Analytics in Soccer

By | April 27, 2016

Random Soccer

Right now, there is a trend developing in sports. It started in baseball, then made it’s way to basketball, and has slowly integrated itself into football. Now, it is making it’s way to soccer. What trend is this? Why, sports analytics of course!

What people don’t know, is that analytics have been a part of the beautiful game for decades now. A book titled “The Numbers Game” tells the story of Charles Reep, a former Air Force Wing Commander who was tracking play-by-play data for matches, and was a consultant for soccer teams as early as the 1950s. Although it was a bit flawed, Reep determined that a team’s probability of retaining possession dropped with each consecutive pass attempt, and that more goals were scored on possessions of fewer than three passes—often on counterattacks. He felt that less passes were better, and he let teams know that.

Although he has been disproven, this way of thinking as early as 1950 is incredible. Reep laid the groundwork for basic analysis of the sport over 60 years ago. Now, the majority of clubs at the top level of soccer have adopted structured analysis processes and hired performance analysts. All 20 Premier league stadiums are equipped with a set of cameras that track every player on the pitch. Data points are collected every second for each player, and will eventually identify every tackle, shot, or pass to gain insight. In training sessions, players wear GPS trackers and other sensors to optimize and analyze their training performance and preparation.

In a new age of sports, clubs are always trying to find some way to get slightly ahead of the crowd. That little nudge can be the difference between winning or losing one match, would and could make all the difference come the end of the season. Teams are now using analytics during practice on the pitch, to making transfer decisions in the board room.

And you know what the craziest part of all this is? Someone was ahead of the game and thought of doing this 60 years ago.

Works Cited

Marr, Bernard. “How Big Data and Analytics Are Changing Soccer.” Linkedin. N.p., 25 Mar. 2015. Web. 26 Apr. 2016. <>.

Paine, Neil. “What Analytics Can Teach Us About the Beautiful Game.” Fivethirtyeight. N.p., 12 June 2014. Web. 26 Apr. 2016. <>.

4 thoughts on “Analytics in Soccer

  1. Mousa Alshanteer

    I very much enjoyed this blog post on the use of analytics in soccer. I frequently read the statistics frequently published by the National Basketball Association as well as other statisticians, such as Steve Shea, on each of the professional basketball teams and appreciate seeing how each team alternates its personnel, substitutions, offensive and defensive sets and shot-taking trends in response to various trends. Most professional basketball teams and some college basketball teams—including Duke’s—have established analytics departments and instituted the use of SportVU cameras to track and analyze the movements of their players. The motion offense run by the reigning NBA champions, the Golden State Warriors, is very much data-driven, as are other trends in professional basketball, such as the historical increase in the use of the corner three-point shot as well the historical decrease in the use of the midrange shot. The Houston Rockets, for instance, avoid the midrange shot, almost exclusively taking shots from inside the key and three-point shots, mostly from the corners. The Houston Rockets score a league-low 6.2 percent of their points using the midrange shot. However, despite its more recent success, the use of analytics in professional basketball has been questioned. Sam Hinkie, the general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers and a proud proponent of analytics, recently resigned after concluding the third-worst regular season record in league history, causing many analysts to criticize the use of analytics. “All these guys who run these organizations, who talk about analytics, they have one thing in common,” said Charles Barkley. “They’re a bunch of guys who [have] never played the game, and they never got the girls in high school, and they just want to get in the game.” None of this is unique to basketball. Analytics have proven both successful and unsuccessful in baseball, football, basketball and soccer, among other sports, which only means we have yet to fully comprehend how to adequately implement them within contemporary sports structures.

  2. Lopa Rahman

    Awesome post, Dominic! This is a really great analysis of the growing role of analytics in soccer. As Ben noted in his comment, analytics are helpful for gaining insight on players’ strengths and weaknesses. I also want to add that I think they can be a useful tool for clubs when assembling teams. Analytics have the potential to provide helpful information on what kind of players work best together, which coaches and owners can use during the draft and trade processes.


  3. David Talpalar

    I too enjoyed this post. What I find most fascinating about sports analytics with regards to soccer is how it can be successfully implemented into the game. For example, in baseball, people like Billy Beane have used analytics to analyze specific players, and so he uses these numbers in free agency in order to figure out who is the best possible bargain for his team. In basketball, however, it is slightly more difficult to analyze a player through numbers because there are so many moving parts in a game of basketball, as opposed to baseball, which is a much more compartmentalized game. However, basketball general managers have used analytics to approach team strategy, such as, for example, the Warriors and Rockets deciding to shoot 3-pointers more often. Similarly, it is likely that soccer, which is a dynamic game, will have to use analytics from a team perspective, as opposed to a player one. It is likely that modes of thinking like Charles Reep’s will be the most useful, even if his particular assertion is incorrect. However, as has been evident over the years, there is much more than one way to win a football match. Teams like Barcelona prefer possession, while teams like Leicester prefer counter attacking. It is more important then, to find players to fit each of these systems. Perhaps analytics could be used, then, to find players’ styles, so that managers can use the transfer market to find players that fit their style better.

  4. Benjamin Jackson

    Great Post! I hope analytics continue to make its way into sports, especially soccer. I think analytics have a powerful ability to help players know where they can improve and where clubs need to focus their training. I know in basketball, analytics help teams better understand exactly what led to them winning a game and losing another and such helpful statistics would be helpful in soccer. In soccer, better understanding how exactly an individual player’s movement and play effected the team would be very helpful to clubs as it would allow them to better quantify a players impact on the pitch. Some people believe, the fluidity of soccer limits the effectiveness of this analytical approach, but I would say nothing is exempt from quantitative analysis and any help clubs could receive would be helpful in preparing them and helping them perform to their fullest potential.


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