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Beware, Swiss: Comprehensive statistics say Lionel Messi is super good

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“Lionel Messi is impossible” reads the headline from advanced statistics site Fivethirtyeight.com, and it’s immediately impossible not to dive into the piece.

What will the numbers tell us that we don’t already know? Messi is a wizard who is erasing the doubts of a nation — his own — with four goals in three games heading into their role as heavy favorites against Switzerland today in the World Cup’s Round of 16.

Well, let’s put it this way: there’s been a lot of talk about the identity of the best player in the world given Messi’s relative struggles this season at Barcelona and strong campaigns from presumed Nos. 2 and 3 Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suarez.

And there just may not be a comparison, even conceding that Messi has not been as prolific for his nation as his club. As the study says, “if Barca-Messi and Argentina-Messi were two different people, even based solely on the stats recorded since 2010, there’s a good chance they’d be the two best players in the world.”

From Fivethirtyeight.com:

It’s not possible to shoot more efficiently from outside the penalty area than many players shoot inside it. It’s not possible to lead the world in weak-kick goals and long-range goals. It’s not possible to score on unassisted plays as well as the best players in the world score on assisted ones. It’s not possible to lead the world’s forwards both in taking on defenders and in dishing the ball to others. And it’s certainly not possible to do most of these things by insanely wide margins.

But Messi does all of this and more.

Check out the absurd charts for proof: Messi is as close to unstoppable as it gets in this day and age. He’s one of the best shooters, passers, creators, runners and even, relatively speaking, defending forwards in the world. But we knew that.

Here’s my favorite chart, calculating value added on shots and passes:

source:

Yeah… he’s good.

Odds say U.S. should progress despite late draw with Portugal

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Numbers are just numbers and even advanced statisticians know that projections are just likelihood. They can’t account for every single mishap or moment of brilliance — find me the Opta projection for Netherlands 5, Spain 1 — but they give a nice indication of what could go down in any given event.

Earlier, our Richard Farley provided a brilliant and extensive breakdown of each scenario that could come from Group G’s final act on Thursday, so we know everything that can happen.

But what do the betting services, advanced stats and others say?

FiveThirtyEight.com, the respected Nate Silver site, says the USMNT has a 76 percent of advancement… and uses further reasoning to say that number may be low. Of course, it must be noted that the same site gave the US a mere 36 percent chance of advancing from Group G before the tournament started.

So how about the bettors? Well, consider this Tweet:

As for the others, I’ll go with the whole gut instinct thing. Walking away from the match with my friends, I kept saying I’d be surprised if the US doesn’t go through. Maybe this is a by-product of me being the only PST writer to predict a US advancement from Group G (back-pat), but my gut says yes.

Stat wizard Nate Silver tabs a World Cup winner, US group odds are up

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He can tell you who will probably win presidential elections, so even though sport is a little trickier than which way dyed-in-the-wool tribes will vote for leaders, it’s worth paying attention when Nate Silver gives his odds.

The fivethirtyeight.com stat nerd whiz, who gives us fellow geeks analytics fans so much joy, is in the house with his World Cup projected winner and it’s…the same country many people with eyeballs are tabbing.

He’s looking to the nation that has lost one match since 2013, the hosts, Brazil.

Here’s the main reason we like Silver’s nods better than most. From fivethirtyeight.com:

 

  • It’s predictive, rather than retrospective. It’s not trying to reward teams for good play — it’s trying to guess who would win in a match played tomorrow.
  • It weights matches on a varying scale of importance based on the composition of lineups. Sometimes even friendly matches are taken quite seriously, such as if a team is playing against a historic rival, or if it badly needs a tune-up before an upcoming tournament. Sometimes even tournament matches are blown off if a team has already clinched its position.

Silver gives the United States a 36 percent chance of getting out of Group G, and a .4 chance of winning the World Cup. So apparently he should “get out of the country,” too, eh, Michael Wilbon? So Silver’s odds for the U.S. and its advancement are 10 percent higher than bookies… what does he think about Germany, Portugal and Ghana?

However, there may be a bit of irrational fear around Ghana. The African teams did little to distinguish themselves in the 2010 World Cup despite a wonderful opportunity in South Africa. They’re hard to peg because they don’t play competitive matches against the rest of the world all that often, but SPI does not have them on the rise this year.

Portugal? SPI is more down on the Team of Five than it seems it should be. In SPI’s defense, Portugal was a little underwhelming in World Cup qualifying, drawing twice with Israel and once with Northern Ireland. And the team isn’t deep: While Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the best two or three footballers in the world, Portugal has no other player who clearly belongs in the top 100.

Germany? Well, they’re really good. But as an offense-minded squad, the team might be ever so slightly more prone toward letting in a soft goal and drawing (although probably not losing) a game that it shouldn’t. Keep hope alive, America.

Keep hope alive, indeed. And, for the sake of us outcasts analysts, read the entire article. We need to encourage Silver to keep with the Beautiful Game.