14 February 2011

Spin the Wheel

Every now and then, I stumble across an absolutely brilliant idea on someone else's website. When that happens, I usually steal it.

Last week, Dan from Aston Villa Central created what he called the "passing wheel," taking the Guardian Chalkboard passing data and re-plotting all the passes from a central point. It's utterly phenomenal.

As T.S. Eliot memorably wrote, "Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal." Don't bother looking up the second half of that quotation, by the way. Is it stealing if I give credit? Regardless, I wanted to use the idea to look at Lucas' body of work in Liverpool's last two matches.

What I like most about the diagram is how it highlights directionality. The myth about Lucas is that he's a player who plays the "safe" passes, playing sideways and backwards more often than not. These graphics help dispel that notion.

Out of the 103 passes attempted in both matches, 88 of them were played forward – 85%. 72% of Lucas' total attempted passes were both completed and went forward. Only 6 passes against Chelsea and 9 passes against Wigan were backwards and none were misplayed. 15 out of 103 attempts. So much for that myth.

Interestingly, the right side of sector 1 is almost wholly vacant against Chelsea. Johnson and Maxi were Lucas' most frequent targets, both playing on the left side of the field. Aurelio, predominantly left-footed, was also a recurring outlet when he came on a substitute for Maxi. Kelly received only three passes from Lucas in that match. Lucas, as with the rest of the side that day, clearly had a specific task, planned down to the last detail by Dalglish and Clarke. It wasn't so regimented against Wigan, with an almost similar total between left and right sides, but still a slight preference to the left.

To break it down further, into sectors 1a and 1b etc with A as the left and B as the right...

Lucas was necessarily more "adventurous" against Wigan – more passes into sector 1 than 2, the opposite of his statistics against Chelsea – but also had a higher incompletion rate. More laterally balanced, searching for some opening in Wigan's compressed defense, and more inclined to push play ahead, as Liverpool needed to be on the attack, especially after conceding an equalizer. As happened to the team all too often, it didn't quite come off, but the intent was there. As a whole, Liverpool disappointed yesterday; it's not the fault of any individual. Except maybe the linesman who completely missed Gohouri being offside.

I will probably return to this style of graphic in the future. Plotting each pass is somewhat labor-intensive; I've only had the chance to study Lucas so far, and only the last two matches. That he's the primary defensive midfielder and due to the aforementioned prevailing myth, I thought his play would be a good starting point.

All season long, Lucas has been converting nonbelievers. Long may it continue.

Edit: Here are the actual chalkboards from Chelsea and Wigan.


Anonymous said...

Innovative way to look at it. Very cool.

drew said...

This is a really excellent visualization and I'm betting it will be automated soon enough. Completely new way to think about the activity of a player over a match.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant Nate, great job and like you said, Lucas is changing the opinions of many through hard work and a fair bit of potential being converted into talent. We called him our wheel on LFCOffside a while ago, I like how that works with your piece.