Monday, May 26, 2014

France shoots itself in the foot by omitting Nasri

Samir Nasri is not going to the World Cup. Given his foibles with the French national team, this was not exactly a surprise, but it’s a stupid decision nonetheless. Ryan O’Hanlon recently wrote a terrific piece on Samir Nasri for Grantland, highlighting his talent for retaining possession while still creating chances for his teammates.

It’s tough to quantify the benefit of someone who’s so careful with the ball so high up the field. And yet he was second on the team (obviously) to Silva in key passes per game, with 2.7. Across the league, among all players who completed 90 percent of their passes, no one else created more than one chance per game. Nasri steadied the rollicking death train that was often Manchester City in possession, but also accelerated it forward.

Tough to quantify, eh? Challenge accepted! Let’s start by saying the metrics O’Hanlon used are pretty flawed. Using passing percentage to approximate ball control has its problems, potentially inflating a player’s totals due to making easy, short passes (Javi Garcia has a 91% passing percentage after all).  And using per game statistics doesn’t account for the minutes each player played. The best measure of a player’s creativity, as I’ve argued before, is how many chances he creates for each time he turns the ball over to the other team. Think of each attempted defense-splitting pass as a risk. It can be successful and lead to a chance on goal, or it can be intercepted by the defense and lead to a counter-attack. Those players that consistently provide that successful final ball, as Nasri has done this year, are going to be much more valuable than those who hit and hope. As this is a ratio rather than a counting stat, we can compare players much more easily without having to worry about the number of games they played.

Unfortunately, nowhere really measures turnovers yet, so I have developed the following proxy (all data from

Chances Created/Turnover Proxy = Key Passes/(Unsuccessful Passes + Unsuccessful Take-Ons)

As you can see, this helps account for times the player lost the ball in possession as well as the times he misplaced a pass. I’ve looked at all midfielders with over 1000 minutes played and over 20 key passes in the Premier League this year and placed their results in the table below.

Name Chances Created vs Turnovers
Dorrans 0.37
Willian 0.37
Nasri 0.34
Mata 0.34
Mirallas 0.34
Silva 0.32
Assaidi 0.31
Jesus Navas 0.30
Downing 0.29
Ozil 0.28
Eriksen 0.27
Adam Johnson 0.27
Jarvis 0.26
Dembele 0.26
Sessegnon 0.26
Kacaniklic 0.26
Larsson 0.25
Ward-Prowse 0.24
Ki Sung-Yueng 0.24
Westwood 0.23
Snodgrass 0.22
Lallana 0.22
Townsend 0.22
De Guzman 0.22
Chadli 0.22
Whittingham 0.21
Sissoko 0.21
Giaccherini 0.21
Ireland 0.21
Lennon 0.21
Amalfitano 0.21
Sterling 0.21
Ben Arfa 0.20
Boyd 0.19
Bannan 0.19
Cazorla 0.19
Cabaye 0.19
Henderson 0.19
Oscar 0.19
Puncheon 0.18
Fernandinho 0.18
Januzaj 0.18
Holtby 0.18
Milner 0.17
Rosicky 0.17
Coutinho 0.17
Davis 0.17
Gerrard 0.17
Nolan 0.17
Lampard 0.17
McCarthy 0.17
Pienaar 0.16
Anita 0.16
Sigurdsson 0.16
Noble 0.16
Allen 0.16
Colback 0.16
Whelan 0.16
Dejagah 0.16
Redmond 0.15
Huddlestone 0.15
Routledge 0.14
James Morrison 0.14
Fer 0.14
Nathan Dyer 0.14
Shelvey 0.14
El Ahmadi 0.14
Schneiderlin 0.13
Kim Bo-Kyung 0.13
Brunt 0.13
Ashley Young 0.13
Wilshere 0.13
Barry 0.13
Noone 0.13
Kagawa 0.13
Tettey 0.13
Matic 0.12
Valencia 0.12
Yaya Toure 0.12
Pablo Hernandez 0.12
Carrick 0.12
Ramires 0.11
Adam 0.11
Arteta 0.11
Nzonzi 0.11
Osman 0.11
Mikel 0.11
Barkley 0.11
Kasami 0.11
Koren 0.11
Livermore 0.10
Javi Garcia 0.10
Howson 0.10
Gunnarsson 0.10
Kieran Richardson 0.10
Bolasie 0.10
Leiva 0.10
Mutch 0.10
Ledley 0.10
Ravel Morrison 0.09
Delph 0.09
Paulinho 0.09
Diame 0.09
Ramsey 0.09
Scott Parker 0.09
Dikgacoi 0.09
Cleverley 0.08
Cattermole 0.08
Tiote 0.08
Bentaleb 0.08
Cork 0.07
Sidwell 0.07
Yacob 0.07
Flamini 0.07
Meyler 0.07
Jedinak 0.07
Elmohamady 0.07
Bradley Johnson 0.06
Calum Chambers 0.06
Mulumbu 0.06
Fellaini 0.06
Britton 0.05
Matt Taylor 0.05
Wanyama 0.04
Medel 0.03
Bacuna 0.03
Canas 0.02

As you can see, Nasri is third in the league by this metric behind Graham Dorrans (whose result should be taken with a grain of salt due to the smaller sample size, he played just over 1000 minutes) and Willian. Mata, Silva, Kevin Mirallas, Jesus Navas, and Mesut Ozil are all high up on the leaderboard as well. With three midfielders high up the board, it’s no wonder that Manchester City were such a potent attacking force this year.

And that is what France are missing out on: a potent attacking force. If you look at total chances per turnover (expressed as (SOG + Key Passes) / (Unsuccessful Passes + Unsuccessful Take-Ons)), Nasri looks even better, ranking #2 behind Mirallas. He is one of the best attacking midfielders in England and would improve any squad. Leaving your best players out of the squad is no way to win a World Cup.