Have you seen the new statistics in the broadcasts of the World Cup? This is the brainchild of Wenger and a potential breakthrough in understanding the game

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But there are still many problems.

In World Cup matches, we often come across new statistics – possession divided into three categories, average ball return time and other indicators:

We dive into new metrics and the history of their emergence.

How and why did the new statistics appear? What does she mean?

This is the initiative of Arsene Wenger. Since November 2019, the Frenchman has been working at FIFA. One of his duties is the technical analysis of tournaments under the auspices of the organization. The World Cup is the first big test of Arsen and his group in this regard. Technical reports after tournaments with the involvement of well-known coaches for analysis is a long-standing practice of FIFA and UEFA.

This time, thanks to Wenger, they went further – before the tournament, a number of publicly available in-depth indicators for analysis appeared, which flashed in broadcasts and post-match statistical reports. The new statistics was called “The 11 EFI metrics” (Enhanced Football Intelligence Metrics – “in-depth metrics of football intelligence”). In terms of meaning, it is rather “indicators of in-depth understanding of football”.

“We want to share our vision of using data in football analytics in combination with the interpretation of technical experts. We believe this will create a new level of depth in understanding football and help everyone better understand the game,” Wenger announced.

Let’s briefly go through the 11 Wenger metrics:

New possession – scoring with three categories “team A”, “team B”, “fight for the ball”. The last one is situations where neither team has control of possession (but the ball is in play; there are no pauses in statistics at all). A classic example is a long-range pass, a horse fight and an attempt to win a rebound. These seconds of struggle are entered into a new category.

Ball recovery timeis the average time it takes a team to get the ball back.

Breaking the opponent’s lines (line breaks). An example of such an action would be a pass that advances an attack and passes between two linebackers (defenders) in an opposing formation (“breaks” the line). You can also break the line with the help of passes, if the described condition is met – the player with the ball passes between the players of the same line in the opponent’s scheme.

Defensive line height and team length– the average height of the defensive line in meters in the stage of possession and in the stage of defense. Compactness is also measured in meters – the distance between the lowest and highest players according to the scheme (similarly between the flank ones).

Entries to someone else’s third of the field (final third entries).

Forced turnovers– situations in which the ball passes from one team to another under pressure. The player who exerted this pressure receives such an action in his statistics. If pressure was exerted by a group of players during the transition of the ball, then everyone gets a point for themselves.

Pressing action (pressure on the ball)– all attempts to apply pressure, including those that do not end with the transfer of the ball to the team.

Expected goalsis a well-known metric that reflects the cumulative severity of a team’s chances, taking into account the context of situations in which strikes are made.

Team shape. Based on the average positions of the players. Separately, a scheme is given in possession and a scheme without a ball.

Receptions behind midfield and defensive lines– the number of successful passes that the player receives between the lines and behind the last line in the opponent’s scheme. The indicator is closely related to passes that break the line, but here the center of attention is the receiving player.

Phases of play– the division of all actions in the match into 15 phases. 9 in defense and 6 in attack. How many examples of defensive ones are “low block”, “medium pressure”, “transition to a defensive scheme”. In the attack – “counterattack”, “buildup”, “long passes”. The proportion of time in each phase of the game is measured as a percentage.

 

On a dedicated page , all metrics are explained in detail and with video examples. There is also a detailed text document . FIFA is really accessible and clearly describes the new metrics. The problem was rather in the dissemination of information – among the fans and those who help them watch football. In secret: I personally showed some commentators these links after reasonable questions.

In broadcasts, they try to show these metrics 2-3 times per half – as a rule, the 10th, 25th and 40th minutes of the halves. With a shift of 2-3 minutes depending on the events of the match. According to Wenger, these indicators should gradually become a recognizable and useful addition to watching matches. But during the tournament, broadcast directors clearly had favorites – parameters that are simpler and suitable for displaying it in live (and not during a break or after a match). These are possession, ball return time, instigated ball passes, receiving the ball behind the midfield lines and the opponent’s defense. The rest flicker noticeably less often (below we will tell you where to watch them yourself).

Where can I see this data after the match? How useful are they? What are the disadvantages?

Each parameter individually looks interesting and useful when used correctly. Of course, it is better to have access to them than not to have them. It’s great that they are now considered – some were even developed from scratch by the Wenger group. This is a big plus, but there are also minuses.

The main challenge in broadcasts is the combination of difficult content of some indicators with the need to display data in 1 line (maximum 3 if we are talking about category leaders). For this reason, some metrics are generally unsuitable for live broadcasting. For example, 15 game phases. A useful division, but purely for post-match reports.

In terms of balance, the “time to return the ball” indicator looks ideal. Three key conditions are met: 1) intuitive even without a definition; 2) meaningfully useful (shows how active the team is in pressing and counterpressing – the faster the ball is returned, the more active); 3) is easily displayed in one line.

Unsurprisingly, in terms of popularity with directors, it ranks in a clear second place, just behind the must-have and pop possession stats. It is still shown in the first place, although the three-part upgrade seems controversial. It has ceased to be intuitive.

The very accuracy in the calculations and the additional division is a cool step, but was it really necessary to add a third category (“fight for the ball”)? It can be calculated and taken into account in this way, but excluded from the graph by recalculating percentages without the time for the fight for the ball. So the accuracy would be combined with the classics. The division into three categories could be left for post-match reports.

Other indicators have even more serious problems in broadcasts. Let’s look at the example of “getting the ball behind the lines of midfield and the opponent’s defense.” Problem: this indicator includes a huge number of indicators that are too different in importance and features of attack development. This is obvious even from the name: receiving the ball between the opponent’s defense / midfield and receiving after passing behind the back of the defenders are very different actions. But here they come together.

Also important is the area in which the player receives the ball – on the flank, in the half-flanks or in the center. Getting on the flanks is much less dangerous in terms of proximity to an acute situation. Opponents do not defend these zones as well. But statistically, a simple pass down the flank from Walker to Saka is as valuable as Messi’s thin cutting assist to Molina. This is the danger of combining such different actions under one indicator.

Another important factor to consider is the type of transmission. Translation, vertical top or bottom. These are completely different types of attack development. Doing helps to better understand how the team operates in a particular zone.

The most interesting thing is that all these problems are obvious to the creators of the indicator. In the explainer video , they talk about the importance of this division. They also add their own division into receiving the ball – “inside the opponent’s scheme” (more valuable and difficult) and “outside the scheme” (less valuable and simple):

All these divisions are in the 50-page post-match PDF reports . In broadcasts, we see a categorically simplified picture:

Because of this, some indicators look generally useless in the context of broadcasts. What can be said from the above statistics from the broadcast of the match England – France? That England attacks more and that they attack through the zone where Saka and Henderson are located (fortunately, the players of the same zone are in the top). Often you can’t even say that.

Now let’s think about what we don’t know about these “getting the ball”:

• How many of them are between the defensive and midfield lines, and how many behind the backs of the defenders? They are all united;

• How many in the central zone and how many on the flanks? They are all united;

• How much in a static position, and how much at speed? They are all united;

• How many through transfers and how many through low passes? They are all united.

FIFA considers all this data, but does not display it, so as not to overload us with information. As a result, the information that reaches us often looks simplified to the point of uselessness. This is exacerbated by the fact that commentators are not always aware of the details and try to make sense of the overall figure, although in this format it is not suitable for reflection.

I’m not suggesting you take everything out. Just trying to describe the trap that FIFA found itself in trying to combine in-depth statistics with a mass audience. In broadcasts, everything should be simple, but in some cases, simplicity kills the essence of the indicator.

If you want to work in depth with the data after the matches, other problems arise. Wenger announced a “fantastically convenient match center”, but in reality we only have a FIFA match center , in which new metrics are sparsely presented. There are almost no personal statistics on players – the leaders are presented at the end of the page, and there is no general list at all.

There is also a less prominent page with PDF reports for each match . Content-wise, it’s gold. There is all the promised detailed statistics. The problem is in a format that is not very convenient for working with data. Also, FIFA does not have a page with data for the entire tournament, not just matches.

Of course, it’s great that there is data itself – and enthusiasts will process it even in this form. But a simple fan will not drive the value of each indicator into his Excel or other program in order to get team data for the entire tournament. And without it, it’s harder to match teams/players, or at least get an idea of ​​the average values ​​of the indicator for the position, in order to better understand which value looks cool and which looks weak.

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The new FIFA data is a potential breakthrough and a big step forward. Analogues of these indicators have long been considered within clubs and analytical companies, but many of them were not available to ordinary viewers.

But so far the breakthrough is only potential. FIFA is in a trap. Most of the in-depth metrics proved too difficult to broadcast. This is clearly seen in the behavior of the directors, who end up using only 3-5 parameters with an emphasis on the 2 most favorite (possession and ball return time).

At the same time, indicators that are difficult and potentially useful for a geek audience are very inconvenient to process after matches. The data is unique, but navigation is many times inferior to that found on statistical sites like WhoScored or FBref .

These problems do not seem insurmountable. Making a full-fledged match center with post-match statistics and displaying more precise, but understandable statistics during matches (take an individual person for this) are simple tasks for an organization with FIFA capabilities (it’s even surprising why they haven’t done it yet).

At the same time, we can rejoice at the emergence of new indicators. In full format with the necessary divisions into categories, they are really cool. Nothing like this was available to the public before.