World Cup tactical traits: Why having the ball didn't imply success at Qatar 2022

World Cup tactical traits: Why having the ball didn't imply success at Qatar 2022
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World Cup tactical traits: Why having the ball didn't imply success at Qatar 2022
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Again in November, earlier than the World Cup started, I dove into the treasure trove that is StatsPerform’s World Cup charting data archive to take a look at the traits which have modified and brought over the game from 1966 to 2018. When did the possession sport begin to actually take over? (1990 or so, after which for actual in 2014.) When did groups start sacrificing shot amount for shot high quality? (Very a lot 2014.) Was 2018 as unusual an outlier for set piece effectivity because it appeared? (Sure.)

With the 2022 World Cup virtually full, we now have one other information set to absorb. What have we discovered over the previous month or in order that tells us how the game is perhaps evolving? And have been a number of the outcomes as funky as they appeared? (Sure.)

– World Cup 2022: News and features | Schedule | Bracket

Lesson 1: (Predictive) stats are for losers

OK, not likely. Stats are the language we use to talk about a sport, and the existence of this StatsPerform information going again to England 1966 is an absolute blessing. However some years give us funkier outcomes than others.

For every of the 15 World Cups within the information set, let us take a look at the correlation between every workforce’s factors per sport and its anticipated objectives (xG) differential. (Be aware: For those who gained a knockout match in a penalty shootout, we’re counting that as a draw for these functions. Sorry, Croatia.)

Over an extended sufficient time frame, your xG differential turns into very predictive of success shifting ahead. It is mainly trying on the high quality of the pictures you produce versus that of your opponent, and whereas ending talent clearly issues, it solely issues a lot. Give all these groups 100 video games, and the rating of xG differential will look nearly precisely like your points-per-game rating. Assure groups simply three matches, and you are going to get some funky outcomes. And the leads to 2022 have been notably funky.

Correlation between factors per sport and xG differential:

  • 1966: 0.532

  • 1970: 0.770

  • 1974: 0.845

  • 1978: 0.571

  • 1982: 0.554

  • 1986: 0.765

  • 1990: 0.694

  • 1994: 0.476

  • 1998: 0.488

  • 2002: 0.552

  • 2006: 0.713

  • 2010: 0.446

  • 2014: 0.603

  • 2018: 0.598

  • 2022: 0.464

(Be aware: correlations come on a scale from -1 to 1. The nearer it’s to 1, the stronger the “When one goes up/down, the opposite goes up/down” connection. The nearer it’s to -1, the stronger the other hyperlink — when one goes up, the opposite goes down. And the nearer it’s to 0, the weaker the general hyperlink between the 2.)

What this tells us: Whereas each stats trainer on the earth will rapidly level out that correlation does not equal causation, we will say that, on this case, a excessive correlation between these two measures suggests {that a} given event had a decrease variety of unusual, “Crew A took three pictures value 0.1 xG, Crew B took 17 pictures value 2.2, and Crew A gained, 1-0” outcomes.

As you see above, the 1974 World Cup had the best correlation on the board. That 12 months, Netherlands and West Germany produced by far the strongest xG figures within the competitors and met within the remaining. There have been some fairly funky outcomes — a reasonably mediocre Brazil workforce (xG differential: +0.1 per match) reached the semifinals, whereas Scotland (+0.3) produced the third-best differential and didn’t advance from the group stage. (They have been tied with Yugoslavia and Brazil in Group 2 however fell brief due to aim differential.) However all in all, the stats and outcomes largely agreed on the hierarchy of groups.

That has actually not been the case at Qatar 2022. The workforce with by far the perfect xG differential within the competitors — Germany (+2.2 per match) — completed third in Group E due to an excellent funky 2-1 loss to Japan (xG: Germany 3.1, Japan 1.5) and the goal-differential wrecker that was Spain’s 7-0 win over Costa Rica. Stats: actually for losers on this case.

The second-best workforce within the event, per xG differential? Brazil, which misplaced in a quarterfinal penalty shootout towards Croatia. The groups drew 1-1 over 120 minutes regardless of a lopsided xG margin (Brazil 2.6, Croatia 0.6.)

So far, the event’s 4 semifinalists rank third (Argentina), fourth (France) … nineteenth (Morocco) and twenty third (Croatia) in xG differential. Croatia’s back-to-back shootout wins over Japan and Brazil and Morocco’s back-to-back upsets of Spain (shootout) and Portugal (1-0) have been unbelievable underdog tales and legacy builders for each Croatia’s Luka Modric and just about everybody related to the Morocco nationwide workforce. However they weren’t outcomes that have been prone to occur twice.

OK, so the info and the outcomes did not actually match up this 12 months. However what can the info inform us about total traits?

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The possession obsession continues (however is bearing much less fruit?)

Whereas the higher groups in a given competitors can normally be relied on to have a number of the heavier possession charges, the extremes have grown more and more excessive over time. In 1966 and 1970, nobody had a possession charge over 56%, and the primary workforce did not prime 60% till Colombia in 1994. In 2018, each Spain and Germany topped 70%.

This 12 months we had just one 70+% workforce (Spain, after all), however the total traits stay fairly simple to identify.

In Qatar, a full quarter of the sector — eight of 32 groups — ended up with not less than 55% of the ball. (It was 9 groups till Croatia dipped to 54.8% after the semifinals.)

Apparently, nonetheless, the correlation between dominating the ball and really profitable has dipped dramatically in current tournaments.

Correlation between possession charge and factors per sport:

In 2006, 13 groups had a possession charge of 51% or increased, 11 of them made the knockout rounds and 5 made the quarterfinals. Granted, finalists France and Italy have been each within the 49% vary, however there was a transparent hyperlink between having the ball and doing good issues with it.

In 2022, 15 groups had a possession charge of 51% or increased, and solely 9 of them made the knockout rounds. Germany and Denmark have been each at 59.8% and suffered group-stage elimination. In the meantime, of the six groups with possession charges below 38%, 4 made the knockout rounds (Morocco, which made the semis, plus Japan, Poland and Australia), one other one practically did (Iran) and one more appeared prefer it may for a second on the ultimate matchday (Costa Rica). Factors per sport per workforce for these with a possession charge above 50%: 1.4. For these under 50%: 1.2.

I do not need to overreact to this as a result of there have been certainly some wild and seemingly fluky outcomes on this group — Japan-Germany, amongst others. However not each “low-possession workforce wins” consequence was a fluke. Spain held 76% possession towards Morocco, as an example, however created 13 pictures value just one.0 xG whereas, with solely 24% of the ball, Morocco practically matched them with six pictures value 0.7.

Spain’s Rodri, annoyed after the loss, mentioned that “Morocco supplied completely nothing.” That was kind of true, however they made positive Spain supplied virtually nothing as effectively. And towards Portugal, Morocco had solely 27% possession however created 9 pictures value 1.4 xG to Portugal’s 12 value 0.9. They tried two pictures value not less than 0.38 xG and scored on one in every of them, whereas Portugal’s finest likelihood was value simply 0.18 xG. They have been simply the match’s extra harmful workforce regardless of trying 247 passes to Portugal’s 663.

This competitors was the continuation of a reasonably clear and harsh development. It’s more and more clear that groups are extra snug than ever with out the ball. That does not imply it is higher to play with out possession, and on the membership degree, the place a lot of the richest and most gifted groups will proceed to dominate the ball, the correlations between possession and profitable will stay.

However in a bit extra of a democratic pattern, the place even the richest groups can not paper over weaknesses by buying the rights to gifted gamers and squads are likely to have a couple of extra holes, we see that Johan Cruyff’s well-known “There is just one ball, so you might want to have it” quote does not ring fairly as true because it used to.

The ball stays on the perimeter

One of many steadiest traits over the 15 World Cups on this pattern has been that the ball leaves the center of the pitch, in favor of 1 wing or the opposite, a bit extra every year. Wanting particularly at touches that happen when a workforce has the ball within the attacking third, as not too long ago as 1982 groups have been having fun with as many touches in the course of the pitch (horizontally) as they have been on both wing. That has modified dramatically since.

With every progressive World Cup, the ball has spent much less time in central attacking areas and extra time on both wing. And after the proportion of center-third touches elevated a bit in 2006, it rapidly went down from there.

If you wish to draw a connection between this development and the anti-possession development above, look no additional than Spain, who’ve in some ways served as the game’s harbinger for the previous 15 years or so.

In 2010, Spain gained the World Cup with a 65% possession charge, with 31% of its attacking-third touches coming within the center third of the pitch. Of their World Cup matches that 12 months, they loved 79% of all touches generated by both workforce within the defender’s field.

By 2018, their possession charge was as much as 74%, however solely 23% of their attacking-third touches got here within the center. They have been getting steered extra to the skin, each as opponents adjusted and as unbelievable midfielders like Andres Iniesta and Xavi aged out of the participant pool. Whereas they possessed the ball greater than ever, they commandeered solely 70% of all touches within the field.

This 12 months, Spain’s possession charge was as much as 77%, with their proportion of touches within the field right down to 66%. The three groups with possession charges over 60% (Spain, England and Portugal) mixed to provide solely 25% of their attacking-third touches within the center. As defenses positioned extra our bodies close to the middle to account for the Spains and FC Barcelonas of the world, assaults have needed to come from the skin in.

Shot high quality continues to enhance (as shot amount continues to regress)

You may draw a reasonably clear line between the rise of analytics in soccer — specifically, the usage of xG — and a change in each shot high quality and amount. Groups are much less prone to try long-distance “hero” pictures than they was once, and a part of being a possession-heavy workforce means being extra affected person relating to ready for extra high-quality pictures to look.

On the World Cup, although, not less than a part of this development started lengthy earlier than xG turned a factor.

The common xG per shot remained unchanged for a lot of the interval between 1966 and 2010, however pictures slowly trended downward from 1974 on. There is no such thing as a query, nonetheless, that shot high quality has skyrocketed of late. It started with velocity in 2014 and has risen even additional in 2022.

In 2010, Nigeria led the World Cup by averaging 0.085 xG per shot. In 2014, that may have ranked twenty third out of 32 groups, and in 2022 Denmark’s 0.085 ranked twenty ninth. In 2010, 3.3% of pictures have been value not less than 0.2 xG; in 2022, it is 15.0%.

For emphasis: It is a large shift.

Is that this on account of penalties? Probably not. There have been 15 penalty makes an attempt (not together with shootouts) within the 2010 World Cup, and there have been 20 to this point in Qatar. However transition objectives jumped in 2014, whereas set piece objectives had a second in 2018. This 12 months, regardless of set piece objectives dropping considerably — from 65 in 2018 to only 37 to this point — shot high quality has continued to rapidly development upward.

We will loosely paint an image right here. Ball-dominant groups are controlling possession greater than ever earlier than, however they’re getting steered to much less harmful areas of the pitch (exterior of the center), they usually’re ready for high-quality shot alternatives to current themselves. Defensively organized groups are extra succesful than ever of stopping these pictures from materializing, groups reminiscent of Morocco are discovering defense-plus-transition mixtures ok to outplay inventive and ball-dominant groups reminiscent of Portugal and the sport is rising a bit of bit much less predictable total.

Is that this image correct? I suppose we’ll discover out in 4 years once we add extra information to the pattern.

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