How to understand El Radar, the Athletic World Cup player’s guide

Last week, we launched The Radar: the athleticThe guide to 100 players in the World Cup in Qatar that we think you should follow.

They range from well-known superstars like Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe, to rising stars like Jude Bellingham and Pedri, with plenty of under-the-radar players among them who we believe have the talent to end up at some of the biggest clubs in football. .

At a time when all eyes are on the World Cup, we want to make sure that our analysis content can be digested as easily as possible by all readers, including those who are relatively new to the sport.

Whether you watch one game a year or a thousand, soccer is for everyone. So we’re going to walk you through the different sections in a player’s profile and explain what you’re looking at.

This is how you read The Radar…


profile section

First up is the profile section – that’s the part of the player card you’ll start at when you click on the player’s name; in this case, the Polish striker and Barcelona player Robert Lewandowski.

For each player, we’ve written a short profile explaining their style, career and what to expect from them in Qatar.

In each profile section, there is a custom visualization that highlights something impressive about that player.

In Lewandowski’s case, his bespoke visualization is a “bee swarm plot”, showing how his goalscoring ability compares to other forwards in Europe’s top leagues. As you can see, only Manchester City’s Erling Haaland (who is not on The Radar because he is Norwegian and Norway failed to qualify for the World Cup) has a better hit rate than him since the start of last season.

If you click on the visualization, it will open and fill your screen, allowing you to zoom in if necessary.

“But what are goals without a penalty?” We heard him ask.

Well, penalty kicks have an extremely high success rate. An unopposed shot from 12 meters is very different to a shot on goal when there are a lot of opposition players getting in the way or trying to take the ball from you.

Goals scored from penalty kicks can inflate a player’s stats and make them look like the best goalscorer in the world when in reality they could be playing for a team that takes a lot of penalties and is good at taking them when given the opportunity.

That’s why non-penalty goals, your total with successful penalties removed, is a better way to measure a player’s goalscoring prowess. (Lewandowski will be inclined to agree, having missed a penalty for Poland in their first game of this World Cup…)

Additionally, using stats per 90 minutes gives a more accurate idea of ​​how players compare to their peers.

If we used per game, there would be no context for the minutes played: one player could have played 10 minutes as a substitute and another the full 90 minutes, but both would have played ‘one game’.


The Data Section: Explaining Our Pizza Charts

First of all, everyone will have seen the circular “pizza graphics” in the data section of each player’s profile.

This uses data from smarterscout, a free to use site that breaks down the elements of a footballer’s game into different performance, skill and style metrics using advanced analytics.

A full explanation of these metrics is provided in our smarterscout guidebut these data simply give a series of scores from zero to 99, related to how frequently a player performs a certain stylistic action (for example, volume of shots per touch), or how effective they’re at it (for example, how well they contribute to their team’s chance creation) compared to others playing their position.

We can use an example below for Lewandowski.

As you can see, he contributes strongly to his club Barcelona’s shot creation (xG shot creation rating: 97 out of 99. Don’t worry, we’ll explain what xG is soon) compared to other forwards, and he’s quick to shoot with the attacking touches he has (shooting volume: 92 of 99).


The section of the future

This is the simplest of the three.

There are no visualizations, just information about the player’s contract and transfer status: when his current contract at his club expires, if there have been negotiations on a new one, and which clubs are/might be interested if the player leaves.


Explaining some of The Radar’s other data visualizations

player positions

Soccer players can play many different positions on the pitch. Some are more established in their ways than others and will only play one or two, but others may play five or six different positions over the course of a season.

There are 13 positions referred to by smarterscout, that site we mentioned earlier that uses advanced analytics to break down the elements of a footballer’s game into a series of metrics, to capture each player’s profile.

They are listed and referenced in the visualization below, which plots the area they occupy on the field. The shared minutes line describes what percentage of your minutes played were spent at each position.

  • LB – Left Back
  • LCB – Left Center Back
  • CCB – Central Center Back
  • RCB – Right Center Back
  • RB – Right back
  • LM – Left midfield
  • DM – Defensive Midfield
  • CM – central midfield
  • RM – Right midfield
  • LW – Left Wing
  • CM – Attacking midfielder
  • RW – Right wing
  • ST – Front

The remaining position, not part of the smarterscout dataset, is goalkeeper and is often abbreviated as GK.


Player ball progression

One of the key attacking metrics on the smarterscout pizza charts we talked about earlier is “xG of ball progression”. This simply shows how much a player’s actions increase the probability that his side will score when in possession, by driving the ball upfield and into dangerous areas.

To dig a little deeper, smarterscout’s “ball progression breakdowns” let you see What A player’s actions get the ball into dangerous areas, whether passing or carrying/dribbling the ball forward, receiving it in advanced downfield positions, winning key passing duels, or tackling and interceptions to regain possession.

This is broken down into an ordered waffle chart to show the ratio of these actions for a player.

For example, you can see above that Tunisian midfielder Anis Slimane’s method of moving the ball forward is quite varied.

His off-the-ball runs mean he’s a threat to receive the ball in dangerous areas, and his strength out of possession tells us that his defensive interceptions contribute well to his team’s ability to win the ball up top.


What are the expected goals?

Ah, the main act of football analysis.

Simply put, expected goals (xG) is a way of measuring the probability that a shot will score.

Not all shots are equal in their quality: one shot might be a speculative 40-yard pass and another might be a two-yard bunt. Therefore, xG measures the quality of each shot before the player fires, taking many factors into account, including:

  • shooting angle
  • The distance of the goal
  • Either with the head or with the weaker/stronger foot
  • Whether from a cross, through ball, short pass, etc.
  • If there were multiple defenders in the way

In practice, we can explore whether a player has been scoring more or less than he should based on the quality of the chances he had.

For example, Tottenham Hotspur’s Son Heung-min, who will play for South Korea at this World Cup, has had remarkable moments of form where he has far exceeded his xG number in a 900-minute period (a sample size equivalent to 10 complete matches).

For a more detailed breakdown of these metrics and other key soccer analytics terms, check out the athleticfootball analysis glossary.


And finally, what is an international “cap”?

Avid soccer fans may take this for granted, but it’s worth noting what a “cap” means in international soccer, given how many times they are referred to by us and other media during the World Cup.

A player’s number of caps is simply how many games he has played at senior international level.

The term originates from the United Kingdom, where players used to receive a royal cap (hat) for every game in which they represented their country, to commemorate the achievement.


The commemorative cap presented to England striker Wayne Rooney when he reached 100 caps for his country (Photo: Michael Regan – The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

This is no longer the case in the modern game, but the term “cap” survives when referring to a player’s international career.


There are a host of other metrics and data points that we discuss on The Radar, many of which include their own explainer alongside them.

Ultimately, we want to make sure you understand every metric, every term, and every chart we include on The Radar.

Please comment below if there are any more terms you would like to explain.

In the meantime, enjoy!

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(Main graphic — photos: Getty Images/design: Sam Richardson)

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