Category Archives: The 7amkickoff Index


Suarez, Messi, and Walcott: measuring a forward’s Oooh and Ugh factor, pt. 1

“I don’t believe stats, I believe what I see with my own two eyes.” – Internet Person Who Doesn’t Like The Stats Someone Is Sharing.

Sports stats actually are what we see with our own two eyes. If you wanted to, you could create your own taxonomy, watch the games and record events. Kids learn to do this at baseball games in America. I know a lot of kids my age who would go to games and sit there with a ScoreCard and record events. Some kids would buy cards like the one linked above and others would make their own cards and record the events that they felt were most important, I know adults who like to do this to this very day. I do it, albeit with football, not baseball.

We do so because we like to record our own experience of the game. Perhaps, like me, you disagree with what constitutes an assist. Is it an assist to draw a foul in the box and have your teammate score the ensuing penalty? Some people believe it is. I don’t. Some folks believe that any final pass is an assist. It could be Szczesny rolling the ball to Theo, who then dribbles the length of the pitch and scores. I don’t. I think an assist is the final pass, at the decisive moment, which sets the player up for the shot that scores the goal. Opta largely agrees with that, which is why I trust Opta when it comes to counting assists.

And that’s why I get it when people dislike sports stats. They feel like someone else is forcing them to take their experience of the game.

The same goes for the debate around Luis Suarez. Some folks are vociferously in the camp that Suarez is a top player who creates lots of chances. Some are in the camp that he’s wasteful and selfish. And they are both right because they are both observing the same player from different precepts.

This idea that both people could be right led me to look at how much our perception of the player can be detailed in the stats. How active is a player like Suarez? How many positive things is he doing on the pitch? And how many negative? Does this fit with our collective perception that Suarez is a genius/waster?

Let’s step back a moment and first consider Lionel Messi — the agreed upon gold standard of forwards — using the league data available from Opta via several different outlets (mostly Squawka and WhoScored). If you take all of his Goals, Assists, Shots, Dribbles, Key Passes, Turnovers, Aerial Duels, Fouls Drawn, Fouls committed, and Offsides then divide that by the number of minutes he played you see that in an average 90 minute span Lionel Messi has 21.7 actions. I intentionally left passing off here because I feel it is something the anti-pass crowd love to moan about but if I include passing, he is an absurd 82 actions per 90 minutes. That blows away all the other forwards I measured, Cavani for example only averaged 38 actions per 90 minutes, that includes passes. Even without passing, Messi doesn’t just score goals, he does everything and his 21.7 actions per 90 is very high.

However, just running around doing stuff isn’t really good enough. If you are a forward, the team are trying to get you the ball in a position where you can score or provide for your teammates and if they do get you the ball and you do something positive (score, provide, beat your man off the dribble, have a shot on goal) these are generally events we cheer. We say a guy is having a good game if he’s seen breaking the opposition down and getting off shots that keepers have to save,

Forwards who squander that hard-earned possession by dribbling into a blind corner, losing the ball, taking a bad touch, or shooting into the stands are generally seen as “not good enough”. Whenever Gervinho loses that perfectly placed through ball, the crowd groans.

So, using that qualitative analysis I decided that the positive events for forwards are Goals, Assists, Shots on Goal, Successful Dribbles, Key Passes, Fouls Drawn, and Aerial Duels Won (passes completed would go here, if I wanted to count them). And the negatives are shots off target, failed dribbles, failed aerials, turnovers, fouls committed, and offsides. The quick accountants will note that positives are 7 and negatives are 6. This is intentional, in order to weight goals as slightly more important than, say, offsides.*

With those two sets of data Lionel Messi turns in an impressive 13.2 positive actions per game and a nicely low 8.5 negative actions per game. Turns out that Messi scores a lot of goals, gets a lot of shots on target (about 50%!), dribbles at a high rate, and doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. In fact, if we don’t include passing, 61% of Messi’s actions on the pitch are positive. The highest of any forward I measured.

This idea that Messi is only doing 13.2 positive things per game is going to put a lot of people into a mental tail spin. “You’re not counting off the ball events like runs!” I’m sure someone is saying. But remember, I’m not trying to build a comprehensive picture of what Lionel Messi does on the pitch. I’m intentionally not “telling the whole story” because my focus is to tell just this one story, which is the story that we can measure “oooh” versus “ugh” and get an understanding of why some people perceive players to be better than they are or worse than they are.

Now that you have the framework, tomorrow I will come back with some comparisons and tell the story of how we can measure people’s perceptions of Suarez’ game, Walcott’s game, and others using just the stats above.


*As an aside, this idea of weighting stats can get very complicated. For example, not all goals are the same. Theo tends to score early goals and Bale tends to score late winning goals. We could have months and months of debates about how these things are quantified and weighted.

Cazorla (1)

Game winning goals or how I learned to stop worrying and love Cazorla

I hate the third day of a four day weekend. Four day weekends always seem to start out with a bang. It’s like a Wednesday night and you’re going out with friends because you have the next day off! Then before you know it Friday has come and gone. And then you’re sitting there on a Saturday with a massive hangover and you can suddenly see Monday on the horizon. Filled with dread, you scan your mind for some way to make the day last longer.

If you choose to mow the lawn, turn to page 23. If you decide to take a nap instead, turn to page 6.

You lay your head down on your pillow and try to take a nap but some smell keeps bothering you. In a fit of pique you spend 30 minutes playing “where’s that smell” before realizing it’s your pillow. You should have mowed the lawn. If you choose to mow the lawn turn to page 23. If you choose instead to wash your filthy bedding turn to page 17.

And that’s how I clean my house, choose your own adventure style.

Anyway, there’s not much going on Arsenal-wise this morning. Yaya Sanogo scored for France and probably should have had two off a great cross on a breakaway but for a mis-timed kick. It was clear he was trying to do too much with the ball, probably lift it rather than just poke it in. I already saw some tweets about how he was “Gervaise Sanogo” but just a few minutes of watching him run channels, spray passes, hold the ball, and makes adroit runs was all I needed to see that he’s probably a better option at center forward than Gervinho or Chamakh. I suppose we’ll have to wait and see, he’s very raw. He reminds me of the good things I liked about Adebayor. Let’s hope he doesn’t have any of the bad things.

Anyway, I wanted to leave you with some stats that I made up. In thinking about measuring a forward’s efficiency I went back through the last 5 months of the Premier League season (January-May) and marked down all of the game winners. That means any player who scored the goal that broke the tie +1. So, for example, in the 4-1 win over Wigan, it’s Arsenal’s second goal which is the winner. That one was scored by Theo Walcott in the 63rd minute.

I tend to try to find elegant or simple stats when possible, but there is another option, which is to assess goals based on the time the goal is scored cross referenced with the percentage of those goals that win games. So, again going back to that 4-1 win, Podolski scored the third in the 68th minute and it’s common for us to say things like “that put the game to bed” or after Ramsey’s goal in the 71st minute, to say, “that really put the game out of reach”. So which one is the real winner? Is Walcott’s goal more valuable than the others?

I tend to think so, but how much more valuable is debatable.

Anyway, I compiled all the game winning goal scorers from January to May and there were a few surprises.


First, remember that we are only talking about Premier League games here. Second, I chopped off all the players who only won 1 game because they would have made my graphic unbearable!

With that in mind, you can see that Bale scored 6 game-winning goals in Tottenham’s last 18 games. They only won 10 of their last 18 games, meaning a Bale goal won 60% of their games in the run in. I bet if I count goals that earn a tie (down a goal and he gets the tie) that number goes up even higher — and assists as well. He probably won all of their games.


Arsenal meanwhile, had 19 matches from January to May and won 12. A Cazorla goal won three, Giroud two, Walcott two, and Koscielny, Mertesacker, Monreal, Podolski, and Rosicky won one each. Cazorla also had 6 assists in that run, though I can’t tell how many were “game winning” because I haven’t looked, plus, I kind of hate the way some places count assists. Just because I pass someone the ball and they score 10 seconds later does not mean that the pass deserves an “assist.”

Another thing you may have noticed (because I highlighted it!) is that Gerrard won three games for Liverpool in their run in and all three were penalties. Conspicuous in his absence is Luis Suarez who won Liverpool ZERO games in the run in. I have no idea why this guy gets so much hype. Honestly. Any time I look at any stats with Suarez he comes up looking like a ball hog who doesn’t win you games: he misses more shots than anyone, he loses out on more dribbles than anyone else, he turns the ball over a ton, and he didn’t win Liverpool a single game in their push to 4th (partially because he was suspended for the last 4 games of the season FOR BITING ANOTHER HUMAN BEING).

Another interesting wrinkle in all this is that a Rooney goal won Man U 3 games and Robin van Persie’s goals in the last half the season only won 1. Van Persie got all the credit for the trophy but it was a real team effort from United with Rooney helping more than van Persie according to this metric.

Anyway, just something I was playing around with on a Saturday. Now, if you’ll pardon me, I have to go mow the lawn.



The Benteke Mystery

It was a bright and sunny morning. The kind of morning that’s unusual for the start of a detective novel but this is no ordinary novel and I’m no ordinary character in it. But back to the morning, it’s bright, and sunny, and the birds are chirping. The kind of chirp that makes you feel all happy inside. Then she walked in and by “she” I mean my dog, Pepper.

She looked at me funny, “oh yeah,” I remembered, “time to walk the dog.” I grabbed her leash and took her for a walk around the block.

“This is the worst detective novel ever.” I said out loud as I picked up my dog’s scat in a little bag. It was warm and I never could get used to that. “Why does the author have me picking up Pepper’s scat? And why do you keep making me call it scat? Isn’t there a fourth wall somewhere?”

And that’s when I found Luis Suarez’ dignity. It was on a paper lying there in the gutter under the headline “The English Press Don’t Like Me.” Astonishing, really, the thought that he would blame the press. Put aside everything else, he bit a man. A grown man bit another person and not in a zombie film.

That whole match was surreal. It took place at the height of the Arsenal fans insistence that Luis Suarez would be a terrific Arsenal player. 7amkickoff was fending off people on twitter and their arguments that “he makes his own shot” by showing that everyone on Liverpool just passes him the ball, so he can turn the ball over, fail at a dribble, or if Liverpool were lucky he would shoot, which he’s not very efficient at and never has been. Then Suarez handled the ball, created a shot, bit Ivanovich, and scored the tying goal and suddenly no one, no one in their right mind, wants Suarez on any team that they love.

I even doubt the stories that Real Madrid want him. I know enough about how this all works to smell an agent behind these rumors. Suarez wants out and I’m sure Liverpool want to offload him (despite their insistence that he’s going no where) but would a big club like Real Madrid take a chance on a player who is, to be fair, crazier than a sh*t-house rat? Going from Liverpool to Real Madrid is something that happens to good players, it’s a step up in a man’s career.

But I do suspect that he is on the move, Liverpool are playing it cool but they want to get rid of him as fast as possible and at the best price they can. In many ways, I wonder if his sale won’t spark a bit of a carousel of player transfers. Falcao is reportedly almost a Monaco man which opens a spot for a player of Suarez’ ability at Atletico. Though, even Atletico is reportedly after Benteke and not Suarez, proving they have decent taste if true.

I watched Benteke score a brace against the USA in their international friendly Wednesday and I do have to admit that I went off a bit half-cocked on him. His numbers at the start of the season were pretty poor but it’s a lesson in why sample size matters: one hat trick changes a player’s conversion rate dramatically if the player only takes 100 or so shots in a season. The facts are that Benteke scored 19 goals this season and took just 104 shots, which when you compare to Giroud who took a similar number of shots but scored just 11 goals, you can see what people like about him.

What you don’t see unless you watch a lot of Aston Villa is that he leads the League in being caught offside, he’s tied for second with Fellaini in total turnovers (unforced errors) behind Suarez, and is tied for fourth in number of times he was dispossessed last season. In fact, Benteke saw twice as much of the ball as Giroud did, or nearly twice.

 League Play Giroud Benteke
Goals 11 19
Assists 3 4
Passes 697 1142
Aerials 232 474
Shots 107 104
Turnovers 71 76
Dispossessed 49 83

That’s the thing, you can like Benteke and no one should disabuse you of that, he is big and scores goals. But I don’t see him as anything significantly better than Giroud. That’s not to say I wouldn’t take him at Arsenal but at £20m there is a lot better value out there for a squad player who would need a lot of the ball to see significant return.

In fact, this was an early mystery for me this season at Arsenal “Where were all the shots going to come from?” Cazorla, Podolski, and Giroud all led their respective teams in shots last season (Cazorla was second) and like the Benteke’s and Suarez’ of the world were used to getting most of the ball. So how would they all jell at Arsenal, especially with Theo Walcott demanding a more central roll?

The short answer is that the departure of Robin van Persie left a 174 shot hole at Arsenal, plus Arteta, Arshavin, and Podolski all gave up shots which all went to the top three Arsenal goalscorers, Walcott, Cazorla and Giroud. On a side note, Podolski’s 11 goals on just 54 shots makes him Arsenal’s most efficient forward. On another side note, Arsenal had four players in double-figures for goals, the quadruple-double-trouble crew.

Hmmm… warm scat. I really wish he would stop making me pick that up.