Flow Motifs in Soccer: What can passing behavior tell us?

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Passing is the backbone of soccer and forms the basis of important decisions made by managers and owners; such as buying players, picking offensive or defensive strategies or even defining a style of play. These decisions can be supported by analyzing how a player performs and how his style affects team performance. The flow of a player or a team can be studied by finding unique passing motifs from the patterns in the subgraphs of a possession-passing network of soccer games. These flow motifs can be used to analyze individual players and teams based on the diversity and frequency of their involvement in different motifs. Building on the flow motif analyses, we introduce an expected goals model to measure the effectiveness of each style of play. We also make use of a novel way to represent motif data that is easy to understand and can be used to compare players, teams and seasons. Our data set has the last 4 seasons of 6 big European leagues with 8219 matches, 3532 unique players and 155 unique teams. We will use flow motifs to analyze different events, such as for example the transfer of Claudio Bravo to Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, who Jean Seri is and why he must be an elite midfielder and the difference in attacking style between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Ultimately, an analysis of Post-Fàbregas Arsenal is conducted wherein different techniques are combined to analyze the impact the acquisition of Mesut Özil and Alexis Sánchez had on the strategies implemented at Arsenal.

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