Despite being mainly a – very very big and passionate –  Barcelona fan, I am obviously also a supporter for Spain’s national team. Despite the whole Catalunya vs Spain issue – I am on the Catalan side -, when it comes t football I put my national feelings aside and I go for “my” team. After all, the Wordl Cup was pretty much won by FC Barcelona players plus Iker Casillas.

Anyhow, I am still overflowing with happiness after our recent victory in the Euro 2012, third major tournament in a row, proving that we are the best national team ever. So, when I read this article I couldn’t help but rushing here to share it with everyone.

A team of researchers applied network theory analysis to analyze Spain’s football style and, as expected, to prove Xavi as the greatest midfielder ever. Btw, indeed, Xavi is a Barcelona player. The research study has been published in a very interesting paper as well.

From Technology Review:

Key players also stand out by the number of passes they make and receive, such as 16 (Sergio Busquets) and 8 (Xavi).

However, this representation also allows a much more sophisticated analysis using the standard tools of network science. 

For example, closeness centrality measures how easy it is to reach a given node in the network. In footballing terms, it measures how well connected a player is in the team. 

Busquets and Xavi have the highest scores in the Spanish team. Both are better connected than the best connected Dutch player, 1 (Steckelenberg) the goal keeper. That the goal keeper was the Netherland’s best connected player itself speaks volumes.

Another notion is betweenness centrality, which measures the extent to which a node lies on a path to other nodes. In footballing terms, betweenness centrality measures how the ball flow between players depends on another player. Players with a high betweenness centrality are crucial for keeping the momentum of the game going. 

These players are important because removing them has a huge impact on the structure of the network.  So a single player with a high betweenness centrality is also a weakness, since the entire team is vulnerable to an injury to this player or a red card. 

Spain’s number 11 Joan Capdevilla is the player with by far the highest betweenness centrality in this match. He is clearly a target for passes from many players, which he feeds mainly to 14 (Xabi Alonso).