The Suarez Conundrum

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Liverpool have an issue this summer, and that issue is whether or not to sell Luis Suarez.  Every other decision they make about player personnel is secondary, partly because of the amount of money involved, and partly because of the impact Suarez has on the entire team when he’s on the pitch.

Before addressing the question of whether Liverpool should sell directly, I want to take a look at Suarez’s production. Fans on Twitter have been comparing him to Falcao, Cavani, Ibrahimovic, and Lewandowski as one of the world’s best forwards. Despite this year’s goal tally, I find myself sceptical of those comparisons, but was happy to look at the data and see what it had to say.

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Pirlo! Schweinsteiger! Gerrard! Trashorras?

One of the cool things that happens when you start looking at player data is you occasionally stumble across statistically similar players, most of whom you might be aware of, but sometimes a name pops out that you have never heard of.

I was messing around with the LongBall category at WhoScored a couple of weeks ago, curious what would turn up. In England and Germany, this stat is dominated by Goalkeepers and to a lesser extent central defenders. Not in Spain and Italy though!

In Spain the first four slots are occupied by midfielders, after which you have two GK, and then a bunch of defenders and defensive mids. In Italy, the first GK doesn’t show up until 18 spots down the list. 18! I’ve been noting recently how much older Italy’s Key Pass leaders seem to be than the rest of Europe, but to me this indicates they just play football differently. I’ll try to make time later this summer to dig deeper into the statistical differences.

Name Team Pos Apps A KP Avg P PS% Long Through
Riccardo Montolivo AC Milan M(C) 31(1)







Andrea Pirlo Juventus M(C) 32







David Pizarro Fiorentina DM(C) 28(1)







Bastian Schweinst… Bayern Munich M(C) 27(1)







Steven Gerrard Liverpool M(C) 36







Roberto Trashorras Rayo Vallecano M(CR) 30(4)







Anyway, check out this list of midfielders who sit at the top of their league for successful long balls per game. Montolivo and Schweini are the only ones under age 30, and look at those passing percentages! All of those guys are household names, except… Roberto Trashorras.

Who the hell is Roberto Trashorras?!?

Who the hell is Roberto Trashorras?!?

Who the hell is Roberto Trashorras?

A Barcelona youth product, he also spent time on the Real Madrid B team before bouncing around the Spanish second division for six more seasons with Numancia, Las Palmas, and Celta Vigo. Finally in 2011 – at age 30 – he signed on with Rayo after they won promotion to La Liga. And since then, he’s producing numbers like you see above.

Numbers that are similar to Andrea Pirlo, Bastian Schweinsteiger, and Steven Gerrard. How cool is that?

I don’t know about you, but I find it really hard not to root for this guy.

[Special thanks to David Jaca for giving me some background on his time in La Liga. He’s one of the most knowledgeable and interesting journalists covering Spanish football.]

The Happy Accident of Shot Dominance

You know those times where you hear about the concept of something cool and you get so excited that you run off and start doing it, even though you haven’t heard all of the details yet? Then, when you find out how you are supposed to be doing things, you kinda like your way better? This is one of those times.

Playing around with TSR. Or not?
Last November, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. The treatment was surgery followed by one giant bout of chemo. It’s not a fun process, but I came out the end just fine. Anyway, about the time of the surgery, I needed something to keep me busy, so I started reading up on the current state of football analytics.

One of the first things I ran across was a stat called TSR or Total Shots Ratio. “Cool,” I thought, “I’ll just toss that in a spreadsheet and look at the Premier League that way.” This is what I produced. Continue reading

Transfer Dossiers – Payet, Mollo, Cabella, and Feret

SS Moneyball2

Yesterday’s piece about actual Moneyball and translating certain elements to football was extremely well-received. It also helps explain one of the key stats I’ll be looking at when fishing for potentially undervalued attackers for the next week or two.

Today, we turn our attention to France. Ligue 1 likely has the lowest talent level on the whole of the big 5 leagues, but obviously there are plenty of players there waiting to be found, both in the form of value prospects as well as interesting statistical anomalies. We’ll start with one of the best attacking midfielders in Europe this season.

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Walking It In to the Net

Mesut Ozil - the Greek, er... German God of Assists.

Mesut Ozil – the Greek, er… German God of Assists.

One of the key tenets of teambuilding philosophy in the modern age is this: Find traits that are undervalued in the marketplace that also lead to wins. Buy those players as cheaply as possible, put them in a system that works, and hopefully it will lead to a title.

Billy Beane did this with the Oakland A’s by emphasizing walks and power at the cost of defense and athleticism. Getting on base – however you do it – equates to runs. They just found guys who got on base in unflashy ways (via boring old walks), plugged them into the lineup, and let statistics do their work.

Assists are the game of football’s walks.

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Let’s Play the Value Game – World Class Forwards

In today’s article, you are cast in the role of Director of Football or Manager of your favourite football club. Your mission – should you choose to accept it – is to pick the player that represents the best value to you and your club.

Finding Value
The meaning of the word “value” in this case is decidedly squishy. You have a large, but finite budget, and anything you spend on this player takes away from what you could spend on other positions of need at the club. Stuff you care about when considering value:

  • Money spent (obviously), both on transfer fee and on wages.
  • Statistical performance. Mostly goals and assists for forwards.
  • Resale value.
  • Potential length of service.
  • Big name impact. This translates to immediate shirt sales. On the other hand, if the player succeeds, shirt sales will bear fruit in the long run.

Now, there’s a lot of noise in football.  Players have reputations one way or another. Some are head cases and hard to work with, others are amazing leaders and team players. Additionally, some players are easily adaptable to whatever style a manager wants to play, while others tend to be best in very specific systems. All of this makes analysis of which player to buy hard.

What we’re going to do today is strip out the noise and just focus on the production of a group of forwards over the last two seasons.

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Transfer Dossiers – Kiyotake, Gonzalo Castro, Aaron Hunt

The tale of a fateful ship...

The tale of a fateful ship…

Today is day one of my project to use player statistics to project and analyse underappreciated talents in football. I’ve already written about Max Kruse, a player whose Bundesliga stats this season are not dissimilar to Luka Modric and Juan Mata, and who Gladbach bought in April for £2.25M. I’m going to continue looking at talents across Europe most people probably aren’t familiar with, and see if we can find some attacking talents that would make good signings for Premier League or even Champions’ League clubs this summer. Today’s trawling starts in Germany, but first…

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