Category Archives: Euro 2012

PDO analysis of the elimination of Poland and Russia

In a short term competition such as the main tournament of any international championship, luck may be more important to have on board than skill. Arguably, one can’t arrange for luck to be on one’s side, while for skill certain arrangements can be made. Think of player selection, formations, tactics, motivation and a series of other factors involved.

Given the ‘surprise’ results of yesterday, where Russia and hosts Poland were eliminated from group A, it is interesting to see how these two teams fared with respect to skill, and more importantly, luck.

This is where the concept of PDO comes into the equation. PDO originated in the world of ice hockey analytics, but is slowly gaining ground in football analysis. Without repeating the recent introductory post on the PDO concept in full, PDO is a stacked measure of shot conversion and saves percentage.


PDO = 1000 * SUM ( (goals scored / shots for) + (goals conceded / shots against) )


The key concept to get your head around is that shot conversion and saves percentage are not essentially different between strong and weak teams. There is compelling evidence that the difference between strong and weak teams is mainly found in the net amount of shots created, rather than the net conversion of those shots. Conversion rates in itself seem, at least partly, related to match situations like the score line in relation to pre-match expectations.

Therefore, in the long term, when enough matches (and thus shots) keep being added, PDO regresses to a mean level which should be somewhere around 1000.



Let’s look at a few examples in Euro 2012. We all remember Russia’s matches, right? Judging by the reports after their first group game against Czech Republic, a solid 4-1 win, Russia suddenly were outside favorites to even win the tournament. And now, after a 0-1 loss to Greece they’re out, empty handed. The fact that their 4-1 win over Czech Republic was based on a near 25% shot conversion, which wasn’t bettered by any team so far, already indicated that their success wasn’t based on repeatable factors indicating skill, but rather on unrepeatable factors indicating luck.

Russia’s PDO after the first game was 1173, dropping slightly to 1114 after the draw against Poland, but returning to average levels after the disappointing loss to Greece, to finish at 1008. The rather large swings in PDO already tell that this parameter needs time to settle, and that a stretch of three matches is a small dataset to draw significant conclusions, but in general PDO’s tend to move towards the average of 1000, so a drop in performance was always around the corner to Russia.



If Russia are a fine example of results going exactly the path that the numbers tell us, Poland forms an example where it didn’t. Obviously, this has to do with the small number of matches played, or in other words, the best teams don’t always win.

Poland created more shots than their opponents in every single game, yet are eliminated without winning a single game. Their PDO was always substandard, regressing toward average from 934 after the draw with Greece to 957 after the draw with Russia, but dropping  to 946 after the 0-1 loss against Czech Republic.

Were this a 30-ish league competition, Poland and Russia, assuming they would have continued to create about 60% of the shots in their games would have stood the best chances of finishing first and second, but the short-term nature of the tournament allows a fair chance for upsets to happen.


In the end

No statistical model is perfect though, and PDO is merely a model to look at the balance in skills and luck among different teams. But PDO is a simple method that allows an excellent discrimination between results that have a great chance to hold over a longer term, and results that don’t. There is no general agreement on whether using total shots or shots on target, but in the long run this doesn’t seem to make a difference. In order to increase the numbers I prefer using total shots, particularly in these short competitions.

Obviously, the main area where PDO can be improved lies in the fact that shots are very heterogeneous. In the present model, every shot counts as one, be it a speculative forty yard effort, or a penalty kick. Hopefully, in the near future, we will be able to assign ‘evidence based’ values to these shots and look at goal scoring chances, or even better, expected goals scored.


The table below presents the three-match PDO and Total Shot Rate of all four teams in Group A.



Czech Republic













For more on PDO, check the excellent blog by @JamesWGrayson.

Holland 1 -2 Germany: The broken team…

A match that Holland needed to win in order to keep chances of qualifying to the knock-out stages of Euro 2012 in their own hands, ended in a bitter defeat. Germany had the better of the game, except maybe in the closing stages when Van Marwijk made some changes and Holland bravely, but desperately, chased an equalizer. In the end, Germany thoroughly deserved the victory, based on their tactical superiority and several key German players outperforming their Dutch counterparts.

The starting line-ups

The starting line-ups

A lot of speculation went on in the build-up to this game and most of it concerned whether Klaas-Jan Huntelaar should start ahead of Robin van Persie and whether Van der Vaart should be accommodated as deep-lying playmaker in favour of either Van Bommel or De Jong.

However, Van Marwijk opted for the same starting eleven that played against Denmark, with the exception of Joris Mathijsen who returned from injury at centre-back, at the expense of Ron Vlaar.

Germany manager Joachim Löw fielded the expected starting eleven.

 The first half

The game started out at a slow pace with both teams happy to take some time to settle in. In most matches, either one or both of the teams look to take advantage of open play turnovers to launch quick breaks, but this match was different early on. Both teams set out rather patiently, mainly aiming not to lose possession in dangerous areas, and knowing that not conceding might be the main objective early on.

But after this quiet opening phase, some interesting aspects could be seen. Holland had created a few chances when Van Persie used his excellent of the ball skills to get in behind the German defensive line, but he failed to convert his early opportunities. Germany soon adapted by dropping their defensive line a bit deeper, thereby opening up more space in midfield, which soon worked to their advantage.

Özil’s movement

Germany smartly used Mesut Özil’s lateral movement to unsettle the Dutch defense and take advantage of the large spaces in midfield with both teams’ defensive lines wary of conceding too much space in behind them.

As can be seen from the diagram below, Özil received passes both at the right and left offensive midfield area, indicating his smart lateral movement. Particularly on their right wing, Germany created numerous offensive moves, with Thomas Müller clearly dominating the struggling left-back Jetro Willems.

With Özil moving laterally, a choice had to be made in the Dutch defensive midfield zone. Nigel de Jong mostly covered Özil in his lateral runs, but this left Van Bommel on his own to cover the ground in front of the Dutch defense, where he was overloaded by Khedira and Schweinsteiger.

Broken team

The same diagram shows that Wesley Sneijder operated in his beloved left wing area, but his activity in this match was concentrated here even more than it was before. This is not to state Sneijder had a weak game, not at all, but the defensive part of his job as a central offensive midfielder was an area that Germany smartly exploited.

With Sneijder mainly staying high up the pitch and the Dutch defensive line wary of not conceding space in behind them, the ‘broken team’ problem appeared. The distances between the offensive four and the defensive six were way too large for Van Bommel to be covered, even more so with De Jong being dragged aside by Özil.

Broken wings

An area where Holland normally dominates their opponents are the wings. And both of them failed to perform here. Ibrahim Afellay had an anonymous game and failed to contribute. On the other wing, much of the credit should go to Philipp Lahm, who defended very well against his team mate Arjen Robben. Lahm, a right-footed defender who fills in at left-back for his country had the advantage of protecting against Robben’s inside runs with his stronger foot and prevented Robben from making his usual threatening runs. Germany’s excellent defensive performance also stood clear from the tackling chart (below), and from the fact that the Germans won 65% of the duels, a record high rate at European Championships since 1980.

Another reason for the disappointing wing performance was the complete lack of offensive contribution of the full-backs. Jetro Willems had his hands more than full defending Thomas Müller and Gregory van der Wiel failed to overlap and lend support to Robben.


 The main man for Germany was Bastian Schweinsteiger. The Bayern München midfielder smartly advanced in central midfield and teaming up with Sami Khedira, he overloaded Van Bommel on occasions that Özil had already dislodged De Jong sideways. This 3v2 battle in midfield proved crucial to created the two goal scoring chances that striker Gomez showed his clinical finishing skills on.

The second half

 The second half started with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar up front, Robin van Persie in behind him, coming mainly from a left wing role with the invisible Afellay removed, and with Rafael van der Vaart introduced for Mark van Bommel. The Dutch captain was the scapegoat for the disastrous first half, both in terms of tactical developments and in terms of players underperforming. After an initial ten minutes where Germanycould and perhaps should have taken advantage of a few good opportunities, Hollandslowly fought their way back into the match.

 Around the hour mark, Van Marwijk opted to switch Van Persie and Sneijder, much like he did in the closing stages of the Denmark game. For Sneijder, who already operated in that zone, not all too much changed, but Van Persie seemed liberated in his role as a second striker, sometimes joining up high with Huntelaar, sometimes dropping deeper to escape the attention of the German centre-backs. Another notable advantage of this change was that without a nominal wide left winger, it was easier to pose threats to the German defense. Before, the German defense was sure to outnumber the Dutch centrally, with Sneijder and Afellay by and large working in the same part of the pitch. But Van Persie’s vertical movement from a deeper lying striker position posed more problems for the German defense and more options for Sneijder’s passing from a static lateral position.

The improvement brought about by this chances was evident in the Dutch goal, where an Van Persie once again showed his excellent skills in creating, and this time also finishing, his own goal scoring chance.

 Overall it didn’t prove enough for the win and in fact the best chances in the second half fell to the Germans with goal keeper Stekelenburg proving his worth on attempts by Özil and Badstuber.

In the end

In a match where both the tactical performance and the individual player performances were below-par, Holland didn’t deserve anything more than this defeat. Germany smartly exploited the distance between the Dutch front four and the defensive unit and two well-timed runs from deep by Schweinsteiger were enough for the win.

Let’s not forget that Holland are not eliminated yet, a two goal win over Portugal might still do the trick if Germany beats Denmark in their final game.

Holland 0 – 1 Denmark: Dominating chances, but losing the game

Holland dominated the game 4 to 1 in terms of chances created, but failed to convert any of them, while Denmark smartly worked their left side of the pitch to score the only goal of the game. Simon Poulsen kept overlapping on Holland’s right side and one of his runs contributed to the only goal of the game. Holland’s offense looked on song in terms of creating, but lacked in finishing.


Starting formations

The starting line-ups

Holland lined up in the expected double pivot variant of their well-known 4-2-3-1 formation. Nigel de Jong and Mark van Bommel formed the pair of holding midfielders to protect the back four, where Ron Vlaar filled in for the injured Joris Mathijsen. Up front, Robin van Persie had a week earlier already been announced as the starting striker and 18-year old Jetro Willems got the nod ahead of Stijn Schaars at left-back.

Denmark’s system has been described as a 4-2-1-3 by the excellent Michael Cox of Zonal Marking. Much of the build-up runs through Christian Eriksen, who is the liaison player to link balls coming from the defensive unit of six and the front three. Denmark’s front three players present an interesting mix of different roles. Striker Bendter performs a classic number nine role in holding up the ball and tries to come at the end of crosses. Those crosses mainly come from the right wing, where Rommedahl exploits his pace. Left winger Krohn-Dehli provides more of an inside winger role, which creates space for offensive left full-back Poulsen to express strong offensive qualities.


The first half

With a positive, high-pressing approach, Holland dominated the majority of the first half. The Dutch operated from their double pivot 4-2-3-1 system, a system that sounds more conservative than it in fact is. A high level of pressing, with the front four pressing as high as the Danish goal keeper, won a lot of early possession and the back four found a nice balance in playing a high defensive line without being overlapped.

The major area of concern for Holland was obviously the Danish left side. While most, if not all, of the pre-match attention was focused on 18-year Jetro Willems at left-back, all of the trouble this game was found at Van der Wiel’s side. Not that the Ajax player was to blame here, Denmark smartly worked that side to overload Van der Wiel.

Danish left-back Simon Poulsen, who plays for Dutch side AZ, on a contract that runs out this summer, overlapped Arjen Robben, who consistently failed to track back. Instead, Van Marwijk seemed to have opted for one the holding midfielders to assist Van der Wiel in dealing with this threat. On top of winger Krohn-Dehli and full-back Poulsen, also playmaker Christian Eriksen frequently drifted into this area, turning it into Danish playground at times.

Still, despite this issue, Holland clearly dominated the game, and the first half stats of 16 shots to 5 told quite a story. However, by that time, on of Denmark’s left wing attacks had resulted in the opening goal. A second remarkable half-time stat, which also continued over the second half, was both teams completing over 80% of their passes, with Holland even over 90%. This might well be a tell-tale of the amount of space on the pitch, with neither side retreating, but pressuring forward instead.


The second half

With a clear dominance in the amount of chances created, there wasn’t much incentive for Van Marwijk to make any radical changes yet. And indeed, with 6 shots in the first 8 minutes of the second half, things seemingly went the right way for Holland. Apart from converting chances that is. The Danes, meanwhile, kept on working the left wing, but their crosses lacked quality in the second half, partly due to less bodies sent forward now.

Most of Holland’s dynamic offensive performance was run by an excellent performance of Wesley Sneijder. The Inter midfielder received 79 passes, which made him stand head and shoulders above his teams mates in this regard. He frequently drifted out to the left wing to make short combinations with Afellay and this pair completed 35 passes between them, way more than any other combination of players out on the pitch. Sneijder’s tendency to drift to the left also opened up space for Arjen Robben to make his characteristic, some would say predictable, inside runs. However, the Bayern player lacked a quality end-product, only shooting from long range and losing four of his five take-ons.



With the energy visibly drained in the warm circumstances, the need for substitutions was clear. Van Marwijk had a wealth of options available, but the fact that chances kept being created indicated that no switch in approach was indicated. Van Marwijk, confirming this in his post-match interview, opted to introduce Huntelaar for the drained Afellay. This moved Van Persie, who by then uncharacteristically had missed a series of good chances, into the hole behind the striker. Simultaneously, Van der Vaart was introduced in midfield to replace De Jong and Sneijder moved out wide left.

However, the goal would not come. Huntelaar’s chip on a delicious Sneijder through-ball was saved by Andersen and several long shots failed to find the target. With the final whistle near, Holland also had a penalty shout turned down, but these kind of things don’t make you lose a match. Failing to convert any of the 32 chances created does.

This type of match also signifies the difference between league and tournament football. Should a team start its 30-something campaign with a 0-1 loss and a 32-8 dominance in shots, they would look good for a title challenge as conversion will return to average level in the long run. In short competitions like these tournaments, however, there is no long run and the rare event of failing to convert 32 chances, while conceding a goal in one of 8 chances conceded, means elimination is nearby.


In the end

Overall Holland created 32 goal scoring chances, but failed to score. In tactical terms, Denmark made excellent use of the fact that Holland’s wingers, most notably Robben, failed to track back. This brought them the attack that produced the goal, but a series of dangerous crosses too. On the other hand, this handed Robben more freedom to make his runs, but the winger suffered from a lack of end-product.

The fact that Holland created this many chances means they did most of the things right and in a low scoring game upsets are always going to happen. And it is in short competitions like these tournaments that these upsets have drastic consequences. But this does not mean the approach has been wrong, or choices would have needed to be different. Van Marwijk and his team adopted an approach that would have won the game in most occasions, just not today…

Euro 2012 Tactical Preview: Double Pivot with RVP up top!

With less than a week until the kick-off of the next major international tournament, it is time to consider some tactical issues going into Euro 2012. And 11tegen11 is not the only one to do so. During the build-up to next week’s kick-off, for the Dutch on Saturday against Denmark, tactical issues are being discussed all around.

It is safe to say that around these major tournaments no Dutchman seems short of a powerfully formulated opinion on how the national team should play and it is striking to note how many of those take a different view compared to what the manager prefers. Thereby taking the easiest spot.

Should Holland not be crowned Champions of Europe in a few weeks time, things will be considered to have gone wrong. Fans having taken that easy spot of disagreeing with the manager will console themselves with their moral victory of having had a different view on how the team should have played and do seldomly concern themselves with the fact that the performance under their tactical preferences might have been the same, or even worse. Fitting with this excellent depiction by @Zone_14 on the Beyond the Pitch website, summarizing the Dutch football fans’ mentality as having a massive inferiority complex, wrapped in an ever great superiority complex.

That being said, this preview will now focus on the two most debated topics regarding the Dutch national team: which version of the 4-2-3-1 formation to play and which striker to use. Minor issues by now are the left wing area, where Ibrahim Afellay earned his starting spot over Dirk Kuyt, who played more matches than any other player under Van Marwijk, with a series of bright and energetic performances, showing that the Barcelona winger has returned to fitness in time, after injuring his cruciate ligaments early this season. Furthermore, the only position that has not been clearly settled yet is at left-back, where both Stijn Schaars and Jetro Willems compete for the starting spot. Young Willems barely has 1500 minutes of Eredivisie experience for PSV under his belt, but offers offensive qualities that seem more limited with Schaars playing. The Sporting Portugal player, however, offers more experience and this may give him the edge here.


The starting XI for Euro 2012

The formation

Obviously, Holland will operate in a 4-2-3-1 formation. They’ve done so for all of the past years and to no shortage of success. As has been extensively described earlier, Van Marwijk generally uses two different variants of that formation. The first one, used against comparable or superior level opposition, fields two genuine holding midfielders and will accordingly be termed The ‘ Double Pivot’ version. This was also the preferred version throughout the nearly successful 2010 World Cup campaign.

The second variant field one holding midfield and pairs him with a deep-lying playmaker, as Van Marwijk has preferred against defensive sides of inferior quality. This version will be termed the ‘ Deep-Lying Playmaker’ version and was used for most of the Euro 2012 qualifying matches.

It is safe to say that Holland will use the Double Pivot formation during Euro 2012. However, this still remains an area where the majority of the fans disagree with Van Marwijk. There is a loud voice demanding the creativity of Van der Vaart to be installed, rather than the defensive solidity of Nigel de Jong. A frequently heard phrase which is used here is that this “ brings more football to the team”, as if defending is not part of playing football…


Comparing the Double Pivot and the Deep-Lying Playmaker

When we arbitrarily consider all matches that Holland has played since the start of the 2010 World Cup, we find 29 matches, of which two can be excluded from further analysis. Against Ukraine they fielded a B-side in what most resembled a 4-3-3 formation, against Bayern Munich they did not play another country. Of the World Cup final we will consider the result after 90 minutes.

The Double Pivot was used in 20 matches and produced 2.39 points per game, while the Deep-Lying Playmaker was used in the remaining 7 matches to produce a magnificent 2.71 points per game.

However, this analysis would not be complete without considering the fact that the DP was used against significantly higher rated opponents compared to the DLP. The average FIFA ranking of the DP opponents is around the level of the Czech Republic, while the average DLP opponents ranked around the level of Hungary.


The striker

This is another example of the manager’s favorite versus the fans’ favorite. With the top scorers of both the English Premier League and the Bundesliga to choose from, some have termed this a luxury problem. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar has won over lots of support among the fans with his magnificent goal scoring record in the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign, while Robin van Persie’s goal draught at the World Cup helped Huntelaar’s case further.

Before we’ll go into the numbers here, consider the following. Would you prefer Holland to win the tournament, or the striker to score goals? Right, and that is exactly what is wrong with looking at the outcome side of things (goals, assists) on an individual basis in a team sport. There seems to be growing trend among comparable sports, like basketball and ice hockey, to look at team outcomes with particular individual players playing. For a number of reason, however, this methodology is difficult to translate directly to football.

The same set of matches that we used above shows us that KJH scored 14 goals in the 13 matches that he started as a striker, while RVP scored only 5 in 14 games starting as a striker. Ironically, RVP also scored five goals playing as a left winger while KJH started up top. Again, KJH played inferior opposition with the average FIFA ranking corresponding with Macedonia, while RVP’s opponents averaged the strength of Switzerland or Ireland.

Things are more relevant at team level, however, and with 2.57 points per game with RVP starting as a striker he certainly has the edge over KJH’s 2.15 points per game.


Which striker to play?

Combining the DP-DLP and KJH-RVP choices brings about the most interesting oberservations. It turns out that Holland has a record of 9-2-0 using the Double Pivot with Robin van Persie up top. Compare this with 5-1-3 with the DP and KJH up top…


In the end

It seems the Double Pivot with RVP up top brings the best results against teams of comparable or superior quality, and that’s exactly the type of teams Holland will meet in Poland and Ukraine over the coming weeks.

And it makes sense too. Installing a second defensive midfielder, in casu Nigel de Jong, rather than a more creative deep-lying playmaker, in casu Van der Vaart, provides more cover for the defense, by all means the weakest link in the chain that is the Dutch team. De Jong may be most known for his physical presence and tackling, but his pass completion percentage over the past season, in much the same role as he’ll play in Euro 2012, was a staggering 94%. In other words, he’ll give away less than one in 16 balls. An important part of diminishing the pressure on the defense behind him…

An important difference between RVP and KJH is the striker mobility. In his role at the national team, RVP tends to drift from the striker area, thereby opening up space for the wingers and offensive midfielder to take advantage of. Huntelaar may be the better finisher, but it’s the overall team performance that counts in the end.