Random Weekend Thoughts

We take what we can get here at blog headquarters while we wait for either the next big transfer confirmation or the start of the season (or at least that joyous day when we get to start picking our teams for next season). In the meantime, here are some thoughts from a weekend that included the Euro U21 final, the Gold Cup final and a very interesting discussion on Facebook combined with Jeremy taunting (or baiting) me with a link on Twitter.

Euro U21s
Thiago was the obvious big story with his audacious 2nd goal and general clever play. He has been the star of plenty of transfer rumors thus far this summer and rightly so. That said, I was equally intrigued by Swiss starlet Xherdan Shaqiri who plays for Basel. Shaqiri looked like the sort creative midfielder who could easily become a "next" for a team like Arsenal or Spurs who may find themselves without creative midfielders like Cesc or Modric in the very near future. The other thing I liked is that he seems to have a bit of attitude. Hey, maybe Liverpool will buy him to complete their set of creative midfielder purchases this summer.

Gold Cup
What can you say about the play of the Mexican attackers? They were very impressive. The immediate question that Mexico's 4th goal raises is why can't GDS do things like that for Spurs? An excellent question. If you have theories, please feel free to throw them out there. It isn't like Spurs are stacked with forwards who were scoring last season.

Other interesting Gold Cup notes - as the level of competition increased, Jones became less visible. Not sure how much I like him as anything more than an adequate holding midfielder in the Prem, maybe slightly below average when you take his poor judgment into account, he's a card machine. I also understand Villa's decision on Bradley. Yes he scored but the game of a box-to-box central midfielder has to be about possession and being smart with the ball and he continued to give the ball away in bad spots all tournament. He could still grow and improve but he's not ready. Finally, Lichaj looks like he's going to be good for Villa - he impressed me throughout the tournament.

Jeremy Baiting Me

This article about Luka Modric should start, "Dear @nealjthurman," http://bit.ly/mBSi83less than a minute ago via bitly Favorite Retweet Reply

Jeremy Tweeted me an article from Goal.com discussing Modric and why there is such a frenzy over him despite very little evidence of his production on the score sheet in the form of goals and assists. The article starts to delve into advanced statistical evaluations of players like passes completed and number of passes made. They said that he was, apologies to the guys from Swingers, the guy behind the guy behind the guy.

Combine this thought with a recent article on advanced statistical tools being used more and more frequently in the Prem by Simon Kuper recently and you could have a really interesting article giving credence to the valuations being put on Modric. Sadly, the Goal.com article didn't go far enough in qualifying Modric's passing with things like where on the field is he doing this passing, how effective is he in the final third, are the passes forward or do they tend to be sideways or backwards. I'll bet someone like Gilberto Silva made a lot of passes and completed a high percentage due to the way Arsenal played when he was starting but his passes would never be considered game-changing, just frequent and low-risk.

I'll admit that it probably difficult or expensive to get this data so I'll give the author a pass on those counts but he also didn't justify his assertion of Modric's value in the face of obviously measurable statistics by showing how Modric's presence catalyzed the Spurs attack. The theory being that if Modric isn't scoring or assisting at least he should be improving overall team output in terms of goals and assists that were credited to his teammates. Funny thing happened on the way to that analysis. In the two years before Modric's arrival Spurs scored 57 and 66 goals respectively. In the years since Modric arrived they've gone for 45, 67, and 55 goals. I admit that this is far from a perfect way to analyze his impact but last season's rather pedestrian output included the addition on an exceptional goal-scorer in VDV and the emergence of Bale as an attacking force. He also had the services of forwards who have been much more productive in the past in Defoe and Crouch. It isn't like Modric was saddled with a team with no history of scoring. They had essentially the same season without Modric the year before he arrived.

Again, I would like to stress that I can't afford the advanced data either so I'm not saying that I have proof that Modric is overvalued. I also don't have access to the regression studies that I'm sure are out there that link the things he's good at to success on the pitch in a way that traditional statistics don't. What I am saying is that you can go beyond goals and assists (or the lack thereof) and find evidence that Spurs are no better for Modric's presence than they were before he arrived. The big difference between Finishing 4th on 67 goals and in the Champions League spot in 2009-10 and in 11th on 66 goals in 2007-08 was the 20 fewer goals they gave up not any improved attacking efficiency or effectiveness. If you can convince me Modric had something to do with that (not entirely out of the question) then we have a basis for some conversation about him being among the best players in the league and worth what Chelsea and United seem willing to pay. Otherwise, we may have an early disaster in the advent of statistical analysis in football on our hands.

Let the nasty comments commence - I'll be very excited if there are some that shed new light on the topic rather than assuming this is just pro-Arsenal/anti-Spurs bias on my part.


  1. Anonymous3:13 PM

    With a player like Modric you have to say maybe the statistics aren't ready. Watch the game and you'll know he's class within a few minutes. He's a great test of the maturity of statistical analysis for that reason.

  2. DasBoot89:41 PM

    I'd be interested in seeing a comparison of the possession percentages before and after Modric's arrival. If Modric is able to positively influence the possession numbers in Tottenham's favor, you can make the argument that he does indeed play a role in their improved goals allowed ratio. This is all speculation, mind you, but I feel like that may be one possible reason for Spurs' recent successes. Thoughts?

  3. My theory involves no stats.
    He makes the people around him better. His vision and where he takes the ball, FORCES the players around him to be in that space to get the ball through.
    I think on a team like Spurs he's valuable (He leaves, they replace him with WHO, Jenas? Sandro? Peinaar?) You all cringed. I heard it.
    Put him on a Man City/Barcelona/Man United/Chelsea, probably won't do as well. as he won't be the fulcrum of the midfield

  4. Anonymous12:33 AM

    How about taking a look at the Women's World Cup?? It's just like the EPL in that Arsenal can't win it . . .

  5. Anonymous8:54 AM

    Do any of the stats factories keep team stats when a player is in the game versus out? I'm thinking of the NBA playoffs this year, when the analysts would give you points differential for when a certain player was on the bench. I know there is less substitution in football, but I'm sure there was at least enough minutes played w/o Modric to get a read on things like goal differential and time of possesion with and without him. Should be more helpful comparing within the same year as opposed to one year to the next.

  6. Anonymous10:16 AM

    if he added goals to his game he'd be as good as fabregas but only seems to get 5 goals a season. you have bare in mind though, when comparing him to players like fabregas, iniesta, silva, etc. that he does not play as far up the field as them, he often plays as a controlling holding midfielder who takes the ball off the defense and is much further away from the attacking third. also in terms of assists he doesn't take corners or indirect free kicks for tottenham to boost his assists or direct free kicks or penalties to boost his goals tally like someone like fabregas.

  7. I guess the point of statistical analysis as a relevant part of player analysis is that sometimes our eyes betray us. Modric LOOKS like he's quality as the first comment indicates but sometimes looking the part to the naked eye doesn't tell the story.

    I like the idea that his ability to retain possession may help reduce opportunities (and thus goals) for the opposition.

    As for whether he makes his teammates better as @Owen suggests, if that were true than why aren't Spurs scoring more goals with better players plus Modric "making them better" since his arrival? There should be some evidence for "making them better" and I just don't see it.

    I also like the idea of "plus/minus rating" based on when a player is in the match vs. not in the match. I haven't seen anything like that but I'm sure the more advanced clubs have that at their disposal. Would love to get a look.