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News Link • Entertainment: Sports

Mathematicians use network theory to model champion Spanish soccer team's style

• http://phys.org, by Bob Yirka
 Anyone who has watched the Spanish team knows that their style of play is different from other teams. So much so it’s been given a name by fans: tiki-taka. It’s all about quick passes and exquisite teamwork. But trying to describe what the team does only leads to superlatives, which don’t really get to the heart of the matter. To help, Peña and Touchette turned to network theory, which makes sense, because soccer is played as a network of teammates working efficiently together.

Unfortunately, on paper, tends to wind up looking like a bunch of hard to decipher equations, which wouldn’t help anyone except those that create them. To make it so that anyone could understand what their theories have turned up, the two used a simple drawing depicting players as nodes and their relationship to one another on the team, the amount of passing that is done between them, the way it is done and to whom, as lines between the nodes.

What shows up in the drawing first, is what everyone already knows, namely, that the team passes the ball among its players a lot. More than a lot actually. In one match during 2010’s World Cup between Spain and the Netherlands, the Spanish players out-passed their opponent 417 to 266. The drawing also highlights the fact that two players on the team are “well connected” i.e. easy for others to get to, versus just one for the opponent.

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