StatsBomb: Best of 2016
Lots has happened this year here on StatsBomb, we’ve put out around 150 articles from 17 different writers plus regular podcasts so this post is a celebration of the best of our work. I asked some of the regular contributors for their personal favourite pieces and have added in a few myself, but what this list intends to do is collect the best of 2016 in one place.
Some people feel that public football analytics is stalling, but in truth it’s evolving, as it always has done and new people continue to join the field. People interested in looking at the beautiful game through new–and maybe more rigorous–eyes and storytellers happily empowered by the added precision or back-up that we can find in among the numbers. The romantic ideal of football will always continue to exist alongside this type of analysis, but hopefully one thing we’ve managed to show over time is that it’s not good enough to churn out tired cliches about desire, passion or perceived workrate when a team has just lost, when other far more compelling and factual aspects will provide the real truth.
Anyway, we’ll continue to provide regular work, as long as our contributors can find stories to write and will continue to survey the public sphere looking to add in premium contributors as and when they emerge. Without further ado, here’s StatsBomb’s best 20 or so articles of 2016.
Section One, Regular Contributors
1. Ted Knutson
Returning from behind the veil, we were delighted to welcome back Ted’s enhanced knowledge and nous to the site in April. He’s written regularly since on a variety of topics, from coaching elements to visualisations, the state of commentary to general analysis. Here’s five of his best:
Football commentary and punditry could be smarter, right? <casts side-eye to Robbie Savage>
Here Ted makes a sturdy plea for better work in the field.
Training Shot Quality
From theory to practice, Ted takes us through the process of defining and training towards higher shot quality
New Tech and a little story about Neymar, Andros Townsend and Eden Hazard
Metric and visual design is an iterative process with changes and improvements a constant challenge and requirement.
Ted uses these three players to travel through the build of advanced shot maps, second gen radars and more.
How do coaches learn?
The working football environment is often unsuited towards learning for coaches, so how do we combat that problem?
How can clubs make smarter decisions with regard their coaching teams and how can they empower them to learn rather than stagnate?
Ted lays out a fresh take on the road coaches need to take to ensure better practice and greater efficiency.
4 Coaching Hacks
Scanning, two-footedness, balance and more. There are always new ways to annotate traditional coaching practice, and some quick and straightforward techniques are outlined here.
2. Dustin Ward
Throughout the year, Dustin continued to offer always interesting, enlightening deep dives into Europe’s big teams with a continued focus primarily on the Bundesliga. With a keen sense of humour and an entirely incomparable analytical style, he remains a huge asset to the site.
Atletico Madrid Without The Ball
Defensive analysis is tough. That hasn’t changed. Yet here Dustin skilfully picked apart and identified the aspects that allowed the 2015-16 iteration of Diego Simeone’s side to become such defensive monsters and compete at the top table.
Klopp’s Liverpool: Poised to make the leap
Back in April, Dustin took a look at Liverpool and concluded that a lot of what Jurgen Klopp had installed in the side meant that they were well set to contend in the near future. That looks pretty prescient now, and readers were happy to believe too as this was the most read article of the year.
Statistically Scouting the Bundesliga’s Build-Up
With a neat zoning of the pitch, Dustin analysed passing rates in the Bundesliga to understand how team’s varied in their style of build up. As ever, this post was chock full of otherwise unidentified aspects of play.
3. Mohammed Mohammed
Player analysis and team analysis, from the Premier League to his favourite Ligue 1, Moe continued to provide frequent looks at areas that others neglected and provided a great service in rounding out coverage outside the norm.
Ousmane Dembele: The Next French Phenomenon
Back in March, Ousmane Dembele was just a kid with 1000 minutes in Ligue 1, but there was enough in his numbers to suggest he had superb potential. Nine months on and he’s starring for Dortmund whilst till just 18. Moe ran the rule over the prodigiously talented Frenchman well before his name was well known.
Who is Alexandre Lacazette?
In the summer, Alexandre Lacazette looked primed for a move and Moe offered a complete analysis of his play incorporating video, charts and more. Lacazette remained at Lyon and has continued to score at a fantastic rate, but the summer rumour mill helped this article become the second most read of the year.
Section Two, other contributors:
The diversity of contributors has always been a strength of StatsBomb, and we’re proud to have published work sourced from people all around the world. The door remains open for everyone listed here to provide further work, but sometimes life and other opportunities get in the way, and we’ve often found our writers graduate to work in football or the media. Nevertheless, here’s a further list of quality contributions:
1. Colin Trainor
Another returnee to the site, Colin looked at the impact player aging had on various metrics. He’s yet to follow up the piece–and at this stage seems unlikely to–so this article is best appreciated as an isolated but welcome coda to his huge contribution to the site over the years.
2. Marek Kwiatkowski
Towards a new kind of analytics
Possibly the most important piece of the year, yet another returnee and vital cog in StatsBomb’s historical wheel, Marek set out a plea for the analytical world to take stock of the progress made and rebuild ideas from theoretical principles. The influence of this piece is already being seen in more recent work, including that published on the site by our next contributor, David Perdomo Meza.
3. David Perdomo Meza
Passing Motifs: Identifying Team and Player Passing Style
What information can we identify by analysing different passing motifs within teams? And how can we cluster together players via such styles? A new writer this year, David brought forward work he had done prior to StatsBomb and offered a creative and innovative slant on passing networks.
4. Michael Bertin
Improving Soccer’s Version of the Bill James Pythagorean
Proper old-school analytics as Michael rejigged Bill James’ Pythagorean to work for football, solving the draw issue and turning it into a simple formula. A smart take on a well known method.
5. Priya Ramesh
Twente’s One Pilot: Hakim Ziyech
Another welcome new writer, here Priya took a precise and detailed look at the mercurial but talented Hakim Ziyech, prior to him finally securing a long expected move up the footballing ladder to Ajax.
6. Thom Lawrence
Everton Season Preview 2016-17
Possibly the most enjoyable pieces of pure writing this year inhabited Thom’s Everton preview. Blending the fan experience of a long term moderate quality team with analysis of the pieces that built the current talent pool, an underwhelmed but honest view was presented in a wry and skilful manner.
7. Will Gurpinar-Morgan
Leicester City: Need for Speed?
Diagnosing a need to stop Leicester’s counter attacks in April was a little too late for the rest of the league to profit, but using extra metrics related to pace of attack, Will took aim at the eventual Champions, with sage advice that teams may well have adopted this year.
8. Flavio Fusi
The Downfall of Genoa
Genoa and Sampdoria followed solid 2014-15 seasons with far inferior efforts finally finishing 11th and 15th. Here Italian correspondent Flavio told the tale of their slow demise as Genoan football slumped once more.
9. Bobby Gardiner
Now more usually seen in the colours of Analytics FC, Bobby took a shot at new metric “Packing”. Was it really adding much more than could be ascertained from other simpler metrics?
10. Nils Mackay
What is the best location to pass from?
Our newest contributor, Nils expanded on work from his own blog in relation to pass locations, here focusing on whether ball progression skill could be teased out of the numbers.
Hope you enjoyed this tour through our work and it gives you something to catch up on or reread this holiday season. I wrote slightly less this year for the site (counts up 30 articles, hmm… more than I thought) due to finding people willing to pay me to do the same, but there are still a few articles that I enjoyed and I think hold up well enough.
Has Pochettino built a sustainably good team?
Cristiano Ronaldo: More lethal with age?
Didn’t work out: PL’s worst transfers 2015-16
If you find anything among this long list of articles that you think deserves a wider audience, tweet it out, take it to facebook or whatever. A lot of what we write is of the moment but equally a lot of pieces have longevity and rereading over time is a worthwhile pursuit.
And thanks as ever to you the reader for supporting the site, after all, if nobody read, nobody would write.
All the best for Christmas, the New Year and beyond.
–James Yorke, Managing Editor.