Manchester United vs Juventus Champions League Preview

Manchester United vs Juventus Preview: xG king of Italy comes to town

José Mourinho returned to Stamford Bridge this weekend, to seek revenge and break Manchester United’s curse at their bogey ground. It looked like a new United catastrophe performance when Antonio Rudiger headed the hosts into the lead.

The visitors were beheaded, but Anthony Martial scored twice in the second half to almost give United an unlikely victory. Ross Barkley had different plans, though, as he scored a dramatic equalizer deep into stoppage time to salvage a 2-2 draw. Read More

Juventus vs Napoli Serie A Preview

Juventus vs Napoli Preview: Tactical conundrums for top two

As Serie A drew to a close last season, fans of Italian football were treated to something of a rarity: a title challenge that went to the wire. Having beaten Juventus at the Allianz Stadium in Gameweek 34, Napoli found themselves one point off the top of the table with four games to go. In their next two games, though, they failed to beat Fiorentina and Torino, whimpering to a second-place finish five points behind I Bianconeri who picked up a seventh consecutive scudetto.

With the new season six games old, there is already a sense of déjà vu at the top table of Italian football. Juventus find themselves three points clear of Napoli at the top of Serie A as they head into their clash on Saturday. According to FiveThirtyEight’s predictive model, Juventus have a 63% chance of ending up at the top of Serie A come the end of the season, a figure that dwarves the 21% ascribed to their next closest challenger, Napoli. However the championship plays out this year, you can almost be certain that one of these two teams will be declared the winners by the time May swings around. Read More

Real Madrid vs Roma Champions League Preview

Real Madrid vs Roma Preview: New Era Begins for Los Blancos

With their eyes firmly set on the midweek Champions League action, both Real Madrid and AS Roma will be determined to put their respective domestic draws behind them as Europe’s elite competition returns to the spotlight. Real Madrid vs Roma could be a cracker.

The reigning European champions kick off their title defence and start pursuit of their fourth consecutive Champions League title through the beginning of a new era at Santiago Bernabeu. All of their previous four European crowns were in large amounts won thanks to the formidable goal scoring exploits of the man who is now residing in Turin (and will be hoping to spread his ketchup in Valencia). Read More

Valencia vs Juventus Champions League Preview

Valencia vs Juventus Preview: Ketchup for Ronaldo’s return?

“Goals are like ketchup: all comes out at once”. If Cristiano Ronaldo applies the analogy that he launched back in 2010, after ten games without scoring for Portugal, then Valencia have reasons to be worried.

Cristiano finally scored for Juventus, against Sassuolo (as Massimo Allegri had predicted), and in a double dose. The Portuguese star overthrew the psychological barrier, and just three days before his return to Spain. Definitely not good news for Valencia, against whom Ronaldo has already scored fifteen goals, with eight of them at Mestalla.

Ironically, it’s in Spain, where Cristiano Ronaldo lived for the last nine years, that begins this European journey of a “vecchia signora” with renewed ambition with the arrival of the Portuguese. “If you can’t beat him, sign him” must have been the idea of the Italian leaders, who advanced for the most popular transfer of the summer. Juventus don’t want only internal hegemony and looked for the missing piece to regain European glory. Read More

The top five player performances at the 2018 World Cup

World Cup Eden Hazard Harry Kane Cristiano Ronaldo Toni Kroos Luka ModricConsidering the whole basis of Twelve’s world is an algorithm, it may seem odd to say we’re not obsessed with the numbers. But it’s the truth; we want fans to write what they think about a match, player or team, and then see what our statistics say, not the other way round. We had numerous excellent articles during the World Cup which did exactly that.

But then again, when you’re generating player scores based on millions of data points, it seems a shame not to see who the top five in a tournament were. After all, who doesn’t love a list they can argue with? If you want to see how a certain player scored in a particular World Cup match, we have a spreadsheet containing links to every game’s leader board, so you’ve got no excuse not to have a look for yourself. Without further ado, here are Twelve’s top five performances at the 2018 World Cup. Read More

Portugal 1-0 Morocco: Ronaldo papers over poor performance

For many years Portugal charmed with a showy way of playing, but never conquered. Two years ago they presented unattractive football and went from draw to draw, but claimed the European title. Now Portugal seem to be playing even worse, but they have four points in Group B and are close to the knockout stage.

The game with Morocco was one of the worst in Fernando Santos’ tenure, but another goal from Cristiano Ronaldo (his fourth in this tournament) secured a hard-fought 1-0 win. It was an unfair result for Hervé Renard’s team, who became the first team eliminated in the group stage. Read More

Cristiano’s best performance with Portugal

Let’s keep it simple: Cristiano Ronaldo has had some special days with Portugal – July 10th 2016, for example – but this was his best performance for the country. In the most important tournament, against one of the best teams in the world.

Cristiano needed only one game in Russia to score as many goals he had scored in three previous World Cups, and became the oldest player to score a hat-trick at the tournament. He has now scored in four World Cups, something only Uwe Seeler, Pelé and Miroslav Klose can also say.

But there’s more: he now has 84 goals for Portugal and equalled Ferenc Puskas in 2nd place of national teams’ all-time goalscorers, only behind Iran’s former star Ali Daei (109 goals). Tremendous!

Read More

World Cup 2018, Day 2 Review: The Cristiano Ronaldo Show

The 2018 World Cup began with Russia’s 5-0 win over Saudi Arabia (which we reviewed here), but Friday was when the action really got going with three matches, and a clash of two of the big guns.

The day began with a battle of Liverpool heroes present and past, as Mohamed Salah’s Egypt took on Luis Suárez’ Uruguay. Or at least it would have, had Salah been fit enough to take part. As it was, he spent the entire game on the bench.

After a fairly even start, it was Suárez who had the first clear-cut chance of the match. It came from a corner, which wouldn’t have surprised anyone who saw Uruguay in qualifying.

But Suárez put the chance wide of the post, and he also missed the first big opportunity of the second half too. The Barcelona forward was only the eighth best player in the match overall.
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Real Madrid vs Liverpool: The story of the Champions League final

Real Madrid beat Liverpool 3-1 in Kiev to win their fourth Champions League title in the last five seasons. It’s a remarkable achievement, but did they deserve to win? And who were the best players on the night?

UEFA gave their man of the match award to Gareth Bale, and he topped the Twelve ratings too. As he scored two goals he was always likely to, but there will rarely have been a match where the key player had such little involvement overall.

Even so, Bale’s first goal was one of the finest seen in any final, and certainly worthy of winning any match. Of course, with Twelve utilising an algorithm there are no points for artistic merit, but if there were then you’d probably assign at least 1,990 of his 2,000 goal points from the match to the overhead kick. It’s certainly worth viewing again, and it’s not a goal anyone, aside from Liverpool fans, will ever tire of seeing.

In total, five of the top six performers on the night were wearing white. This probably illustrates Madrid deserved to win, even if they benefitted hugely from two goalkeeping howlers in order to claim the trophy.

Ah yes, the goalkeeping errors. Poor old Loris Karius. It won’t count for a thing now, but at the half way point in the match he had been Liverpool’s third best performer, behind Andy Robertson and Virgil van Dijk. It won’t surprise you to hear he finished the match dead last of all 27 players who took to the field, but what was unusual was that the German goalkeeper earned more attacking points than Roberto Firmino.

Former Premier League goalkeeper Shaka Hislop indirectly made a point regarding this in a video for ESPN. “I am convinced that Jürgen Klopp says to Liverpool do everything quickly,” Hislop said, and while this speed of thought helps Karius contribute to the attack at times, it proved his undoing for the goals.

Unfortunately for Liverpool, it wasn’t a great night for their number nine either, and that was doubly disappointing in that they needed him to step up once Salah was forced to leave the field. Firmino wasn’t even able to chip in with his usually superb off ball work, which was a feature of his fine campaign in the Premier League, and he didn’t pick up a single point in that category.

The Reds’ best player on the night according to the Twelve ratings, thanks hugely to his goal, was Sadio Mané. However, it was the Reds’ defenders who probably deserve the most plaudits. The defence chart was the only one where a Liverpool player performed best, in the form of van Dijk, but it’s perhaps Andy Robertson who arguably deserves the most praise here.

The young Scot denied Cristiano Ronaldo what would’ve been an almost certain goal by sliding into block his shot in the 73rd minute. That block was worth 103 points, and on it’s own would’ve put Robertson 12th in the defence standings.

Speaking of Ronaldo, he had a very quiet night by his standards, and was only rated 13th in the total scores for the final. He had just three shots, and Real’s #7 has only had fewer in a Champions League or La Liga match once all season. His surprisingly strong defensive work was highlighted prior to the final, but it was still a surprise to see it contribute so much to his score for the game.

Ronaldo picked up 219 points for shots, and 182 for attack, but 176 for defence. There won’t have been many matches where his dashboard shows more important actions at the back rather than up front, but this game is one such example.

But when all is said and done, it was the errors by Karius which defined this match. It’s one he won’t want to watch again in a hurry.

Real Madrid vs Liverpool: Who have been their best players in Europe?

In my last article I took a look at who Liverpool’s player of the year has been when it comes to the stats in the Premier League. With the Champions League final coming up on Saturday, it’s now time to take a look at how the players of Liverpool and Real Madrid have fared in Europe in 2017/18.

It won’t surprise anyone to see Cristiano Ronaldo lead the way from Liverpool’s fabulous front three, as those four players are the top four scorers in the competition this season. However, it will probably confound people to see Dejan Lovren sneak into the top five, just as he did when looking for the Reds’ top players in domestic football.

While the top four have clearly relied a lot on shots and goals (the blue bar) to reach their high scores, Liverpool’s Croatian centreback has understandably relied upon his defensive (red) points. But his off ball bar (yellow) is relevant too, and in fact Lovren leads the way on this particular attribute, either in total or on a points per minute basis.

Jürgen Klopp appears to value Lovren’s brand of front foot defending, even if it has Liverpool supporters tearing their hair out at times. Twelve value his contribution here too, as we can see on his map.

However, if anything is more surprising than Lovren’s inclusion in the top five players, it’s the fact Ronaldo has racked up far more defensive points than any of Liverpool’s front three, as that feels counter-intuitive when the Reds love to defend from the front.

The Portuguese legend is a useful asset when defending set plays though, thanks to his aerial prowess. Ronaldo has made one more clearance than the Reds’ attacking trident have between them, and here’s his defensive chart.

In terms of actual defenders, both Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos have amassed more points for defending than Lovren has, and in fewer minutes on the pitch too. So how have Liverpool conceded two fewer goals in the competition this season?

An easier batch of opponents has obviously helped, but any Kopite will utter three words when asked why the Reds’ defence has improved recently: Virgil van Dijk. Sure enough, the Dutchman is top of the defensive pile when the scores are sorted on a points per minute basis.

That’s impressive work from the former Southampton man, and let’s not forget he has only featured in the knockout stages as he joined Liverpool in January. Van Dijk’s figures have not been boosted by facing lesser sides in the group stage.

Will his impact help in the final though? After all, Ronaldo is more inclined to drift to the left anyway (as his attack map testifies), and that is where the weaker side of Liverpool’s defence resides too. Then again, van Dijk should prove to be useful in marking Ronaldo on set pieces, even if they don’t face up too often in open play.

In the attack stats, it would be natural to assume James Milner would lead the way, as he has clocked up eight assists in the 2017/18 Champions League, yet he only takes the silver medal.

The fact the winner in this category has set up a single goal in the competition illustrates the random nature of assists nicely. Toni Kroos has created 24 goal scoring opportunities in the Champions League this season, so perhaps should’ve assisted more goals. Mohamed Salah is the only player on either side to create more chances, and he is behind Kroos on a per 90 minutes basis.

The German international has boosted his creativity figures with set plays, but he clearly contributes plenty to Madrid’s attack. While Liverpool will need to be wary of Kroos in Kiev, there’s clearly players on both sides who can cause damage. That makes the match both a mouthwatering prospect but also incredibly difficult to call. Don’t be surprised if one of the top four players in the Twelve rankings makes the key difference in the final.