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A new approach to evaluate soccer strategy

Metrics have become a surprisingly large part factor in professional sports over the years- particularly in the last decade or so when there have been computers and programs powerful enough to analyze these sports metrics. The use of metrics has come out from backroom use by statisticians and number-crunchers for professional sports organizations, and very much into the public lexicon. The movie “Moneyball” was a box office hit that featured the appearance and success of metrics in Major League Baseball.

Until recently, soccer had never seen such advanced metrics (at least to the public eye). A group of researchers have formulated a network structure to analyze the play of professional soccer clubs from all of the powerhouse soccer countries like England, Spain, Italy, etc. The results of their testing was remarkable- most teams had relatively similar playing styles, except for one significant outlier. Arguably the best soccer team in the world FC Barcelona was on a completely different part of the graph from every other soccer club, which is interesting because they have seen so much success over recent years. They are very literally playing a different type of soccer from every other club in the world.

The researchers gathered passing data from every game of every team in some of the top soccer leagues in the world. Essentially, the players on the field all represent certain nodes, and passing sequences between players form specific edges between these nodes. From there, the graph can be evaluated to determine the type of passing with which each soccer club plays. It will certainly be interesting in the future to see how network structures can play into the professional sports world even more, possibly even changing fundamental strategies to games that have been played under certain schools of thought for hundreds of years.


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