The typically low number of goals scored in soccer matches makes it difficult to identify players with a positive impact on the final result. To this end, researchers have developed a method to evaluate each pass based on its influence on the scoreline, thus identifying the most impactful players.
By Jan Van Haaren
In their quest for championships and trophies, soccer clubs are continuously seeking to acquire better players. They send out talent scouts all around the world to watch players who might improve the performance of their team. Furthermore, to identify potential candidates, scouts frequently employ online platforms that provide video footage and advanced statistics for thousands of professional soccer players worldwide.
Thanks to the implementation of new technological tools, it has become possible to track the locations of the players and the ball during matches and training sessions at all times. Researchers increasingly use these large volumes of data to compute advanced statistics that help scouts to identify players with a positive influence on the outcomes of soccer matches. Unfortunately, due to the low-scoring nature of soccer, it is still rather difficult to measure the performances of individual players.
Traditional statistics focus only on shots
The most popular advanced statistics for soccer have two important limitations: first, many of them focus on shots, although about 70% of all actions during soccer matches are passes. Second, traditional statistics fail to account appropriately for the circumstances. For instance, the percentage of completed passes does not distinguish between two central defenders passing between them and a central midfielder who attempts to reach a forward in the opponent’s penalty box.
To overcome the limitations of traditional statistics, researchers from SciSports and the Erasmus University Rotterdam have now developed a method that measures a player’s involvement in setting up goal-scoring chances by evaluating the effectiveness of his or her passes during a match. As one would expect from intuition, passes more likely to lead to a goal are valued more highly than those that are less likely to do so.
Based on their newly proposed metric, the Dutch researchers identified Arsenal player Mesut Özil, Manchester city midfielder David Silva and FC Barcelona star Lionel Messi as the most impactful players in terms of passes during the 2017/2018 soccer season. They also proposed Ajax player Frenkie de Jong as a replacement for the former midfielder Andrés Iniesta at FC Barcelona. Their analyses were recently published in the Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports. Meanwhile “Barça” have in fact announced the signing of 21-year old de Jong who will join the Catalan club in July 2019.
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