Visualising Attacking Momentum Throughout a Football Match

Football matches are a prime example of a complex system that changes dynamically throughout the 90 minutes of play. One team can dominate the match for a given period of time, controlling possession and playing in the opposition’s half of the pitch. But this domination of possession and territory is rarely constant for the entirety of the match, and is a fragile domination that often leaves the team vulnerable to counter-attacks by the opposition.

That is the reason why we have developed an Attacking Momentum plot that illustrates the dynamic flow of a match. The X Axis represents the time in the match, while Y Axis represents the direction in which each team is attacking. In the example below Manchester City are attacking towards the top of the chart and United towards the bottom, and the line in the middle being the half-way line. The coloured spikes represent where the team’s chain of possession ended on the length of the pitch, narrower peaks represent short chains of possession and similarly wider ones represent longer chains. The circles in the chart indicate shots by the team with the smaller coloured indicator circles indication whether the shot was on-target (green), off-target (red), hit the woodwork (yellow) and a star indicating that a goal was scored.

A great example of this plot’s effectiveness in illustrating the changes of momentum in a match is the recent Manchester derby, this was truly a cliche’  “game of two halves”.  City dominated the first half, creating plenty of goalscoring chances, dominating possession and playing in United’s half. This domination meant that United had no shots at all in the first half and ultimately went into the changing rooms at half-time 2-0 down. The second half was an entirely different story, Mourinho’s men came out in the second half with something to prove. They took control of the match, and scored 3 goals by the 70th minute. This change in the match dynamics is clearly visible, in the first half City had more of the momentum illustrated by the high volume of light-blue peaks which were replaced by red peaks during Manchester United’s dominant period of the game and also highlighted as the only period of the match in which United had any shots on goal.

We can use this plot to better understand Roma’s surprising elimination of Barcelona from the Champions League in the quarter-final stage.

The first match between ended in a 4-1 victory to Barca who dominated the match in terms of shots on goal and Attacking Momentum. As is visible in the above figure, and expected at home in the Nou Camp, Barcelona enjoyed longer chains of possession and limited Roma to only 6 shots from open play. Adding salt to their wounds, Barcelona’s first 2 goals in the match came from Roma own goals through De Rossi and Manolas. Luckily for them, Roma’s late goal from Dzeko in the 80th minute gave them a lifeline in the tie, and ultimately proved to be crucial as they knocked the Blaugrana out in the second leg.

The second leg, shown above, was a completely different story. Roma completed the turnaround coming back from 3 goals down and going through on away goals, through an early goal from Dezko as well as De Rossi and Manolas scoring again, this time for their own team. As can be seen in the plot of the match, Roma had the majority of the Attacking Momentum in the match, they had longer chains of possession than Barcelona and created many goalscoring opportunities. Interestingly, Barcelona were limited to only 9 shots on goal and the majority of these shots came early in the first half or late in the second half, meaning that Roma very capably stopped Barca from playing their usual style of football. This is very impressive considering how dominant Barcelona have been in their domestic league this season, looking extremely likely to win the title in La Liga.

This is another plot that allows us to see the narrative of a football match swiftly and easily. There is little statistical evidence that momentum does exist in football, but regular spectators of the game will know that the 90 minutes of a football match are dynamic and the two teams trade periods of domination in a match. Using these plots we can now visualise this better than before as the Attacking Momentum plot allows us to see changes in the flow of football matches over time.

Emri Dolev

Data Scientist at Twelve Football

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Visualising a Football Match in One Plot

During the 17/18 Premier League season, Expected Goals (xG) have received more spotlight and their usefulness has been hotly debated. xG’s greatest public platform is provided by the BBC’s popular Match of the Day program, in which after a given match’s highlights are shown, the respective teams’ xG for the match is presented at the bottom of the screen (along with other traditional summary statistics).

After Arsenal lost 3-1 at home to Manchester United back in December, Wenger defended his team’s performance and claimed that the xG stat gave a better representation of the match than the final scoreline did. “In this kind of game you have to be efficient. We had the chances to score but we didn’t take them. We have produced an excellent performance but we conceded three goals. We had at least 10 chances and we were not efficient enough in the box. That’s the reality.” Sky Sport’s Jeff Stelling then attacked Wenger, “He’s the first person I’ve ever heard take any notice of expected goals, which must be the most useless stat in the history of football! What does it tell you?”

The simple answer to that question is that xG assigns a value to the chances of a shot resulting in a goal and Total xG is a measure of the quantity and quality of the chances which a team creates during 90 minutes, but it on its own (just like other traditional football stats) is limited. Traditional stats that are shown at the end of matches can describe how a match unfolded, but each number holds a limited amount of information. Greater possession, on its own, doesn’t mean that a team has won, similarly the number of Shots on Target or Passing Accuracy does not, these numbers need to be considered together to understand the context of a match. Yet, xG can be used as a complementary tool to better tell the story of a that match. Thus, we has developed a new chart which gives a better record of the match and portrays its narrative in a more valuable way.

  

Above we can see, on average, how many chances and of what quality every Premier League team has created this season. In general, teams that have created more chances of higher quality (in terms of the average xG of their shots) tend to be more successful. The current top 4 in the Premier League occupy this area in the chart, along with Chelsea and Arsenal who are 5th and 6th respectively.

We also want to clarify the context of a single match using xG and take a team’s defensive ability into account. To do this, in the figure below, each team is represented by a circle with the colours of their home jerseys, and its area represents the percentage of possession it had during the match. The team’s circle location is based on the number of shots it had during the match, and the average quality of these shots calculated as the average xG of their shots. Both of these can be compared to the league averages represented by the dashed lines in the chart.

Going back Wenger’s quote, we see that his argument is justified by the figure. Arsenal had the majority of effective possession—which is calculated as the portion of the time that the ball was in play and controlled by a given team—and created many more chances of above-average quality. United, on the other hand, had a below-average number of shots of high-quality. The difference between winning and losing in this match was due to a difference in efficiency in finishing.

Below is another big clash between teams from the top-6 in December last year. Manchester City and Tottenham had a relatively equal share of effective possession, yet City used it more effectively to create more scoring opportunities with relatively high probabilities of being converted into goals. Tottenham, on the other hand, created a very small amount of chances for themselves which usually did not endanger Ederson’s goal. The final scoreline reflected this, as City won 4-1 with Eriksen grabbing an injury-time consolation goal from just outside of the 16-yard box.

The dominant display of Manchester City in their victory over Chelsea can be explained using the chart of the match. Pep Guardiola’s philosophy has always been based around possession, in this match his team enjoyed close to 70% of it. This meant that Chelsea did not have enough of the ball under their control to build dangerous scoring chances for themselves, this is visible below as Chelsea had an extremely low number of shots in the match and on average they were of very poor quality. Pep’s side dominated the possession and used it to create a league-average number of chances, yet theses chances were of below-average quality – attributing to City scoring only one goal. Pep’s possession philosophy worked like he is always adamant that it will, as towards the later stages of the match the Chelsea players seemed tired of chasing the City players’ shadows, stopped pressing and generally looked as if they were looking forward to the final whistle and disinterested in trying to tie the game.

Expected Goals, much like other summary statistics is not very effective at telling the story of a match on its own and without context. These chart sets out to uncover as much information as possible from the xG stat and try to portray the context of a given match more effectively than has been done before visually.

 

Emri Dolev

Data Scientist at Twelve Football

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Team Possession Using Effective Match Time

A common way of estimating team possession over a match is by looking at the ratio of a team’s passes over the total number of passes. We at Twelve have recently developed a different algorithm for determining team possession by looking at the times the ball is actually being played. We call this effective time and base our calculations on possession chains.

Each action in the field can be represented as an event. A possession chain is then a sequence of events that happen during a match. The first chain of the match begins with the first touch of the ball and continues with each pass made by players of the same team. After two successful passes, the team is said to be in possession of the ball until their chain is broken. This can happen when either the opposition makes two consecutive passes and wins the ball back, or the game is interrupted by a stop event (ball goes out of play, an attempt on goal is made, etc.). When one chain ends another one starts and the process goes on until the final whistle. By looking at the start and end times of each possession chains, we determine the effective time of the match. There are occasions possession cannot be determined before a stopping event occurs. In these cases, chains do not get assigned to a team, but still contribute to the total effective time of the match.

Below you can find possession information about the recent match between Manchester United and Liverpool. From left to right, each team’s effective time has been split into defending (left), midfield (middle), and attacking (right) areas. On the top left corner, you can find the total effective time of the match in minutes. This unassigned time is shown as a percentage on the bottom right, but also features in the possession bar as a grey area in the middle.

From the diagram, we can see that Liverpool enjoyed much of the possession in the midfield and going forward, while Manchester United were very effective from very few minutes in the final third. Mourinho’s side showed great defensive discipline absorbing a lot of pressure from Liverpool, but while in possession of the ball, transitioned from defence to attack only for a few minutes in the entire game.

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Something Is Wrong With Manchester United. Is It Paul Pogba?

Manchester United have been running a high-wire act all season without any major falls. Their goalkeeper David De Gea is the only keeper from a top six team in the top six in saves. The United defense is consistently conceding good chances, more than any of the other top sides in the Premier League. Most weeks it seems like De Gea is up to the task. But in the recent weeks the strain has started to show. United were pressed off the pitch by Tottenham and two matches later lost away to Newcastle. These two losses have not yet cost Manchester United their second place position, but between the weak underlying statistics and a couple bad results, the drop seems to be beckoning.

This week, United will face Sevilla in the first round of the Champions League knockouts. They are favored to get through the tie, but not by an overwhelming margin. Their statistical profile is too shoddy, and their recent results back it up. So the questions facing Manchester United are, what has gone wrong with this team’s defending, and how can it be fixed?

Based on his squad management, it appears that manager Jose Mourinho has an incendiary theory of the case. He seems to think the problem is £90m midfield superstar Paul Pogba. In both the losses to Spurs and Newcastle, Mourinho took Pogba off the pitch after about an hour. And in the victory over Huddersfield sandwiched between those two defeats, Pogba did not even make the starting eleven.

The theory appears to be as follows. Pogba lacks the positional discipline to play in a two-man central midfield, and the club’s defensive issues can be tracked to Pogba not carrying his weight preventing attacks through the center.

It is certainly true that United has struggled to defend against opposition passing through the center of the pitch. In the Spurs match, Christian Eriksen completed five dangerous passes into the box from spaces where you would expect a central midfielder to have pressured him. And Newcastle had far too many opportunities to break through midfield driven by Jonjo Shelvey’s passing.

But identifying a problem is not the same as pinning the blame on Pogba and the two-man midfield. Last season Manchester United played over 1500 minutes in a 4231 and conceded only about 0.85 expected goals per 90 minutes in that formation. This season United are averaging well over 1.0 xG conceded in both the 433 and the 4231. What has gone wrong defensively cannot be limited to just one formation—United have struggled no matter how they have lined up. And as recently as last season, United were effective defensively even with Pogba playing in a midfield two.

The data suggests a more holistic cause rather than a single player problem. Since last season, star center-back Eric Bailly has been injured. Ander Herrera has played less frequently after taking a key role in midfield last year. 32-year-old fullbacks Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young have had to carry a heavier workload. With key players at several positions aging or unavailable, it is reasonable to expect an across-the-board decline as well.
If the blame for United’s poor defense cannot be laid at the feet of one player, then the solution probably must be implemented at the team level. United probably need to either add another defensive midfielder to the squad and remove an attacker, or to switch their tactics to keep the fullbacks in reserve. Either solution would weaken the attack.

However, this is where the recent acquisition of Alexis Sanchez might be most useful. While Sanchez has produced similar levels of shot involvement to United’s wingers Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard, his ball progression numbers are far better. Sanchez has averaged about 4.5 progressive passes and runs per 90 minutes, good for seventh in the Premier League, behind Pogba and just ahead of Eriksen. Because Sanchez can provide ball progression as well as goals, United may be able to solidify their defense without hamstringing the attack. A safer lineup with heavier attacking demands on Pogba and Sanchez may be the best way forward for the Red Devils.

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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.

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The Pressing Problem at the Heart of Spurs-Liverpool

This season, Anfield has been a fortress. Liverpool have yet to lose at home, and of their five draws, only the 1-1 against Chelsea reflected an even expected goals scoreline. The Reds have created ten non-penalty clear scoring chances in those draws and conceded only three. The typical home Liverpool performance has been dominant, even when the result occasionally has not been the win that performance deserved.

Liverpool will be looking to continue this run at home this weekend to Tottenham. But Spurs have something to build on too. Tottenham just beat Manchester United handily, and the last time they took on Liverpool, it ended in a 4-1 victory. Spurs created about 3.3 expected goals in that victory, the largest total that the Reds have conceded all season. In fact, the only other time Liverpool conceded more than two expected goals was against Manchester City, in a match that turned on an early Sadio Mane red card.

So which trend will be broken? This depends on one key dynamic. Can Liverpool push Tottenham back? The Reds’ home dominance has been driven by a relentless press and forward motion. They have successfully moved the ball forward in open play into the opposition penalty area 222 times in home matches, the most in the league. With waves of pressure to win the ball back and attackers pushing forward, Liverpool pin the opposition back and leave them no space to counter.

But at Wembley earlier this season, it was precisely this dynamic that Spurs thwarted. Liverpool managed only five open play attacking moves into Tottenham’s penalty area. Spurs successfully played quickly around the press by involving unexpected players into the play and looking to spring Harry Kane free against the Liverpool center backs.

One might expect to see Christian Eriksen’s attacking map featuring several key long passes forward, but right back Kieran Trippier was if anything more effective. His quick forward ball to Kane broke Liverpool’s press for Spurs’ first goal.


This weekend, Liverpool must contain Spurs’ quick-hitting attack and re-establish their suffocating pressure. The Reds will have two key advantages to press to make this happen. The first is Virgil Van Dijk. The new center back will likely replace Dejan Lovren in the lineup, and it was Lovren that Spurs targeted so effectively in their passes forward to Kane. If Tottenham seek to rush the ball forward, it might be possible to thwart this movement simply with better defensive play in the back line.

The second advantage is also a matter of personnel. Liverpool tried against Spurs to play a bruising midfield of Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Emre Can. These stronger but slower midfielders found themselves pushed back and unable to challenge Spurs quickly. Henderson and Milner ended up doing more defending in their own half than pushing forward to win the ball and dominate play.

It is unlikely that Jurgen Klopp will make a similar selection on Sunday. In fact, Klopp started his three big midfielders against Huddersfield in midweek. Spurs should expect to see a faster and more dynamic midfield, likely featuring one or both of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Georginio Wijnaldum. This personnel should be more suited to closing down Spurs’ quick attacks and springing their own moves off the counterpress to pin Tottenham back. Liverpool’s press has been dominant at home, and the right personnel should enable the Reds to keep this run going.

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Does the Swansea Loss Show Liverpool Will Struggle to Replace Coutinho?

Clubs do not usually sell their top players in January without a very good reason. Liverpool, locked in a tight top four race and looking forward to a relatively easy Champions League knockout tie against Porto, would seem if anything to have reason not to sell. But sell they did, sending Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona for an incredible 140 million. The reason for the sale, as reported, were less about any football reason that Coutinho was not needed, but rather that the Brazilian attacker had gone on strike and demanded the move. Liverpool acquiesced. The question for the Reds now is how to adjust to the loss of Coutinho and keep their excellent season moving along.

Liverpool’s last two matches show that the Coutinho question is highly contextual. On the one hand, Liverpool beat Manchester City without Coutinho. So this team is still capable of beating just about anyone in the world. But then the Reds went and lost to Swansea City. It was not a bad performance, and Liverpool had several chances to win the game, but the ball progression maps of their midfielders show that they struggled to get penetration into the penalty area for most of the match.

And it is precisely that sort of ball progression that is Coutinho’s specialty. Last season Coutinho averaged about six progressive passes or runs per 90 minutes—the statistic is defined as a pass or run that progresses the ball over 10 yards past its furthest point forward in the move, or moves the ball into the 18-yard box. The only players with better numbers were Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas and City’s David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne. Elite creators like Mesut Ozil and Eden Hazard fell short of Coutinho, with just about five progressive passes or runs per match. This season Coutinho has improved, leading the league in progressive passes and runs with about 7.5 per 90 minutes. De Bruyne and Silva trail him with around 7 per 90.

What Coutinho offers, then, is the sort of elite ball progression that can break down a packed, organized defense. While Oxlade-Chamberlain and Adam Lallana both have put up reasonably good passing numbers, neither rates among the best of the best. Unless Liverpool make a big splash on the January market, they will most likely need to do without the peculiar skills that Countinho provides, and Jurgen Klopp will need to devise a different Plan B for breaking down packed defenses.

The Manchester City victory, however, militates against any rushed purchases or January overpayments. Given room to work in the open field by a high-pressing City side, Liverpool’s forwards ran rampant. They could break at pace into the final third or the penalty area because there was room to work. Where Liverpool may feel the loss of Coutinho is in matches like Monday’s, where an opponent sets out to stifle their attack and refuses to take the sort of attacking risks that could lead to dangerous attacks but could also disrupt their defensive shape. It may be only for a subset of the club’s matches that Coutinho’s absence is truly felt, and for those matches other options may be available.

Liverpool’s most creative attacker on Monday was new center back Virgil Van Dijk, who assisted two of the Reds’ three best scoring chances.

While Van Dijk surely cannot replicate this performance weekly, he does point to a possible solution for Liverpool short of a new purchase. In matches where the opposition packs in deep, unexpected players can join the attack. Liverpool will need more complex plans or scripted moves to bring these additional attackers into play, but for the precise matches where Coutinho is needed, one can imagine new tactical solutions building on the skills of Liverpool’s defenders. The loss of Coutinho then is a problem, but it looks like a limited and soluble one.

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Alexis Sanchez move to Manchester United

Alexis Sanchez had just been confirmed as the stellar new winter signing for Manchester United. We at Twelve are curious to know how the introduction of Alexis will impact Mourinho’s side. It is certain that Alexis will bring a greater attacking threat, but what can a Manchester United fans expect to see from him?

Alexis is a dynamic player that can occupy any attacking position across the frontline. Having played on right during his time at Barcelona, he is also comfortable on the left where he often played during his time at Arsenal. Alexis can even play as a play-maker or as a false nine as he had done at times in the national level and Udinese. It is difficult then to predict where his place will be in Mourinho’s side.

We can start by comparing Alexis’ performance this season with the rest of Manchester United’s squad. Using Twelve’s system, Alexis places first in overall points per minutes played throughout the season. Not surprisingly, his biggest contribution is his ability to generate offensive opportunities with passes and dribbles (green) while a fair share of his total contributions also comes from shots and goals (blue). Considering Mourinho’s defensive philosophy, Alexis will most likely be expected to increase defensive (red) and press (yellow) contributions to match those of Rashford and Martial. This should be no problem; the Chilean has always been highlighted for his work-rate and pressing abilities.

A new Martial to the team: If we focus a more detailed view of Alexis’s offensive display so far in the season, we can see that his best attacking contributions happen just inside and outside the penalty box. Alexis has the pace to get the ball in the middle of the pitch, carry it forward and find the space to release his teammates into. He also has the agility to receive the ball inside the opposition’s box, keep possession and work a shooting opportunity. When comparing offensive actions, we can’t help but see similarities in the between Alexis and Martial.

Attacking symmetry: We might expect that Mourinho will first try to place Sanchez on the right, a position that Mata currently occupies, to mirror Matial’s movement. When in control of the ball, Mata usually cuts inside and moves into a more creative central role. This is seen by the fact that Mata’s best attacking contributions only come from outside the penalty box. Alexis will offer Manchester United a direct route to the opposition’s penalty box taking advantage of the run of Antonio Valencia from behind. This reminds us of his time at Udinese and Barcelona.

Numbers will increase: Alexis has lacked efficiency in front of goal this season, having only scored 7 goals from 46 shots compared to last season where he converted in 24 occasions from 86 shots. A role from the left has made him predictable at times by always choosing to cut inside with his right foot. If Mourinho favours the option of playing him on the right it might help Alexis be more involved in the finishing.

Increased discipline from Alexis: From the later part of 16/17 season until now, Sanchez has had the tendency to drop deep in search of involvement in the play. Sometimes forced by discouraging results at Arsenal, Sanchez seeks to fill the void that allows his team to move the ball up the pitch. This has been the cause of a lot of unforced errors and lost possessions (marked by “x” in the diagram below). Often lost possession by Alexis has left Arsenal’s defence badly shaped and vulnerable as the team transitions into attack.

Manchester United’s next test in the Premier League will be against Tottenham. We expect Alexis to make an appearance from the start and show his offensive versatility, that no doubt will fit into Mourinho’s side.

Sebastian Cardoch is a football data analyst at Twelve.

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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

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Twelve’s rating system

This post describes our work at Twelve to develop visualisations of football matches. Our idea is to show, live during matches, how the players are performing. We want to help fans both to see the contributions of individual players and give a tactical view of the game using the same data relied on by managers and coaches.

In this article I’m going to showcase our current visualisations and describe the idea behind the methodology for assigning points to actions.

We have developed a method for evaluating player performance based on everything they do on the ball during the match. Below is our rankings for Manchester City players in their game against Tottenham Hotspur.

These rankings are broken in to four categories attack (green), defence (red), off-the-ball (yellow) and shots & goals (blue).

According to our model Raheem Sterling was man of the match. This is because he scored two goals, which are worth 1000 points each.

Sterling also missed a number of chances before scoring. Some fans might think that these misses should give him negative points. But in Twelve’s system we give Sterling positive points for these misses. This is because Sterling got in to a good position to take the shot, and in the long term there is statistical evidence that creating chances is an important sign of a quality player.

The points for these shots are awarded on the basis of a model called expected goals. We measure the position of the shot and look at historical data about about the probability that shots from these position are typically goals and we assign this as the number of points for a shot. Sterlings best chance would normally be a goal in 42.7% of cases, so we give him 427 points.

So thats goals. Lets move to attack. Kevin De Bruyne is the best City player. Here are his attacking contributions.

His top attacking contributions were given 160 points, because they created a clear cut chance for a teammate. If you click on the passes, you’ll see that two of them got slightly lower scores. These passes were also in to dangerous areas, but didn’t directly result in a chance. In this case, the points are assigned in a way that is similar to expected goals. If a pass takes the ball from a part of the pitch that a team is less likely to score a goal from (e.g. out near the touchline) to a place they are likely to score a goal from (e.g. in the box) then it will get a lot of points.

If you click on ‘All’ in the attack dashboard, you’ll see every pass De Bruyne made that improved the probability of City scoring. Each of these passes got a lower number of points, because although it improved his team’s attacking position the contribution was relatively small. Clicking on these should give you an idea of how much different passes increase danger for the opposition.

We’ll now turn to defence. Here we’ll look at Tottenham Hotspur. Their defence had a lot to do and Kieran Trippier, in particular, didn’t have a good game.

In the dashboard above you can see the mistakes he made (crosses) and the successful defensive actions (stop signs). Trippier made several big mistakes, being dribbled past in and around the box. Add these up and he got a total of -48 points for the match. Again, you can see by clicking on the points that mistakes in front of goal are assigned larger numbers of points than those further away.

One thing we are still working on is a model of off-the-ball actions. The data we use only measures what happens on the ball, but we keep track of where players are and identify the areas of the pitch they typically play in. We then assign points to players when the opposition lose the ball in these areas. We confine off-the-ball points to areas away from goal, so it gives a rough measure of press. It is typically defensive midfielders who are given most credit for pressing. Here is Fernandinho.

Again, if the opposition lose the ball in a more offensive position, then the nearby players are awarded more points.

As the Twelve project develops we’ll share more details. Ultimately, the techniques developed here will become the basis for match analysis websites, a fantasy football game and tools for football analytics. This post should give you a feeling for where we are now and where we are going.

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