StatsBomb sign partnership agreement with Vitesse Arnhem

Vitesse Arnhem has signed up for a partnership with StatsBomb to use their industry-leading football data.  The collaboration with the fast-growing company highlights the Eredivisie team’s commitment to innovation and will see Vitesse Arnhem reap the benefits of Statsbomb’s data and IQ software platforms to enhance talent identification, performance analysis and opposition scouting.  Vitesse Arnhem joins around 100 professional clubs and federations worldwide in using StatsBomb’s deep data, covering over 3,400 events per game. The data includes unique metrics such as Pressures by Player and Team, Pass Footedness, Pass Height, Freeze Frame for Shots and On-Ball Value – the company’s new possession value model.  Alexandre Taylor, Sales Executive, StatsBomb, said: “We are excited to start working with Vitesse Arnhem, a club at the forefront of football data innovation. We are looking forward to a successful partnership contributing to the club’s data-driven strategy, where our data will help inform critical decisions around recruitment and scouting.” Speaking about the partnership, Johannes Spors, Sporting Director, Vitesse, said: “At Vitesse, we are constantly looking for smart and inventive solutions. We welcome new ideas, embrace modern technologies and love different ways of thinking. For our scouting and analysis, the focus on video and data-driven elements is therefore becoming increasingly important. COVID-19 and its travel restrictions have made these tools even more valuable. The addition of StatsBomb as a data service fits seamlessly into our innovative approach and helps us to scout and develop high potential talents from Europe and make targeted match analyses.” About StatsBomb StatsBomb is the world’s fastest growing football data company. Founded by former analyst Ted Knutson, StatsBomb was formed to empower data analysis teams by ensuring they have access to the best football data set ever created. Having started as an analytics blog, StatsBomb initially progressed to consulting on data-driven recruitment and performance analysis for professional teams. In 2018, having become frustrated with limitations of the data available at the time, StatsBomb acquired ArqamFC, a data collection company based in Cairo, Egypt, and started to collect and supply its own data. The introduction of StatsBomb data was a turning point for the analysis of football as it introduced previously unavailable metrics such as pressures, the height of the ball at the point of shot impact, goalkeeper positioning, freeze frames for shots and the foot with which each pass is played. In 2021, StatsBomb improved this data even further with the launch of StatsBomb 360, adding a snapshot of all visible player locations to more than 3,400 on-the-ball events that are collected per match. Having gained rapid traction since its inception, StatsBomb is now servicing customers across the professional game, as well as betting and gaming operators, and is active in over 20 countries.

StatsBomb Conference 2021: Research Papers

It was a privilege to host such a high standard of presenters at the StatsBomb Conference 2021 in October.

On the Research Track stage, the winners of the research paper competition demonstrated their analysis in a clear and insightful way, showing a great level of innovation and some compelling findings from the original research they conducted on StatsBomb 360 Data. We’re delighted to be able to share with you the white papers from those talks, as well as remind you where you can watch the talks again. More than a dozen videos from the event are available to watch on our YouTube channel now, with a specific StatsBomb Conference 2021 playlist already set up for you to dive into. The research papers can be accessed by clicking the links below, which will take you to the respective pdf document.

Maaike van Roy, et al – Optimally Disrupting Opponent Build-ups

MaaikeVanRoy

Hadi Sotudeh – Potential Penetrative Pass (P3)

Juan Camilo Campos – Determining the phases of play using Graph Neural Network Embeddings

JuanCCampos

Javier M. Buldú and Borja Burriel – The quest for the right pass: Quantifying player’s decision making

Javier M Buldu

Soumyajit Bose and Manas Saraswat – Anatomy of Receiving and Turning with the Ball

Samer Fatayri, Kirill Serykh and Egor Gumin – What Drives the Goalkeepers’ Decisions?

–Enjoy!

Talks From The 2021 StatsBomb Conference Are Now Available On-Demand

After releasing the first batch of presentations last week, we have today released the remaining videos from the 2021 StatsBomb Conference. There are now more than a dozen talks from the event available to watch anytime. 13 of the 17 talks given on the day are available, including the entire speaker list from the Research Track stage, whose presentations featured the latest innovative research from the football analytics space and included some of the first publicly-available research performed on our brand new and novel dataset, StatsBomb 360. Watch the talks HERE The full list of available talks:

Talks from Ian Graham (Liverpool), Harry Moyal (Lyon), Vosse de Boode (AFC Ajax), and Daryl Morey (Philadelphia 76ers) will not be made available. It was strictly requested that the information shared in those presentations be kept exclusive for those in the room on the day (sometimes What Happens At The StatsBomb Conference, Stays At The StatsBomb Conference). But fear not! There is still a TON of practical value contained in the talks that we are able to share with you. With 13 to get through covering a wide range of topics and approaches, there are countless takeaways to be drawn from the available selection. Thanks again to all of the fantastic presenters who gave talks on the day, sharing applicable insight and exciting, novel research that is sure to provide the foundation for research performed inside clubs and in the public football analytics field over the course of the next year. Watch the talks HERE

What Happened At The 2021 StatsBomb Conference

The StatsBomb Conference made a long-awaited return to Stamford Bridge last week.  We welcomed various individuals from across the sports analytics sphere for a day of industry-leading talks, data-driven research and unique networking opportunities. In 2019, we couldn’t have imagined that it would have taken almost two years to get everyone back together, but we’re delighted with the turnout this year. Let’s look back at the key things that happened to give those who attended a chance to revisit their experience and those who missed it an opportunity to catch up on the day. Industry-Leading Talks Before the guest presenters took to the stage, StatsBomb CEO Ted Knutson kicked things off with an opening talk about the company’s progression since the last conference and our fast-approaching expansion into American Football. The day continued with Dr Ian Graham (Liverpool), Harry Moyal (Olympique Lyonnais), Devin Pleuler (Toronto FC), Vosse de Boode (AFC Ajax) and Mladen Sormaz (Leicester City) all delivering expert presentations on the Main Stage. Each speaker drew on key insights to discuss various topics within their organisations, from measuring playing styles in different competitions to implementing data-driven recruitment strategies. The Directors of Football Panel featured StatsBomb’s James Yorke in conversation with Victor Orta (Leeds United), James Cryne (Barnsley FC) and Will Kuntz (Los Angeles FC). The panellists spoke in-depth about successfully implementing data-driven methods around player recruitment, opposition analysis, and general strategy within their respective clubs. Ted Knutson and Daryl Morey (Philadelphia 76ers) closed the Main Stage and indeed the entire Conference in their fireside chat, with a collection of insightful stories from their respective sports and discussions around the role of data and analytics in basketball and football. Innovation in Football Analytics The Harris Suite featured a variety of hand-picked presenters giving attendees an exclusive window into the current state of play surrounding innovative research in football analytics.  The nature of the papers covered a variety of topics, including driving goalkeeper decisions, identifying high pressing styles and penetrative passes. These talks contained the first sets of publicly-available research performed on StatsBomb 360 data. Each researcher created their specific papers using StatsBomb data and tuned in from different locations across the globe to deliver their novel research to our attendees. It was a fascinating experience to see the different approaches taken by each speaker across each of their papers. We will release all of the research papers in the coming weeks, and you will be able to see the latest developments and research in the football analytics landscape. StatsBomb 2021 Conference: A Welcome Return One of the main pieces of feedback from the day was how great it was to get everyone from the industry back in a room again to connect and learn from each other. We hope you enjoyed the day surrounded by your friends and peers, learning from some of the best in the industry. Here are a few snapshots from conference attendees about their experiences last week.

You can see more of what attendees thought of our event by searching on the #StatsBombConference hashtag on your chosen social media platforms. What Next?  If you missed any of the talks at our 2021 Conference, keep an eye on our Twitter and LinkedIn in the coming weeks.  We will be releasing some of the talks, recorded presentations, and papers from the research track. In the meantime, you can check out Tom Worville’s key insights from the 2021 Conference or listen to his notable takeaways on The Athletic Football Tactics Podcast. Or you can check out David Álvarez writing for EL PAÍS with a selection of quotes from several talks. We look forward to seeing you all again at our StatsBomb Conference 2022, but until then, keep an eye out for other StatsBomb events next year!

Leicester City: Season Preview 2021/22

The introduction to last year’s Leicester season preview reads:

It’s extremely uncharitable to take a look back at 2019-20 and declare it anything other than a success for Leicester. Yes, Champions League qualification looked likely for most of the season, and to miss out was ultimately a disappointment, but the trajectory and outcome were more than fine.

So, I guess it appears as though Leicester are destined to live out the same season over and over again, in some weird Edge of Tomorrow like fashion. Champions League qualification looked likely, they were disappointed to miss out, but the trajectory and 5th place outcome were more than fine, AND they took home an FA Cup for their troubles this time around. It’s the trajectory that counts and Leicester are certainly on the right track. The Headline Numbers Whilst on the surface Leicester’s 5th place finish matched their 2019/20 placing, when you dig a little deeper there’s actually been quite a bit of change. Firstly, the underlying numbers have taken a hit from the lofty heights they set in 2019/20 when they finished 4th for expected goal (xG) difference. Last season only Sheffield United dropped off more in this regard. All of their overperformance came in attack. They conceded 46 goals from 46 xG, but up front scored 58 goals from 47 expected. Kelechi Iheanacho, James Maddison and Harvey Barnes ran especially hot, with Iheanacho’s emergence as a reliable goalscorer in particular really helping to propel the Foxes into European contention, notching 12 goals from seven xG. Iheanacho’s contribution was especially important given that Jamie Vardy had his first poor finishing season in four campaigns, flipping Iheanacho’s conversion rate by getting seven goals from 12 xG. Looking across the season as a whole, you can see the oh-so-difficult Christmas period that really hurt the underlying numbers, even if actual results around that period weren’t so bad. Something that many teams struggled with in a particularly intense fixture schedule in 2020/21. We get some interesting results when we break these xG numbers down further by looking at Leicester’s xG difference during each game state. Here you can see that Leicester are an exceptional team when they’re winning, which is perhaps no surprise given the attacking talents they have to play in transition and Brendan Rodgers’ track record of setting teams up to play efficiently on the break. The squad lends itself to this approach: Vardy is notoriously great in this phase of the game, Barnes is a fantastic ball carrier at pace, and then you have Maddison and Youri Tielemans who can play the high-value pass whilst having enough mobility to stay with the play. On the other hand, Leicester really struggle when losing. They don’t have trouble moving the ball into the final third – they ranked 6th for deep progressions – but keeping the ball in-and-around the box has not been a strength of theirs as they rank 13th for deep completions (successful passes within 20 meters of goal). A large factor in their struggles when behind is that their xG per shot drops from 0.13 to 0.08, meaning they either resort to lower-quality efforts on goal or they struggle to break down teams defending a lead. Their most common pass clusters tell a similar story of ball progression, but only up to the final third. They’re also quite lopsided in the opposition half – a lot of play goes through Tielemans and subsequently Iheanacho, who’s much more involved than his striker partner Vardy. Let’s dig deeper into whether those passes are providing value. Our new possession value model, On-Ball Value (OBV), rates the impact of each action on the pitch and estimates the positive or negative impact the action has on a team’s likelihood of scoring. The OBV Leicester generate across the pitch when they’re behind versus when they’re ahead is revealing: That right-sided bias is showing through again and it becomes more prominent when they’re chasing the game, but they still generate plenty of OBV in deeper areas down that right-hand side regardless of game state. In contrast, the left side is a bit of a black hole when Leicester are losing – hopefully Barnes can return to his best and resolve much of this – he clocked the 16th highest OBV per 90 last season after all, for players with >900 minutes played. Where Leicester found it difficult to create high-value chances against their opponents when behind, their opponents did not find it as difficult to create high-value chances against them. When Leicester were pushing for equalisers, their xG per shot conceded rocketed up to 0.21–their opponent’s shots in this game state had a 1-in-5 chance of being converted. The evidence suggests that Leicester struggled to manage the threat of the counter when they were pushing to get back in the game. The xG trendline also shows their xG conceded has been creeping upwards, so what’s going on at the back? One explanation might be Leicester’s pressing, which was down quite a bit last season. This is despite an ongoing uptick in defensive activity since Rodgers’ arrival, so it seems unlikely this was a deliberate change in approach. Leicester averaged 168 pressures per 90 in 2019-20 compared to just 135 last season. Now a lot of this will be down to the crowded schedule, and we saw pressures drop on the whole across most leagues, but Leicester appear to have suffered more than most. Here’s the defensive activity maps for both seasons: The Squad The Foxes have developed a reputation for being shrewd operators in the transfer market, showing great patience to build the squad up again since the title-winning season. It can be difficult when squad building to balance future potential versus immediate strength, and they’ve executed particularly well to maintain a challenge for top four while simultaneously getting themselves into a position to continue targeting Europe for the next few years. Key players like Wilfred Ndidi, Iheanacho, Tielemans and Maddison will begin to hit their peak over the next few seasons, while Barnes, Wesley Fofana and James Justin have years ahead of them. The squad was hit by some big injuries last season just as it was the season before, but it’s a sign that they’re operating from a solid internal process given they always have players ready to step in, whether from the academy or through recruitment. That the forward line hasn’t needed major regeneration for a number of years is testament to Jamie Vardy’s longevity but, at 34, the time is finally getting close for him to hand the reigns over. Leicester are confident they’ve found his replacement in RB Salzburg forward Patson Daka, the big question is: is he any good? Probably! Player evaluation can be tricky when they play for a team as dominant as Salzburg are in the Austrian Bundesliga, but his numbers certainly pop. That they still pop when he plays in the Champions League is an encouraging sign, albeit the sample size gets rough. One thing to note is that the 22-year-old shows real maturity – his shot locations are excellent and he seems to have a good understanding of his own game. Much like Vardy, he plays on the last man, is great in transition, and understands how to use his pace without the ball at his feet. It might take some time for him to find his feet, but given how Iheanacho just reminded us all that player development is rarely a smooth upward trajectory, Daka should receive plenty of slack. As for the other signings, it all looks very good – from the sensible in Ryan Bertrand and Jannik Vestergaard (assuming that deal gets over the line) to the downright exciting in Boubakary Soumaré. Parting Thoughts You might be inclined to read the headline underlying numbers above and think Leicester could be in for a difficult season if they produce similar numbers to those of last season. It’s a possible outcome, but given the quality of the squad and manager, and the general outlier than last season was as a whole, it seems more likely that Leicester revert to a process that should see them knocking on the door of the Champions League places once again. They’ve bolstered the squad with what look like top signings, and the return of Barnes should balance the attack better. As noted, we’ll need to watch out for how they perform when behind; if they continue to struggle, that could lead to dropped points that could cost them a place or two in the table. But, this team can play fantastic transition football and, with the current state of the modern game, you can go a loooong way playing great transition ball. All it takes is some better luck with injuries and one of last season’s top four to have issues, and Leicester are in business.


Want to read about another team? The rest of our Premier League season previews can be found here If you’re a club, media or gambling entity and want to know more about what StatsBomb can do for you, please contact us at Sales@StatsBomb.com We also provide education in this area, so if this taste of football analytics sparked interest, check out our Introduction to Football Analytics course Follow us on Twitter in English and Spanish and also on LinkedIn

Leeds United: Season Preview 2021/22

Heading into last season, it seemed that Marcelo Bielsa’s sense of goodwill amongst Leeds United fans couldn’t get any higher. A return to the Premier League for the first time since 2004, some incredible football in the Championship, and a sincere mutual appreciation with the fanbase. But after a top-half finish in 2020/21 and continued entertainment against some of the biggest teams in the country, it looks like Bielsa’s status has elevated even further. The storylines to look out for next season circle around their production at both ends of the pitch. How do they stabilise their attacking unit whilst improving their defensive metrics? Setting the Scene – Attacking Strength Looking at last season, the attacking metrics were exceptional: above the 75th percentile in the big 5 leagues for all of xG per 90; xG per shot; shots taken following a high press; attacking pace towards goal; and clear shots on goal (shots with just the goalkeeper between the shooter and the goal). Anyone who watched Bielsa’s team last season won’t be surprised by these benchmarks: Leeds carried over the high intensity, high tempo, adventurous attacking style which tore the EFL Championship apart in 2019/20. A style which has become his hallmark since moving to the Whites, although it has been consistent with his philosophy over the years: verticality in attacking, rotational interchanges, third man combinations etc, etc. In possession, Leeds are committed to building from the back, with goalkeeper Illan Meslier impressing last season with his ability to contribute in the first phase of buildup. They create space in this phase by positioning their advanced midfielders high up the pitch and creating width with their full backs, pinning the opposition deeper and therefore freeing Leeds to create and make the types of passes shown below: When it comes to playing into the attacking third and chance creation, Leeds are extremely vertical in their intentions, leading to quick attacking moves, few wasted passes in the final third, and lots of possession shifts.

Directness  88% (6th)
Pace Towards Goal 2.8 m/s (6th)
Deep Progressions per 90 43.7 (8th)
Possessions per 90 197.4 (1st)

The key players in this style are the wide players, who facilitate a lot of goalscoring opportunities. Whether it be running at a stretched defence or receiving in pockets in the final third against more settled blocks, it’s the wide players who fare best for Leeds in our new possession value model, On-Ball Value (OBV). OBV rates every action on the pitch and estimates the extent to which each action improves a team’s expected goal difference over the next two possessions. Jack Harrison and Raphinha were clearly effective players by the eye test and in the OBV model, and it’s imperative they generate similar numbers if Leeds’ attack is to continue to impress in the new season. Patrick Bamford, long time analytics darling, didn’t have another frustrating season in terms of underperforming xG, and some of that can be attributed to how Leeds’ wide players took a load of him in terms of goal creation, not to discount his evident Premier League ability. The Double-Edged Sword – Leeds In Defence Where their defensive pressing style had been nearly impossible to play against in the Championship, it at times left them overexposed in the Premier League. Leeds really struggled to prevent the opposition from creating chances last season, and their defensive style is so unique that it’s worth investigating into the specifics of the tactics that could be the root cause of the issues. First, how they press and defend in the opposition’s half. Leeds employ a heavy, man-oriented pressing system – the most aggressive in the division. Their principles are generally ball-oriented in that they focus their position based on the ball position rather than the opposition players, but in how this manifests itself structurally, they are man-to-man: each player is tasked with an opponent to pick up, which makes their responsibilities very straightforward. Without getting too deep into the tactical weeds, this creates variations in how their forward players put pressure on an opponent’s buildup since they are -1 up front: 3v2 if they play a back three, and 3v4 if the opposition use a back four. Either way, this strategy of keeping opponents as far from goal as possible to stop them from getting into the Leeds half has been successful: they conceded the 5th-fewest deep progressions in the Premier League last season. The issues started to arise when the opponent broke the press or when Leeds had to defend in more traditional “blocks”. They conceded 1.48 xG per 90 (18th in the league), 14.5 shots against per 90 (17th), and were vulnerable to being pressed high and hurt in transition, conceding shots from those situations at similarly relegation-level rates. The same reasons they’re so effective in attack that were highlighted in the attacking section – pushing players ahead of the ball, stretching the defence wide, making adventurous rotations – are the same reasons they struggle defensively; they’re left overexposed. Combine that with a talent deficit, less of an issue in Leeds’ case but still an issue in newly promoted clubs, and you’re going to leave yourself open, something that Bielsa will surely be working on into next season. While it was an enforced change thanks to injuries in midfield, Stuart Dallas played a very good role in helping solidify the deeper areas directly ahead of defence compared to his peers. Set-pieces have been something of an achilles heel to Leeds ever since the Championship days, particularly corners. This is thanks (or no thanks!) to a combination of player profile and tactical setup. For one, Bielsa’s sides defend corners in an almost-exclusively man-to-man system. Only one player (usually Bamford across the near post) acts zonally and could be regarded as “free”. Similar to their defending in open play, this puts a lot of responsibility on the individual to win their 1v1 battle. That said, the advantage will always be with the attacking team on dead balls: concepts such as picks, blocks, and screens mean you can isolate players free of their markers and create clear-cut chances. Without many “fail safes” to defend against this (i.e zonal players), you’re leaving yourself prone to these manoeuvres and manipulations. Transfers As with most teams this summer, incomings have been slow at the time of writing. One of the positive bits of transfer business has been to convert Jack Harrison’s loan into a permanent contract after three seasons on loan from Manchester City. The winger was a significant contributor off the left last season: coming in with an OBV per 90 of 0.31, placing him in the 71st percentile for players in his position in the Premier League. At £11million, this was a no-brainer. Junior Firpo has come in from Barcelona to replace the outgoing Ezgjan Alioski at left back. Firpo found game time few and far between in La Liga, but his profile certainly fits the type of defender who should fit the Leeds system. Firpo is primarily a threat when attacking space from deep and arriving into the final third, and represents a tangible upgrade on Alioski in terms of buildup play, ranking favourably in xG Buildup throughout his career. Patience could be required defensively as any player faces a period of adaptation when they first join a Bielsa side, but he certainly fits the physical profile to make the jump successfully. Talking potential additions now: the Leeds support have been clamouring for an addition in the centre of midfield. We spoke earlier of Stuart Dallas’ move into the centre of the park that helped to solidify the defensive shortcomings Leeds were struggling with, but this doesn’t feel like a long-term solution. With Kalvin Phillips’ place in the XI under no doubt, Leeds will be looking to sign a player capable of providing pressing and ball-winning while also being able to play in pockets of space and higher up the pitch. Links with Huddersfield Town midfielder Lewis O’Brien have lingered all summer, and he certainly fits the profile of a player that could contribute those aspects. European Hopefuls? As a newly promoted side, Leeds had an exceptional 2020/21 season to finish 9th. Which makes projecting their placement next season tricky – it’s a challenging benchmark to repeat with teams above them in the table some of the biggest and most well-backed in the world. The blueprint for improvement is clear: maintain the attacking output while tightening up defensively. Achieve this, and they could well embark on a West Ham-esque challenge for the Europa League places. We know Bielsa won’t change his style, so the question is whether Leeds can bolster and strengthen their ranks enough before the transfer window closes. Either way – it’s going to be fun!  


Want to read about another team? The rest of our Premier League season previews can be found here If you’re a club, media or gambling entity and want to know more about what StatsBomb can do for you, please contact us at Sales@StatsBomb.com We also provide education in this area, so if this taste of football analytics sparked interest, check out our Introduction to Football Analytics course Follow us on Twitter in English and Spanish and also on LinkedIn

Arsenal: Season Preview 2021/22

As we enter Year Three of Mikel Arteta’s reign as Arsenal manager, it feels like this season could be make or break for his tenure. This time around there’s no recent FA Cup win to point to as a sign of progress; it has to be evident out on the pitch. Can Arteta achieve that? One of the biggest issues facing Arteta when he joined was that Arsenal’s metrics had been not great for quite some time. Despite the clear positive of the style of play the Spaniard was attempting to implement, there was an alarming drop in performance at the start of the 2020/21 season: Thankfully, in December — a full year after his appointment — he seemingly stumbled upon a formula that worked. From that point on, whilst results have continued to be hit and miss, their metrics have been much improved in both attack and defence. But they still need to maintain that into the new season, a campaign where they won’t be beholden to midweek trips to the continent. How will the increase in training and preparation time manifest itself? Let’s take a look at what Arteta should be looking at if he wants to take the Gunners back into Europe. How do Arsenal improve? In last season’s StatsBomb preview, Ted highlighted three key areas that Arsenal needed to improve:  player recruitment, defensive style, and set pieces. The bad news? Player recruitment was a mixed bag. The good news? The latter two did show signs of improvement. Arsenal’s overall expected goal (xG) difference improved from -0.09 per game in 2019/20 to +0.18 per game in 2020/21. The graphic below highlights the general trend of improving performances: They shaved off 0.22 expected goals per game in defence, tightening up but still at the cost of some attacking output. Their open play xG per 90 was just 0.98 last season, compared with 1.42 per 90 in Arsene Wenger’s last season back in 2017/18. There’s still a long way to go to get back to that level. Since replacing Unai Emery, Arteta’s approach has been one of slowing the pace down and manipulating possession of the ball as much as possible. That was evident in Arsenal’s passing trends last season: lots of deep passes in build-up play and very few cohesive or common patterns in the final third. While metrics highlighted some territorial domination (Arsenal entered the final third 49.2 times per game compared with their opponents’ 42.4 entries), they struggled to translate that style into goals or a general threat. This must change if Arsenal are to break into Europe again. Without the ball, Arsenal opted for a deeper, more conservative defensive line and press — something they may look to move away from in 2021/22. They were among the least frequent pressers in the Premier League last season (18th for total pressures, 19th for pressure regains) but it’s possible Arteta employed this style as a short-term measure until the players were able to adjust to his longer term ideals. Arteta took a pragmatic approach, being more proactive when the team were favourites and more reactive when they were playing perceptibly stronger opponents. As mentioned, Arsenal did show some much-needed improvement in set-pieces. They dropped their set-piece xG conceded from 0.34 per game to 0.21 per game, which translated to conceding six fewer goals from set-pieces than they had done in 2019/20, a not-insignificant sum. They struggled in attack though, with just six goals scored from a paltry 0.18 set-piece xG per game, ranking 17th in the league in that metric. Things might move even further in the right direction this season as the club have signed set-piece coach and analyst Nicolas Jover from Manchester City in what should be a smart pickup given the impact he had on City’s set-pieces. And now to review last season’s transfer business. The two most notable signings were Thomas Partey and Gabriel. Partey emerged as a net-positive, but his lack of availability was a real cause for concern, whereas Gabriel started the season on fire before his performances dropped off as the matches piled up (not unsurprising for a younger player). He ended the season fluctuating between the bench and the starting XI. The less said about Willian the better, but Martin Ødegaard’s January arrival did appear to be a smart pickup. He contributed just under 2000 minutes to a thin Arsenal squad, but overall his effect on the pitch was hit and miss. The Current Crop One of the biggest reasons for the uptick in Arsenal’s performances was due to Arteta seemingly simplifying player roles within his game model, regardless of whether it was in his favoured 4-3-3 or the alternative 4-2-3-1 (his change to back three systems at the end of the season was mostly enforced). The complex system of positional shifts in and out of possession was gone, and players such as Emile Smith-Rowe, who could occupy space ahead of the ball and offer intelligent movement, were given chances. Boy genius Bukayo Saka was the biggest revelation of Arsenal’s season: his ability to simply find and manipulate space to his advantage was a big reason he became so important for the Gunners in 2020/21 and why he’ll be equally as important this coming season. Combine that with a versatility to play across the attacking band, in central midfield, or at full back/wing back and it’s clear that Hale End has provided us with a good one. Besides Saka, we can look at StatsBomb’s new possession value model, On-Ball Value (OBV) to identify other players who could be regarded as important contributors to this Arsenal side. The results very much match the general fan perception of who the key men are, but one player who’s perhaps a surprise inclusion towards the top of the list is Hector Bellerin, a player once adored by the fanbase but nowadays viewed as a weak spot in the starting XI. Without getting too deep into the woods, it’s likely he ranks favourably in OBV due to his dovetailing with the likes of Saka and Nicolas Pépé on the right flank, and while his final ball can be very hit-or-miss, his role in attacking moves which free up the wingers to create chances is still important.

Player (Minimum 1,500 Minutes Played) On-Ball Value Per 90 
Alexandre Lacazette 0.31
Kieran Tierney 0.30
Nicolas Pépé 0.26
Granit Xhaka 0.22
Hector Bellerin 0.22

Transfers The biggest arrival so far is that of Ben White from Brighton. His transfer could be key to replacing David Luiz’s significant contribution in build up, something that is required in Arteta’s dogmatic approach to playing out from the back. White looks a very promising and accomplished player as a ball progressor, capable of punching the ball between the lines and providing a general comfort in possession. Nuno Tavares, a young left back from Benfica, as been brought in to provide competition to Kieran Tierney. Left back was a bit of a problem area for the Gunners last season — not due to Tierney’s ability (as shown above in his OBV contribution), but his inability to keep fit. Arteta tried many atypical solutions to this problem, playing Cedric Soares and even Granit Xhaka on the left flank in Tierney’s absence. In a small sample from his time in Liga NOS, Tavares looks to be an energetic and aggressive front-foot defender. The only other signing thus far has been depth option Albert Sambi Lokonga from Anderlecht — a young central midfielder who is versatile enough to fill a variety of positions/roles in the centre of the park. Using our “Similar Players” feature in StatsBomb IQ, Lokonga’s profile matches those of other well-known midfielders such as Joan Jordán of Sevilla, new Leicester City signing Boubakary Soumaré, and… former Arsenal player Matteo Guendouzi. In preseason, Lokonga has looked a shrewd addition: always looking to play forward, good in tight areas and capable of dropping in and filling holes as teammates move forward. While he likely won’t be a first-choice option, and expectations must be tempered, I think he could surprise a few. What’s The Expectation This Season? As was the case with Emery before him, Arteta has had to juggle a number of difficult issues in order to put Arsenal back on track to where the fans expect them to be: in Europe. With this in mind, even the most die-hard of Arsenal fans would be optimistic to think that a return to the Premier League top four is a realistic possibility this season: their competitors are starting from a stronger base and simply have the upper hand right now. That being said, with clear progression in the underlying numbers as last season went on, one would expect results to be better this time around and for Arsenal to close the gap on those above them. The decreased demands of their schedule give Arteta an opportunity to really lay some groundwork towards his optimal style of play and this could prove to be a benefit in the long term. Metrics have been good for a while, now it’s time for Arteta to translate that into results.


Want to read about another team? The rest of our Premier League season previews can be found here If you’re a club, media or gambling entity and want to know more about what StatsBomb can do for you, please contact us at Sales@StatsBomb.com We also provide education in this area, so if this taste of football analytics sparked interest, check out our Introduction to Football Analytics course Follow us on Twitter in English and Spanish and also on LinkedIn

Wolverhampton Wanderers: Season Preview 2021/22

Wolverhampton Wanderers hit the ground running following their promotion to the Premier League in 2018, achieving consecutive seventh-place finishes in their first two seasons back in the top flight. But things didn’t go quite as smoothly for them last time around, and they come into the 2021-22 season seeking to reestablish themselves as a top-half side. After two seasons of positive goal differences and near-60-point hauls, Wolves finished down in 13th last season, with 45 points and a -16 goal difference. There was a pretty stark drop off in the underlying numbers, too, from expected goal (xG) differences of 10.84 and 11.51 in 2018-19 and 2019-20 respectively to a -2.86 difference in 2020-21. In 2019-20, their performances were extremely controlled; last season, things started to fray at the edges. Their worst four results and three of their worst four individual match xG differences across the last three seasons came in 2020-21. The downturn in their season-long xG difference was evenly distributed between attack and defence. They were roughly seven expected goals worse off at both ends. In attack, their set piece production remained stable, but Wolves really struggled to create good chances in open play. They took a comparable number of shots season on season, but their open play xG production nevertheless plummeted from 0.9 xG per match in 2019-20 down to 0.68 xG per match in 2020-21. Only Sheffield United, West Bromwich Albion and Crystal Palace created less. The culprit: the quality of their chances. Wolves had the worst average shot quality from open play in the league at 0.08 xG per shot. Over the course of the season, they actually created a league-sixth-high number of shots within 20 seconds of regaining possession — the sort of transitional phases of play in which you’d expect them to be able to create better quality chances — but even in those situations they generated the lowest quality opportunities in the league, right in line with their overall xG per shot. It would be tempting to blame the sickening skull injury suffered by striker Raúl Jiménez away at Arsenal in late November and his subsequent absence for Wolves’ attacking issues. He was certainly a talismanic reference point at the centre of their attack that various experimentations with formations and personnel, including underwhelming January loan arrival Willian José, failed to adequately replace. Wolves were marginally better in terms of open play attacking output during the first nine matches of the season with him in the side, but not significantly enough so given the relatively small sample size to indicate his lack of availability from December onwards was the primary reason for their struggles. In defence, Wolves gave up pretty much the same average quality of open play shot as in 2019-20 but just did so more often, conceding 27 more shots, 3.01 more xG and two more goals over the course of the campaign. Opponents found it easier to complete passes in the final metres of the pitch and created a higher volume of chances. Wolves also also went from being one of the best teams in the league at defending set pieces in 2019-20 to a middle of the road outfit by the underlying numbers and one of the league’s worst in reality. Only five teams conceded more goals from set pieces than their total of 12. The downturn in pretty much all phases of play left coach Nuno Espirito Santo scrambling for solutions. The back three that had been the permanent setup in each of the club’s first two top-flight campaigns occasionally gave way to a back four. Those long diagonal balls out to the wing-backs that had been such an identifiable feature of Wolves’ play began to fade from view. By the end of the season, it was little surprise that Nuno’s four-year spell at the helm came to a close with a mutual parting of ways. What went wrong? Could it be that the players were tired with Nuno’s approach, tired with Nuno himself or maybe just… tired? A relatively small squad saw nine players take part in more than 75% of the available minutes — a league high alongside Burnley. Wolves were clearly not as good as they had been in 2019-20 but even still their goal difference and points haul weren’t fully representative of the quality of their displays. An underperformance of the underlying numbers at both ends of the pitch allied to a -3 difference on penalty goals (lurching from a +3 difference in 2019-20) saw a -2.86 xG difference turn into a -16 goal difference. It isn’t the worst situation for Nuno’s replacement Bruno Lage to walk into. His only previous experience as a head coach — he was assistant to Carlos Carvalhal at both Sheffield Wednesday and Swansea City — came at Benfica in his native Portugal, where in early January 2019, he stepped up from his role as B team coach to replace the sacked Rui Vitória. What followed was a remarkable second half of the campaign that saw the club romp to the title with 18 wins, one draw and zero defeats. Lage’s side scored an average of 3.79 goals per match along the way, and had comfortably the best goal and xG differences of any team. Benfica had played a 4-3-3 before Lage’s arrival but largely lined up in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2 formation thereafter — depending on the positioning of João Félix relative to the primary striker Haris Seferović — something that continued into the 2019-20 season. Benfica again had the best xG difference in the league, but it was Porto who took the title by five points. Lage resigned five matches from the end of the campaign after a run of two wins, four draws and four defeats that had given Porto the upper hand. While there have been a couple of deviations, the evidence of pre-season suggests that Lage will use the same formation at Molineux. While it would be unrealistic to expect him to play quite such dominant attacking football with a side who are not one of the primary powers of the Premier League, Wolves are nevertheless likely to employ a more front-foot approach than they did under Nuno, when they were one of the deepest defensive teams in the league. Lage’s arrival aside, it has so far been a relatively quiet summer but one that has yielded what appear to be solid signings. Goalkeeper Rui Patrício departed to Roma to be replaced by another Portuguese custodian in José Sá, an over-performer of his post-shot xG numbers for Olympiakos in each of the last two Greek Super League seasons. Rayan Aït Nouri has made his loan move from Angers permanent, while Wolves have also brought in Yerson Mosquera from Atlético Nacional in Colombia, a tall and aggressive young centre back who also doesn’t look too shabby with the ball at his feet. But perhaps the most intriguing signing is that of wide forward Francisco Trincão, on loan from Barcelona. He burst onto the scene with Braga in Portugal during the second half of the 2019-20 season and was immediately snapped up by Barça in a €35 million deal. He received a smidgin over 1,200 minutes of action across all domestic and European competition last season but has been loaned out in search of a greater workload. The 21-year-old would seem to perfectly fit the profile of wide forward that Wolves currently have on their books. Last season, Wolves were more reliant on carries to advance the ball forward inside the attacking half than any other Premier League side — 35% of their distance advanced was achieved via carries — and both Adama Traoré and Pedro Neto ranked in the league’s top 10 in terms of longer carries (>=10 metres) that led to shots, assists and key passes, as well as to direct entries or passes into the penalty area. At Braga, Trincão ranked fourth in the Portuguese league in terms of longer carries that led to direct entries or passes into the penalty area and also produced 0.73 shots per 90 from longer carries — a higher figure that either Traoré or Neto managed last season. If he can get somewhere close to the overall figure of ~2.5 shots per 90 he posted at both Braga and Barcelona, he could prove an astute addition. It will be interesting to see how Lage chooses to align his various wide forwards given his seeming preference for a 4-4-2 formation. Traoré has more of the attributes of a winger so will likely occupy one of the wide midfield slots, but Neto, Trincão and Daniel Podence could all potentially be used as either wide midfielders or central forwards alongside one from Jiménez — in action once again after his long layoff — Fabio Silva or maybe even Patrick Cutrone, back from a pair of unsuccessful loans and scorer of the solitary goal in Wolves’ friendly win over Real Betis. Patricio aside, there have been no major outgoings to date, although Rúben Neves continues to be linked with a departure. We’ll have to wait and see how things shake out in the last month of the market, where Wolves will probably still add to their own defensive and midfield options. Much of how Wolves’ season will go would seem to hinge on how well the squad can adapt to a more attacking approach. While there can be a reasonable fear that last season represented the start of a downward curve that might see them in genuine relegation trouble if things don’t immediately click, it seems more likely that Wolves will enjoy a solid (and perhaps even entertaining) campaign that nudges them back towards the top half of the table.


Want to read about another team? The rest of our Premier League season previews can be found here If you’re a club, media or gambling entity and want to know more about what StatsBomb can do for you, please contact us at Sales@StatsBomb.com We also provide education in this area, so if this taste of football analytics sparked interest, check out our Introduction to Football Analytics course Follow us on Twitter in English and Spanish and also on LinkedIn

StatsBomb Live Online Launch Event Set for August 12th

The eagerly anticipated, StatsBomb Live data set is about to launch. Engineered by the same experts, with the same commitment to accuracy and quality, StatsBomb Live brings the best of StatsBomb, but now in a real-time format. Save the date for August 12th, where you can expect a first look at the exciting features that make up this game-changing new product. The online event will cover:

  • Exclusive insight as to how StatsBomb Live was designed and created, keeping customer feedback central to decision making processes
  • Meet the team who brought the StatsBomb Live product to life and hear about how they have tackled the challenge of balancing speed with quality in a real-time environment
  • Sneak peaks as to how StatsBomb Live clients will be able to access, analyse and visualise this exciting new data set

This completely unique product offering is perfect for those who need to analyse the highest quality football data, in real-time. Be sure to tune in to see how StatsBomb Live can work for digital media, broadcasting, betting and gaming and professional football. Join StatsBomb’s co-founder and COO, Charlotte Randall and many other key members of the StatsBomb Live team on August 12th to find out more. Everyone is welcome, all you need to do to register for this free online event is sign up here. We can’t wait to see you! And to book in for your free StatsBomb Live demo, please contact: sales@statsbomb.com

Opposition Scouting In StatsBomb IQ: England vs Denmark

Data has become an integral part of team and opposition analysis in the modern game. Creating a repeatable and automated process can quickly identify trends and insight, saving valuable time for the busy analyst. Teams and federations use StatsBomb IQ to support their team and opposition analysis, exploiting edges found in the platform to secure victory over their opponents every matchday. Let’s demonstrate how this can be done by looking into the England vs Denmark semi-final at Euro 2020.

England

First, let’s look at a selection of attacking and build-up metrics and compare England’s performances to the eight Euro 2020 quarter-finalists:

  • xG (7th of 8)
  • xG/shot (1st of 8)
  • Shots (8th of 8)
  • Counter Attacking Shots (8th of 8)
  • High Press Shots (8th of 8)
  • Box Cross % (8th of 8)
  • Pace To Goal (7th of 8)
  • Directness (7th of 8)

We know England have been a safety-first team in this tournament, rarely letting the handbrake off and often withholding a body or six from participating in the attacking phase, so it’s little surprise to see their attacking metrics compare poorly to their rivals. The big caveat is, of course, that they’ve been superb defensively, but we’ll come onto that later. The first thing to note is England’s shooting habits. You get the feeling that Gareth Southgate’s perfect match would be a 1-0 victory where the shot count matches the scoreline. The Three Lions have averaged just 7.6 shots per game so far in Euro 2020, the fewest of the eight quarter-finalists, but there’s been little-to-no wastage which reflects in their 0.13 xG per shot. They may not create much, but they tend to be quality chances when they do. 18/38 of their shots have come from within 12 yards of goal, with an impressive number of them coming in central areas right between the posts.

England’s build-up play has been under the microscope for most of the tournament. Those who haven’t enjoyed it may label it stagnant and sterile; others who see the bigger, risk-averse picture may describe it as comfortable. Their Pace To Goal – the speed of build-up in m/s for possessions that end in shots – of 1.95m/s was the second-slowest of the eight quarter-finalists, with England refusing to commit bodies in the attacking transition and instead looking to combination play in the advanced wide areas to plot their way to goal.

Their precise approach to build-up can be seen in their final third entries. England have passed into the attacking third 127 times in open play this tournament. Of those 127, 84 are what you would call short ground passes; the type of which England fans can probably clearly envisage should they close their eyes: the short, risk-averse pass to a nearby teammate on the wing with the opposition crowding out the centre of the pitch. You would classify few of these passes as penetrative, with England preferring to do their damage from within the final third.

StatsBomb data contains pass height information, with High passes defined as played above shoulder height and Low passes defined as above ankle height but below shoulder height. Of England’s High and Low passes into the final third – 43 of the total 127 – there’s still little direct penetration on show, with many receptions on the wing and very few going beyond the 18-yard line. We know England take a risk-averse approach in everything they do, emphasising completing the next action in the chain towards goal, rather than spontaneous, high-risk play.

Raheem Sterling (23) and Luke Shaw (18) have been the most common recipients of passes into the final third, a left-sided lop-sided trend that continues into their box entries. England have passed their way into the opposition box 37 times in Euro 2020, 20 of which have been into the left-hand channel. Just ten came from the right flank.

  Defensive Approach:

  • xG Conceded (2nd of 8)
  • xG/shot Conceded (2nd of 8)
  • Shots Conceded (4th of 8)
  • Counter Attacking Shots Conceded (1st of 8)
  • High Press Shots Conceded (3rd of 8)
  • Clear Shots Conceded (1st of 8)
  • PPDA (6th of 8)
  • Defensive Distance (3rd of 8)
  • Aggression (3rd of 8)
  • Pressures In Opposing Half % (3rd of 8)

Defensively, England have been exemplary, keeping five clean sheets in five games. They’ve defended their penalty box superbly, conceding just a couple of attempts from between the posts at close range and blocking a large percentage of shots faced.

England generally look to defend higher up the pitch and have been effective in preventing the ball from reaching their danger zone too often, bombing out most opposition possessions in the middle third.

Germany caused England the most issues, creating the only two clear-cut chances England have conceded at the tournament, through Timo Werner (the shot left of the six-yard box) and Thomas Müller (the high-value shot on the edge of the box). Both chances came from England mistakes and rapid, direct transitions through the middle – something Denmark will be aware of and look to exploit.

  Set Plays:

  • Shots per Corner (3rd of 8)
  • Shots per Indirect FK (4th of 8)
  • Shots per Corner Conceded (4th of 8)
  • Shots per Indirect FK Conceded (3rd of 8)

As in the 2018 World Cup, England’s set plays have been solid, scoring twice and conceding nothing from set-piece situations so far. Defensively they’ve been very stingy, winning first contacts on all but one of the corners played into the central zone.

Denmark:

  • xG (3rd of 8)
  • xG/shot (5th of 8)
  • Shots (3rd of 8)
  • Counter Attacking Shots (2nd of 8)
  • High Press Shots (1st of 8)
  • Box Cross % (3rd of 8)
  • Pace To Goal (2nd of 8)
  • Directness (1st of 8)

Denmark’s tournament got off to a tricky start, but they find themselves in the semi-finals and attracting plaudits for their approach, playing with energy and aggression both in and out of possession. They lost their opening two fixtures to Finland and Belgium, but the signs were always there that they could be a threat at Euro 2020: they won the shot count 42-7 across the two games and were unfortunate not to come away with at least one win.

As if they were wearing their boots on the wrong feet, but either way, they found their scoring touch before it was too late, scoring ten goals from their next 43 shots to sweep aside Russia, Wales, and the Czech Republic to reach the semi-finals. Contrary to England, Denmark have looked to attack quickly and directly. Their Pace To Goal of 2.8m/s and Directness rating of 0.90 – a ratio of the distance towards goal at the start of the possession, divided by the total distance travelled in the build-up – reflect the verticality with which Denmark play, as does the number of opportunities they create on the counter, with 2.4 counter-attacking shots per game.

There are two key players to Denmark’s possession: Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and Joakim Mæhle. Højbjerg has taken on the chief playmaker role in the centre of the Denmark midfield, receiving the ball from the centre backs and distributing it wide to the advanced wing backs or into one of the front three of De rød-hvide’s 3-4-3. Højbjerg leads the Danish team for ball progressions to the final third (45) and has also made the 2nd-most passes within the final third (82).

Joakim Mæhle’s performances down the left have received huge credit, offering width to Denmark’s attacks. In our recent article on our Similar Player Search tool, he appeared in our search for lateral defenders with a similar output to Trent Alexander-Arnold, and his performances showed up well according to our possession value model, On-Ball Value.

He’s been a critical outlet for the Danes, with 29 final third receptions, second only to Martin Braithwaite in the Denmark squad.


Defensive Approach:

  • xG Conceded (3rd of 8)
  • xG/shot Conceded (5th of 8)
  • Shots Conceded (3rd of 8)
  • Counter Attacking Shots Conceded (6th of 8)
  • High Press Shots Conceded (4th of 8)
  • Clear Shots Conceded (6th of 8)
  • PPDA (2nd of 8)
  • Defensive Distance (2nd of 8)
  • Aggression (7th of 8)
  • Pressures In Opposing Half % (4th of 8)

Defensively, Denmark have proven difficult to break down. They’ve conceded five goals, but three of those were in their opening two defeats and since then they’ve outscored the opposition 10-1. Their 3-4-3 provides a lot of central cover: the wide forwards Damsgaard and Braitwaite tuck in to take up a narrow position out of possession to help Delaney and Højbjerg in the middle and as a result, Denmark are able to defend in a higher block with an emphasis on crowding the central channels.


Their higher defensive line coupled with their lower Aggression % (the percentage of opposition ball receipts that are pressured, tackled, or fouled within 2 seconds) of 18% highlights that they prefer to retain their shape. Denmark position themselves higher up the pitch and then funnel the opposition into areas where they know they can apply heavier pressure, squeezing their opponents against the touchline and forcing the play backwards or regaining possession through a turnover.


What To Expect
With Denmark lining up in a 3-4-3, it remains to be seen whether Gareth Southgate will mirror that shape, as he did to great effect versus Germany, or stick with the same XI and 4-3-3 that breezed past Ukraine in the quarters. Denmark also have food for thought having taken a front-foot approach to their matches so far – will they play a more conservative game in a high stakes match, in what could also be classed as an “away” fixture at Wembley?



That’s just an overview of the various insights that can be drawn out of StatsBomb IQ. Teams and federations continue to source match-winning insight out of our analytics platform and data to give them an edge on matchday. For a full demo of the platform, contact us today.

Opposition Scouting In StatsBomb IQ: Spain vs Switzerland

Data has become an integral part of team and opposition analysis in the modern game. Creating a repeatable and automated process can quickly identify trends and insight, saving valuable time for the busy analyst. Teams and federations use StatsBomb IQ to support their team and opposition analysis, exploiting edges found in the platform to secure victory over their opponents every matchday. Let’s demonstrate how this can be done by looking ahead to the Spain vs Switzerland quarter-final at Euro 2020.

SPAIN

Spain qualified from Group E in 2nd place – failing to beat Sweden or Poland in their opening games of the tournament before a 5-0 thumping of Slovakia in the deciding match secured their advance to the knockouts. The 0-0 and 1-1 draws versus Sweden and Poland quickly reiterated the stylistic approach we’ve come to expect from La Roja; possession-based, territorially-dominant football. There were flaws in both performances, sure, but Spain did enough to suggest they’d win both games more often than not. They failed to score from chances worth 1.92 xG versus Sweden and netted a score draw against Poland despite ‘winning’ the shot count 12-5 and creating 2.25 xG to Poland’s 0.58. Slovakia were then on the receiving end of Spain’s frustrations in the 5-0 thrashing, before a chaotic first knockout round versus Croatia exposed defensive frailties identified by observers earlier on in the tournament. For all the control Spain had exerted over their opponents in the group stage, they struggled for it when it mattered most against Croatia. In the final ten minutes of the match, Croatia’s tenacity and determination saw them overturn the 3-1 lead Spain were holding onto, forcing two late goals to take the tie into extra time. La Roja’s strengths and weaknesses were on display in their first four games of the tournament. Here’s what we might expect to see versus Switzerland. Build-Up & Attacking Phase Spain have so far had the shortest average goalkeeper pass length at the tournament at just 26.3m, with Unai Simón showing a preference for distributing the ball to the right-hand side of the defence. Unsurprisingly, they’ve averaged the highest possession in the tournament, with 73% of the ball in their four fixtures. Their attempts to pass their way into the goal has seen them come out with the slowest Pace To Goal – the average speed of build-up, in m/s, for possessions that end in shots – of all the teams that qualified for the knockout stage. Their controlled build-up means they’ve entered the final third more often than any team at the tournament at 85.7 entries per 90. Seeing as they’re spending so much time there, let’s dig into what they’re doing with the ball in the attacking third. In open play, they’ve played 670 passes originating in the final third (not including the penalty area). They played 127 (20%) back out of the final third, so 80% of the passes stayed within that area of the pitch. What’s surprising is that 105 passes (15%) attempted to enter the box. On average, Spain play six passes in the final third before they attempt a pass into the box. Of these 105 attempts, only 41 succeeded. Of the tournament quarter-finalists, Denmark and Italy have more penalty box pass entries, and they manage it in fewer passes. Spain’s possession play results in a large amount of the territory, but it does mean they struggle to penetrate at times, with them almost always playing against a set defence. With the set defences in mind, it’s perhaps unsurprising to say that Spain’s most effective route into the box has been through crossing, but it’s certainly surprising given their overall approach. 36% of Spain’s successful penalty box entries have come from a cross, the highest percentage from teams that qualified from the group stage. It’s important to know what Switzerland might be facing in this regard. Examining the start locations of Spain’s crosses indicates a couple of trends. From the left, their crosses tend to originate from wider and deeper positions. From the right, they’ve been far more successful at penetrating the “cutback zone” – the byline inside the penalty area. Looking at key players now, Pedri has arguably been Spain’s best player in Euro 2020, one of only three Spanish players to play every minute at the Euros so far despite this being his first tournament at the age of 18. His positive approach to the game has seen him move the ball into the attacking third more than any of his teammates, second only to Toni Kroos across the entire tournament. He’s also played the most passes within the final third, showing an ability to find space and show for the ball in attacking areas, whilst also looking for the forward pass when on the ball in there. 29% of his final third passes have been played forwards. Of course, to focus on Pedri would be to ignore the many threats Spain have in possession, and it’s worth noting that it’s Jordi Alba who’s played the most passes into the penalty area of their squad. He could come back into the XI more fresh after starting on the bench versus Croatia. Defensive Approach Spain’s game is all about territory, which means as soon as they turn the ball over, they’re going to look to counterpress the new possession to force a turnover, prevent the counter, or keep the play away from their half. As if opposition possession is the matador, Spain’s Aggression % (the proportion of opponent pass receipts that are pressured, tackled, or fouled within 2 seconds) is the highest of the 16 knockout teams at 25%. Their Defensive Distance – the average distance from a team’s own goal from which it makes a defensive action – of 51.6m is also the highest in the knockout stages. Expect Spain to pin Switzerland back should the Swiss not find a path out of the press. Speaking of which, one of Spain’s major weaknesses – as it is for many high-pressing teams – is what happens when the opposition breaks their press. The best chances Spain have conceded in the tournament so far have come when their opponents have waited for their opportunity and then attacked at pace with the Spanish defence pulled out of position. It’s definitely a positive that Spain have conceded the joint-fewest Shots in the tournament, but a tournament-high xG/per shot conceded of 0.18 demonstrates that it is possible to create clear-cut opportunities against them. The average distance from goal of the shots conceded is 14.4m – a tournament-low compared to their quarter-final rivals.  

SWITZERLAND

Qualifying from their group as one of the best 3rd-place finishers meant Switzerland had to beat World Cup holders and pre-tournament favourites France on penalties in the first knockout round to reach this stage. In truth, their group stage performances were better than the 3rd-place qualifier tag would suggest. They were comfortably beaten by a good-looking Italy, but comfortably beat an ugly Turkey and outclassed an organised Wales. The latter held them to a draw when Switzerland looked the likely winners. Both performances suggested there was enough about this Switzerland side to cause issues for whomever they drew in the first knockout round, which France certainly found out to their cost. Build Up & Attacking Phase Switzerland tend to mix it up more than their opposition in this match when playing from the back. Their average goalkeeper pass length of 32m is lower than most of their quarter-final rivals, but Yann Sommer’s goal kicks map displays a flexible approach to their play out from the back. Twenty-five of his goal kicks have been Ground passes to a nearby teammate, whereas 18 have been played off the ground to achieve more distance, logged as a Low (above ankle but below shoulder height) or High Pass by StatsBomb’s pass height information. It’s likely Switzerland will play longer from the back versus Spain to play over the press and force the game up the pitch. Switzerland look to move the ball through the thirds at a much higher tempo than their quarter-final opponents. Rossocrociati have the fastest Pace To Goal of the quarter-final teams, moving the ball towards goal at 2.8m/s on average in possessions that ended in a shot. Their matches have also been high pace in a different sense. Games involving Switzerland have seen the largest shot volumes in the tournament, amassing 31.5 shots per game on average with their opponents. Switzerland are a volume team rather than one that values a high-quality chance – their average Shot Distance of 17.3m is the 2nd-furthest of the quarter-finalists, and their 0.08 xG/shot is the worst rate of that group. The wing-backs tend to be the best outlets for getting the ball into the final third: of Switzerland’s 116 passes into the attacking third in the tournament, 78 of them were received on the flanks. That’s not to say their play is entirely funnelled out to the wings: Xherdan Shaqiri and Breel Embolo are both impressive technicians in central areas. But, Kevin Mbabu and particularly Steven Zuber have impressed as attacking outlets in the wing-back roles – Zuber has four assists from open play already, leading the tournament for goals created. They’ll have to do it without their most capable progressor of the ball. Granit Xhaka’s suspension means Switzerland will be without the player who’s been trusted to play the most passes in the squad, has completed the most long balls, and has played the ball into the final third more than anyone else in the Swiss team. The pass network versus France emphasises Xhaka as the most frequent and valuable passer in the team. Defensive Approach Switzerland have so far adapted their defensive approach for each opponent, though they do appear to show a preference for defending in the middle and defensive third. They pressed from the front against Italy, but the plan backfired and that, alongside other factors, may have put Vladimir Petković off trying a similar approach versus Spain. Against Turkey and then France, they were much happier to sit off the opposition initially and then press more aggressively in the middle third. What To Expect We’ve identified several trends we expect to persist on Saturday’s quarter-final, as well as potential weaknesses on both sides. Will Spain keep Switzerland penned into their half? Will Switzerland be able to transition effectively and create dangerous chances as other teams have? Will Spain have to resort to crosses to gain entry to the box again?  


That’s just an overview of the various insights that can be drawn out of StatsBomb IQ. Teams and federations continue to source match-winning insight out of our analytics platform and data to give them an edge on matchday. For a full demo of the platform, contact us today.

Opposition Scouting In StatsBomb IQ: England vs Germany

Data has become an integral part of team and opposition analysis in the modern game: a repeatable and automated part of the process that can quickly identify longer-term trends and save valuable time for the busy analyst. Teams and federations use StatsBomb IQ to support their team and opposition analysis, exploiting edges found in the platform to secure victory over their opponents every matchday. Looking ahead to England vs Germany in the Euro 2020 round of 16, let’s demonstrate how this can be done.

GERMANY

Germany come into this game having survived the Group of Death, qualifying after a late Leon Goretzka equaliser in the deciding group game versus Hungary saved them from an early exit. As a collective, there have been question marks over Germany’s performances in the group stage, but matches against strong nations in France and Portugal should provide us some clues as to how they might setup against England. The first thing to note is that Germany conceded the first goal in all three of their group stage games – in fact, each of those goals was scored within the opening 20 minutes of the game. As a result, their data is skewed slightly favourably with Die Mannschaft playing a more attacking mentality to chase the games than they’re likely to operate with from the start against England. Sure enough, Germany controlled the shot counts in all three games (10-4, 13-7, and 18-9 respectively) as well as the territory, completing 272 final third entries to their opponents 80.  

BUILD UP

Germany look to play short from the goalkeeper, with an average goalkeeper pass length of 29.9m the 4th-shortest of the teams qualified from the group stage. Neuer has distributed evenly between the two sides of defence, playing 19 defensive third passes to Antonio Rudiger and 17 to Matthias Ginter, with the two wide centre backs charged with carrying the ball up the pitch before distributing to Mats Hummels at the centre of the back three, or Toni Kroos. Should the centre backs be unavailable for a short, ground pass, Neuer has found joy playing Low (not to be confused with Löw) or High passes to Robin Gosens on the left flank, but Neuer has so far struggled making these same passes to the right flank. Though influenced by the game state, particularly against Hungary where they were attacking a low block for long periods of the second half, their proclivity for moving the ball side-to-side in the build up shows up in their Directness rating – the total distance from goal at the start of a shot-ending possession, divided by the total distance travelled during the move. Their Directness ratio of 0.74 is a tournament-low for teams remaining in the knockout stages. We can expect Germany to control possession and look to create chances through longer periods of build-up play. Their 3-4-2-1 shape lends itself to attacking with width. Gosens and Joshua Kimmich from the wingback positions have so far been two of their more impressive performers at the tournament. Germany’s Successful Box Cross % – the percentage of successful passes into the box that are crosses – of 32% is the highest in the tournament, influenced by facing deeper blocks but also by the presence of quality wide players in Gosens and Kimmich, plus the likes of Gnabry and Sane pulling into the wider positions. Undoubtedly the key player in build up for Germany is midfielder Toni Kroos. The Real Madrid midfielder had the most touches in the team versus France and Portugal, and the third-most against Hungary. Kroos is central to Germany’s build up play, getting on the ball early in the build-up phase and looking to move the ball into the front three or out wide to the wingbacks who’ve advanced ahead of the ball in the wide areas. Kroos has not only completed the most passes in the German team, he’s also completed 57 long balls at the tournament (Neuer second with 27) and completed them at an 89% clip – his unerring accuracy a constant issue for the opposition block being shifted around by the range of Kroos’ passing. The issue for England is that Kroos is also completely comfortable playing under pressure too. Just 9% of Kroos’ passes have been played under pressure so far, but he’s completed 93% of them. Not only is he able to retain the ball under pressure, he also rarely goes backwards, drawing the press and then bypassing it to keep Germany moving towards goal. In the final third, it’s Gosens (5) and Kimmich (4) who’ve laid on the most shots from open play for Germany so far, again highlighting the need for England to defend the wide areas well if they are to succeed.

DEFENDING & OUT OF POSSESSION

Germany have so far defended in a higher block. Their PPDA of 7.30 is the 2nd-lowest of the knockout teams, and their Defensive Distance (average distance from a teams own goal from which it makes defensive actions) of 48.12m is 4th highest of the same group. Their Aggression % (the proportion of opponent pass receipts that are pressured, tackled, or fouled within 2 seconds) of 23% is above the tournament average, and they made the 3rd-most Counterpressures in the opposing half in the group stage, suggesting that England may well have to play out of the press in the early stages of build-up on Tuesday night.

SET PLAYS

Germany have been effective from set plays in the tournament so far, creating 11 set plays shots (joint-2nd most). They’ve tended to go short when playing corners from the left, but from the right is where they’ve had the most danger, creating two shots (red squares) at the far post when the delivery has beaten the near post markers.    

ENGLAND

England made it out of Group D with some grinding performances, with their three matches containing a grand total of two goals for either team. Their strategy has been clear and so far effective: give absolutely nothing away and let that be the platform to carry them deeper into the tournament. The Three Lions’ enclosure has been placed firmly around their goal. The handbrake has been well and truly on, but it has returned three clean sheets in three games – so far, so good. It’s notable that in the two games they took the lead, versus Croatia and Czech Republic, England moreorless stopped attacking once they were ahead. Versus Croatia, they took the lead in the 57th minute, creating just three shots afterwards and the last of which in the 74th minute. And it was even more extreme vs Czech Republic, taking the lead in the 12th minute and holding it for the remainder of the game – creating just two more shots in the 78 minutes afterwards and not a single one in the second half.

DEFENDING & OUT OF POSSESSION

Given their approach, it makes sense to examine their defensive approach first. Their defensive success is two-fold. The first is limiting the quality of shots against them. England conceded 26 shots in the group stage – a number bettered by six teams. But their xG per shot conceded of 6% was the lowest in the group stage, preventing the opposition from getting a clear sight of goal and resulting in just three shots on target total in the group stage fixtures. A big factor in this has been the positioning of the defensive unit. England had a defensive body in the way of every one of the 26 shots conceded in the group stage matches – not conceding a single chance where the shooter had a clear sight of just the goalkeeper between ball and goal. The amount of bodies defending the goal has also paid off in the territory they’ve conceded. England’s group stage opponents reached the final third on 96 occasions, but found it extremely difficult to penetrate the penalty area – England didn’t allow a single pass to be completed inside their penalty area during the group stage. This signals two things: one that England defended the space around their goal well, intercepting the passes that were played at close range, but also that forcing the opposition to deliver the ball from a further distance allows for more reaction time by defenders and goalkeeper. Germany will be facing an organised defensive unit on Tuesday evening.

BUILD UP

That risk aversion – defending leads and refusing to over-commit – has also led to England leaving little footprint as to their build up and attacking play. Their 23 shots was the lowest total of the 16 qualified teams in the group stages. Three High Press Shots created shows that England are ready and capable of pressing high when the situation allows, but no shots created on the counter-attack is another reflection of England’s reluctance to leave their shape and commit bodies forward. Instead, their chance creation has come from open play and from set plays. A look at England’s most dangerous sequences created so far – based on the expected goal value of the chance at the end of it – shows up some clear trends. The first is that they’ve tended to come from longer periods of build up. Excluding the corner in slide 4 – John Stones’ post-hitting header versus Scotland – all of England’s biggest chances have been created by phases of play that’ve lasted longer than 30 seconds, with three of them lasting over 60 seconds in duration. Much has been written about the pace of England’s build-up play, though the chances created versus Croatia (Sterling’s goal) and Czech Republic (Sterling’s shot against the post) hint at a capability to play quickly and incisively at the end of a sequence. Contrary to their opponents in this game, England have not opted to attempt many crosses so far, preferring to work the ball around the final third instead. England have attempted 12 crosses into the box (16th of 16 group stage qualifiers) compared to Germany’s 40 (1st). Despite this, England’s most common entry into the box has been down the left flank, with Raheem Sterling’s runs behind the defensive line proving a regular outlet for England’s attacking play. Another key topic has been the use of Harry Kane and his struggles in the tournament. Six shots and 0.92 xG has returned zero goals so far, and his isolation in the build up is evidenced in the data. Kane achieved just 27 Touches in the box in the group stage, a total that was 21st highest at that stage of the tournament. For context, Scotland’s Lyndon Dykes managed 35 in the same time span. Outside the box England have struggled to get the Premier League’s top goalscorer involved too, receiving just 23 passes in the final third in three games, few of them in areas you feel he could do the most damage. Given the trends we’ve just identified, it promises to be a curious match up between the two sides. Will Germany’s proclivity for creating chances from wide persist against an England side well set up to defend their penalty box? Will England’s risk-averse approach in possession be able to withstand a Germany press, or will they be forced to look to create chances in transition to avoid being pinned into their own half under German pressure? Or is the match destined to go all the way to penalties as it did 25 years ago in Euro 96?


That’s just an overview of the various insights that can be drawn out of StatsBomb IQ. Teams and federations continue to draw match-winning insight out of our data and analytics platform to give them an edge on matchday. For a full demo of the platform and how it can help you, contact us today.