When Michael Cox’s blog Zonal Marking arrived on the scene back in January of 2010, it quickly became established as one of the leading English language tactics sites. There were several reasons for this. First, it was among the first independent sites of its kind to discuss football entirely in the context of tactics and formations. It was more than a single column one had to find amid the usual match reports and transfer rumours, as both David Pleat and Jonathan Wilson had done for the Guardian—ZM provided readers one-stop shopping.
Second, it maintained a simple-but-effective aesthetic, and used both passing diagrams and accurate formational charts to explain various points contained within the articles. Third, the writing was both clear and concise but was also neither overly reductionist or dismissive of the more “intangible” aspects of the games, things like “grit” and “determination,” or within a more English context, “pace, power and passion.”
On the analytics side of things, there has yet to be a major break-out blog in the same vein as ZM and the many similar sites—some good, some not—that have appeared in the last two years. There could be several reasons for this. Soccer analytics involves some pretty detailed research, which takes times. As such, most industry blogs are infrequently updated, meaning readers must wait weeks at a time between posts.
Analytics posts are also often divorced from the news cycle (although not always—some of the best ones use data to counter various developing narrative threads within mainstream football journalism). Additionally, a lot of the sites are also maintained by bloggers without the best aesthetic sense, both in web design and in attractive prose. Some analytics bloggers are more content writing for their peers within what is still a cottage industry within the game, and so tale little care to explain their theories or models to a wider footballing audience.
But the biggest reason why analytics blogs have failed to break into the mainstream soccer media machine is intrinsic to analytics as a sub-topic in the genre. Analytics is hard. The models and the means to develop them are often inscrutable, especially for those not already well-versed in even basic statistical science. Even worse, the data source for these posts is hidden from the wider public, either privately purchased or privy to the writers based on their line of work. Moreover, football analytics blogs are often a patch-work of links to previous posts, other even more obscure blogs, forming a headache-inducing latticework in which one can get lost in for hours at a time.
All of that said, the reward for the interested and dedicated layman are substantial. And so what follows is a largely subjective list of various analytics blogs* for future reference. Some are frequently updated; some are not. Some are more focused on financial metrics; some are focused on predictive algorithms. Some use pretty infographics; some are tied in with the big statistics-gathering companies. You’ll also note an obnoxious level of cross-posting, but that comes with the territory. You might consider adding them in a separate browser tab or RSS Reader file. Feel free to add any I’ve missed below and I’ll update the post. These are in no particular order.
Interesting posts from time to time appear here on a variety of interesting subjects, usually c/o Opta’s prized football data feed.
Premier League focused, and you have to pay to get access to their data stream, but they maintain a regularly updated main-page with some articles of interest. Regularly updated as well.
Originally authored by Sarah Rudd, who’s recently gone pro with StatDNA, it’s now curated by Ravi Ramineni. Excellent, in-depth analytics site, although you will likely need to keep a tab open for term searches and referrals.
This is meant to accompany their app, which I’ll be writing about next week. It definitely veers closer to tactics than strict analytics in its approach, but gives the average reader a good idea of how to effectively use rudimentary soccer statistics in match analysis.
This is Dutch-football centric, but it’s a very involved analytics site as well, which uses data from the Netherlands-based Infostrada. Well worth your time.
Simply fantastic long-form analytics site written by Mark Taylor. Easy to understand, with compelling arguments which often up-turn the given media narrative, this is well worth your time and effort.
Very involved football stats blog provides some useful metrics with very good explanations as to their utility.
Lots of detailed graphs, and some good, short pieces with a good anti-narrative verve.
This one’s more focused on the financial side, but also sticks to conventional football writing. Worth checking the back catalogue.
Another good blog looking at some received tactical wisdom, and whether it matches the available data.
Good stuff, would be better if it was a little more frequently updated.
Ditto for this one, although the stuff that’s on there is very compelling.
Lots of interesting information here, especially in the more ‘state of analytics’ meta type stuff.
A whole whack of Pythagorean tables, the other stuff in between can be quite interesting.
Another strong contender.
Great blog that isn’t afraid to question long-held assumptions in the tactics community.
As I said, please include any I missed below. Next week I’ll be looking at some of the primary source soccer data sites/apps available as well. It will be, sadly, a much shorter list…
*in contrast to data-providing sites, which I’ll examine next week