Tagged: World Cup 2014

Separating winners from losers in Major League Soccer…

We are past the halfway point in Major League Soccer this year and if you recall from this previous article I promised I would revisit my Expected Wins analysis again at about this stage.

To continue to chart the progress of PWP, to include the data points behind the calculations, I am offering up some diagrams on what the data looks like after:

  1. The 92 game mark of the MLS Regular Season (184 events).
  2. The 183 game mark of the MLS Regular Season (366 events).
  3. The same data points for World Cup 2014  (128 events).

For background details on Possession with Purpose click this here.

To begin…

A reminder of how things looked after 184 Events (92 Games)…


Trends indicated that winning teams passed the ball more, completed more passes, penetrated the final third slightly less but completed more of their pass attempts in the final third.

For shooting; winning teams shot slightly less by volume but were far more successful in putting those shots on goal and scoring goals.

For details you can enlarge the diagram and look for your specific area of interest.

As for how the trends show after 366 Events (183 Games)…


Winning teams now average less pass attempts and complete slightly fewer passes.

There is a marked decrease in pass attempts into the opposing final third and slightly fewer passes completed within the final third.

In other words – teams are counter-attacking more and playing a style more related to ‘mistake driven’, counter-attacking, as opposed to positive attacking leading into the opponents final third.

As for shooting; winning team are now taking more shots, with more of those shots being on goal and more of those resulting in a goal scored.

In my opinion what is happening is teams are taking advantage of poor passing accuracy to generate and create turnovers .

In turn those turnovers are generating cleaner and clearer shots given opponent poor positional play on the transition.

My expectation is that more teams will now begin to focus on bringing in newer players that have better recovery skills and can defend better.

In contrast, here’s how these same data points look after completion of the World Cup of 2014… there is a difference…



Winning teams average more passes attempted and far more completions than losing teams.

In addition winning teams penetrated far more frequently than losing teams, and that increase in penetration also translated to an increase in passes completed within the final third.

With respect to shooting; winning teams shot more, put more shots on goal, and scored far more goals.

Clearly what we see here is that quality in player skill levels also translated to an increase in quantity.

That should become even more apparent in looking at the PWP outputs for MLS and World Cup Teams…

Here they are for MLS at the 184 Events point this year:



A quick review of the data outputs shows winning teams averaged 51% possession and are 2% points better in overall passing accuracy.

That passing accuracy advantage also carried into the final third but when taking shots losing teams averaged more shots taken, per penetration, than winning teams.

Bottom line here is that winning teams had those fewer shots taken generate more shots on goal and more goals scored than losing teams.

After the 366 Event point this is how those same outputs look…


Like the indicators, in the PWP Data points, the percentages here are beginning to reflect the counter-attacking style of football taking over as the norm.

Winning teams now, on average, possess the ball less than their opponents… wow… mistake driven football is taking hold across the MLS.

As for Passing accuracy within and outside the final third…

Winning teams continue to be better in passing – and that level of accuracy is driving a large increase in shots taken, per penetration, by winning teams compared to losing teams (almost 2% different).

That is a marked difference (4% swing), from earlier, where losing teams shot more frequently, per penetration, than winning teams.

In addition that increase in shots taken, per penetration, also results in more shots on goal, per shot taken, and more goals scored, per shot on goal.

The margin between winning teams, and losing teams, for goals scored versus shots on goal, at the 184 Event point versus 366 Event point, still remains > 29%.

 So how about teams in the World Cup???


Like earlier, winning teams not only passed the ball more frequently they possessed the ball more, by 5% (52.56% to 47.89%).

So contrary to what others might think – tika-taka is not dead, it’s just been transformed a wee bit…

With respect to passing accuracy…

I’m not sure it can be any more clear than this – winning teams averaged 82.40% and losing teams averaged 80.46%.

What makes these outputs different from MLS is that the level of execution is far higher in passing accuracy; by as much as 6%.

To put that in perspective; if  a team looks to attempt 500 passes in MLS that equals 380 passes completed – compared to 412 passes completed by World Cup teams; clearly the level of execution is much higher.

That difference of 32 passes completed can have a huge impact when penetrating and creating opportunities within the final third.

What makes it even tougher is that the quality of defenders is significantly higher at the World Cup level as well.

With respect to penetration and creation within the final third…

World Cup winning teams averaged 2% greater penetration per possession than winning teams in the MLS.

By contrast World Cup winning teams generated fewer shots taken per penetration than those in the MLS.

Does this speak to better defending?  I think so…

What I think is happening is that quality gets the team into the box, but then the quality of the defenders and goal keepers, in that confined space, is taking over.

This should be evident, even more so, when seeing that winning teams in the World Cup also put fewer shots on goal per shot taken than winning teams in MLS.

And that also translated to goals scored for winning teams in the World Cup also scored fewer goals scored per shot on goal…

In closing…

All told, winning teams in the World Cup displayed slightly different (average percentages) than winning teams in MLS with one exception – passing accuracy.

And given the importance of the tournament it’s no wonder…

Without having the data, yet, I’d expect that the better teams in the EPL, Bundesliga, and other top European Leagues that difference in passing accuracy would remain.

As for the difference in possession (winning teams clearly possessing the ball more than losing teams) I’m not sure – mistake driven football, if memory serves is an approach Chelsea have used in the past…

I’d imagine it’s a pendulum type effect – as more teams work towards mistake driven football more teams will strengthen their ability to recover and open the game up a bit with direct attack to force the opponent from pressing so high.

I’ll be looking for additional trends as the year progresses to see if direct play increases – perhaps a good indicator of that might be even fewer penetrations and more crossing?

With respect to statistical relevance of the data and the outputs generated…

In every case the relationships created, be them Exponential or 4th Order Polynomial all had correlations that exceeded .95.

In other words the variations are minimal and should really reinforce just how tight the difference is between winning and losing in a game of soccer…

Best, Chris

Re-tweets appreciated…

COPYRIGHT, All Rights Reserved – PWP, Trademark



FIFA World Rankings – time for a change?

Although this article was written about 18 months ago – I still think it retains relevance; for two reasons:

  1. FIFA is embroiled in a huge scandle, and
  2. People seem to keep reading it almost 2 years after the fact.

As such here’s a redux on the primary headline with some added juice about the corrupt behavior of the organization, to date, and how the rankings REALLY do need  a re-look in how they are calculated!

I don’t claim that my suggested new way is THE way, but I do think it represents a considerably more open and objective ranking approach then how it’s currently done.

Finally, as with my latest on Moneyball 2 – I highly recommend you get a cup or pint of your favorite beverage before digging in.

To begin – here’s what I offered previously; later on I’ll add some additional thoughts not touched on in the original article; thanks in advance for your patience:

In order to offer up my comments/questions for consideration it’s appropriate for me to include the FIFA World Rankings as of 20 months ago and then the link on how it’s determined.

First the link and the diagram below showing the Top 30 as of June, 2014.

June 2014 FIFA Rankings - Coca-Cola Sponsored

June 2014 FIFA Rankings – Coca-Cola Sponsored

Now, here’s how it’s calculated

What follows is a direct lift from the link provided above:  FIFA explanations are offered in “bold” while my questions/comments will be offered in ‘italics’.


The basic logic of these calculations is simple: any team that does well in world football wins points which enable it to climb the world ranking. 

Well I’m not so sure it’s simple but it does provide what it says it does – a listing from best to worst organized by ‘points earned’.

A team’s total number of points over a four-year period is determined by adding: 

The average number of points gained from matches during the past 12 months; and the average number of points gained from matches older than 12 months (depreciates yearly).

  • Maybe it’s just me but I don’t see the relevance of using four years worth of history in ranking current teams.
  • My own personal view is that the last two years (which ensures including the lead up to the World Cup) has more relevance given the nature of players that appear and disappear, from year to year, on National Soccer teams.
  • I wonder what the bi-yearly turnover rate in player personnel is compared to the quad-yearly (is that a word?) turnover rate in player personnel?
  • And what about changes in Head Coaches; shouldn’t that impact a National Team Ranking? 
  • Most, I think, would agree that a change in Head Coach will not only drive a change in player selection it will also drive a change in how the team strategically and tactically attacks and defends.
  • When that change occurs is it really the same team?
  • In considering the four year life-span of the points I’m not sure I see the relevance of how a team performed three years ago, with perhaps a 50% change in player personnel, has any bearing on how a team might perform in the current year.
  • The same can be said for a team coached by someone else 3-4 years ago versus in the last year or so…
  • Perhaps? a team should be ‘reduxed’ when a new Head Coach arrives on scene?   Might using just two years worth of data help ‘quantify’ that redux?
  • Or, in other words previous performance is excluded and a new clean sheet is started?
  • Perhaps? a team should be ‘reduxed’ when over 50% of the player personnel change? 
  • In other words previous performance with a team that has over 50% of new players means a new clean sheet is started?
  • Maybe this keeps the FIFA World Cup rankings more up to the ‘now’ as opposed to the ‘then’?

Calculation of points for a single match:

The number of points that can be won in a match depends on the following factors:

Was the match won or drawn? (M)

How important was the match (ranging from a friendly match to a FIFA World Cup™ match)? (I)

How strong was the opposing team in terms of ranking position and the confederation to which they belong? (T and C)

  • Results are qualitative based not quantitative based; if the FIFA Rankings are intended to be used to “quantify”/”deem” which teams are better or worse, in overall performance, relative to placement in future tournaments, is it better to rank those teams using a quantitative or qualitative analyses?  
  • I’d offer it’s better to use a quantitative analytical approach.
  • Friendlies have absolutely no bearing on whether or not a team is good or bad – why? 
  • Because they are experiments that Head Coaches use to evaluate players for when it really matters; to attach a value to a friendly, that exceeds the ‘intent’ of the Friendly, and (brutal facts) violates all the common sense logic of a statistical based ranking system.
  • How is the strength of one Confederation compared to another? 
  • The percentages are provided further below but no additional explanation is offered to go with that…
  • If teams only meet in the World Cup, outside of Friendlies, from different Confederations, what is the value of one FIFA World Ranking System; isn’t it simply more relevant to create a FIFA World Ranking after all the Confederations have completed their elimination tournaments?
  • And then, perhaps, that listing is leveraged when the seeded teams from each Confederation are matched up to the other Confederations for the World Cup?
  • If a quantitative statistical approach were used it would be easier as you’d be comparing ‘apples to apples’…
  • And if Friendlies are not included in the analyses, then the only time the real Rank has value is right before and right after the World Cup.
  • And after the World Cup it could be used to seed teams for Confederation tournaments; or is that devolving the FIFA World Ranking of too much influence?
  • Will the hog butcher itself?

These factors are brought together in the following formula to ascertain the total number of points (P).

(P = M x I x T x C)    The following criteria apply to the calculation of points:

M: Points for match result

  • Teams gain 3 points for a victory, 1 point for a draw and 0 points for a defeat. In a penalty shoot-out, the winning team gains 2 points and the losing team gains 1 point.
    • Again, when in a Friendly, this places a value of ‘worth’ in winning, when in fact there is no value in winning a Friendly.
    • The intent of a Friendly is for the Head Coaches to see how their players perform and the players get a feel for what it’s like to work in that coaches system with other teammates.
    • If FIFA has the approach of awarding Ranking Points for teams who win in Penalty Shoot-outs than why have draws as a part of the game at all?
    • In a knock-out competition draws can’t happen; so why can they happen in regular competition?
    • Why not just have every game that ends in a Draw result in a Penalty Shoot-out where the winner gets 2 points in the League Table and the loser gets one point in the League Table?
    • Might this approach also help players better train for crucial PK competitions in the World Cup?
    • Put another way; is the “consistency of purpose” missing when it comes to FIFA and how games are ended?

I: Importance of match

  • Friendly match (including small competitions): I = 1.0
  • FIFA World Cup™ qualifier or confederation-level qualifier: I = 2.5
  • Confederation-level final competition or FIFA Confederations Cup: I = 3.0
  • FIFA World Cup™ final competition: I = 4.0
    • What is a “small competition”?
    • Why is the value of a FIFA World Cup match any different than the value of any other specific competition that is not a Friendly?
    • All of those other competition types (excluding Friendlies) can and do see players rotating in and out of National Team squads; so the teams are not the same teams all the time.
    • In addition, there are numerous changes in Head Coaches between World Cup events; therefore does it seem reasonable that all the Competition levels have different values/levels of importance?

T: Strength of opposing team

  • The strength of the opponents is based on the formula: 200 – the ranking position of the opponents.
    As an exception to this formula, the team at the top of the ranking is always assigned the value 200 and the teams ranked 150th and below are assigned a minimum value of 50. The ranking position is taken from the opponents’ ranking in the most recently published FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking.

    • Given that the method for ranking teams is more qualitative than quantitative this statistical calculation is highly suspect and open to significant interpretation/influence outside the bounds of objectivity.
    • And we’ve already seen how objectivity can be manipulated with the selection of Qatar hosting the 2022 World Cup.
    • If no values are attached to Friendlies then this strength of Opponent has no relevance until the World Cup; the only time teams meet in a competition that actually has real value…

C: Strength of confederation

When calculating matches between teams from different confederations, the mean value of the confederations to which the two competing teams belong is used. The strength of a confederation is calculated on the basis of the number of victories by that confederation at the last three FIFA World Cup™ competitions (see following page). Their values are as follows:

  • CONCACAF 0.88
  • AFC/CAF 0.86
  • OFC 0.85
    • How were these percentages developed and when, and how often, are they updated?
    • Again, to be redundant here, because I think it’s important to minimize internal/external influence in judging the effective performance of a team, this category, in the calculation gives the impression of adding a ‘fudge-factor’.
    • A more quantitative approach would eliminate the need for this “strength of Confederation”…
    • The less subjective influence FIFA has on the Confederation and World Ranking systems the better…

Final thoughts on the current FIFA approach:

  • As much as there are ‘numbers’ involved, this approach really is tainted with subjectivity.

Moving on to my Possession with Purpose Index – specifically the one resulting from the 2014 World Cup:


There are considerable differences, even without the final two games being played…

  • The most glaring difference between the two Indices/Rankings is the inclusion of Ukraine, Denmark, Slovenia, Scotland, Romania, and Serbia in the FIFA Top 30, while Nigeria, Korea, Ghana, Cameroon, Iran and Australia are excluded.
  • Note, since the date of the FIFA Rankings is June 2014 there was plenty of time for FIFA to ask themselves why teams that made the World Cup did not make the Top 30 and teams that didn’t make the World Cup made the Top 30.
  • Is it really a relevant Ranking system if there are teams in the top 30 who didn’t make the World Cup and teams outside the top 30 that did make the World Cup?
  • If a team is strong enough to qualify, from within their Confederation, then shouldn’t they, by rights, be in Top 30 of the FIFA World Rankings?
  • Is there supposed to be a ‘good feeling’ for a Nation to have a team in the Top 30 that didn’t make the World Cup?
  • What is the intent of the FIFA World Rankings anyway?  If it’s strictly for “seeding purposes” wouldn’t it be reasonable that the teams competing in the tournament are the only teams to appear in the Top 30/32?
  • And why a Top 30; why not a top 32?
  • If you exclude Friendlies from the calculation what does the FIFA World Ranking Index look like?

I wonder how quickly the table adjusts from month to month?

  • If the FIFA World Ranking system does not react quickly to changes in new Head Coaches, or major shifts in player personnel, how effective is it in dropping or raising teams based upon the World Cup?
  • I think, in this day and age, the ability to adjust the ranking of teams should be quicker and have less influence based upon past performance and more influence based upon current form; especially with changes in formations, styles, players and Head Coaches.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning again, if FIFA can appear to be ‘bought’ (that’s no longer “an appearance” – it’s FACT) when selecting Qatar for the World Cup in 2022 how reliable (really reliable) is their Index as calculated today?

  • Based on a win/draw (qualitative analyses),
  • Influenced by games that mean nothing (Friendlies), and
  • Influenced by games played four years ago where neither the team nor the Head Coach might be the same?

In Closing:

  • There’s no question that corruption existed, and probably still does, in some fashion or another – when that type of environment exists EVERY path forward should be reviewed to cleanse and objectify rankings for the future.
  • My approach has been published – it is reasonable – accurate – (in some cases extremely accurate) and the rankings in my Indices can show movement up and down the ladder when head coaching changes are made.
  • How a team did three years ago, under one coach, says absolutely nothing about how a team will do under another head coach, three years later.
  • If a national team changes their head coach the team ranking should be scrubbed and reviewed with a new start point somewhere outside the top 30-40… at least that’s an idea…
  • My Index is quantitative – there is no qualitative measurement (judgment) involved – therefore the politics of FIFA will never-ever influence a teams ranking.

If you think it’s time for a change in how FIFA calculates world rankings retweet this article – I’m not saying it’s THE answer but there are more ways (objective ways) to rank teams that completely ignore the almighty dollar bill.

Best, Chris  @chrisgluckpwp

 COPYRIGHT, All Rights Reserved.  PWP – Trademark

Gluck: Updated Possession with Purpose and the New Total Soccer Index

Much has transpired in the world of soccer statistics over the past four years since I first published: Possession with Purpose – An Introduction and some Explanations.

CLICK this link for my NEW simplified power point presentation update of Possession with Purpose the Total Soccer Index

  • The .pdf version should make it easier to print and use as reference material.

Within you’ll find:

  • Definition of TSI
  • Purpose of TSI
  • Premise of TSI
  • Parts of TSI
  • Leagues / competitions analyzed
  • Application of TSI and its parts
  • The data for leagues / competitions analyzed
  • Observations & conclusions by league / competition as well as reviewing TSI across leagues / competitions

My thanks to all for your support and kind words throughout the years.

In Summary:

  • The sum of the parts has greater correlation to points earned than the parts independent of each other.
  • Player A, from Team A, within any given league, has a different correlation to points (performance/outcome) than Player B, Team B, Player C Team C, etc in that same league.  In other words outcomes of individual player statistical analyses are NOT EQUAL from team to team and league to league.
      • Said differently, clearances or crosses (used as a measurement in fantasy soccer) for one player, on one team, DO NOT have the same weight/value of clearances or crosses for a different player on a different team.
      • Same can be said for passes or shots taken, etc.
      • Therefore, Calculations such as Expected Goals are not an apples to apples comparison between teams within the same league.  Yes, it’s a predictive tool, but flawed/
  • The lower the overall correlation of the Total Soccer Index to points earned the greater the parity within the league or competition; this also intuits those are less predictable.

Best, Chris


Expected Wins 4

Republication/update:  My intent, this past year, was to update my series on Expected Wins, with EW-5 – that has changed.  After conducting research and analyses, and seeing my work published in London, England I’ve decided to rename this series Expected Losses instead of Expected Wins.

  • Why, because my data analyses is beginning to show it’s easier to track and predict losses as opposed to ‘draws’ or ‘wins’.

But to sustain the integrity of the ‘thinking process’ I’m only going to edit the first part of this article and remind folks about the previous research published:

What follows is the original, unedited post offered in November of 2014.  I think if you read this article below you may find it striking given the current conditions with US Soccer and the US Men’s National Team!

Jurgen Klinsmann made a statement the other week about his preference that players working to make the USMNT play in Europe not in America.

Lots of hoo-haw followed with opinions being thrown out there by just about everyone.

As far as I know no-one has, as yet, come up with a way to quantitatively measure which league, leagues, or competitions are higher quality.

This is my attempt to do that using my Possession with Purpose Analysis.

Be prepared for a few charts – sorry – it is what it is and a statement like Klinsmann’s deserves to have some quantitative analysis thrown towards it.

Finally, if you missed Expected Wins 3 here is a link to give you some history on this quantitative analysis.

Now for the grist, first the array of Expected Wins 4 diagrams for each league/competition I cover, Major League Soccer, English Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, UEFA Champions League, and the World Cup of 2014.

Major League Soccer – End of Season:

Major League Soccer Expected Wins Four

 English Premier League after 240 Events (120 Games):

English Premier League Expected Wins Four

La Liga after 238 Events (119 Games):

La Liga Expected Wins Four

Bundesliga after 214 Events (107 Games):

Bundesliga Expected Wins Four

UEFA Champions League after Round 5 – 160 Events (80 Games):

UEFA Champions League Expected Wins Four

World Cup 2014 – End of Competition:

World Cup 2014 Expected Wins FourSo what’s it all mean?

In each of the diagrams I highlighted in green the category that had the highest volume for all my PWP Data Points.

For example, just above, in the World Cup of 2014 the winning team had the highest volume of activity for every single PWP data point.

The same holds true for the UEFA Champions League, La Liga, and the English Premier League.

The conclusion here?  Volume speaks volumes…

Greater numbers of passes both outside and within and into the Attacking Final Third (RESULT) in MORE Shots Taken, MORE Shots on Goal and MORE Goals Scored!

In the case of the Bundesliga (an oft mentioned counter-attacking league) it’s the losing teams that offer MORE Possession and MORE overall Passes but when it comes to the Attacking Final Third it’s the winning teams who do MORE with MORE!

With respect to the MLS – a contrast to be sure.  MORE Passing outside and within, and into, the Attacking Final Third gets you LESS when it comes to Shots Taken, Shots on Goal, and Goals Scored.

Why is that?

I’d offer it’s down to playing a game that has less overall ball control from the players – in other words there is less quality on the pitch to take advantage of the MORE for MORE systematic outputs we see from all the other leagues/competitions; others may have a different view.

For me, this is an early indicator that what Jurgen Klinsmann offered is quantitatively accurate!

Before moving on here’s how all the leagues and competitions compare to each other in one diagram for winning teams:

Winners Expected Wins PWP Data Points Four

The UEFA Champions League leads all competitions/leagues in the average volume of Passes Attempted, Passes Completed, Passes Attempted within and into the Final Third, Passes Completed within and into the Final Third, Shots Taken, Shots on Goal, and Goals Scored.

If volume of activity (were?) to be a quantitative measure of quality then it’s pretty clear the UEFA Champions League HAS the highest quality of all these competitions.

And what teams comprise the UEFA Champions League?  Teams from Europe…

But there is more to Possession with Purpose than just volume; here’s how the PWP Data Relationships show:

Winners Expected Wins PWP Data Relationships Four

In looking at the percentages here’s where it gets interesting – and reinforces what I’ve felt and thought all along, patience in creating time and space in the Attacking Final Third has value.

In terms of Possession Percentage, Passing Accuracy across the Entire Pitch, and percentage of Penetrating Possession within and into the Attacking Final Third the UEFA Champions League, again, exceeds all other competitions.

Where the patience virtue comes in is when it comes to the percentage of Shots Taken per Penetrating Possession – the UEFA Champions League is lowest (14.98%).

So in returning back to the volume of Shots Taken per penetrating possession.

The UEFA Champions League has the highest volume of Shots Taken but the lowest percentage rate.

So even with the third worst percentage of Shots on Goal per Shots Taken and the second worst percentage of Goals Scored per Shots on Goal this competition still has the highest volume of Shots on Goal and Goals Scored.

For me this is another quantitative means to substantiate what Jurgen Klinsmann offered about encouraging Americans to get better by playing in Europe.

In Closing:


Is it better to play on a winning team in a league where there is less overall control of the ball, on the pitch for 90 minutes?

Or is it better to play on a losing team (for 90 minutes), against top quality players, in a league where there is superb control of the ball across the entire pitch for 90 minutes?

Which competition forces you to concentrate more recognizing that the smallest positional error will completely punish your team?

In other words…

If you were a good player and you wanted to get better, would you prefer to play in a league where there are fewer passes and a more wide open play that doesn’t stretch your talent to control the ball?

Or…. would you rather play in a league where the ball is zipping about (by over 100 to 300 passes more) forcing you, in turn, to zip about yourself to try and better manage that game yourself with your teammates?


If I were a player in today’s market there is simply no need to consider answering that question any further – I’d play in Europe OR at least strive to play in Europe!

How about you?

If you’re new to Possession with Purpose and this analytical approach read here for an introduction.

By the way – even if you feel or think you don’t need this type of data to substantiate which leagues or competitions are better today – it will provide a great benchmark in looking at how the future takes shape in MLS.

Best, Chris

COPYRIGHT, All Rights Reserved.  PWP – Trademark

You can follow me on twitter @chrisgluckpwp

World Cup 2014 Final; the two best teams? You bet!

If you’ve been following my adventures in Major League Soccer you’ll know that last year the PWP Index did a pretty good job in showing how the team performances played out in comparison to the League Tables (without) including points scored in my calculations.

To be honest, with such a small sample point I really didn’t think the PWP Indices effort would stand up against the Tournament (knock-out based style) of the World Cup.

But after taking a look at all the games (and inputting the team performance from said games) my Indices seem to hold up pretty well – wonder when Pepsi or another company that begins with “P” will consider sponsoring my work?  (just kidding – erhhh maybe not?).

Anyhow – here’s the lay of the land as it was tweeted earlier today:



NOTE:  All games are entered – and the comparison of these games does include the extra games played as the competition has headed towards the finals.

In other words Germany, Argentina, Brazil and the Netherlands all have six games worth of data.  In developing this I figured the more data points for a team the more likely their percentages would be watered down.

So for a team like Spain, who went out in the first round I figured they’d be pretty high up – well they are but the pedigree of the Netherlands, France, Colombia, Argentina, and Germany all put them past Spain EVEN with more games played!

If you’ve read my presentation at the World Conference on Science and Soccer as well as my Introduction into Possession with Purpose you’ll know my measurement methods and data source for this effort.  I can’t thank MLS Soccer.com enough for the publicly available data that allows me to generate my Index formulas.

Perhaps Prozone or someone else might help me obtain the data I need for all the European Leagues, to include the Champions League?

So with the overall accuracy (pretty compelling it appears to me) I’ve put my Composite PWP Predictability Index to test for the final (ahead of time)…

Before offering that Index though here’s how the teams compared against each other in Attacking PWP and Defending PWP:



From an attacking standpoint Germany are top of the table with Colombia 2nd, France 3rd, and Argentina 4th.

And when witnessing that blowout yesterday is that really a surprise, perhaps somewhat, but even prior to that game Germany were 3rd best overall in Attacking PWP – behind only Argentina and Colombia.

So how about the Defending PWP Index?

Notice (below) that Brazil is 17th out of 32 teams; prior to that game against Germany, Brazil were 12th.

So while some favored Brazil – the overall team performance indicators did show that Brazil were behind Germany in both the APWP and DPWP prior to that game.

The same cannot be said for Argentina and Germany – those two split top honors as you can see below as Argentina heads this Index; while Germany is a close 2nd.



Also note, if you’re a supporter of the United States, they were much higher in this Index (21st best) than they were in the Attacking Index (5th worst).

It is worthy (and most probably realistic) that if the United States had taken a stronger attacking stance against Germany, and perhaps even Belgium, they might have been the team getting embarrassed and not Brazil!

Finally, here’s the CPWP Predictability Index:



A pretty close call; in this one Germany has the slight edge in Composite Predictability in comparison to Argentina.

Argentina is #1 in the DPWP Predictability Index (not pictured) and  Germany is 4th best.

Germany is #1 in the APWP Predictability Index and Argentina slides all the way down to 16th best.

A distinct difference in Attacking and Defending Predictability based upon previous team performance while excluding goals scored…

In closing…

The overall Composite PWP Predictability Index indicates Germany is better in attack and Argentina is better in defense; the Predictability Indices indicate the same outputs.

For me, and my PWP calculations this should make for a brilliant final this weekend!

No personal prognostications from me – my objective team performance indicators point one way in attack and one way in defense; usually in games like these the better defensive teams win…

Best, Chris

Paralysis by Over Analysis? My redux on the USMNT World Cup 2014

Sometimes there is simply too much analysis that occurs after a game of soccer…

A bit ironic coming from me but there is a point where analyzing a game or set of games, too far, leads you down the wrong road…

Four games does not a team make and four performances is simply not enough information to draw a conclusion about whether a team is better or worse than four, eight, 12 or 16 years ago.

For me – when looking at the style of football these past four years, there is simply no reasonable way to compare progress from World Cup to World Cup; I sense it’s over-analyzing the data and using it out of context.

The here, now, and future is what is important – not some time ago.

In the here and now short-passing, possession based (ground-passing game) has been a norm of sorts.

And the reasonable counter to that (when teams don’t have better passers and players with better ‘first touches’) is to yield time and space…

The Netherlands, Costa Rica, Colombia, and the United States used that approach to great effect – with three of those teams advancing (lower possession and lower passing accuracy with quick counter-attacking)…

The crux of that strategy not only includes yielding penetration into their own defending third it may also, when appropriate, mean yielding penetration up to the 18 yard box; a discrete area of space where numbers help, and the technical ability of some players can be hidden.

For those simply yielding penetration into the final third, it’s more geared to having the opponent over-committ and then leverage a quick-counter attack.

When your team is not blessed with better speed and better skills then the drop is sometimes deeper (the 18 yard box).

Jurgen Klinsmann took that approach and it almost paid off.

What Klinsmann looked to rely on was the mental emotion, raw energy, and spirit of the team taking over when the opportunity presented itself – and when going a goal down his injection of Green really inspired the team to step it up.

So for me, it’s not Klinsmann’s lack of ‘nous’ that created the need for the USA; it’s a diminished amount of players available in the United States who have that extremely high level of technical pedigree, that drove his approach.

This isn’t dissing the current team – they are all very-very good players; but just not as good as some other players in other countries.

And one only needs to see the performance of Tim Howard to know that great players (as in across the World great players) do come from the United States.

In my view (others may see this differently) that lack of ‘nous’ and technical ability doesn’t really change in the United States as long as this country (and media) remains fascinated with ‘JUST SCORING GOALS’.

This game is not just about SCORING GOALS…

I’ve said this before and I’m being redundant on purpose because I feel and think it’s important for others to understand.

It’s about preventing the opponent from scoring goals and it’s about creating the opportunities for teammates to score goals.

Goal scoring, for those who are statistics type folks, is the 3rd, 4th, or 5th standard deviation to the right of the bell curve considering all the activities in a game of soccer.

Until the professional Head Coaches in this country drive that fact home and until the mass media understand that and ‘laud and praise those players that bring those skills to the pitch’ this United States Mens National Soccer Team will always struggle to be the best in the World.

A shining example takes shape with the ESPY awards this year – who’s up for the award – all four players are ‘goal scorers’; no Besler, no Rimando, no Valeri, no Zusi, no Beckerman – where’s all those guys?

In closing… some basic statistics…

The US did not dominate possession (39.22%); why? Because they don’t have large numbers of players who are really-really accurate in passing and blessed with superb ‘first touches’.

The US did not dominate when it came to passing accuracy – they were 17th best at 80.67%; even Cameroon, who got nil-pwa were better in overall passing accuracy than the United States (81%)…

In looking at the amount of possession, in the opponents defending third, the USA only penetrated 18.52% of the time they possessed the ball and of those penetrations only 16.19% of them generated a shot taken.

So what happened to Cameroon – who played a more attack based game than the United States?

They had more possession (41.31%) than the United States, better passing accuracy, as noted (81%), more overall penetration into the opponents defending third (22.48%) and more shots taken per penetration (26.45%).

Bottom line they finished -8 on Goal Differential with nil-pwa; just how much would the media in this country accept a performance like that?

So for those calling for the US to have attacked more (or to attack more next time without the proper technical abilities compared to other top nations) bollocks.

Klinsmann knows his team and worked to maximize their output with the skills his players have.

Path forward?

It’s not all down to the media in the United States; though some need to take responsibility.

Part of that lack of understanding (in my view) is a lack of communication by professionals managing soccer in this country who fail to take advantage of the media exposure to reinforce that this game is not all about scoring goals.

MLS Soccer could do it’s job by leading the media to help others better understand the nuance of this game, and those, elsewhere, socializing the idea of sacking head coaches, strictly because of won-loss records, should do their research and offer up more substantive data than just wins and losses; just saying…

The game is about possession with purpose – do what you need to do to gain possession of the ball, move it forward, as appropriate, create penetration, create goal scoring opportunities that increase the chances of putting more shots on goal, and then… score goals.

Scoring goals is but one step in attacking football; a critical step to be sure but there’s a whole lot of other ‘stuff’ that needs to go right before scoring that goal.

The other part (and most important part statistically) is to prevent your opponent from doing just that.

Finally… for what it is worth, I thought the US Mens National Team did well this year but they could have been better.  Starting with:

  • Sacking Jurgen Klinsmann and bringing in someone who can teach the lads to build from the back and play controlled possession-based soccer.
    • All the greatest national and international teams ‘control’ the game.  Playing kick and chase is school-boy soccer; and adding Klinsmann has not fixed that.
    • In addition, the volume of tactical coaching errors and complete lack of controlled possession-based soccer, which all the greatest teams do, is telling.  Bringing on Omar Gonzalez to replace Graham Zusi in that game against Portugal was a HUGE tactical blunder.
  • Sacking Sunil Gulati – his time is past due.  We need someone to lead footy who knows footy.
  • Finally, here’s a reminder on where the USMNT finished in my Total Soccer Index:


In case you are wondering – here’s how they compared in attacking and defending (to the rest of the world) too:



I look forward to what the future holds in Russia in four years time…

Best, Chris

World Cup 2014 – Group Stages Completed; Who’s leading the PWP Pack?

No more draws… you’re out you’re out.  The true brutality of the game begins; if you’re faint of heart and don’t want to know how well the USA stacks up against the rest of the World in Possession with Purpose don’t read on.

I’ll lightly touch on my Attacking PWP to set the stage and then the reality of the Defending PWP and finally – the Composite PWP – it aint pretty if you fancy the United States…

To begin…



I walked through some major details on APWP in my last post so I won’t tarry here too long… a couple of things that stand out to me…

Only six teams fall below the pack of green bars up top – not a complete match but good enough when considering the ‘end state’ of PWP – come close to matching the League Table ‘without’ tracking wins, draws, and losses.

From an attacking standpoint there’s pretty solid evidence to support the USA being in a “group of death”; they ended up with the worst APWP in their group yet got through.

Not to be outdone though – there are the Greeks – they too finished lower than Colombia, Ivory Coast, and Japan.

Is the difference between this Index output and Results in the Group Stages a measurement of luck?

I don’t know but the outputs from the Index seem pretty compelling after just three games.

Now for the Defending PWP Index…



In short – the DPWP Index looks to have been much more accurate than the APWP Index; correctly ranking the top teams with just four exceptions.

For me that continues to reinforce that Defending (preventing the opponent from scoring) has more overall value than just scoring.

So how about some info behind the Index number; here’s the details on the differences between teams that advanced and teams that didn’t.

Opponent Possession: (PWP data point)

  • Teams not making the round of 16 who were in the top ten were Spain, Japan, Italy, Ivory Coast and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
  • Teams making the round of 16 who were in the bottom ten were Netherlands, United States, Greece, Algeria, Costa Rica, and Colombia.
  • Bottom line here; any approach with respect to possession can work provided the Head Coach has the right mix of players to execute that approach.

Opponent Passing Accuracy Entire Pitch: (PWP data point)

  • Opponents of the United States were the most accurate passers in the World Cup so far (87.33% accurate); perhaps another piece of objective evidence supporting how talented that Group was?
  • Other teams who faced opponents with high levels of passing accuracy, that made the round of 16, were Greece, Netherlands, Germany, Colombia, and Costa Rica.
  • The teams making the round of 16 that played against opponents with lower passing accuracy included Chile (lowest opponent passing accuracy – 76%), Brazil, Argentina, France, and Belgium.
  • Those teams “not” making the round of 16. that played against opponents with lower passing accuracy. included Japan, Spain, England, Ivory Coast and Ghana.

Opponent Passing Accuracy within the Final Third: (Supplemental PWP data point)

  • Opponents of the United States were also the most accurate passers in the Final Third (76.33%); perhaps??? another piece of objective evidence supporting how talented that Group was?
  • Greece remains a bed-fellow in this category as well – opponents of Greece were also 76.33% accurate within the Greece defending Final Third.
  • Both teams were the worst in this category; and were the only two teams, in the worst top ten, to make the round of 16.
  • Might this be a good “team” indicator on how effective those team defenses were in communicating and executing their roles?  Or was it good luck or great goalkeeping?
  • On the flip side Spain, England and Ivory Coast faced opponents with the lowest averages of passing accuracy in the defending Final Third.
  • Those three teams were also in the top ten ‘best’ for this category; and the only three teams in that ‘best ten’ that didn’t make the round of 16.
  • Might this also be a good “team” indicator on how poorly those team defenses communicated and executed their roles?  Or was it bad luck or bad goalkeeping?
  • I’m not sure about the answers, to those questions, but it certainly might be a good place to start as England and Spain lick their wounds and prepare for Euro2016…

Percentage of Opponent Passes within the Final Third: (PWP data point)

  • The easiest teams to penetrate against, so far, have been Colombia, Greece, and the United States.
  • All three have seen their opponents penetrate their defending third more than 28% of the time given total possession of the ball.
  • Those three, plus Switzerland, also made the round of 16, all the other teams in the worst ten, for this category, are going home.
  • In looking at the teams with the least amount of penetration per possession we have France leading the pack at just 13.98%; with Netherlands next at 15.96%.
  • What is interesting about Holland is that their opponents possessed the ball (overall) third most (60.95%).
  • Truly amazing that with over 60% of possession their opponents penetrated just 16% of the time – can you say high pressure that was extremely well organized?
  • As for those who didn’t advance; Spain, England, Australia and Bosnia-Herzegovina were in the top ten for being stingy; the rest advanced.

Percentage of Opponent Shots Taken per Completed Pass in the Final Third: (PWP data point)

  • Algeria was the top team in preventing shots taken, per completed pass, in their own defending third (11.75%); next up was England, Iran, Australia, Russia.
  • Intriguing that six of the top ten teams in this category (Iran, Australia, Costa Rica, Netherlands, Greece, and the USA) were also six of the top ten in yielding possession and facing high passing accuracy numbers by their opponents.
  • Is that an indicator of a ‘solid’ team defensive approach within the defending Final Third (particularly the 18 yard box)?
  • I think so; another supporting indicator might be Blocked Shots; more to follow on that…
  • On the other end of the spectrum, France opponents took shots 33% of the time they completed a pass within the Final Third.
  • In other words, with just ~40% of the possession, the opponents of France were quick to take their chances… perhaps that’s an indicator that they weren’t given a lot of time and/or space?  Or is it simply down to impatience?
  • Others not yielding many shots taken, per penetration, were Chile, Argentina, Japan, Uruguay, Croatia, Brazil, Nigeria, Korea and Ecuador.

Shots Taken: (Supplemental PWP data point)

  • Spain and England faced the fewest shots taken of any teams in the World Cup.
  • Spain opponents averaged 8.33 shots per game and England’s averaged 8.67 shots per game – yet both failed to advance?
  • When they got exposed, they got exposed big time.
  • I’m not sure there is a way to quantify mental lapses but a good indicator to me that the balance of players in the back-four, for a team, is not good, is when they have high levels of possession in attack, high level of passing accuracy moving forward yet face few shots taken.
  • I talked about that in my previous post on APWP; perhaps??? this is another supporting indicator that helps point out that both England and Spain didn’t test themselves and push the fine line far enough between brilliance and boring.
  • Put another way perhaps???
  • Might this also reaffirm, that at least for Spain and England, the goals scored against were more influential in them losing than the goals scored for in winning?
  • On the flip side – the United States and Ecuador both faced over 18 shots taken per game…
  • So the United States not only faced opponents with high amounts of possession, high levels of passing accuracy, and high levels of penetration – they also faced the most shots taken – yet they advanced!
  • Is that great goalkeeping or good luck?  I think I’ve asked that question about the Americans before…
  • But before moving on – both Colombia and Greece were also in the top ten for shots faced – all the others with high shots faced did not advance.

Opponent Shots on Goal per Shot Taken: (PWP data point)

  • Remember that Colombia were in the top ten for shots taken by their Opponent…
  • Well that higher amount of Shots Taken did not translate to a higher amount of Shots on Goal – they were 4th best in the fewest Shots on Goal versus Shots Taken.
  • And a good reason why is they had the highest average in Blocked Shots of their opponent; 6.33 to be exact.
  • Brazil lead all teams in the fewest Shots on Goal per Shots Taken by their opponent; they were also third best in blocking their opponent shots.
  • In looking at the top ten; only Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia where in the top ten that didn’t make the round of 16.
  • And of the top 16 teams in this category, only Korea is in that pack who didn’t qualify for the next round.
  • A pretty strong single indicator, with the exception of Algeria and Switzerland, who were in the bottom five for this category.
  • Five goals against to France certainly didn’t help the cause for Switzerland.
  • As for the United States, Netherlands, and Greece?
  • Those three teams, where the opponent had high numbers in possession and passing accuracy, saw all three in the top 15 (defensively) for this category.
  • With the United States offering up 4 blocked shots per game and Greece averaging 4.33 shots blocked per game.
  • Netherlands, who had one of the 4th lowest shots taken against, was 11th best in minimizing shots on goal per shot taken; their blocked shots were only 2.33 per game (midway in the pack).

Opponent Shots on Goal: (Supplement PWP data point)

  • Only one team in the top ten, who faced the fewest Shots on Goal did not advance, England.
  • They faced the 3rd fewest Shots on Goal while also seeing 35.26% of their opponents Shots on Goal net goals.
  • A worthy note here is that England only averaged one Opponent Blocked shot per game – and ironically enough Spain was worst – averaging just .33 Opponent Blocked Shots per game.
  • The two surprise teams kicked out of the World Cup were the same two teams with the lowest amount of average Opponent Blocked Shots.
  • Other teams who moved on that had high Shots on Goal Against were Nigeria, Switzerland, Algeria and the United States.
  • If Blocked shots has value as a supporting indicator then Nigeria, Switzerland and Algeria are more likely to lose their next game than the United States.
  • Nigeria averaged 2.67 blocked shots per game, Switzerland averaged 2.33, while Algeria averaged 1.33.
  • The USA averaged 4 blocked shots per game – sign of a swarming defense that really focuses on protecting the 18 yard box.
  • All told, the rest of the teams in the top ten in preventing shots on goal were Brazil, France, Costa Rica, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Mexico, Uruguay, and Argentina.

Opponent Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (PWP data point)

  • Two teams in the top ten for this team performance indicator didn’t advance, Italy and Ecuador.
  • The top team with the lowest Goals Scored Against versus Shots on Goal was Nigeria; 7.69%.
  • Others following in the top five were Costa Rica, Germany, Mexico, and Colombia.
  • Both Greece and the United States did well here; they finished 13th and 14th respectively.  Netherlands, a team who gave up quite a bit of possession, was 12th best.
  • The teams with the worst ratio were led by Australia (56.11%) followed by Bosnia-Herzegovina, England, Hondurus and Japan.
  • Brazil was actually sixth worst and Belgium was 13th worst.
  • Might that be a worthy indicator where Chile may “upset” Brazil – or, given the Index information would it really be an upset?
  • How about the United States taking on Belgium?
  • The United States are good at blocking shots – while Belgium seems more inclined to yield space ‘within’ their 18 yard box.   Does that translate to an ‘upset’?

Goals Scored Against (Supplemental PWP data point).

  • Most seem to agree that one of the single greatest indicators is goals against; in looking at the top ten Goals Scored Against Switzerland lead the pack at 2.00 (per game) for all teams that are advancing; and yes that is a bit dodgy seeing as they gave up five goals to France – but it is what it is…
  • Mexico, Belgium and Costa Rica all lead the pack in fewest Goals Against (.33) per game.
  • The only team, not advancing, in the top ten not for fewest Goals Against is Italy (1.00) per game.
  • As for Greece and the United States?
  • Both finished on 1.33 Goals Against per game.
  • Overall, nine of the top ten teams in fewest Goals Against advanced.  And only one team, in the top ten for most Goals Against, advanced; Switzerland – against France.
  • Uruguay was the other team who matched the United States and Greece at 1.33 per game.

Final thoughts on DPWP:

  • The DPWP Index is not intended to be a predictability model; not with Goals Against included; but all told the Index looks very reasonable after just three games – far exceeding my initial expectations.
  • The Correlation to the sum of points earned (R2) is -.7988.
  • The Correlation of Opponent Goals Scored to sum of points earned is -.7366
  • The Correlation of DPWP to Opponent Goals Scored is .7994
  • All told the Correlation of DPWP to Points is the best Correlation.

In closing… Composite PWP:



Bottom line here is that with just three games played the CPWP Index shows just two teams outside the ‘bell curve’.

Pretty reasonable – and while many may poo-poo Costa Rica belonging in the upper echelon they finished in the top 7 for four of the six team defending performance indicators; while facing opponents who averaged 57.58% of the ball while also completing 82.67% of their passes.

As for the United States, even when removing that late goal by Portugal in the Index analysis, the CPWP for the United States would still be in the negative (-.3120) instead of (-.3596).  I.E. 6th worst and not 5th worst; that goal did impact the results table but really didn’t impact the Indices of PWP.

In thinking about the next round…

These Indices are not predictability indices, with Goals Scored and Goals Against included they can’t be; but… it does provide a great litmus test for showing which teams (and their overall performance) are on form and ‘what form’ / ‘style’ those teams might be playing to.

Given that, there’s a pretty reasonable chance that Germany beats Algeria, France beats Nigeria, Costa Rica beats Greece, Argentina beats Switzerland, and Colombia beats Uruguay.

Toss ups (and indeed what I think will be really great games) are Chile v Brazil, the Netherlands v Mexico and Belgium v the United States.

Chile can win against Brazil given their better than average defending (and) attacking PWP compared to Brazil; in other words Chile are showing themselves to be in better form.

The Dutch have been masters at the counter-attack and are very efficient in preventing Goals Scored Against; that will be a very dangerous game for Mexico!

With respect to the United States?

They have given time and space but still seem to hold on – it’s a tactic oft used by teams who aren’t quite on the same cutting edge as others – they just simply found the right mix to advance; can that continue?

And lest it’s forgotten – when it comes to defending the 18 yard box, no other team was more effective given the volume of traffic by the opponent!

Best, Chris


World Cup 2014 – Possession with Purpose; What do the tea leaves show?

The brutal facts of World Cup results are beginning to take shape now that 2 games are completed in the Group Stage; some surprises on both ends of the pitch to be sure.

Is the most surprising of all seeing both Spain and England tossed out with the early morning rubbish? Or is it the complete surprise by many that Costa Rica have slid into the final 16?

How all that happened can probably be talked about for ages – for my Possession with Purpose team performance indicators I’ll try to keep it simple and straightforward…

To begin… most consider the attacking side of the pitch to be the most compelling side; given that here’s the Index after 2 full rounds of play in the Group Stage:

APWP After Game 2 Group Stages

APWP After Game 2 Group Stages

Bars green in color are those teams that have already qualified; while those red bars are those teams that have already been elimiated..

Pretty compelling APWP Index so far in the World Cup and tracking along with the general trends already shown with Major League Soccer.

So in peeling back the five teams who are toast – are there any attacking trends that are different from those who have already qualified and those that are eliminated?

Possession?  Hmmm…

Spain have possessed the ball (63.7%) 2nd most in the World Cup so far – and Argentina, who have already qualified are best at 70.15%.

England sits at 53% possession (13th best) while Cameroon has 39.24%, Bosnia-Herzgovina just above  39% and Australia at 41.76%

Other teams already qualified are Netherlands and Costa Rica, both have less that 43% possession while Belgium sits just below 60% and Columbia at ~47%.

So possession, in some cases, shows as an indicator and in other cases it doesn’t; just like MLS.

Passing Accuracy across the entire pitch?

The top ten teams with the best passing accuracy are Italy then Argentina, Germany, Portugal, England, Switzerland, Ivory Coast, France, Spain and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

So out of the top ten teams, in passing accuracy, three of them have already been eliminated with only one already qualified!

Others who have already qualified; Costa Rica, Chile, Netherlands, Columbia and Belguim, are all below 85% in passing accuracy – with Costa Rica being the lowest at 77.50%.

Cameroon has been 81.5% accurate while Australia is 79.5% accurate.

So no – Passing Accuracy, across the entire pitch, isn’t really a great trending indicator on it’s own.

On the other hand is there a balance that might be expected?

In other words, do some teams have so high of a passing accuracy percentage that it reflects a negative on their game?

Put differently – are they trying to play too simple?

Passing Accuracy within the Final Third?   

The team with the best passing accuracy in the final third is Bosnia-Herzegovina (77%); the third worst team is Costa Rica (48.50%).  Where does Argentina fit in – 7th best – while England are 3rd best and Spain 10th best.

Columbia is 9th best, Belgium 11th best, while Netherlands and Chile are 23rd and 26th best respectively…

So again, no particular trends but does the same question apply?

Does a higher passing accuracy indicate a simplicity in the attack that represents the passes are ‘too’ simple and not creative enough to cut the fine edge between brilliance and boring?

Moving on to penetrations into the final third based upon passes attempted/completed inside and outside the final third…

The teams moving on are as low as 29th and as high as 6th best; the teams that have already been eliminated are as low as 27th and as high as 7th – mostly this team performance indicator is spread throughout the entire group.

The real difference begins to take shape when Shots taken versus Completed Pass in the final third are reviewed; here’s the tale of the tape in this team performance indicator.

The two teams with the best passing accuracy and best possesssion (that are eliminated already) happen to be 3rd and 8th worst in creating shots taken per possession in the final third (Spain and England).

So where they have high levels of possession and even higher levels of passing accuracy they have a huge drop in team performance when it comes to generating shots taken from penetrations.

So yes… perhaps the simplicity of some team passing activities is translating to a simplistic approach in shots taken; i.e. those two teams were simply too cautious in taking shots.

As for Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cameroon and Australia – all those team are in the top ten in shots taken per possession within the final third – so for those teams perhaps it’s more about them trying to over-perform and make up for weaker passing skills?

And as for the teams who have already qualified – well, Costa Rica and Netherlands (both low possession based teams) are on the higher side in this indicator – 32% and 26% respectively.

What is happening there is that those two teams have got the right balance and appropriate skill sets to ‘crush the opponent’ with minimal energy… balance…

On the other end Chile, Columbia, Argentina and Belgium are all in the bottom half of this indicator – again indicating that they two have the right balance of possession with the intent to penetrate and score…

By the way – just like Major League Soccer – teams that have won, or won and drawn, average fewer shots taken, per possession in the final third, than teams that have lost (18.77% to 20.14%).

Next up – Shots on goal versus shots taken… 

Like MLS, teams that have won or won ‘and’ drawn average 37.90% of those shots taken being on goal – whereas teams that have lost average 31.56% of those shots taken being on goal.

Leading the pack are Netherlands at 67.87%; while Cameroon is at the bottom – 9.73%.

The odd one here is Argentina – and that match against Iran didn’t help – they had 21 shots taken with just 4 on goal and one goal scored.

Otherwise the pack is spread about pretty equally.

Goals Scored versus Shots on Goal:

And… just like MLS, teams that have won or won ‘and’ drawn average 43.13% of their shots on goal as goals scored while teams that have lost average just 15.07% of their shots on goal as goals scored.

In Closing…

Below is the Defending PWP Index followed by the Composite PWP Index:  Same legend holds true; red bars = eliminated and green bars = qualified next round; Orange = undecided.

DPWP After Game 2 Group Stages

DPWP After Game 2 Group Stages

CPWP After Game 2 Group Stages

CPWP After Game 2 Group Stages

Pretty clear that the teams eliminated are coming out on the negative side of the CPWP (Attacking PWP – Defending PWP).

Teams doing well that (should?) advance – given the CPWP Index numbers (although) this is not a predictability model with goals scored included…

Group A  = Brazil with a slight edge to Mexico over Croatia?

Group B = sorted…

Group C = Ivory Coast over Japan?

Group D = Italy over Uruguay or does Suarez nail the Italians like he did England?

Group E = France and perhaps Switzerland given Hondurus probably don’t even belong to begin with?

Group F = Nigeria?

Group G = USA and Germany or does either Ghana/Portugal slide in?

Group H = Algeria or does Capello bring Russia back from the graveyard with a win?


Best, Chris





Taking on Portugal… USA – Sunday…

There is quite a bit of information to consider in how difficult this game will be – I’m not sure I’ll scratch the itch about everything but here’s some information I think has relevance for those who intend to watch the game this Sunday.

To begin…


The correlation of possession percentage to average points taken in the World cup after yesterday is (R2) .37 – in other words there is no real correlation between possessing the ball and winning – or for that matter drawing.

And maintaining possession wasn’t the issue against Ghana – it was lack of passing accuracy – and that led to poor possession.  So as others may ponder or offer that the US needs to add another midfielder in lieu of Altidore they may want to reconsider.  Perhaps if put this way it may be better understood…

The USA accuracy in passing against Ghana was 73% – fourth lowest of all teams in the World Cup.  Said differently; given the poor level of passing accuracy it is ACTUALLY better for the USMNT not to pass the ball more in the midfield – as more passes in the midfield – with a poor trend in passing accuracy – means more opportunity for the opponent to get a quick counter-attack that is more likely to result in a goal scored against.

A bit cynical but perhaps more accurate?!?


The formation that averaged the highest amount of possession percentage so far was the odd one labeled a 4-2-1-3; run by Croatia in their 4-nil thrashing of Cameroon.

Next up in the formation scheme with the highest possession percentage was the 5-3-2; which when in attack usually takes the form of a 3-5-2.  Both Mexico and Argentina have been very effective in that approach.

Third in the overall formation scheme is the 4-2-3-1 (also the most popular formation).  And, oddly enough, the amount of possession percentage that teams have had running that formation gets as high as 70% (for Nigeria) and as low as 29.75% (for Iran)

Another oddity is that the team most successful in running the 4-2-3-1 is Columbia; they have six points in two games – and their average possession percentage for those two games is 46.84%; again indicating that the 4-2-3-1 is not indicative of a game where midfield possession has value.

And the team with the most possession, in the 4-2-3-1, is Nigeria (70% possession) and they could only muster a draw against another team also running the 4-2-3-1; Iran.
If anything – this ‘formation’ is highly deceptive and it really doesn’t indicate – or even hint at meaning that the team running it will have more possession in the midfield.

The Diamond 4-4-2:  

So far three teams have employed this ‘formation’ and both Uruguay (game #2) and the USA (game #1) won their games with less than 38% possession.

In both cases – both teams were playing against other teams known for possession-based play in the 4-2-3-1  (Ghana and England).

So what about Chile, the other team to employ a Diamond 4-4-2; they ran that formation in game one against Australia and took three points while having 66% of the possession.

As for Portugal – they ran a 4-3-3; which – if you follow soccer pretty closely – is a very close cousin to the 4-2-3-1; a primary difference for some folks is whether or not the Head Coach wants to advertise playing a single pivot central defending midfielder or a double pivot central defending midfield pairing.

Viewed either way it usually means there is one true forward on the team and any number of multiple players who can act as a #10 or #8.

Bottom line here is that the formation that is publicized, prior to a game, really has no bearing on what style of approach a team might take.

An approach – keep it simple…  

The less some players have to think about on the pitch – the better.

In other words instincts built up over time (repetitive training) suggest Klinsmann will run Dempsey up top with another striker/forward; whether it’s Wondolowski or someone else really doesn’t matter.

The key is keeping it simple; if the player can afford to think less about positional play that opens the player up more to think about creating and using spaces (knowing) that his partner will be near-by — and vice versa.

The Midfield…

In looking at the first game it seemed pretty clear that the lone attacking midfielder (really) was Michael Bradley.

Bedoya added value in attack but his presence was more about defending the midfield and supporting the back – four; recall that the real wide right pressure actually came from Fabian Johnson and Graham Zusi after Ghana had equalized.

And remember a wee bit ago – Klinsmann wanted ‘game changers’ to be available on his bench – Zusi was a game changer; not a soldier…  if you run the game changers through the normal run of the game they get tired and can’t add that value when others are tired…

Next up was the tandem of Jones and Beckerman – the good thing here was both players are used to playing narrow and both players could rotate into a double pivot or, individually, control a single pivot system – flexibility….

And with Beasley, out wide left, and Johnson, out wide right, the speed of those fullbacks allowed Jones and Beckerman to drop deeper to clog the middle when Ghana had the ball.

The challenge, in all that, was dealing with crosses – as expected – in that narrow formation – Ghana offered up 38 crosses; with none of them ending up being an assist.

So what about Portugal?

In their game against Germany they offered up 21 crosses – and like Ghana – none of them ended up being an assist.

They have a stud up top named Ronaldo; all hands on deck for this guy – but perhaps the greatest danger he offers is his ability to create space for others.

A tighter back-four with support from the Midfield should help minimize those open spaces; but if the USA commits too many players behind the ball they, then, minimize their counter-attacking opportunities.

And lest it’s forgotten, that first goal against Ghana really came from a quick penetration (when the Ghana defense wasn’t set) – exactly the type of scenario you look for in a counter-attack out of the Midfield…

In closing…

Klinsmann will go with what he thinks best suits the scenarios he wants to work from in beating Portugal.

However viewed it is likely he goes with simple, strong and steady to start the game and then, flash-and-dash with perhaps some panache, to finish the game, depending on score-line.

For me that means two strikers starting the game – perhaps Wondolowski, this time, to pair with Dempsey?

More to follow…

Best, Chris


World Cup 2014 – Possession with Purpose – Nearly done with Round 1…

Draws – bollocks – teams are out to score goals – 43 of them so far – and there are still two games left in Round 1 of Stage 1 – but are the teams scoring the most goals really that dominant?

For many that’s a silly question but seriously – are there trends behind all those goals that might point to who’s advancing to the Finals and who isn’t?

I’ll look to try and answer that and a few others things – for now here’s my traditional Attacking PWP Index racking and stacking the teams against each other.


Attacking PWP - Stage 1 Round 1 World Cup 2014

Attacking PWP – Stage 1 Round 1 World Cup 2014

Netherlands is up near the top but the most comprehensive attacking display rests with Argentina – why?

  • 60% possession
  • 90% passing accuracy
  • 12 % penetration (patience)
  • 20% shots taken per penetration
  • 17% shots on goal
  • 100% goals scored per shot on goal

Others near the top are Chile, Germany,  and France – interesting that only the Netherlands had less than 50% possession – critical counterattacking and almost demonic in shooting – 71% of their shots taken were on goal  and 50% of those shots went in – no team, so far, has been more brutally perfect in having shots taken hit the target.

Oddly enough the next team who was best in their brutal precision were the United States – converting 50% of their shots taken into shots on goal – pure purpose in penetration – especially when both the USA and Netherlands had less than 38% of the possession.

As for the Germans – a Red Card taints their statistical outputs a wee bit but really – can anyone not expect them to win their group – the Yanks will have something to say about that but their critical game comes next against Portugal… sadly a team more likely to bow out given injuries and Pepe’s head butt.

As for the early World Cup doormats – well Iran and Hondurus really hold up the bottom – Iran had just 29.75% possession with 72% passing accuracy while Hondurus had a startling 28.71% possession with just 8.25% of their total possession within the French final third – can you say Détruit?

In looking at the overall correlation, after most teams have completed their first games, of Attacking PWP to Points is (R2) .79; pretty strong after just one game; how that holds up is hard to say but it’s reasonable to begin with.

Before moving on – a comparison, if you will, 19 of 28 teams have exceeded 80% in passing accuracy so far – in MLS just seven of 19 teams average greater than 80% passing accuracy.

So not only are the skill levels higher than MLS (as expected) but they are higher by at least one to two orders of magnitude – and that should have been evident in the USA win against Ghana.

All told the USA are 3rd worst in passing accuracy across the entire pitch; and in the bottom half when it comes to penetration per possession.

As noted by Alexi Lalas after the game – it was beautiful – and he’s right – given the considerable difference in skill levels between the USA and Ghana it really was beautiful to see the Americans win…  now – can Klinsmann get that to happen again?

In looking to answer my initial question…

I’d offer that a strong trend exists where teams who pass well – win… 28 events so far (14 games) and only four teams with passing accuracy greater than 84% have lost, Nigeria drew and the others, all nine, won…

Unlike the MLS, at least for now, the greater the number of shots taken means the greater number of shots on goal and goals scored – but by a slim margin – of the top 14 teams in shots taken per penetration just seven of them have gone on to win their first game.

But the best indicator is Shots on goal versus shots taken – 10 of the 14 teams who did that the best won their first game; one team drew and three teams lost – so passing accuracy is not the best indicator at this time but it clearly shows relevance…

In case you were wondering the top 14 teams in passing accuracy within the Final Third have won nine times and lost 5 times – slighlty less effective as an indicator but almost as strong as overall passing accuracy.

Perhaps ESPN begins to offer up more individual and team data on passing accuracy as these games continue?

Moving on to the defending side of the pitch…

There’s a hard line to draw here on the defending side of the pitch – are the great defending statistics more a reflection on how big the skill gap is between one team and another or is it down to a smothering approach that shuts down the opponent?

I’ll try to answer that question but first here’s the overall Defending PWP Index…

Defendind PWP Stage 1 Round 1 World Cup 2014

Defending PWP Stage 1 Round 1 World Cup 2014

Somewhat deceptive to say the least – Nigeria are best at the moment but their opponent was Iran?  I didn’t watch the game but rumor had it they simply didn’t belong; still they got one point and Portugal didn’t…

That said a different twist on this one – to put this into perspective I have filtered out all the teams that were below 85% in passing accuracy to try and guage the best of the best – so-to-speak.

When doing that there are just 12 teams who faced opponents with >85% passing accuracy; of those 12 teams the one with the lowest DPWP Index was Germany at 1.9898.

Next up were Argentina, Italy, and the Netherlands, every other team who faced an opponent who exceeded 85% in passing accuracy lost!  So for me the high water mark of a top team is one who faces an opponent with > 85% passing accuracy and wins…  Germany, Argentina, Italy and the Netherlands.

To begin to compare other teams by this Index, at this time, would be speculation – the only other notable piece of info I see of value is looking at the teams who ceded possession and still won.

Of the 14 teams that all fell below 50% in possession four of them won – the Netherlands, the United States, Costa Rica and Columbia…  Kudo’s should go to the defensive coordinators for those teams – at least for now!

In closing…

Here’s the Composite PWP Index after last night’s games:

Composite PWP Stage 1 Round 1 World Cup 2014

Composite PWP Stage 1 Round 1 World Cup 2014

As France sits atop the CPWP; Hondurus sits at the bottom – to say the least the French completely dominated Hondurus; to be blunt France more than doubled the output of Hondurus in every category, total passes (653 to 263), final third passes (190 to 47), shots taken (20 to 4), shots on goal (5 to 1) and goals scored (3 to 0)…

The Correlation of CPWP to Points (R2) so far .86; pretty strong – so we’ll see how well that holds up.

In considering early sleepers that many in the United States might overlook there is Chile, Columbia, Mexico, Ivory Coast, and Switzerland; still sleeping but ever dangerous are Brazil.

The odd ones out include England, Spain, Uruguay, and Portugal – wins in the second round of Stage 2 are must’s for those teams.

For me Bosnia-Herzegovina seems pretty dangerous as well.

I thought they played a very strong game against a very powerful Argentina – 85% passing accuracy, with roughly the same amount of penetration, speaks volumes for that team and given how poorly Nigeria played against Iran, it’s not unrealistic to see them progress out of the Group stages.

More to follow…

Best, Chris