Author Archives: Mark Thompson

One Man, One Game: Paolo Maldini (vs Brazil, 1994 World Cup Final)

If you know what you’re looking for, there’s a lot you can tell about a player from a single game of football (crucially, if you know what you’re looking for, you also know what you *haven’t* learned about a player from a single game as well). In the hopefully regular ‘One man, One game’ feature, I do just that.

It is said that if a defender comes off the pitch with dirty shorts, then they’ve not done their job well enough. Paolo Maldini himself once (according to legend, at least) said that ‘If I have to make a tackle then I have already made a mistake’. Building, or bastardised, from this is the mythos surrounding Maldini and his supposed lack of tackles made.

It is worth noting that in some places in Europe, ‘tackle’ means slide tackling alone. Even so, Maldini – a young 26-years-old on the day of this World Cup Final – clearly had a bad game by his own words, because he made four or so things which could reasonably be called slide tackles. But merely pointing that out isn’t actual analysis (and it should be said that blindly deeming slide tackles ‘bad’ is, in itself, bad anyway).

Maldini started the game at centre-back, though moved to left-back late on in the first half when Luigi Apollino came on for Roberto Mussi. And though I joked about him having a bad game because of the amount of slide tackles he made, Maldini genuinely didn’t look comfortable at times.

This wasn’t because Brazil were overwhelming the Italy back-line though, despite Brazil’s amount of possession – the Brazilians struggled to break through Italy’s forward and midfield lines for long spells of the match. Continue reading

One Man, One Game: Granit Xhaka (vs Tottenham, 30/04/2017)

If you know what you’re looking for, there’s a lot you can tell about a player from a single game of football (crucially, if you know what you’re looking for, you also know what you *haven’t* learned about a player from a single game as well). In the hopefully regular ‘One man, One game’ feature, I do just that.

This week’s One Man, One Game takes on something of a departure, both similar and dissimilar to the recent Guardiola-esque experiment with Jose Gimenez. Similar in that Granit Xhaka is not a centre-back, dissimilar in that I’m not even interested in Xhaka being a centre-back. This is all about the stone-cold* midfield enforcer** himself.

*(Granit, geddit); **(funny because it isn’t true) Continue reading

Pilot: The ETNAR football podcast (David Luiz and the mythic 7-1 match), and why it exists

I’ll stick the embedded pod here, and then proceed to explain a bit of backstory below that, as that’s the less important bit.

If there’s one thread of the football stuff I do, it’s probably ‘hey, can this thing be done? No-one else seems to be doing it, or at least not like this. I think I can do it’. From that you get your: focus on centre-back and other defensive stats; centre-back eye-test analysis; making genuinely useful statistical and tactical analyses something people can enjoy reading; video analysis and *good* player highlight reels; obsession with making match reports relevant in the age of Twitter.

And, the latest question, ‘can you do meaningful analysis of a player’s game in audio form?’. Logic says no. People like the video analyses for a reason, and different things occupy different mediums for a reason. Some stuff is easier to understand visually, some verbally. But I listen to a lot of podcasts and, well, I’ve done video and done written word stuff. ‘The Pod’ is still a land left to conquer. So, yeah.

Have a listen. If you enjoy it, please share it as it took several hours longer than I was expecting it to (like with many of these things I listed having done above; fun story, I originally chose centre-back stats to focus on because I thought they would be easy). If you’ve got feedback, feel free to throw it my way too.

One Man, One Game: Miguel Britos (vs Southampton, 04/03/2017)

If you know what you’re looking for, there’s a lot you can tell about a player from a single game of football (crucially, if you know what you’re looking for, you also know what you *haven’t* learned about a player from a single game as well). In the hopefully regular ‘One man, One game’ feature, I do just that.

You may think Miguel Britos is a weird choice for a player to focus on, but it was a request from one of my Carles Puyol tier Patrons. This isn’t to pass the buck. It’s to say that if there’s someone that you’d like featured, you can back the Patreon at $5+ a month and your suggestions will take priority, as well as access to other features like the exclusive thoughts on the Patreon blog.

Given all of the relatively obscure centre-backs that could have been suggested, I was also pretty happy to look at Britos. Watford’s centre-back situation has interested me pretty much since they’ve been back in the Premier League, as all of them seem to vacillate quite strongly between performing well and performing badly. It was a pleasure to have an excuse to look at one of them in more depth. Continue reading

One Man, One Game: José Giménez (vs Athletic Club, 22 January 2017, RCB, no. 24)

If you know what you’re looking for, there’s a lot you can tell about a player from a single game of football (crucially, if you know what you’re looking for, you also know what you *haven’t* learned about a player from a single game as well). In the hopefully regular ‘One man, One game’ feature, I do just that. If you enjoy this, please consider backing my Patreon to enable more of this work to be made.

Part 2

Last week, in Part 1, I watched a game of Giménez playing at right-back, with a view to seeing what skills on show there might translate to playing at centre-back. To cut a medium-length article short, there wasn’t a lot on the core skills of positioning, awareness, and physical attributes to go on, although there was an indication that Giménez struggled to accelerate on the turn.

The question for this week is whether this transfers to his play at centre-back, and what else we can tell about his game from watching him play again, this time in his preferred position. Continue reading

One Man, One Game: José Giménez (Atlético Madrid vs Real Madrid, 10 May 2017)

If you know what you’re looking for, there’s a lot you can tell about a player from a single game of football (crucially, if you know what you’re looking for, you also know what you *haven’t* learned about a player from a single game as well). In the hopefully regular ‘One man, One game’ feature, I do just that. If you enjoy this, please consider backing my Patreon to enable more of this work to be made.

Part One.

Giménez is one of that awkward bunch of nominal centre-backs: those who get shunted around the pitch into different positions because they’re young, and good but not too good, and malleable. England has a recent tradition of this. Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Calum Chambers, and Eric Dier are just the first defensive player names to spring to mind.

Evaluating centre-backs playing at centre-back is one thing; evaluating how people playing in other positions might fare at centre-back is something else. This week, I’m going to watch a game of Giménez playing at right-back and next week, a game at centre-back. What skills or features of his game will transfer, or not, from right- to centre-back? Continue reading

Width is underrated, or why some counter-attacks work better than others

This’ll be quick, and for the first few sentences I’m going to engage in a sin of journalism (not that this is strictly journalism) and use first person pronouns. Forgive me.

About the time that I started to hear about the world ‘halfspace’ – or perhaps it was about the time that I’d learned from stats Twitter how inefficient crosses can be – I noticed that Arsenal were avoiding the wings like they used to avoid 5th place. If anything, it was a little too much. But anyway.

Then plucky youngderdogs Monaco came along with their fiery brand of dagger-plunging counter-attacks. What made them overperform their Expected Goals tally by so much? Was it (as it seemed likely) linked to their efficacy on counter-attacks, and what made those counter-attacks so effective? Continue reading