back to article Man City drags Big Data into Big Football

Football is the world's most popular sport by a crushing margin. Yet for all the money and attention it gets, the beautiful game has remained doggedly anti-technology, eschewing video replays or goal-line technology despite the prevalence of such tools in other sports. One club, however, is opting to make technology a central …


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  1. Tom 38

    Asay is a Gooner

    Now everything makes sense.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      Re: Asay is a Gooner

      Beat me to it.


    2. Matt Asay

      Re: Asay is a Gooner

      It's why I'm so angry at the world. :-)

  2. TeeCee Gold badge

    Spend some money?

    We did. Quite a lot. Poldi and Cazorla are looking like excellent bits of business and Giroud's movement is pulling apart defences. If and when he starts scoring as well, we're in clover.

    As things stand right now we have more by way of quality in squad depth than in recent years.

    Hardly our fault if the Red Scum gave us 22m for the glass-ankled Judas and Barca spunked a small fortune on a defensive midfielder who couldn't defend so we broke even. Again.

    I don't quite know what Arsene's supposed to do here. Give unneeded players away for free so we can show a loss? Lash out 35m on someone to loan to West Ham? What?

  3. min

    nice to see..

    ..a business (well, not a finance guy, given his imploring his manager to spend money needlessly) guy asking a club with about 100million in net debt to spend MORE money despite having spent a lot of money on players this season. now i understand what to do when in a hole. ask for a spade, apparently

    that said..all match data should be released by the league..that will make analysis so interesting! not so sure about a new revelation in the methods of number crunching though..

  4. Stuart Elliott

    Man City

    And they call US fans bitter....

  5. 1924MG

    Well done Citeh

    Very impressed by this move by Citeh, the data is fantastic. Every minute of every team last season. Now I'm the proud possessor of knowledge that Newcastle used the most subs last season - they used all but 2 of their allotted substitutions. Fascinating.

    Follow Gavin Fleig on twitter, very interesting stuff.

  6. Paul Johnson
    Thumb Up

    Footy + Data = :-)

    Opening up the data for the sake of it is highly commendable - fine work indeed from Citeh.

    I do wonder how many man-hours* will be spent finding any actionable insight. Graphs and charts are all very well, but unless it makes a measurable difference, is it worthwhile, no matter how enjoyable? There's also the pesky issue of footballers being asked to implement whatever insights the nerds uncover, plus the fact that the opposition may not play nicely and sign up to the plan.

    Right, I'm off to prove that Citeh will never beat the mighty Everton ever again...

    * Yes, I said man-hours not person-hours. Get over it. Women are too smart to waste time looking at footy data.

  7. yoinkster
    Thumb Up

    Ooohhhh please make this the norm on el reg. A bit of footy banter is all that's missing from the experience. Some people call it bitterness, people in the know cal it banter.

    I am a bit gutted you didn't get a dig in a theo, that talentless overpaid schlub needs a good kicking (verbally), don't miss your chance!

    Up The Arse!

  8. Matt Asay

    Why bag on Theo?

    I mean, it's hard to carp on someone who rides the bench. :-)

    Let's just say that I dearly wish I could have been writing about all the data my Arsenal has been crunching to spend pennies and get pounds-worth of playing. But we always seem to come up a bit short these days. I'm hopeful this year will be different....

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  10. Anonymous Coward

    Yay! Football!

    My neighbourhood can afford better millionaire prostitutes than your neighbourhood this year!


    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Yay! Football!

      Awww not like football madra? That's fine but there's no need to be such a lil' bitch about it

  11. Patrick Finch

    I think there's something special about football's resistance to statistical analysis.

    When my own beloved Liverpool tried to import "Moneyball" principles which worked so well in baseball, it went horribly wrong. They shelled out large fees on uncontested deals for Charlie Adam, Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing and Andy Carroll based on a statsitical analysis of their contributions on the pitch. None of them was especially successful, three have left after a single season. Even more intruiging, if you ignore the one statistic that actually matters (difference of goals scored and goals conceded), Liverpool did very well - by shots, possession etc.

    This is nothing new. In the 80s, the "long ball" game was inspired by the statistic that most goals were scored from less than three passes (so why bother to pass it?). The result was that the English game took a great step backwards to becoming "head tennis", while other countries worked on developing skills involved in playing football.

    I suspect its the fluidity of the game, the contiguous play, that makes it very hard to isolate key variables (and indeed, to enforce the advantage and offsite rules with any degree of consistency). Most other sports have discretely defined passages of play.

  12. Simon Brown

    city fan in peace

    Thought the Arsenal performance at the Etihad was pretty impressive - not many teams will get points there this season and Arsenal are looking far more like title challengers than they have for a few seasons.

    As for the stats - Patrick Finch aludes to it. In baseball the game is defined by very narrow ranges of probability because each phase of play contains only one set of actions and variables. Cricket is similar. In football, by contrast, due to the continual interaction of the other 21 players on the pitch, plus officials, even the crowd - spotting statistical patterns is going to be that much harder. Liverpool failed because those players they bought depended on players around them with whom to interact. Some players can be removed from this team setting and placed in another and it will work, perhaps Liverpool failed spectacularly because the metrics being measured are faulty.

    In my own, amateur, observations of the game, there are broadly speaking four sets of actions

    1. defensive / possession regaining actions

    2. the transitional act from regaining to utilising

    3. offensive / possession utilisation actions.

    4. the transitional act of loss of possession

    Possession regaining actions include closing players down, tracking back, blocking, defending, tackling, keeping formational shape when defending, marking runners, marking for corners, stepping up to catch players offside. And more besides. There will be measurements of a player's awareness, their movement, their tackling accuracy, and much more.

    Transitional regaining acts include intercepting passes, clearances, what the player did with the ball - lump it clear or play towards one of their own - and the accuracy of that.

    Offensive acts are runs made off the ball to pull defences around (really important - and also were those runs made in a realistic way so the player could have been reached by an accurate pass, or were they expecting the impossible from their team-mates?), breaks, runs made with the ball, passes, throw-ins, shots, movement - accuracy and effectiveness of all of these is important but not as important as the actual act itself. For example, in any 10 minute spell with possession, a winger can consistently make great runs and not receive a pass. This running causes a defender or two to follow him, leaving a gap. Alternatively the defenders realise the player is not going to receive a pass and may drift infield to do something more useful. At this point a decisive pass can play the under-utilised winger in and set up a goal-scoring opportunity. Obviously shots made / on target / straight at the keeper etc. There is luck involved too but the more possession and passing a team does the more likely they are to get into shooting scenarios, the more likely they are to score.

    Last there is the loss of possession. Except where down to consistent carelessness, consistent poor positioning or consistent poor awareness this could be down to how your opponent plays. But it is important to note risks taken when a team is stretched - risky passes made by defenders cost goals, overly cautious passing by attacking players causes attacks to break down and lose momentum.

    None of these lists are the least bit exhaustive and there will be subtleties and intricacies which as a non-player I don't see.

    I don't know the answer. There is quality and consistency of decision-making, speed of thought, presence of mind, adaptability, inventiveness - how do you quantify them? Or is the metric something that is missed, but implied by all of these factors? Is it too chaotic to predict and only general patterns can be derived? Will we forever be subjected to the inane, cliche-ridden banality of football pundits who seem to have as little awareness in commentary box as they had as either players or in management?

    As mentioned by others, the long ball game was the result of a poor reading of stats and it has caused unparalleled damaged to the English game. Having kids play on full-sized pitches with full-sized goals has created a nation of hit-and-hopers instead of any appreciation of the finer arts of playing...

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