Wednesday 2 October 2019

Passing Risk Reward in the Premier League

The availability of richer data sources has naturally led to an interest in passing and ball progression.

The generally quoted passing metrics still gravitate towards event data such as goal attempts and actual scores as the major framework.

Passes that lead to a potential goal scoring attempt predominate in most current passing metrics and little has been done to differentiate between the contribution made by individual players involved in these possession chains.

In contrast, we've broken down the value of each pass attempted by referencing how likely a possession anywhere on the pitch has historically led to a goal, whether or not the possession ultimately result in an attempt on goal.

This so called non shot xG metric not only allows a route to value every ball progression, be it a pass or a carry, but also quantifies individual involvement, rather than sharing the credit equally between all those participating in the possession.

However, as often is the case in football metrics, only one side of the ball has been investigated.

Each pass attempt comes with a risk and reward.

The player attempting the pass has custody of a valuable team resource, namely the non shot xG value for possession of the ball at that precise position on the field.

The potential reward in making a progressive pass is to advance the ball to a more dangerous area of the field.

And the ever present risk is the cost of a turnover. The passing team lose the NS xG value they had by owning the ball and the opponents gain their own NS xG by taking possession of the ball.

Weighing a player's NS xG leger is problematical, but one way to express the risk reward balance of a players passing performance is to add up the NS xG value of every progressive pass they complete and compare this to the sum of the NS xG he loses through incomplete passes, along with the NS xG gained by the opponent taking possession of his errant attempts.

For example, in the nascent Premier League, Matteo Guendouzi's completed open play progressive passes have been received at areas on the field that totals 6.69 NS xG.

On the minus side, his picked off pass attempts has "lost" Arsenal 1.67 N xG. This is made up of loss of pitch position for Arsenal and the combined NS xG value for the opponent based on where possession is won.

Overall, and without regard for pass volume or minutes played, Guendouzi has a net positive 5.02 NS xG for Arsenal in 2019/10.

This puts him top of the Arsenal "risk/reward" passing charts and we feel is a much better single figure metric to describe a player's involvement in progressing his side towards the opponents goal.

Not only does it quantify individual involvement and utilses every pass attempted, it also penalises reckless or sloppy execution that leads to change of possession.

Here's the current pass risk/reward numbers for all 20 Premier League players with a minimum number of attempts.

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