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daily 07/05/2014

    • Even though national teams are patchwork and only play together for a handful of games each year, how Messi plays with Argentina relates to what is ultimately a fair criticism of his success: Most of it has come for FC Barcelona, a free-spending virtual all-star squad, packed with many of the world’s best players.1
    • And that’s just the stuff that made it into this article. I arrived at a conclusion that I wasn’t really expecting or prepared for: Lionel Messi is impossible.
    • About 44 percent of Messi’s “open” (non-set piece) shots are “individual plays,” taken without an assist.5 This is lower than the 46 percent of unassisted shots for players overall, but Messi scores on these shots more than 23 percent of the time, compared to all players’ 5 percent. Additionally, he gains .089 goals above average on each unassisted shot. Ronaldo gains .023, and the average player is slightly negative at -.004 GAA.
    • Only 5 percent of his kicks are “strong” ones (compared to 8 percent for all players), but those kicks score 36 percent of the time, and have .251 GAA each! All players have scored on 11 percent of their “strong kick” shots and have an average .051 GAA per shot.
    • About 12 percent of his shots have “swerve” on them (compared to 10 percent for all players); 31 percent of those swervy kicks score, for a huge .202 GAA (all players: 8 percent, .020 GAA).
    • Messi has scored on 86 percent of his penalty kicks, versus an average of 77 percent for all players. But put one check-mark in Ronaldo’s column, as he has scored on 93 percent of his penalty attempts. Since both are the primary PK-takers for both their club and national teams, this difference — if it held up in the long run —  would be worth about three-quarters of a goal per year.
    • The only forward who takes on defenders nearly as aggressively as Messi is Luis Suarez, the Uruguayan striker for Liverpool who is perhaps too aggressive for his own good (ahem). Suarez is successful less than 35 percent of the time.
    • While Messi appears to shoot much more efficiently, that’s partly because he loses the ball more during failed take-on attempts, while Ronaldo loses it more because of missed shots. Only the second of those is accounted for in shooting stats. (I’ll get more into how we can account for loss of possession in the touch-by-touch analysis later.)
    • Not only is Messi the top game-by-game goal-scorer of the last four years, he’s the third-most productive distributor of assists, despite being the primary scorer on his own team! Only Mesut Ozil and Franck Ribery8 earned more assists than Messi, and Ozil did it on Real Madrid9 — setting up Cristiano Ronaldo.
    • Barcelona’s players are infamous for their “tiki-taka” style of play, which relies on an enormous amount of short, high percentage passing.
    • This sounds like a great strategy, but there’s a reason it isn’t employed universally: To make it work, a team has to be stocked with amazing passers, and it has to have strikers capable of creating chances against set defenses.10
    • Messi makes more passes than the other forwards, with a higher percentage of those passes trying to advance the ball toward the goal, and a higher percentage of those passes finding their targets (typical Messi!). His 3,800-plus completed forward passes are nearly twice as many as any forward in our data set (Francesco Totti for FC Roma has 2,200, followed by Wayne Rooney, the English striker, with 1,800 and Ronaldo with 1,500).
      • Be quick enough to get to the ball. Be nimble enough to move the ball into position.Be accurate enough to move the ball forward.Be strong enough to do this consistently.
    • As it turns out, not only does Messi pass the ball forward aggressively, he does so accurately, and the balls he delivers are “successful” a very high percentage of the time.
    • I’ve created a scatter comparing each player’s completion percentage for these passes to the percentage of them that are “successful,” and I’ve shown the volume of long pass attempts for each player as bubble sizes:
      • Rooney dominates at long passes.
    • Given that, it’s no surprise that Messi excels at the through-ball, the delicate and gorgeous play that requires perfect circumstances and perfect timing to be successful. Messi attempts almost twice as many of these passes as any other forward, and still manages to beat the trend
    • First, to ensure that we’re celebrating the greatness of Messi and not the greatness of Barcelona, we need to make sense of Messi on Barcelona. The easiest way to do that is to evaluate Barcelona without Messi, also known as the Spanish national team.
      • why is the spanish national team a proxy for a messiless barca?
    • n 47 UEFA matches since 2010, Barcelona has scored 104 goals, or 1.08 goals per game more than a Spanish team comprised of a similar offensive core and using the same “tiki-taka” playing style, minus Lionel Messi.
    • Perhaps that’s an unfair comparison to make — but it’s consistent with the theory that Barcelona’s “play keep away until lightning strikes” offense really only works when it has Messi as its striker.
    • Whether “possession football” — much less the extreme form employed by Barca — is even a good strategy at all is controversial. In a seminal 1968 study, Charles Reep noted that 80 percent of goals came from possessions involving three or fewer passes, and that successfully completing a lot of passes without losing the ball was very difficult. He thought this proved that possession football was inefficient, but many have disagreed with his logic, and subsequent studies have shown mixed results. ^

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

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