My 2020 Year in Football Analytics
2020 despite everything else that happened was my year of introducing myself to the analysis of football/soccer data. It began almost exactly in the first part of the year (sometime in January and February) and ended much more broadly than it began (history and fantasy). It has become a real passion for me. So I thought I would compile a list of my top reads and listens for this year. It could also serve as a guide to anyone looking into getting started with Football Analytics. In addition to analyzing tracking and event data, I found the fantasy sports to be an outlet to try to other types of statistical analyses, so the lists include information on that topic as well.
Top 5 Books
- Soccermatics: Mathematical Adventures in the Beautiful Game by David Sumpter — the book that started it off for me. As I turned every page I kept saying to myself, “but I use those tools [voronoi diagrams]” and “I do that all the time [network analysis].” It kicked off “I already have the tools, how can I better understand soccer.” Probably the one book in this list that gives some how to.
- Football Hackers: The Science and Art of a Data Revolution by Christoph Biermann. I really enjoyed this book as it gives an overview of Football Analytics, but from a more continental perspective. It gives some of the more recent thinking on the topic. I put this higher on the list than similar books, because I believe it is the most recent book on the topic and has a “state of the industry” feel.
- The Nowhere Men: The Unknown Story of Football’s True Talent Spotters by Michael Calvin. I think this should be required reading for anyone interested in Football Analytics. It was written during a similar time period as the Numbers Game (number 5), but you get to see the moneyball revolution from the perspective of traditional scouting methods. It also gives a lot of information on what scouts look for and how they write their reports. More importantly I think it humanizes a lot of things: the cost of the move to digital scouting techniques, and the human elements of players and coaches.
- The European Game: The Secrets of European Football Success The Secrets of European Football Success by Dan Fieldsend. Not a soccer analytics focused book, but does include many sections on the topic as well as the advent of exercise science methods in soccer. Gives a really nice tour of European soccer leagues and some of the rivalries. Hopefully a new edition will come out eventually.
- The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Soccer Is Wrong by Christ Anderson and David Sally. I include this book because I think it is important for anyone interested in this topic, but I read it after Football Hackers and Soccermatics, so it was fairly repetitive of those books (it came out first though). It also came out 7 years ago, and analytic tools have changed. Hopefully, they’ll write a second edition at some point.
Top 5 Podcasts
- Football Fanalytics Podcast -This seems to be a new entry and I even came to it late. Fun all around podcast and really well produced. They feature different problems in soccer and the statistical tools used to analyze them. Well worth going back over the previous episodes.
- Steilcast — Okay, not really an analytics podcast, but fun to listen to if you are interested in the Bundesliga.
- The Tifo Football Podcast — This has great interviews and discussions about tactics. It is mostly about the English Premier League, but do go over other areas of interest.
- The 59th Minute FPL Podcast — Focus on Fantasy Premier League, and gives interesting tips. Short and to the point.
- I couldn’t pick one final one for the 5th spot, so I’ll list out some others. These tend to be updated irregularly, so I don’t listen all the time. American Soccer Analysis (hopefully they will return in 2021 after a long hiatus), Measureables Podcast (interviews across many different sports), StatsBomb (yes that data company), and Open Source Sports (in-depth interviews with authors of sports analytics papers and presentations).
Top 3 Youtube
- Perhaps the most important of this year is Friends of Tracking. There is so much content here, I’m still working my way through it. Just an amazing resource, and very thankful they spent their time to post all these lessons and interviews. Go, watch, now.
- Tifo Football — Similar to the podcast, but with visuals. A lot of short informative videos about the history of the game, and tactical breakdowns. If you are confused about a term (as I was many times), they likely have an explanatory video on it.
- Let’s Talk FPL — Where I go when I need to get up-to-date on the coming matchweek’s information.
There are other Youtube channels, but Friends of Tracking really does cover so much.
Top Data Sources
Funnily enough, the data sources for analyzing Soccer came rolling in during 2020, thanks in large part to Friends of Tracking. In no real ranking order…
- StatsBomb — I picked this first, because it was the first one I used. It is event based data, but very detailed. They include xG in the shot data, and so you can compare your own xG model’s results to theirs.
- MetricaSports — I really like this dataset. It is the most complete open tracking data that I have seen. It includes an event dataset that helps you align tracking data with the event. Easy to work with too.
- WyScout — Similar to StatsBomb but for different leagues across Europe. Missing some information like who the pass event went to for example, but a good event-based dataset.
- SkillCorner — I haven’t worked with this data, but it is tracking data derived from video footage. It seems to be another good source of data, but you are limited to which players are on screen at that time. I don’t believe there is an event dataset with it.
- LastRow — Similar to SkillCorner, but for a handful of goals scored by LiverPool. Good dataset for coming to terms with creating videos, working with tools like pitch control, or calculating simple metrics like velocity.
- And just because I can, my python library will load most of these datasets into a dataframe for you (ssalib).