Compatriot Ravi Ramineni has put together another excellent meta-analysis of the data for Villarreal's 2011 season, specifically comparing the team's play in the final-third from 2011, an unequivocal disaster, to 2010, a tremendous success. He specifically breaks down the play of Borja Valero, Bruno Soriano, Marcos Senna, Giuseppe Rossi, Cani, and Marco Ruben in the final third, and I think you will agree that the status back up the results - playing more withdrawn, not getting forward, and avoiding the middle of the field in the final third, all works to equal a drop in goals, and ultimately, relegation.
Below is the first one-third or so of the article, with a link at the end to the rest of the piece, at OptaPro. This segment of the content is republished with the permission of the author, Ravi.
Villarreal had a disastrous 2011-12, ending in an agonizing relegation to the 2nddivision in the dying minutes of the season. In 2010-11 Villarreal reached the semifinals of the Europa League and finished 4th in La Liga to qualify for the Champions League. I focus on the performance of Villarreal in the attacking third of the pitch in 2011 and compare it with that of 2010.
- Compare performance in the attacking third in 2011-12 and 2010-11.
- Identify the possible causes for the decline in performance.
- Divided the final third into 6 zones based on histogram of passes.
- Visualize and compare the passing in the final third of the pitch in 2011 & 2010 seasons, by zone, position and individual players.
- In-game event data of all La Liga games of Villarreal in seasons 2010 and 2011 from OptaPro
Tools & techniques
- Hexagonal binning using R.
- Tableau Public
- Excluded the short passes of the short-corners near the corner flag area to get a granular picture of passing in all of the final third.
Figure - 1:Passing summary in the final third 2010-11 vs. 2011-12
The above diagram visualizes Villarreal's passing in the final third in 2010 & 2011 seasons.
- The size of the circle is based on the # of pass attempts made in that zone.
- The number in the middle of the circle is the # of pass attempts made in that zone.
- The color gradient is based on pass completion % in that zone.
- Passing completion % in the final third went down from 72.6% in 2010 to 69.6% in 2011.
- The pass completion % is significantly down in all the zones of the final third (except Z1).
- The penalty box(18y-box), the left wing (Z5) and the central zone (Z2) have seen the biggest drop in passing completion % (8.1%, 5.6% and 5.1% respectively)
- 21% - Drop in passes attempted in the central zone Z2.
- 7% - decline in pass completion in the central zone Z2.
- 22% - increase in the passes attempted in Z1.
Figure - 2:Hexbin of all completed passes in the final third of the 2010 and 2011 seasons.
Darker cells indicate more completed passes represented by the area of the cell. "Counts" legend gives the # of completed passes represented by each shade in the gradient.
- Villarreal attack appears more balanced in 2010 than in 2011.
- There is a huge 21% drop in # of passes attempted in the central zone Z2.
- The hypothesis is a combination of the following:
- Lack of penetration through the middle forcing the midfield players to pass it sideways early in the attack.
- No good alternate options to fill the gaps left by Cazorla (sold to Malaga) and Rossi (out injured for 4/5ths of the season).
There is a lot, lot more to this. While some of us may not be Moneyball-types, I think the data lays out a pretty good argument as to playing style - as you will see, our play in the final third moved way back, and off to the wings, giving up the middle of the final third in exchange for wingplay. The loss of Santi (and Rossi up front) played a big role in this, as you will see where things are broken down by individual players.