After 28 teams have been eliminated in 24 days, only four teams remain in the World Cup.
It has been the most entertaining tournament in my lifetime, producing an incredible group stage, more than enough shocks and the experience of watching a successful England team. What has made the last month so enjoyable, is that no country has shone above everybody else; arguably the most substandard competition for a long time. All the surviving teams have a number of issues throughout their systems, however, we have two very unpredictable semi-finals coming up. Here is my analysis on the last four.
As Argentina’s national anthem was being belted out by supports in the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, the camera panned to a very disgruntled, stressed and worried-looking Lionel Messi, rubbing his forehead, completely abnormal in comparison to his usual relaxed-self. A sign of things to come? Every time the camera was on him, Lionel was looking down onto the floor, as if he was dragging his shoulders from it, and in a brutal conclusion from this match, you can’t really blame him. In the many World Cups I’ve watched, I can’t recall an Argentine performance just as bad, not just from players individually, but tactically they had literally no idea what to do. Messi wasn’t fed, the midfielders were all over the shop, and as the game went on, they couldn’t string two passes together.
A game that a lot of people expected to be an easy encounter for Argentina has ended in a 1-1 draw. The goalscoring started with a scintillating Sergio Aguero strike that took La Albiceleste to 1-0, but Alred Finnbogason then levelled to make it 1-1. The key talking point, however, was when Lionel Messi had his penalty kick that could have won it for Argentina saved in the second half. Messi also had many attempts on goal, but none of them went in.
20 August 2017. It’s Tottenham Hotspur versus Chelsea at the Wembley. Chelsea center-back David Luiz wins a foul close to the Tottenham penalty area around the 23rd minute, and wing-back Marcos Alonso steps up to take the free-kick. He fires it into the top-right corner of the net, and it’s 1-0 to Chelsea. In the 82nd minute, however, Chelsea substitute Michy Batshuayi heads the ball into his own goal and makes it 1-1.
Per 90 minute numbers don’t tell us everything about players.
While per 90s help compare players who’ve played different amounts of minutes, not all players get the same amount of opportunities on the ball. Players who play in bad teams, or even players who play in teams that keep less possession and attack directly, won’t get the ball as much as players in teams in the same league as Barcelona or Bayern Munich.
Currently, the biggest issue with football analytics is the lack of positional data for off-ball players. Most of the analytics is done using event based data, in which every pass, tackle and shot is logged. However, event data only contains the ball’s location. This means we as analysts are left guessing on a huge amount of our work. How do we evaluate how difficult as pass is without knowing where the players are on the pitch? How can we quantify the intricacies of good defending against bad defending?
SD Eibar, the smallest club in La Liga which consistently punches above its weight, are currently sitting pretty at 8th in the Spanish La Liga table. The club from a town of 27,000 people in the Basque country, which play at the little Ipurua Stadium, have been putting on some dazzling displays this season under the Basque manager José Luis Mendilibar.