Why Barcelona Won’t Miss Lionel Messi (too much)

Article at Washington Post:

To estimate how much losing Messi might hurt, I ran some simulations and compared the expected points for Real Madrid and Barcelona over their next seven matches. … At full strength, Real is favored to take about one more point than Barcelona in the next seven matches — Real has slightly better stats and a slightly easier schedule. If losing Messi makes Barcelona’s attack about 30 percent worse, then the gap jumps to about four points. If Messi makes them 20 percent worse, Real should take about three more points over the next two months, and at 10 percent the gap would be two points.

This helps explain why it is so hard to identify Messi’s value from the time he is off the pitch. Because La Liga is so unequal and Barcelona so good, Barca remains strongly favored in most of its matches even if the club is significantly weakened. The expected point gaps can be measured on the fingers of one hand, even in scenarios where Messi’s effect on his team’s quality is legitimately massive. Unless the loss of Messi causes an unexpected, utter disaster, Barcelona should be easily within striking distance of the title when its superstar returns.

Danger Zone Passing

ESPN: The Value of Danger Zone Passing

These complaints arise every time an attack sputters out near the penalty area with a difficult pass that doesn’t quite reach its target. Clubs that focus on intricate passing attacks through the center of the pitch, most famously Barcelona and Arsenal, regularly field such complaints from fans and pundits alike. And yet, statistical analysis can demonstrate the value of attempting that one extra pass within the penalty box.

The statistic here is something I call “danger zone passes.” The “danger zone” is the region in the center of the 18-yard box from which most goals are scored. DZ passes refer to passes which are played from within a few yards of this central area.

In general, if you get the ball at your feet in this region, you typically have at least a five or 10 percent chance of scoring with a reasonably taken shot. Choosing to pass essentially means letting that opportunity go by, but there are great benefits to passing if you can connect with a teammate in a better position.

Barcelona: The Statistical Effects of Tiki-Taka

Published at SB Nation.

How Barcelona’s Tiki-Taka Stymies the Advanced Statistics

Perhaps the most striking thing about Barcelona’s clinical striking is that it’s a consistent aspect of their game all over the pitch. Whether shot created comes from directly on top of the goal mouth or 25 yards out, they are more likely to convert than anyone else in La Liga. There is no region of the pitch where Barcelona don’t score more goals than would be expected.

How Atletico Madrid Shocked the Football World

Published at the Washington Post.

The Secrets of Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid:

In a mirror image of its defense, Atlético’s attack focuses on creating chances in the danger zone, spurning lower-expectation opportunities. As Rene Maric describes, when its defense springs into action, it presses decisively to win the ball and drive forward for high-quality shots.  Atlético is third in La Liga in shots attempted from the danger zone, behind only Barca and Real. However, in shots attempted from outside the box, Atlético stands 20th, having taken the fewest shots from distance in the league.

Comparisons Between European Leagues

Published at SB Nation.

Shot Matrix International I: The Differences Between the European Leagues

The primary driver of England’s shot total, compared to the other largest continental leagues, is shots taken from the danger zone. That’s the old English directness right there.

If we look at shots from a wide angle inside the box, we see a very different picture. Despite the larger number of shots taken overall in the EPL, there’s no meaningful difference in total shots taken from wide areas inside the box. And when we narrow down just to shots from a difficult angle inside the box, the numbers really jump out. There are far more shots taken from those difficult angles in Spain and Italy than in England and Germany.

Shot Matrix International II: Shot and Pass Type

The zone-by-zone breakdown doesn’t teach us much. But the broader point here is that shots assisted by through-balls are attempted at massively differing rates. These tend to be extremely high-quality shots, converted at rates double or more regular shots from the same area. A successful through-ball by definition splits the defense and leaves an attacking player in space. We should expect higher rates of shot conversion in leagues where these sorts of attempts are more prevalent.