And then that happened. (Nate Silver, Day 23)

I expected Brazil to have a bad day. I didn't expect it to have THAT bad a day. I was at an airport bar waiting to board my flight when I saw the Germany score to take an early lead. They had the better of the play before the goal, which was due to a defensive breakdown. In fact, Brazil was rife with defensive breakdowns, which lead to this: MC_Ger_Bra That's bad, but it underestimates Germany's dominance in the box. That 3.1 assumes an average shot on goal from that position, but Germany was getting something better than that. They were getting open shots with time to aim and provide power. It was just a brutal day defensively for a Brazil squad without its field leaders. That left Nate Silver with a bankroll of $529,437. He will be rooting for Argentina today: Game 62: Argentina to advance, 0.42%: Risking $2,224 to win $1,690 Yesterday I thought Argentina should be a small favorite. After doing a bit more analysis I no longer feel that way. I expect an all UEFA final. I don't think Argentina's defense will hold up. I also don't expect Messi to be able to save them this time. The one potential fly in the ointment is RVP's health. I have no special insight there, but I expect him to play. Alright, hopefully today have a better game than yesterday. Finally, one bit of advice for Arjen Robben: [youtube id="kiePaAHK3jE" width="633" height="356"] Seth Burn @sethburn on Twitter

Neymar is gone. Now what? (Nate Silver, Day 22)

How to deal with injuries in sports is a very difficult problem. Teams need to be prepared for that eventually and have a replacement ready on the bench. One of the best football books I've ever read focuses on that issue: nextmanup Brazil is a deep and talented team, but they have just lost one of the few truly special talents in the world. His loss is difficult to quantify, but that is what markets are forced to do. Nate Silver decided to take a look at the loss of Neymar and this is what he came up with. As such, I'll adjust his wager on the Brazil-Germany game accordingly. Let's take a brief look back at the two quarterfinals that set up the second semifinal. In the early game, Gonzalo Higuain scored on shot off of a deflected pass. However, after Angel Di Maria went off due to injury, Argentina turtled (formed a defensive shell) and tried to keep Belgium off the board. They were mostly successful in denying Belgium good scoring opportunities: MC_Arg_Bel Argentina did miss a few opportunities to put the game away, which did cause some stress on the sidelines. However, in the end Belgium was denied. Argentina will move on to face the Netherlands who struggled against Costa Rica's offside trap. Over the course of five games Costa Rica caught teams offsides 41 times, an absurdly high number. To put that in perspective Germany is currently in second place with 17.  Costa Rice put up impressive defensive performances against England and Greece (with 10 men), and was even more impressive against the Netherlands: MC_CRC_NED Costa Rica's keeper Keylor Navas was exceptional. Unfortunately, he was upstaged and outmatched by Tim Krul in the penalty shootout. Krul was aggressive and repeatedly predicted where Costa Rica would shoot. In the end, another favorite advanced (which made favorites 12-0 in the knockout round). That sets up an exceptional set of semifinals: Game 61: Brazil to advance, 31.4%: Risking $242,337 to win $252,435 Game 62: Argentina to advance, 0.42%: Risking $2,224 to win $1,690 (It will be $4,302 to win $3,269 if Brazil wins) After a good day Nate Silver is back at $771,775. A Brazil win will leave Nate above [youtube id="l91ISfcuzDw" width="633" height="356"] However, I don't see that happening. Germany is the best team in the world, and frankly, I'm not sure it's close. Given Neymar's injury, Argentina is their greatest threat. The Netherlands would be a tough opponent as well. Frankly, any of these four teams can win. I'd suggest Brazil, even with their home field advantage, is clearly worse than Argentina and Germany. Maybe Germany will be given a questionable red card. Maybe Brazil will be given a questionable penalty kick. Barring that, Germany advances. In the second semifinal I'd suggest Argentina should be favored, but I wouldn't necessarily say they're above 55% to win. Unfortunately, I am going to be in transit tomorrow and I'm not sure I'll be able to give a write up before day 23. I'll do my best, particularly if I'm wrong and Brazil wins. After all, Nate crossing the Dr. Evil barrier would be something to celebrate. Alright, I'll leave off here. Enjoy the games. Seth Burn @sethburn on Twitter

Gifolution: What the Hell Happened To Roberto Soldado?

You are a director of football. Concerned about buying flashes in the pan, you instead opt to pay a little more for a guy who has shown remarkable consistency at scoring goals. Over the previous four seasons, this guy's statistical profile has barely even wiggled. He bangs home goals, with a high conversion rate, every single season. Like a reliable car that never breaks down, that's the guy you want, right? That was Roberto Soldado. Right up until he moved to Spurs. Soldado-0914 Can he be fixed? He's not injured. It just seemed that the systems he had to play in were terribly suited to his skills, and even when he did get chances, everything just went wrong. Maybe Pochettino can help rebuild his form and make sure the system gives him better chances. With Emmanuel Adebayor in the last year of his contract (meaning Levy is almost certain to find a deal for him before the summer is out), I would guess Spurs will still need to place at least some faith in Bobby Soldier.  

StatsBomb Mailbag – English Premiums, Daley Blind, Ivan Perisic + More

A question for you that I've been pondering lately, more philosophical perhaps than tied to any particular player or team: The top scorers in the big leagues last season got 31, 31, 22, 20 and 26 goals (ENG, SPA, ITA, GER & FRA, respectively). The players with the most assists, on the other hand: 13, 17, 10, 13 & 12 assists. The trend holds up in the CL as well (17G/5A) and the EL (8G/4A). Why are there so few assists?  I don't know that we even have to get into the whole thing of what's more valuable, goals or assists (my gut tells me ~equal as both leads to a goal). Messi is a goalscoring machine around whom Barcelona is constructed, so fine, I get why he doesn't notch up 25 assists. Same for Ronaldo, they're top predators and finish moves instead. But I watch a guy like Juan Cuadrado and part of me is disappointed in him because he doesn't combine his physical and technical skills and advantages to get 15 goals and 15 assists in a season. He absolutely has the skills to get to 15 assists in 38 games, so why doesn't he? Why does barely anyone, or am I being unreasonable?   I could spit out a few theories as to why this is (assists more open to interpretation and less binary than goals which either are or aren't, etc), but I'm not convincing myself fully. -@Blogistuta This struck me as weird a year ago, so I put quite a bit of thought into this when I first started doing research and came up with two answers I think make some sense. 1)      Sequences of play. Why doesn’t every shot have a pass attached to it? Because sequences are broken up. Tackles, recoveries, bounces off a defender, off the post, off a goalkeeper save etc all end up yielding shots too. Thus you end up with guys who average 5-6 shots per game at the top end, while you only get 3-3.5 key passes a game for top creators. 2)      The second problem can be summarized as: Calculus is hard. Doing it in your head, on the fly is really hard. Getting a shot off is a physical act, but it’s moderately simple overall. You need to take whatever direction the ball is currently traveling, and change that toward the goal. Yes, you have to beat the keeper and potentially a defender, but it’s not that hard. Now think about what has to happen to pass the ball so that someone else can get a shot. How many defenders are involved and how do you make sure only your teammate can collect it? How fast is your teammate moving? Do you have to weigh the ball so that the keeper can’t collect it? Which side does your teammate prefer to shoot from? Does the pass need to be in the air? Popped over a defender’s foot briefly and then on the ground? [A thousand other minor considerations.] Things are not moving in straight lines! Curves and velocities are involved. Also, and this seems important... you aren’t in control of any of this. Think about when you are playing FIFA and the computer-controlled teammates just do dumb things. Now consider that many football players, though quite physically talented, are not particularly bright. You don’t control them either. It takes some level of faith and potentially hundreds of hours of practice time to understand where they are likely to be, and also to get them to understand where you want them/where they should be/run. In short, contributing a key pass is horribly complex. You are attempting to create the one act entire defenses are designed to stop (good shots), and they usually have more men in defense than you have in attack. Vision comes into play too, as seeing all defenders as well as potential teammates making runs and where they are making them to, is super important. Even with a lifetime of practice, football is an incredibly complex game, and passing through a defense is a far more complicated process than merely getting a shot off. So uh... that’s why I think we have so few assists and also why I think the ability to create key passes is one of the most telling traits when judging whether a player can be a successful attacker at an early age. MB_mainstream_stats I think Sky are starting to do this in their broadcasts, working in the occasional fact and then using it as a jumping off point for commentator discussion. This is awesome when it’s Gary Neville and Carragher chatting about it, but it’s preeeeeeetty bad when they shoehorn Glenn Hoddle and the donk squad in. Basically, you need bright commentators to make this stuff relevant and interesting. This is another reason why Sky’s Monday Night Football is the best football program on television. Another big key to wider acceptance is repetition and visualization (this is true on the internet as well). If you can convey information or tell stories through data vis, fans tend to be pretty responsive to it. It’s a tricky balance, and maybe the hardest part about it is finding people with the skills to do this in the modern world. Data vis guys are in super high demand across almost all industries. How do you evaluate versatile players that may not have a specialist position? This one is tricky because they definitely have good squad value, and managers love a guy that they can plug in for multiple positions who will perform. However, are those performances enough to justify them above guys who are specialists? One of the things I can now do with the data set I’ve been working with is positional filters, so we can look at how a player performed only in a specific position. The best example I can give is the breakdown I did of Emre Can when he transferred to Liverpool. Plug him into different roles and you get different output. From a data perspective this quickly becomes problematic because you end up with smaller and smaller samples, but if you want to buy a player, it’s certainly something you should spend time doing. Anyway, my thought on this is that you get bonus points for versatility, but it doesn’t overcome average stats. A guy like Can is interesting at both central midfield and left back based on his stats output. The fact that he can play both makes him more valuable, but not enough that you’d buy him if he were merely average. MB_Goalimpact I like them as an additional evaluation tool. I think they are particularly useful in leagues where it’s hard to get granular data. Another place I think they might have good use is for central defenders, who are extremely difficult to evaluate via stats because they are closely tied to team tactics. Finally, I think Jorg’s stuff is probably solid at picking up youth players teams should be interested in, and who deserve more scouting. Since that’s also super valuable information to have, I’d almost certainly use it if I were in charge of player scouting at a football club. MB_Reisic I picked up on that too, but looking at his league stats, I am merely whelmed. Perisic 2014 Wolfsburg have a pretty talented team, so it’s not like he had sludge around him. That radar looks like a “good player” (important stuff in the 75th percentile of all guys in his position), but not a world beater. It’s interesting though that when you look at two years prior, you get this Perisic 2012 That’s epic. What happened in between? Y U Hate Perisic, Jurgen? Can Perisic grow back into that? He’s 25 years old now, so it seems unlikely. MB_English_Premium This varies based on how much a team needs English players (plays in Europe), and also how much extra marketing and interest boost you get from having one. Most small and medium-sized teams in England are still somewhat academy reliant, which means they get most of their English players outside of the major transfer market. What happens is, you end up with top teams competing for the very best English players, which adds transfer premiums to more transfer premiums due to rarity. For the most part, middling English players should have almost no premium, but the very best English players will have huge ones. Aaanyway... my guess on this is probably 25-33% makes sense, but in cases of luxury goods (which is what top, top English players are), you will tend to see a lot of variation. MB_Daley_Blind That depends on which model you are looking at. Blind is tough to evaluate because he alternated positions so much last season, and when you do data splits, you wind up chopping your sample size by a lot. Here’s what we do know... Daley Blind 2014 Defensively, he was second in the Eredivisie in possession-adjusted interceptions and tackles. He’s got excellent passing range (a high passing percentage plus strong long ball numbers as well), makes good decisions, and contributes excellent KP numbers despite playing deeper positions. Watching highlights, he generally has good ball control, can dribble a bit, and looks strong. Is he fast enough to play fullback in a bigger league? Possibly not, but the fact that he is good and two positions is definitely a point in his favor He also won the Eredivisie player of the year award this season, so we’re not just saying he looks solid in the stats. Stats and eyeball test both agree here – Daley Blind is quite good. At 24, he’s just entering his prime. There should be more to come.  

A Villainous Ref Emerges! (Nate Silver, Day 21)

Referee Carlos Velasco Carballo will take the blame. Either FIFA instructed him to not hand out any red cards (and by extension, as few yellow cards as possible), or an outside influence did, but either way he is going to take the fall. Twitter was ablaze with comments about his poor officiating all game. Brazil took advantage of it to rough up James Rodriguez. Eventually Colombia had enough and Juan Camilo Zuniga took Neymar down. I don't think Zuniga had any intention of doing this much damage to Neymar, but either way, Neymar is gone from the competition. 

Talking briefly about the game and not just the aftermath, Brazil dominated the first half and deserved their one-nil lead. They trusted their defense in the second half and were slightly lucky to score again on David Luiz's free kick. From that point on Colombia had the better of the play. They got within one on James Rodriguez's penalty kick, and threatened a few times following it. In the end, despite Brazil's first half dominance, the game was close:



In the semifinals, Brazil will face the best team in the world, Germany. Germany wasn't quite as dominant as you might expect given the scoreline:


However, part of that is due to the fact that Germany was playing with a lead and it was more important to them to deny France many good scoring chances, particularly in the second half. They succeeded.

All of that drama has left Nate Silver with $689,304. He'll be investing almost a third of it on Argentina:

Game 59: Argentina to advance, 31.25%: Risking $215,408 to win $123,090

Game 60: Costa Rica to advance, 5.00%: Risking $23,695 to win $94,779 (if Argentina advances, it will be $40,620 to win $162,479) The market has moved quite a bit overnight in Argentina's (and by extension, Nate Silver's) direction. I am highly skeptical as Argentina have looked mediocre (sans Messi) to me, while Belgium have been strong. As for Costa Rica, they are the clear underdogs in the field. I'd love to see them win the World Cup, but I expect their run to end here.

Enjoy the games today!

Seth Burn

@sethburn on twitter

Tim Howard, I salute you. (Nate Silver, Day 20

We tried. Belgium simply are a much better futbol team than us. How valuable was Tim Howard? MC_USA-Bel Michael has since double checked those numbers and came up with 4.4-2.8 in Belgium's favor, but even so, Tim Howard was incredible. He kept us in the game and in range of a Wondo goal. Unfortunately, Wondo duffed it and Belgium moves on to face an Argentina squad that has kind of struggled: MC_Arg_Sui Messi made a great run and pass to set up Angel di Maria for the winning goal, but it wasn't easy. Frankly, if Belgium and Argentina play they way they did last round, Belgium will advance to the semis. In fact, with the exception of Costa Rica, every team left is a heavyweight with a real shot to win the World Cup. Unfortunately, the lack of upsets has damaged Nate Silver's bankroll, which has fallen to $721,501. He isn't giving up though: Game 57: France to advance, 7.96%: Risking $57,431 to win $74,586 Game 58: Brazil to advance, 8.36%: Risking $55,516 to win $25,235 Oddly, I disagree with both picks. I think Germany is the best team left in the tournament and should dispatch a French squad that, while dangerous, isn't quite on Germany's level. I think Brazil haven't been much better than Colombia. They each have a clear star, and are somewhat ordinary beyond that. My apologies, but due to the fact I am on vacation my posts will likely be a bit shorter, and I may have to presume Nate is using if-bets with a portion of his bankroll (IE: Some of his wager on France is an if-bet such that if France advances, the winnings and stake are reinvested on a bet on Brazil to advance. That means that amount is wagered on the price of Brazil advancing at the time of the bet, not at the time the bet wins, so if the market on the Brazil game moves during the France game, that will not be reflected in Nate's wagers). Alright, enjoy the quarterfinals of the best World Cup I've ever seen. Seth Burn @sethburn on Twitter  

Who Should Liverpool Buy to Replace Luis Suarez?

Back in January, I started nosing around with similarity scores when looking at potential replacements for Steven Gerrard. Not because Gerrard was going to leave Liverpool, but because he is aging, and bringing in a replacement now would make for a smoother transition in the long-term and give Liverpool cover, should he get injured. Liverpool didn’t sign anyone in January, but it still made for a fun exercise. Today we’re going to do the same thing for Luis Suarez. I do not expect this to be an easy exercise, and Suarez’s 2013-14 season was one of the best in Premier League history. He was second in all of Europe in scoring contribution (pipped narrowly by Sergio Aguero), and if you factor in how many more games Luis played, it assuredly ranks as one of the best forward seasons in Premier League history. So replacing Luis Suarez? Nooooo problem! [Translation: Big, big problem.] Now there are a lot of ways to go about developing sim scores for footballers, but today I’m going to keep it simple and do one simply based off statistical production. All of the stats here are the usual Opta-based spiffiness. Stats We Care About Suarez does a crazy amount of things well. Check this out. Suarez 2014 That is a big plot. Shot monster, dribble monster, and key passes in the top 10% or so of all forward seasons. The throughball number is also great, but I’m uncertain how much of that is the result of Liverpool’s tactics, so we’ll leave that one looser for now. Tight Filter Results Over the last five seasons of play in the big 5 leagues plus this season’s Eredivisie, how many players  have had a single season of production like Luis Suarez? Two. Arjen Robben did it twice for Bayern, and the other match is some dude named Lionel Messi. Even Suarez last season did not qualify to match himself on the tight filter. That’s it. Liverpool are unlikely to find a direct, immediate replacement for Suarez’s output. To be fair, that’s what I expected. Your chances of finding someone to immediately replicate one of the greatest seasons in EPL history are pretty slim. Okay, so let’s loosen the filters a bit. We’ll shave 10-15% off our expectations in a few stats and see if anyone else crops up. Medium High Filter Results This produced interesting results, even if it’s still a fairly small population. Up crop Ronaldo 2009-10, Zlatan 11-12, Suarez last season, plus three more names. The first of those names is already a Liverpool player. Coutinho 2014 If Coutinho had better shooting accuracy, he would be unbelievable. That could change this season. Incredibly, he’s still only 21. Dries Mertens 2014 Then you have 27-year-old Dries Mertens at Napoli, who also had a really impressive season. He’s probably too old to really interest Liverpool, and Napoli always sell high, but it’s worth noting he’s there. Finally you have probably the best option of the lot. 20-year-old Memphis Depay of PSV Eindhoven. Memphis-Depay-2014 Raw? Yes.  He will do some heads in while he is still learning the game. Shot monster? Oh yeah. Dribble monster? Check. HUGE key pass numbers? Also check. At age 20. He’s still learning, but given that statistical output, how can you afford not to buy Depay? To those skeptical of Eredivisie output, all I can do is point out the fact that a) Suarez came from there, b) Christian Eriksen came from there, and c) The dude is just 20 years of age, has all the physical tools in the world, and is banging home goals in the World Cup. [youtube id="rvO32HHfnl8" width="633" height="356"] Medium Strict Filter Results Still unsatisfied with how small the population of potential targets was, I went back to the well once more and loosened the filters. This gave me about twice as many total historic seasons to look at that included Reus 2012 (at Gladbach even), Insigne at Napoli last year (not a fan, but whatever), Pjanic at Roma (12-13), Adem Ljajic at Fiorentina (12-13), Santi Cazorla at Arsenal (12-13), Sidney Sam that same year (bought for 2.5M euros this spring due to a release clause), and two more really interesting names. The first name on the list is Daniel Sturridge 2012-13, which is pretty cool. That gives Liverpool two players like Suarez already in their team. (Remember the important rules, Liverpool fans: Don't panic and carry a towel.) The last player to pop up on the list is this guy, who will be playing in a few hours against Argentina in the World Cup. Shaqiri 2014 Who Liverpool have already been rumored to be buying all summer. So yeah, there’s my exploration into similarity scores and players that might replace Luis Suarez, should he bugger off to Spain. I hope you enjoyed this, and I look forward to seeing where Shaqiri and Depay end up at by the end of this summer. --TK

France and Germany wobble, but don't fall. (Nate Silver, Day 19)

Nigeria rattled France. The were half a body-length away from scoring in the first 20 minutes. They were able to play France fairly evenly throughout the first half, but eventually they wore down. By the time France scored they were controlling the run of play. They scored a second goal in injury time to put the game out of reach, but overall France pretty clearly deserved to go on: MCofA NGA FRA If Nigeria rattled France, Algeria terrified Germany. For much of the first half Algeria was clearly the better team. Germany rallied late in the first half and had a golden chance to score on a rebound shortly before halftime. Rais M'Bohli was barely up to the task and kept Algeria tied at halftime. Germany was clearly the better squad in the second half, but weren't able to capitalize. They broke through twice in extra time, and were able to withstand a late Algeria goal and advance. The xG graph captures just how dominant Germany were for the second half of the game: AlgGer_McofA That sets up a match between Germany and France. The Germans I know are very concerned about this French squad. The Frenchies I know think they'll have an easy time rolling over Brazil, but don't want to face Argentina in the finals. There might be some cultural differences between the two nations... Anyways, today is the day we finally get a chance to get a second win over Belgium, and the first since 1930. Nate has some faith in us. Nate also has some faith in Switzerland, although that's due to the odds being stacked against them. After a pair of losses Nate's bankroll is down to $821,767. He'll again be backing the underdogs: Game 55: Switzerland to advance, 2.50%: Risking $20,544 to win $82,177 Game 56: USA to advance, 9.95%: Risking $79,7922 to win $151,471 The underdogs are 0-6 so far in the knockout round, with all six group winners advancing. I sincerely hope that trend doesn't continue. The one upside is that it has given us some excellent quarterfinal matchups. Seriously though, we eat waffles for breakfast. Belgium's going down, and that's just the way it has to be. Seth Burn @sethburn on twitter