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Analytical Musings: Deeper look at Creativity and Great Players

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Wherein we discover that Eden Hazard is probably having his best season yet!

Chelsea v West Bromwich Albion - Premier League 2017/18 Photo by Kieran Galvin/NurPhoto via Getty Images

This is a follow-up to ‘Being creative with the football’, which began our exploration of the relationship between dribbling, key passes, goals and assists (i.e. things that Eden Hazard is good at). One of the requests in the comments of that article was to take a look at Eden Hazard not just this year, but in other years as well.

That should be interesting, but not interesting enough. What’s better than data on one player? Data on a few players! We can thus look at Hazard’s trajectory over the years AND compare him to other players, too.

To further evolve the discussion, let’s add a layer of complexity to the data as well. Let’s include ‘shots on target’.

I picked three other players to compare to Eden. They are the obvious choices, the three players everyone talks about all the time:

  • Cristiano Ronaldo (CR7)
  • Lionel Messi
  • Neymar

Each and every one of them is the ‘vital cog’ type player. Even when Neymar was with Messi at Barca, he was still that type of player. These players also score a LOT of goals — that thing we keep wishing Eden would do more of. So the minor evolution I made with the data set was instead of just looking at Key Passes vs Dribbles, I wanted to look at a tangible end product as well, namely Shots-on-target. The former two can be lumped together into a “Creativity” category, while the latter can be a good indicator of scoring goals. There is some overlap, probably — you can dribble to create a shot for yourself instead of creating space or transitioning, for example — but we’re going to keep them separate for this exercise.

So, this should give us a look at a player’s creativity in terms of generating space and chances versus actually taking shots. And of course, normalized to minutes, as in Minutes Per XYZ.

For historical data, Whoscored.com only provides data back to 2009-10, so that’s how far back I went, and that works really well for Eden anyway. I grabbed the same years for both Messi and CR7, which is their prime years to now, and for Neymar, I used his European career (13/14 to now).

Mapping these out in a scatter plot allows us to draw a few conclusions.

  • FIrst, Eden used to never really shoot enough.
  • Second, CR7 shoots too much. But he’s also stopped passing. Since Zidane took over, the play no longer goes through him. you can literally almost draw a straight line through his dots, as the years went on, with a very odd anomaly for last season. He was hurt, I believe, which probably contributed.
  • Third, while the Y axis does have a large spread, due to Eden’s early years of not shooting much, his current season has him MUCH closer to where Messi and Neymar live.

Technically, no one lives where Messi lives. He’s on the mountaintop, and everyone else is still putting their gear on to climb. But Neymar’s not too far away, and actually creating more, as is Eden this year. But they don’t shoot nearly as much.

You can see that Eden’s early years, and our bad season (2015-16) are easily his worst in terms of shooting frequency, although 2014-15 and 2012-13 aren’t very high either.

The short version is that it’s good to see Eden behaving more like the top players are, even if the goals and assists aren’t there yet. The right things are happening, and we just need to get the team around him to execute better.

Here’s the data that’s driving the chart above:

This one is a bit short and sweet, but I’m going to try to make more of these types of articles and if you all like them, fantastic, and if not, I’m sure you you will tell me in the comments, and hopefully steer me towards something else you’d prefer.

I’ve got several ideas queued up already, it’s more a matter of time to put things together (not too much, but a focused block) and making sure I’m not being too lazy or simple about things. As always, feedback is welcome and anticipated!