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.

Read More

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.

Read More

Belgium and Spain are strongest sides as World Cup starts

With the World Cup underway, and the first really big clash between Spain and Portugal taking place this evening, I thought I’d run a player ranking over all International friendlies leading up to the World Cup. Which players and teams do we expect to light up Russia?

The answer, it seems is Belgium and Spain. With the notable exception of Lionel Messi (of course) most of the highest per minute point players come from these two nations. Lukaku tops the chart due to his goal-scoring spree in the run up to the tournament.

Read More

Using Twelve to follow your team’s progress during the World Cup

During the World Cup we are making our analysis tool available, so you can better understand how your team is playing. Andrew will be doing a daily round-up of the action using Twelve and we will have guest writers from various nations blogging about their teams.

I made a short video explaining how to use Twelve ‘player ranking’ analytics, taking England as an example.

We want you to play about and learn things yourself. And this video should give you everything you need to know. Start using the player evaluation system today and get sharing on Facebook, Twitter and maybe in a blog post.

If you find out something interesting using the analytics tool and would like to share it on the Twelve blog, the person to contact is Andrew (andrew@twelve.football). Tell him your idea, link to your previous writing and he’ll tell you if it works for us. We pay all our blog writers, because we think it is fair to reward to reward the fans who take the time to help us develop.

Statistics support Swedish fans’ scepticism about Lindelöf

Last week, Noa Bachner wrote that, when it comes to the Swedish national team, the second hottest issue in his mailbag is Victor Nilsson Lindelöf. Many Swedes, it seems, don’t think the Manchester United defender lives up to the hype.

Knowing Swedes as I do (having lived here 11 years) I have come to see that this sentiment is an inevitable part of their national characteristic. The €35 million that took him to Manchester United marks him out as someone who might be getting too big for his boots. With the strange exception awarded to Zlatan (who always has first place in Noa’s inbox), Swedes don’t like it when someone is made out to be exceptional without a really exceptional explanation. And this, to many, is what has happened in Lindelöf’s case.

Noa argues, rather convincingly, that these Swedes are too hard on their star defender. But I decided to run the stats. And, unfortunately, it doesn’t look good for him. Here is his defending.

Read More

Introducing our World Cup editor: Andrew Beasley

Andrew Beasley was a big part of getting me in to the online world of football analytics. I first joined Twitter shortly after I finished writing Soccermatics, in September 2015, and I soon found Andrew’s account. I am a Liverpool fan and Andrew was doing some great Liverpool stat stuff. I followed him and was very pleased when he followed me back. He was also the first ‘big’ Twitter personality to retweet one of my Tweets: a heat map comparing Rodgers and Klopp’s press.

Twitter and other social media allow us to share our observations, ideas and opinions with each other. When we designed Twelve, we saw sharing and talking about football as the key. We have created tools that allow you to share every pass, shot, block and header your favourite players have made during a match and discuss them with friends. Our idea is that the fans should drive the discussion around the numbers.


So it is with great pleasure that I can announce that Andrew will be Twelve’s World Cup editor. He will be writing about the matches for the blog, editing contributions by guest writers and interacting with other fans on Twitter and Facebook. Feel free to ask him anything stat related, and he’ll do his best to answer.

I caught up with Andrew and asked him a few questions before he gets going.

David: How did you get in to football stats?

Andrew: I’ve always had an interest in football trivia, and I’m numerically minded, so when early stats started to come in around 2010 I took an interest. Noticing in the summer of 2011 that Liverpool were signing all the players who topped the chance creation table for the previous season started connecting dots in my mind.

David: What matches in the World Cup are you most looking forward to?

Andrew: The obvious group stage ones are Portugal vs Spain, and England vs Belgium. It will also be interesting to see how Iceland fare against Lionel Messi et al.

David: Who are the players to look out for that we don’t usually talk about and why?

Andrew: I wouldn’t say we don’t usually talk about him, but I think Leroy Sané could light up this World Cup given the chance. I’m also interested to see how Kelechi Iheanacho gets on – he has 8 goals in 15 caps, and Nigeria could get through their group.

(I ran a comparison of these two in Twelve over the last six matches of the premier league. They are both on great form.)

David: Do you think England have any chance at all of winning? And who do you think will win?

Andrew: No – they’re seventh in the betting, which feels about right. They have talented players, but not much experience at this level. I’m afraid I’m not as passionate about the national team as I once was, but I still want them to do well.

In terms of who will win, European teams usually win it when it’s held in Europe, and I like the look of France. If only England had that much quality!

Andrew is a stats expert, but more than anything he is a massive football fan. And it is that quality that we hope will characterise Twelve going forwards: we are doing sophisticated player evaluations, but we are doing them for the fans.

The best attacking players outside of the Premier League’s big six.

The top of the Twelve rankings are dominated by players from the big six clubs. But if we exclude these players who tops our statistics? This is certainly an interesting question for fans of teams lower down in the league, wondering whether their favourite star will be whisked away by one of the richer clubs during the summer transfers.

The biggest within Premier League transfer-that-never-was in the January window was Riyad Mahrez (not) to Manchester City. And the statistics show us exactly why. When we look at attack, Mahrez tops the table outside (click here to see the whole list).

Looking in detail at his contributions over his last ten games we see that Mahrez’s attacking points come primarily from delivering longer balls that change the direction of play and from his dribbles in and around the box.

Add his goal-scoring to that and City would have a flexible player that would fit in to several roles in their attacking system.

Both Aaron Mooy and Pascal Gross, in second and third place respectively, have helped their teams survive to fight another Premier League campaign, contributing a lot to attack. However, neither of these players’ styles is particular similar to what the top teams are looking for. If we look at Gross’ most important contributions, they are primarily very long passes made as Brighton counter-attack.

This isn’t to say that Gross couldn’t play a different role, but he isn’t doing the things that most big-six scouts are looking for.

Probably the most interesting player from a big-six-signing perspective is Abdoulaye Doucoure. He is dribbling and making passes in that very difficult area in front of the box.

This is typically the type of player Arsenal like a lot and he could be of interest to a post-Coutinho Liverpool too.

Lastly, Xerdhan Shaqiri marks himself out not only in his creative midfield play, but also his goal scoring. Here are his shots and goals this season.

It seems very unlikely that Shaqiri will be playing in the Championship next season.

Who is the best player in the Premier League? Here is what the numbers say.

The Premier League is drawing to a close and its time to look at who the best players have been. We at Twelve don’t think that numbers alone can’t answer the question, but we can make the best possible answer based on stats. And that is where Twelve comes in.

This is the first full season over which we have applied the Twelve model. Our aim is to be able to give a value to every action that occurs during a match. If you play Premier League Fantasy Football, you will know that you get points for goals, assists, minutes played etc. But you will also know that these points feel rather arbitrary. While the strikers like Mohamed Salah and Harry Kane who get the most points are undoubtably good, other players—in particular defensive midfielders such as Fernandinho and defenders such as Azpilicueta—are not given the appreciation they deserve in fantasy football.

Our model puts this right, because it is based on an underlying statistical model of how each action increases a team’s chance of scoring or decreases the opposition’s chance of scoring. We assign a goal 1000 points and every other action can be evaluated relative to that goal. So if a pass increases the chance of a team scoring by 5%, we give the pass 50 points. If a defender recovers the ball in a position where a goal is scored 23% of the time, he get 230 points. Its as simple and as powerful as that.

If you have heard of expected goals, then Twelve takes expected goals and extends it to every action in every game.

OK. Enough of the technical stuff. Here are Twelve’s top ten players.

Green is attack, red is defence, yellow is off-the-ball and blue is shots (and goals). If you click on the picture you’ll go in to an interactive version.

It is Kevin De Bruyne who takes it this season. Salah scored more goals, of course, but De Bruyne’s contribution to attack edged it for him.

One of the most powerful features of Twelve is you can see exactly why he is best. The widget below shows his attacking contributions, making passes from everywhere in front of the box.

That De Bruyne and Salah top the charts is hardly surprising (although it does also provide evidence that our model works!), but a bigger surprise is Granit Xhaka in third place.

Xhaka has only scored once this season, but has collected points both for his defensive work and his long distance attacking balls. This solves the problem seen in other fantasy football games, despite playing in defensive midfield Xhaka is properly rewarded for his actions.

Actually, Xhaka ranks highly for another reason. He had alot of playing time. If we look at points per minute, he drops to 10th place. De Bruyne and Salah also drop and David Silva jumps to the top.

The Twelve system likes creative midfielders, like Silva, Fabregas, Pogba and Hazard a lot, they make the passes that create better positions for the team. It also ranks defenders, like Otamendi (7th overall) and Azpilicueta (13th overall), highly for both getting the ball back and creating the next opportunity for their teammates.

But Twelve doesn’t forget defenders, for the teams lower down the league table, who have been working hard to keep the ball out their teams net. Best defender this season (in 6th place overall) is Shane Duffy.

Lots of clearances, won arial duels and blocks have put him up there with the stars of the big-six.

When it comes to choosing our season’s favourites there is always room for personal opinions and discussion. But if you just want to know which players contributed most to their teams, from a statistically rigorous model of football, then Twelve is your answer.

Can Manchester City be Stopped?

Following their win in the derby, Manchester City are now unbeaten in 16 matches and on the way to changing the record books in terms of goals and points amassed during a Premier League season. If there was one team, one manager that had the know how on how to defeat a Guardiola team it was Jose Mourinho and his defensively disciplined Manchester United.

The script before the derby was all but known, City would dominate possession trying to tire and stretch their opposition, while United would defend with 11 men, be compact and try to hit them on fast breaks. This counter-plan from Mourinho had worked in the past; He had done it previously in his time at both Inter Milan, and Real Madrid respectively.

When pressed, City’s defense can be wobbly under pressure. This was evident when United pressed forward late on in the first half after going behind in the 43rd minute. Within 3 minutes of conceding from a set piece, United had created 2 opportunities. First, Martial created an opportunity for himself after dribbling from the half way line and taking on the entire City defence, only to produce a tame shot that was easily collected by Ederson. And then secondly, a hopeful long ball from Rojo into a dangerous area was not dealt with by either Otamendi or Kompany and popped up nicely for Rashford to finish.

In attack, City’s wing backs did not push up the field as they have done this season. They were marked by the pacey Rashford and Martial and had to be ready to defend United’s counter-Attacks. The affect can be seen in Kyle Walker who has amassed 7.5 attack points-per-minute so far this season, yet only contributed 4.5 attack points per minute versus United. Below we can see Walker’s role in City’s other matches this season compared to Sunday’s match.

City’s attacking play was, relatively, subdued as Mourinho sent Herrera and Matic out to man-mark the creative duo of De Bruyne and David Silva. And it worked somewhat as City found it difficult to break down United’s defence with their usual ease. Their two goals were scored from set pieces, they had previously only scored from 5 this season. Silva has contributed in 12.3 points-per-minute in attack this season, but in the derby his output in attack was only worth 2.6 points-per-minute. The comparison can be seen below.

Pep also took a few pages out of of Mourinho’s playbook. As he has often done this season, in the 60th minute he substituted his striker Gabriel Jesus. Yet, extremely surprisingly he was not replaced by Aguero but rather by Eliaquim Mangala as City played the last 30 minutes of the derby without a forward. Furthermore in order to run down the clock, in the last 10 minutes of the game Guardiola’s players took the ball into United’s corner, much to the frustration of the United players and the Old Trafford faithful.

Pep’s willingness to compromise, these chances created by United and the failure of the team to convert their dominance in possession into goals are all evidence that this City team is not invincible. Pep knows this and has developed as a manager to combat this. His foundations are the same, attack as a team and defend by controlling possession and not giving the opposition time on the ball. Yet, he has evolved his thinking and his tactics to fit the intense never-give-in style of the Premier League. We are seeing a new dimension to his footballing philosophy.

City’s tactics show that Guardiola have a plan B, which will make them a force to be reckoned with both domestically and in Europe. United had their few chances in the match, and with more efficiency, quicker transitions from defence to attacks, and greater lethality in front of goal they could have gotten more out of the match. Up next for them is a trip to Wales and Swansea. The Swans will be the next team that tells themselves that even City, just like any other team, have their weaknesses.

Originally appeared on Nordic Bet blog.

Why Pep can put his trust in Zinchenko

A fresh face in the Manchester City starting XI for last weekend’s win over Newcastle United was that of 21-year- old Ukrainian, and product of Shakhtar Donetsk’s academy, Oleksandr Zinchenko. Bought in the summer 2016 from FC Ufa in the Russian Premier League, Zinchenko’s main position was as an attacking midfielder who could play anywhere across the frontline. His talent was already established: at the age of 19 years and 214 days he broke a 20-year- old record held by Andriy Shevchenko as he became Ukraine’s youngest goalscorer for the national team.

In the game against Newcastle, he was given his first league start by Guardiola in a relatively new role for him as the team’s left-back, providing cover for the injured Benjamin Mendy and Fabian Delph. Zinchenko was not fazed, looking at home on the left-hand side of the pitch at the Etihad Stadium. He had more touches than any other player on the field and completed 94% of his passes.

He was caught out on a couple of occasions defensively in the match, and he could be considered to blame for the goal conceded in the 67 th minute. A diagonal pass played in behind him caught him flat-footed and the wrong side of Newcastle’s Jacob Murphy who had a clear run towards a one on one against Ederson. Murphy put it away to make it 2-1.

Full-backs are a vital part of City’s exciting play and style, and there Zinchenko definitely did not disappoint. It was the Ukrainian international’s attacking ability going forward that really caught the eye and left little doubt regarding his talent. Below we show all of his passes, shading them according to their importance to City’s attack.

He was arguably City’s best player in the first half, with a memorable long pass around the 20-minute mark that just about found Sane in the box. Zinchenko was generally pushing high up the pitch, overlapping constantly providing treacherous cut-backs and crosses. Six crosses were put into the box by him from the left, and even though none found a City head they were dangerous – driven in with pace and beautiful shape. Another notable contribution came in the second half as his one- touch pass to De Bruyne in the 72 nd minute opened-up Newcastle’s defence and allowed the Belgian to square the ball to Sterling who was unlucky to hit the woodwork.

It was Zinchenko who ultimately came out on top in Twelve’s Attack Performance Rankings. We look forward to seeing more of him in the future, as he matures and develops.

David Sumpter is the author of Soccermatics.
Emri Dolev is a data scientist at twelve.football