#12 Statsbomb Event Data – Fernandinho Replacements

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Manchester City find themselves once again top of the Premier League, with the chance to retain the title for the first time in 10 years since Manchester United in 2008/09. However they also find themselves without Fernandinho, the only seemingly irreplaceable player in their squad that overflows with talent. Fernandinho has missed four Premier League games so far this season, the two at the end of December in which they lost and left the league title in Liverpool’s hands and the two most recent games which were both dominating 1-0 wins. Even if their performances were no worse off and just lacked some luck, no doubt there is nobody else in their squad who can do exactly what Fernandinho does.

Even Guardiola has commented that there is no doubt they will be looking to bring in a replacement:

“I think with the way we play we need a guy who has of course physicality, is quick in the head and reading where our spaces to attack are”

Guardiola

In this post I will try to scout a replacement for Fernandinho using Statsbomb’s 2018 FIFA World Cup Event data. This is a small sample size, so will only include players and their performances in the World Cup. I will define some metrics that could be used to describe the type of player that would fit the role that Fernandinho plays and identify those players that performed best during the World Cup.

Guardiola talks about physicality, quickness of thought and reading where the spaces will be to attack. It is hard to quantify those qualities, however using adapting some simpler metrics could give a good shortlist.

We know that Manchester City will have the ball a lot and want to get the ball forwards to their more attacking players in attacking areas, relying on Fernandinho to progress the ball. Using Statsbomb’s passing events, with the start and end location in x, y coordinates, I have defined a ‘Progressive Pass’ to be one that moves up the pitch more than 10m. Players who have the ability to progress the ball forwards are desired. It could be argued that we also want to only include players who progress the ball from deeper positions so as to more accurately emulate Fernandinho’s role, however we have a small sample as it is and the ability to play progressive passes is what we are looking for.

Whilst lots of players are great at passing, what makes Manchester City so special and Fernandinho so hard to replace, is their ability or willingness to win the ball higher up the pitch. Check out a previous post in the link below where I show how many more times they win the ball back in the opposition’s half. In the same vein, using Statsbomb’s ball recovery event with the x, y location I create a count of times that a player has recovered the ball in the opponent’s half. This tries to emulate the ability to win the ball back quickly after losing it and pinning the opposition back.

https://thelastmananalytics.home.blog/2018/11/06/3-are-man-city-better-without-the-ball-defensive-analysis/

The combination of progressive passes and high ball recovery is used as a proxy for the type of skills that Fernandinho portrays and can be used to get a shortlist of players that perform similarly. Looking at only the players who played positions considered as central midfield or defensive midfield, the top 10 is below.

Figure 1: Midfield Progressive Passes and Opponent Half Recoveries Top 10 from 2018 FIFA World Cup

One thing to note is that these are pure counts and not per game or per 90min. It would be worth taking a look at that to account for the differences in games and minutes played. For example, Croatia making the Final and Germany getting knocked out in Group Stage is a difference of four games, so Toni Kroos making it to 2nd on the absolute list is incredible.

Initially it looks like the list makes sense, players like Kroos, Modric, Rakitic are all players who you could see being able to play in a deeper midfield role. Mascherano is also in the same mould, even more so considering he has played at Centre Back most of the time for Barcelona and Fernandinho has begun to slot in there to bring the ball out.

Those players are all 30+ years old so no better than Fernandinho in terms of potential replacements. Granit Xhaka and Marcelo Brozovic are two that are just entering their prime midfield years at the age of 26. This is where it’s important to note that when scouting, context is important and large sample sizes are encouraged. Xhaka may have the progressive passing ability and love of yellow cards, but probably wouldn’t have the discipline.

This post has looked at outlining a way to narrow down a shortlist of potential replacements for Fernandinho, the methods can be used to find similar players for any player as long as you can identify what you are looking for. Ideally you would get a much larger sample size of games and could look at a player’s contribution per game or per 90mins to get a more stable shortlist. In the future I would like to look at some unsupervised methods which don’t require you to specify or create the similar fields as I have done here.

I have included the total passing heatmaps and the recovery maps of selected players; if you want to see any players specifically from the World Cup from any position then give me a shout!

Once again, massive shout out to Statsbomb for providing the free source of event level data, it’s hard to come by and even harder to collect so it’s much appreciated!

@TLMAnalytics

#10 Match Report: Man City 2 – 1 Liverpool

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Liverpool head into their first game of 2019 still unbeaten and 7 points clear of arguably the best ever Premier League side, reigning champions Manchester City. Manchester City were on course for another incredible year, and still are by anyone else’s standards, however losing at home to Crystal Palace and then Away to Leicester in 2 of their last 3 games was not in the script for their next documentary.

Up to Christmas, City had been unbeaten too, sitting top of the league and had already played all of the other ‘Top 6’ sides away from home. it was looking like the question was whether City could go unbeaten, with Liverpool doing amazing to just keep up. A severe dip in form, a key injury and some incredible shooting against them saw City relinquish the lead in the title with Liverpool not looking like slowing down at all.

A Liverpool win at the Etihad and the gap becomes 10 points, arguably the title race is over without a Liverpool collapse (not impossible). A draw would maintain the 7-point gap, but would also give Liverpool hope that they can continue in their excellent season since the champions couldn’t beat them at their own ground. Whilst a win for City would reduce the gap down to 4 points, which means City are still relying on Liverpool messing up, but it also means that Liverpool are no longer untouchable and City will have put doubt in Liverpool’s minds.

Considering City finished champions 25 points ahead of Liverpool and won 5-0 in this fixture last season, if I were to say to you that this was the most even game of the season so far would be surprising to say the least. It shows how far Liverpool have come in such a short space of time that that is indeed the case, this game was incredibly even and almost any result could’ve happened if repeated.

City did end up winning 2-1, however the Expected Goals (xG) from Understat suggest it wasn’t an easy win. The xG score was City 1.18 – 1.38 Liverpool, suggesting arguably Liverpool would win this game more often than City if repeated and a draw is most likely. For a game with two of the highest scoring teams in the league, there were not that many shots or chances created with only 9 – 7 for City – Liverpool respectively. This low shot volume adds to the variance in xG numbers and emphasises that it would be more down to individual skill at finishing or luck to determine this game rather than an overwhelming inevitability that someone would score.

Figure 1: Size of bubble = Expected Goals (xG), Location = Location of shot, Stars = Goals

In terms of finishing and scoring goals, Liverpool were not very clinical however they did create the best chance of the game with a lovely cross field pass followed by a first time cross across the box for a tap in to an empty goal. They also had a ball cleared off the line by centimetres following a scramble after a rebound off the post. Other than those two, Liverpool were limited to shots through crowds of bodies. City managed to manufacture some chances through counter attacks, and also capitalise on the fact that Sergio Aguero is an incredible finisher from tight angles. Whilst Liverpool scored with their highest xG chance (0.62), City missed both of their highest xG chances (0.49, 0.32) and scored from two lower xG chances (0.06, 0.05) which suggests that it was City’s finishing when needed was the difference in goal scoring.

Since not very chances were being made, most of the game and interesting plays were between the two boxes. There are three players I’d like to highlight, all playing central midfield: Fernandinho, Bernado Silva and James Milner. It’s hard to quantify the effect that these players had on the game, but all three were excellent in denying the opposition any space or progression up the pitch.

No player had more ball recoveries than Silva with 10, Fernandinho had 9 and Milner whilst only being on the pitch for about an hour had 7. In of itself ball recoveries doesn’t mean much, however especially for City players it’s the area of the pitch that they win the ball back that’s so great.

Figure 2: 25/65 Man City recoveries in Liverpool’s half, 10/56 Liverpool recoveries in Man City’s half

https://thelastmananalytics.home.blog/2018/11/06/3-are-man-city-better-without-the-ball-defensive-analysis/

5 out of the 10 ball recoveries for Silva and 4 out of 9 for Fernandinho were in Liverpool’s half, which suggests that City were winning the ball back high up the pitch and not allowing Liverpool to progress much further. Compared to other players with high recoveries, this is significant. Not only recoveries, but Silva also completed 3 tackles on the halfway line out of 8 (!) attempts and made 4 interceptions in Liverpool’s half. As you can imagine Silva got around the pitch a lot this game and managed to cover 13.7km which is the most in a game this season. I don’t usually like those kinds of stats since they don’t suggest anything about a player’s involvement in a game but maybe suggest that they’re just out of position recovering for the whole game. However, Silva was definitely involved and sometimes that extra effort you put in makes others do the same.

A lot of Fernandinho’s work is done off the ball, in ways that aren’t quantifiable by tackles or interceptions or distance covered. It’s clear how large an impact he has in City’s midfield since the two games he didn’t play due to injury were the two games they lost so far this season. Fernandinho deserves more than a paragraph of one game to highlight his skills, he’ll be the focus of an upcoming post in the future. But City need to find a replacement quickly for him, or find a way of playing that doesn’t rely so heavily on him sweeping up behind the front 5’s press.

It’s a shame that James Milner had to be the one to come off early in the second half, Milner plays similarly to Bernado Silva when Liverpool have the three in midfield and was as effective as Silva defensively until he got taken off. Moving to 4-2-3-1 since they needed to score was probably a sensible move, however needing a goal and leaving Jordan Henderson on the pitch alongside Fabinho (better version of Henderson) doesn’t always end well. It worked out since Liverpool scored an amazing team goal but they may have been more of a threat if Milner was alongside Fabinho. Also, doesn’t help pushing Wijnaldum out to left wing with several wingers sitting on the bench but hey.

Come the end of the season, this game will be regarded as a turning point whatever happens. Whether Liverpool collapse and City come back to win their second title in a row or Liverpool brush it off and continue in the same manor we will find out, but Manchester City have showed their hand and they are here to stay until the end of the season. We have our first real title race in years, take it in and enjoy it.

Thanks to @StatsZone and Understat for images, stats and xG numbers.

@TLMAnalytics

#3 Are Man City Better Without The Ball? – Defensive Analysis

@TLMAnalytics

In this piece I will take a look at what makes Manchester City such a good defensive team by looking at the types of recoveries that they make. Comparing games that they have dominated and those they have ‘struggled’ in (used very loosely) suggests there’s a reason why they have looked less clinical in some games, and can identify a potential chink in the City armour.

We all know that City are one of the greatest teams at keeping hold of possession. Pep Guardiola has brought with him and adapted his style of play from Barcelona and Bayern Munich with great success. They are beautiful to watch, passing the ball around the pitch with such patience, precision and ease that it makes you think you could do it watching from the couch. What’s not immediately obvious is the defensive prowess of teams under Guardiola and how they manage this, despite not even training tackling (!).

“I am not a coach for the tackles so I don’t train the tackles.” – Guardiola, Dec 2016

To score a goal, you need to have the ball, and when playing against Manchester City you don’t get the ball for long. This means that you need to make every time you do have the ball count, if you are wasteful then you might not see it again for a while. The problem is that as good as they are in possession, once Manchester City lose the ball they are arguably even better, making it extremely difficult for opposition teams to take advantage.

They have played 14 games this season and only twice have they made less recoveries than their opponents. Considering City are so good with the ball, you may hope that they are at their weakest when they don’t have it. This shows that they are just as good, if not better than most at getting the ball back.

Not only are City at least as good as everyone else at recovering the ball in general, in terms of where they recover the ball, they are by far better than most. Out of 724 total recoveries made so far this season, 231 were made in the opponent’s half (~32%). Whereas only 112/628 recoveries were conceded in City’s half (~18%). This means that City are recovering the ball higher up the pitch more often than against them, which is important since there is less distance to goal and usually fewer defenders the higher up the pitch you win the ball back.  Even more astounding is the fact that the minimum number of times City have recovered a ball in the opponent’s half is 11, which was away to Arsenal in the first game of the season. Every game they make at least 11 recoveries in the opponent’s half, the most so far was against Fulham at home (shock) where they made 25 recoveries in Fulham’s half.

image2

Whilst only on four occasions have their opponents recovered possession in the City half more than 11 times. These games were the three away games against fellow top 6 members (Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs) and their only defeat, at home to Lyon in the opening Champions League game.

Out of the 14 games City have played, these four were among those where they looked the least clinical version of themselves. They beat Arsenal 2-0 however arguably should have won by more. The 0-0 draw against Liverpool looked like a game with two teams who didn’t want to lose cancelling each other out, hardly any chances were created in that game. They won 1-0 against Spurs in another game where arguably City should’ve score more. In their 1-2 loss to Lyon with Guardiola in the stands, they met a clinical Lyon side and couldn’t create a big chance all game. In each of these games City didn’t look at their best, and in each of them, their opponents recovered the ball in City’s half as much as City recovered the ball in their half (63 v 54). In the other 10 games, City recovered the ball in the opposition half 168 times and conceded recoveries only 58. That’s only four more than the four least clinical games City had.

Not only does recovering the ball high up the pitch prevent the opposition from getting anywhere near your goal and therefore no chance to score, it also instantly puts you on the front foot and creates better scoring opportunities for your own team. We know that City are such a good team with the ball, however this suggests that many of their great chances probably also come from winning the ball back from teams high up the pitch. It may seem obvious and easier said than done, but if you are able to prevent City from doing this to you or if you are able to recover the ball high up the pitch against them then that looks the best way to disrupt them. Limiting the number of times they recover the ball in your half gives you the chance to move the ball further towards their goal and prevents them from exploiting your defensive transitions.

The players with the most recoveries per start for Manchester City seem to be the players who have played the most this season. This suggests that it’s something Guardiola keeps an eye on and favours in his players. I have counted the number of times a player has made 5+ recoveries in a game compared to how many starts that player has had. The top 3 are Mendy (8 times/9 starts), Fernandinho (12/14) and Laporte (10/14). The games which Mendy missed, Delph (3/4) and Zinchenko (1/1) covered for him and appears to be a recovery gold mine at City’s left side.

Credit to @StatsZone for the graphics and recovery numbers.

@TLMAnalytics