Monday, 27 May 2013

Is football really a simple game?! The hidden networks behind Bayern's success!

The infographic was created by Avalanche. CLICK FOR FULL SIZE

With the power of network visualization, dynamics of football games can be understood better than ever. Maven7’s analyst team is a huge fan of sports (check out our last analysis about the chances of the Hungarian water-polo team at London Olympics), especially football. 

As everybody knows it, "football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win". So then why do so many people admire this simple form of entertainment? Why do dozens of analysts try to predict who will win a certain game or championship? Why is betting a huge business? The answer is as simple as football, because this game is not simple at all! Behind every pass, attack and goal, human dynamics have a strong impact. Network Analysis can give a new approach to understanding team dynamics during football games. 

Our recent infographic shows the hidden networks of two finalists of Champions League’s 2013. Let’s face the big question; can network science provide the answer why Bayern won and not Dortmund? 

If you look at the pictures, similarities and differences are easily noticeable. Network structures and patterns resemble each other because of the same line-up structure. Two defenders (greens) had strong mutual pass connections at both teams, but Dortmund focused on the right and Bayern on the left back. Teams have preferred defensive midfielders - Schweinsteiger and Gündogan, they were the top choice to pass to in midfield. OK, so both teams are German and both have same line-ups, but what isthe difference then?

Why did Bayern win?

Dortmund’s midfielder, Reus was the preferred player to pass to from the attacking midfielders. The penalty that Dortmund received also came from a situation after a pass to Reus. 

At the attacking midfield, Bayern is more active on the wings, and their whole network is not that centralized as Dortmund’s. Bayern’s midfield played in a better cooperation; their network shows more mutual connections, and Ribery’s supportive role on the left wing makes the whole attacking part very successful. Unfortunately, Dortmund’s attacking midfield has no mutual connection, and the whole midfield has only one as well. In comparison; Bayern’s attacking midfield has mutual connection between Robben and Ribery, and the midfield also has 3 mutual connections (Schweinsteiger - Ribery, Müller – Robben, Ribery – Martinez), which may show stronger cohesion in the midfield. 

Also, the midfield players’ performance of the two teams indicates their teams’ performance. Schweinsteiger played and passed more actively and punctual (87 tries, 73 times successful – 84%) than Gündonan (56 tries, 31 times successful – 62%), and while Bayern had altogether 640 passes and their efficiency was 72%, Dortmund had only 448 passes with 60% efficiency. 

An interesting fact is, that those attacks, which started from the goalkeeper, are more likely happening by the players of Dortmund. In general, Dortmund’s defense played a more attacking role; while Dante passed mostly to the back, Boateng passed to the front.