circle in the plot below), Germany were far from dominant against Sweden.

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Kane, Kroos, Kante (and Cristiano): the best performers in the World Cup so far.

The first two rounds of the World Cup are completed and it hasn’t proved easy for the favourites going in to the tournament. Brazil held to a draw by Switzerland, Germany losing against Mexico and then claiming a last minute win against Sweden, and Argentina losing to Croatia after a draw against Iceland. France top their table, with two narrow 2-1 wins and Spain managed 1-0 against Iran after a 3-3 draw with Portugal.

Given the somewhat unexpected nature of the results, it is important to look at the player performances if we want to understand which teams are likely to improve in the knock-outs (or even progress in the first place).

So I ran the Twelve evaluation algorithm on all World Cup players to get a feeling for who might be leading their teams to victory in the later stages.


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Sweden 1 – 0 South Korea: Granqvist leads with passion and numbers

Sometimes a contrast is drawn in football between passion and statistics. We are told we can’t capture the commitment of players by numbers alone.

When we see a player like Andreas Granqvist run out to represent his nation, this narrative is easy to understand. The Swedish captain made his presence felt from the start, pushing his team forward after a nervous first 15 minutes.

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