What New Stats in Soccer Can Technology Give Us?

As technology such as GPS tracking of players on and off the ball become more prevalent, it becomes easier to analyze how much each player contributes to the buildup of the team moving the ball down the field in terms of passing, dribbling, and receiving passes. Geometrically, each pass and each dribble on the (X,Y) coordinates of the field has some deflection percentage towards or away from goal as well as the raw distance covered. Analytically, this movement could be seen in terms of direct distance to goal as well as positioning only based on the endlines and sidelines.

I believe soccer statisticians should consider some sort of averaged weighting between these two geometries of direct distance to goal versus pure (X,Y) positioning between the endlines and sidelines. Wide positioning near the endline is a threatening place for the team in possession to be because there is no way for the defense (particularly the goalkeeper) to keep the entire offense in view at the same time. With the ball out wide in advanced positions near the endline, the defense (particularly the goalkeeper) now have attacking players behind them and it is much harder to track the ball as well as the movements of all the attacking players. Crosses from these advanced and wide positions can be played to players in the blind spots of the defense, and it is easier to line up more than one attacker to play these crosses at the same time if the rest of the team has kept up with the play.

Playing the ball into wider positions (and even negatively) can be valuable for retaining possession and exhausting the defense. As previously mentioned on this blog, managing fatigue of your own team while making high-percentage plays to exhaust the defensive team can increase your chances of advancing the ball into scoring positions and ultimately scoring over the course of the game. For these reasons, I believe keeping track of the various aspects of raw distance, distance towards or away from goal, and distance towards endline and sideline could really lead to some nuanced player statistics. Especially if an overall percentage of success is attached to the distances.

For instance, from the center of the field, a 30 yard pass directly towards the opposing goal would have no deflection and the 30 yards of movement would be 30 yards towards goal as well as 30 yards towards the endline. A 30 yard pass directly towards the sideline from the center of the field would have no yardage movement towards the endline but 30 yards movement towards the sideline and actually would get further away from the opposing goal by about 7 yards. A 30 yard pass directly backwards towards a team’s own goal would be considered as purely a negative action on both scales of directly towards goal and directly towards endline. A 30 yard pass at any angle from the center of field would have varying amounts of positive and negative yardages towards the opposing goal and opposing endline (as well as positive and negative yardages associated with width) depending on the angle of the pass.

Dribbling I think should be treated in the same way as passing based on where the dribble starts and ends. Yardages for receiving of passes should also be kept with similar weighting between yardages directly at goal and yardages towards endline and sideline.

Lastly, and in some ways, most importantly, I think these yardages should be kept even when turnovers result, with the possible exception of pass receiving yardages. When the ball is passed down the field, even when the ball is turned over in the process, the ball is still advanced even though the team does not retain possession. Similarly with a dribble — even if the player turns the ball over at the end of the dribble, the ball has still been advanced (or maybe retreated). This allows the statistician to also apply the same statistics to all ball movement including shots and clearances as well since a player taking a shot does advance the ball (but it results in a turnover) and a player making a clearance knows that if they put the clearance in the right spot, their team will still be able to retain possession of the ball.

Since it is often possible to pick out the intended recipient of a pass even if it is not completed, some value could be found in keeping stats on incomplete pass reception yardages but it may be more hassle than it is worth with the amount of information to be found in the other available statistics under this analytical system. In particular, leaving out incomplete pass reception yardages eliminates the need to decipher the intention of a shot / cross, a clearance, or a badly missed pass.

Leave a Reply