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There’s also international tournaments to get your head around every year, and continental tournaments like the Champions League and… okay, I’ll stop now.
But another thing that’s hard to wrap your head around with soccer is what exactly makes a player or prospect good?
Soccer is probably the most challenging sport to follow statically. There isn’t a nightly box score that you can get a basic idea of what happened and who played well. And yeah, we can keep track of goals and assists, but that doesn’t tell the full story.
This is especially true when looking for card prospects. Although, there’s an extra thing to consider when checking out card prospects. Often, what makes a player an excellent card prospect isn’t always what makes their team great. It’s the same in any sport; Nobody cares about the offensive lineman’s card; it’s the Quarterback that gets the hobby love.
A big part of what I do at the Soccer Cards Rock Newsletter (check it here) is breaking down the numbers and prospects to give some added insight to collectors and investors. In this article, I will go through my normal writing process and show you two statistics that I like to use to get my head around which prospects are worth keeping an eye on.
What Makes an Attacker Good?
That’s the million-dollar question isn’t it… There are plenty of different types of attacking players, and what you want to find will depend a lot on how you search. For example, suppose you’re looking to find an effective striker who projects to score a lot of goals: you might try to look for things like expected goals (how many goals would a striker be expected to score from the positions they shoot from), and their performance against their expected goals.
However, for this article, we’ll look at two stats that try and find versatile attacking prospects. The ones who offer a bit of everything. To do that, the two statistics that I like to use to get a basic understanding are successful attacking actions and touches in the box. Below we’ll look through them both.
Successful Attacking Actions
A successful attacking action is one of three things:
- A shot
- A successful dribble
- A successful cross
So, basically, we’re looking at the amount of times a player either shoots, dribbles, or crosses.
This isn’t a perfect statistic. For example, it doesn’t favor players like Kevin De Bryne and other centrally positioned pass-first players. To combat that, I’ve toyed with adding other passing metrics into this number, but it’s gotten too bloated – sometimes the juice isn’t worth the squeeze.
If all you want is a simple telling of a player’s attacking powers around the ground, then successful attacking actions is an excellent place to start. Also, dribbles, crosses, and shots are pretty easy stats to find compared to advanced passing statistics – so it makes the numbers far more accessible.
Touches In The Box
The two main stats that put a player in the spotlight, and more often than not, increases their card prices are goals and assists. However, there are so many different variables that lead to a goal or an assist. You’re often measuring the result and not the process behind it – which isn’t ideal when predicting future patterns.
Then, when you consider that there aren’t too many goals or assists in a match, you can be working with really small sample sizes.
I’ve mentioned expected goals and expected assists earlier in the article, and they’re good statistics to use. They’re also pretty easy to wrap your head around – it’s basically the percentage of a goal being scored from a certain position. The better the goal-scoring position, the better the xG.
However, I like to go one step back from there and look at how many touches a player gets in the opponent’s penalty box.
So much of a shot’s expected goal value comes from its proximity to the goal. To take the example to the extremes, a wonder strike from 25 meters out looks great, but it’s also got a very low expected goal value – and therefore not too replicable. A tap in at the far post, on the other hand, doesn’t turn many heads but is about as safe a shot as you can take on the field.
To cut a long story short, the more a player touches the ball in their attacking penalty box, the more likely they are to do one of these things:
- Get a shot from a position with a high expected goal value
- Pass to someone that’s in a good position to shoot
- Try to cross, or cut-back the ball for a teammate
All of those are golden for collectors and investors like us.
TRENDING SOCCER CARDS ON EBAY
Example: Prospects in the Top 5 European Leagues Over The Last Calendar Year
I like to use these numbers together to find attacking players that do a bit of everything. The successful attacking actions give a bit of an insight into the impact a player has around the ground, whereas touches in the box look at how often a player gets the ball at a dangerous position.
To give a bit of an example at these numbers in action, I’ve taken a sample of the players aged 25 and under from the top five European leagues (England, Italy, Spain, France, Germany) and compared their numbers over the last calendar year.
I’ve also looked at numbers per 90 minutes to give a per-match view instead of a total view. For example, some great players have missed some time with injury over the past year, so I didn’t want to punish them for that.
To make the graph a little easier to read, I’ve eliminated a few players by adding the following parameters:
- At least 2.5 attacking actions per 90 minutes, to find players that are least doing a few handy things every game.
- At least 0.3 expected goals per 90 minutes, to get rid of players who don’t get in scoring positions.
- Someone who has played at least 1500 minutes, to eliminate players with super small sample sizes
Before we jump into the numbers though, it’s important to know a few things:
- While this is a calendar year, it’s a COVID year, so it’s a bit unique
- Yes, this is the top five European leagues, but they’re not all created equal. Some teams have easier games than others
- These numbers are accurate at the time of writing, and not the time of publication. They will probably change a little by the time you read this, but it’s still more than good enough.
But, with all that in mind, here is what we come up with.
As you can see, there’s a few players that stand out. The first, and most obvious name that jumps out is Mbappe. Which makes sense considering the following:
- His club are easily the best team in France
- He’s their go-to attacker
- He is really good
Still, those numbers are pretty extraordinary. There’s a reason he’s the hottest prospect on the planet.
To break a graph like this a little bit more, I also think there’s value in splitting it into four quadrants. To do that, I took all the attacking players from the top five European leagues (not just the ones in the first graph) and found the median, or middle number, for both statistics:
- The players in the green box are above median in both successful attacking actions and touches in the box
- The players in the yellow box are above median in touches in the box, but below in successful attacking actions
- The players in the purple box are above median in successful attacking actions but below in touches in the box
- Players in the red are below median in both: As you’ll see, there are no players in the red zone. I’m assuming because of the parameters I put on the graph at the beginning.
Breaking the graph down like this, we get a few takeaways:
- Players like Matheus Cunha and Joao Felix are getting great numbers around the ground, but not enough touches in the box. However, both have picked up on that this season and are trending upwards.
- Erling Haaland gets a lot of touches in the box, and when you look at his numbers in line with his goalscoring, he’s hyper-efficient in front of goal
- Gabriel Jesus, Timo Werner, and Lautaro Martinez have offered more around the ground in the past year than many give them credit for. They’re all well above the median in both statistics
- Harvey Barnes is a surprising addition to this list for many, he gets overlooked quite a bit
- Marcus Thuram is another that’s often overlooked but an absolute darling with the numbers. He’s a guy I really like a lot.
Already, with a graph like this, we can narrow the list of thousands of soccer players around the world and find some young players that may be worth keeping an eye on over the next few months and seeing how they improve and if they’re worth investing in.
Soccer Cards can be tricky for beginners. However, knowing the right things to look for can do a world of good and make your job a little easier. If you’d like to know more about these numbers and how they relate to soccer cards, you can follow along with the Soccer Cards Rock newsletter.
Excellent article with some key points to look at that may help you make good decisions or find a young prospect before the market does. If you are a soccer card investor and have developed tools or processes that help in the process and would like to share, we would love to hear from you!
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