I have been thinking a lot recently about additional information I’d like to have beyond what’s available at WhoScored and Squawka to help with player scouting. What’s there is good, but there are always additional wrinkles you can add, or directions you can take analysis that could prove fruitful, especially if you have access to the base data.

Here are two stats that I wish we had access to, because I feel like they would open up new levels of player understanding.

1)      Throughball Runs.
It takes two to tango. It’s true for dancing, and it’s also true for completing the game’s most valuable pass. (Check Michael Caley’s work here for more detailed info on this.) It’s not enough to have a midfielder who can pick out the pass and weight it perfectly, you also need a forward who sees and makes the run for the sequence to work.

The way I view this is a bit like how the NFL uses target stats for receivers. It’s great that you had 5 catches, but if the ball was thrown in your direction 20 times in a game, something strange is going on. This particular stat opens up the concept that some players will be better at making runs that aid throughball completion than others. And if guys never make the runs, that tells you a lot as well.

It also allows us to follow the possession chain from there. Was the ball completed? Did it result in a shot? Was that shot on target? Converted?

Maybe we’ll find nothing, but given the value of this interaction in terms of creating goals (most of which comes from the fact that it beats defensive positioning – another lack of data we currently deal with when analysing the game), I really wish we had the ability to look at the other half of the stat. Obviously, throughballs themselves are highly influenced by tactics, but honestly, everything on the football pitch is.

2)      Second Assists

While we’re on the topic of possession chains, this one really frustrates me. Many, many goals are actually created not by the last pass before the shot, but by the pass before that. Check this out.


That ridiculous pass from Iniesta and run from Fabregas is what I would term the “unlock,” which is what actually gets Barcelona in behind the defense. From that point, the actually probability of scoring a goal becomes somewhere between 30-40%. However, the actual assist comes from Fabregas squaring the ball for the finish. This type of thing happens pretty regularly.

That Iniesta pass is clearly enormously valuable, but it won’t appear in any of the basic stats we have access to. There’s also a theory that Iniesta has been doing this his entire career, and if you incorporated this extra stat into the larger picture, you’d have a better estimate of his value to the team (which you can see with your eyes, and vaguely extrapolate with stats, but not at a level anyone is happy with).

Obviously ice hockey already does this and has done it for ages. I don’t know exactly how difficult it would be to pull this out of the database, but it’s something I think would add better context and value to current player analysis, especially when it comes to wide players and midfielders.

So yeah, Opta people, or other data companies who want to move out into the light, can we have new, useful toys to play with? Please?

  • jair1970

    Surelty the key pass stat needs extending.

    It is frustrating that nothing is recorded for the Iniesta move.
    Some kind of catch all ‘goal creation’ stat might work, one without limits as to how many players can be credited on a move.

    Through balls are an inexact science too. I’ve lost count of the amount of times a player has had the vision to pick out a teammate, marginally failed and just ends up with an ‘incomplete pass’. The way they record though balls eliminates the attempted through ball. Someone like Gerrard or Holtby play these type of passes all the time, often unsuccessfully, and it shows a style to their game (whether it’s tactically beneficial is another story): because of the ‘accuracy’ remit Gerrard is 7/14 on through balls all season and Holtby is3/8.

    Similarly someone like Paulinho or Lampard, masters of the late run, don’t get picked up, as you allude to.

  • Michiel Derksen

    The problem I’d see with rewarding the 2nd assist is that it would be very easy to construct examples just like this one where the unlocking pass is not the 2nd but actually 3rd or 4th. A more generic approach would be to record contribution to ExpG for all passes that relate to a given attempt. That would result in a high share of the ExpG of that attempt being awarded to the unlocking pass.

    We could work our way backwards from the above example. Let’s say we can establish that the x,y coordinate of the position where Pedro finishes corresponds to 0.8 ExpG. Shooting from the position where Fabregas lays it off to Pedro would be worth, say, 0.6ExpG so his pass would be credited with 0.2ExpG. Shooting from the position where Iniesta passes to Fabregas is worth 0.03ExpG, so his pass would be accredited with 0.57ExpG. And Fabregas would again be credited with 0.02 or so for bringing the ball from where he receives it to Iniesta.

    Such a model has some shortcomings: it does not take into account the positioning of teammates and opposition, positioning of the goalkeeper, ball pressure and for this example the fact that Iniesta is positioned with his back towards the goal. Basing on x,y coordinates would probably always punish pullbacks even though they create a shooting opportunity. Also, how to account for chosing the worst option? If a player makes a pass to a covered player on a fast break overlooking an uncovered teammate, should you credit the pass with improving the ExpG or should you punish him for not creating a bigger chance?

    Yet despite these shortcomings, I would favor it over the existing KeyPass anotation.

    • tknutso

      Yeah, this was a SIMPLE set of data requests as opposed to pie in the sky IF WE HAD ALL THIS WE COULD. Sadly, as soon as you get to x,y coords of where all sorts of things are taking place, you step out of the public data sphere.

  • KC_Gunner

    I beileve OPTA does already track this “second assist” or “hockey assist” — at least they are for MLS where I beileve they are tracked and simply included as an Assist (no differentiation). See for instance this write-up of SKC’s playoff win v NE, where both Collin and Zusi received an assist on the Sinovic goal: http://golazo.mlssoccer.com/matchcenter/2013-11-06-sporting-kansas-city-vs-new-england-revolution/recap

  • Errorr

    Do the cameras actually record the data say like they do in the NBA? Or is the extraneous positioning data discarded? Does anyone have an idea what the camera tracking data looks like in raw form?

    Not like anyone has some free supercomputer time to actually crunch that level of granular data considering a true x,y multiple times a second tracking data would probably be 100s of GB.

  • Xarius Desai

    Hi there, used to be an analyst at Opta until end of season ending 2012-13 and can tell you that second assists are recorded for goals scored (not for shots that are saved/miss/block etc.) if they are deemed to be of significance (so that iniesta pass would definitely have been recorded as a second assist). Where that data ends up, I’m not really sure unfortunately. Perhaps sqwakwa have it but don’t publish it. Its not a particularly common occurrence either.

    As for x,y data, only the action of the player who touches the ball is ever recorded during coding at opta, certainly no player tracking.