Analyzing and Evaluating Soccer Players for Betting Purposes
One of the best ways to understand anything in this world is to break it down to its major components. This simple rule applies to the sport of soccer, too.
If you bet on soccer, or are planning to, this is why you should invest some time in learning how to analyze and evaluate each player.
This is an essential process, really, if you want to become an expert in the sport and give yourself a fighting chance of positive betting results.
Analyzing and evaluating soccer players helps when it comes to assessing the quality of teams you might be betting on, and it’s even more useful if you decide to work with player-related betting markets.
Of course, evaluating each player is not an easy task, as you have to consider so many factors. Some are relatively easy to recognize and analyze, but others aren’t.
That’s why we decided to create this page. It will help you learn the countless aspects of each player’s qualities you need to analyze and what exactly to extract from them for a proper evaluation.
The Importance of the Player’s Position
Before we move on to other factors, it’s important to learn about the position of each player in question. Despite the fact that modern soccer requires versatility to a point we’ve never seen before, there are still attributes and skills that are a must for specific positions.
This is why the value and quality of a player strongly correlate to his position on the pitch. A certain athlete might be close to useless in one role and thrive in another. You should judge them with that in mind.
Also, some players are good enough to play in multiple positions. This adds a lot to their value and quality for several reasons. The most obvious one is that they can cover in various places on the pitch when required and add depth to certain positions.
On top of that, having one or more versatile players gives the coaches the ability to make in-game tactical adjustments and change the system of their team without wasting subs. Since you can replace only three of your players during a match (or four under special circumstances), this is a huge advantage.
With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at each position, so we can understand the most important skills required for each of them.
If there is one position in soccer that is completely different from the rest in terms of duties, that’s the goalkeeper. He is the only one that can use his hands deliberately, and he has the vital responsibility of protecting the goal.
There are a couple of obvious attributes that are important, such as reflexes, the ability to read the game, and his reach/stretch. However, the mentality is also one of the things that makes a good goalkeeper.
The nature of the position is such that even the slightest mistake can lead to the opposition scoring. As a result, the consistency and the stability of the performance are vital for any top keeper.
Even if you can save unreal shots, it doesn’t count for much when you let in stupid goals from harmless situations.
It’s worth noting that the modern understanding of the goalkeeping role has somewhat evolved over time. Primarily because of managers such as Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, and Unai Emery, the goalie is expected to play well with his feet and distribute the ball to teammates by passing, not simply kicking it.
This makes the goalkeeper position even more relevant to the overall potential of a soccer team than ever before.
The full-back position is the one that probably went through the biggest transformation in the past 20 or 30 years. Originally, players in that role were required to isolate the speedy wingers of the opposition and not allow them to send crosses to the box or cut to the inside.
While this remains the main duty of any full-back out there, players in this position now have more responsibilities going forward as well. They are required to provide width to the attack of their team and support the wingers.
The speed, the stamina, and the ability to cross are what matters the most for full-backs, as well as one-on-one defending, of course. One of the few things that is not directly part of the full-back job is to score goals, but there ARE players in this position who can do that, too.
The core duties of center-backs have remained largely the same since the game was invented. They are at the heart of the defense and have to make sure the opposition doesn’t score the ball. The physical attributes required for this one are quite clear.
The center-backs need to be tall and strong. Speed is not of as much importance because the movement without the ball and the ability to read the game and be in the proper position make up for that. That’s a typical trait of all good center-backs.
They also need to be leaders on the pitch and command the defense. This is crucial, as the center-backs usually are responsible for the offside trap and the position of the whole back line.
Nowadays, the center-backs are required to play the ball at the back, at least in the top soccer leagues. This is why they need to be at least decent technically, so their teams can comfortably start building their attacks from the back.
This is one of the most crucial positions in modern soccer, as the defensive midfielders have to protect the defense and are the main men in transition. They have to be there to cover for the more attacking players when the ball is lost and also be capable of quickly moving it to the attacking third when it’s recovered again.
The ability to read the game and be in the proper position is what every good defensive midfielder can do. They also need to be strong, have good stamina, and at least be somewhat gifted technically.
Of course, there are different types of defensive midfielders. Some are tall and resemble center-backs in their body type and style, while others are quick and rely on their relentless energy that helps them be everywhere on the pitch.
This is the key link between the defense and the attack in modern soccer. The box-to-box midfielder has to be a jack of all trades, to an extent. He is expected to help the defense, participate in the build-up, assist, and score.
As you could imagine, doing all of this requires lots of different qualities. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that box-to-box midfielders are usually the most complex players on a team. They have the attributes required to both defend and attack, combined with exceptional stamina.
The latter is vital, as the box-to-box midfielders are usually the players who do most of the running during a game. The name of the positions says it all, really.
The classic number 10 role from the past is no longer the same in today’s soccer world.
Up to probably 20 years or so ago, the most technically gifted player on each team was simply given a free role behind the strikers. This allowed a lot of freedom to create chances.
While this remains the main duty of the creative midfielders, they are required to do a lot of dirty work nowadays. They are no longer “luxury players” there for just one purpose, and they have to contribute far more to the team overall.
Of course, the MAIN purpose of the playmaker remains that magical killer assist or goal that could decide the match. This is why the technical abilities and the eye for the pass are what makes a good creative midfielder.
There are a couple types of wingers, so I will take a look separately at the main two.
One is the classic wingers who are fast, can take on players when left one on one, and can cross the ball well. While this type of player is not as commonly met in modern soccer as it used to be, there’s still room for pacey wingers.
The alternative is playmakers that are placed on the wing. Managers like Pep Guardiola and Arsene Wenger are the best examples of top coaches who use(d) this tactic. They rely on the full-backs to stretch the defense, while the wingers cut to the inside and create advantage in numbers in the middle of the park.
We decided to split the forwards into two groups, as they have a completely different skill set and attributes.
The first one is dedicated to the small forwards such as Sergio Aguero, Luis Suarez, and athletes with similar attributes.
They usually are not very tall and have a low center of gravity that makes them very agile. They are fast, gifted technically, and can spin and turn to create space in tight situations. The other key quality for players of this type is clinical finishing.
There was a time when it looked like the sport of soccer didn’t need typical strikers or target men. However, we’ve seen the return of such players on the top level, as they have evolved and adapted to the requirements of the modern game.
The traditional benefits of having a player like this are that you can use his strength and skill in the air as a focal point of the attack. Classic strikers are able to hold the defenders and play with their back to the goal to open space for the rest of the team.
They are also a threat in the air, especially from set pieces, and can help in the defense when the opponents cross the ball from corners and other similar situations.
What’s new about target men is that they are now being prepared differently from an early age. Most of the big forwards from the past were not especially strong technically and relied more on their strength and height.
Nowadays, you will often see big men with a lot of skill. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the best example out there, but there are others, too.
Analyzing the Physical Attributes of a Soccer Player
Now that we’ve covered all the positions, and you have a good idea what is required for each of them, let’s move on and take a look at the different skills and attributes that you have to analyze.
First in line are the physical attributes of each player. We will go through the following in detail.
One of the main qualities that you need to look at is the strength of the player. Soccer is a contact sport, so you will often have physical duels, and the ability to outmuscle the opponent can be crucial. The positions on the pitch that require a lot of strength are usually at the back.
The defensive midfielders and the center-backs need to be able to win tough battles in key areas, so they are usually the most powerful on the team. The big forwards are similar, while all other positions require at least some strength.
The only possible exception is the creative midfielders and sometimes the wingers. Their role is such that they could manage even if they are not that tenacious on the pitch.
The ability to run up and down the pitch for the full duration of a soccer match is priceless.
This is one of the main attributes of all midfielders, especially the box-to-box midfielders, as well as the full-backs. Their duty in modern soccer requires a lot of running and a lot of sprints.
That’s usually not the case with the center-backs and forwards, as they can afford to take it easy every now and then. Of course, there is one position that doesn’t require such a condition, and that’s the goalkeeper.
Good movement without the ball and the proper positioning can do a lot to make you look faster than you are, as the legendary Johan Cruyff explains in the following quote.
“What is speed? The sports press often confuses speed with insight. See, if I start running slightly earlier than someone else, I seem faster.”
Not many are blessed with the insight of the Dutch maestro, though, so speed DOES matter.
Making a run behind the defense or hitting on the counter are the best ways to create danger, so players with good pace will always have an important role in the game of soccer.
The positions that require a lot of speed are mostly those on the wings. It’s a key attribute for both traditional wingers and full-backs. Small forwards also need at least some pace to make up for their lack of height and strength.
The best teams out there rarely kick the ball forward or cross, and the game in general is going in a direction that doesn’t include many high balls. However, they will always be part of soccer, and there are certain positions where height is a great advantage.
The most obvious example is the goalkeeper. The greater height usually also means a longer reach, which is key to saving tough shots. On top of that, the goalies are often required to go out and collect crosses.
The other position that requires height is the center-back because they often have to handle kicks and crosses. Finally, the target men are tall and strong by definition.
Being tall is not always an advantage, of course. The players with a lower center of gravity are much better dribblers because they can quickly twist and turn without losing balance. It’s much harder to take the ball from them.
Small forwards and creative midfielders in particular often benefit from being shorter. The best examples for that are world-class athletes like Lionel Messi, Alexis Sanchez, and Sergio Aguero.
Players like these keep the ball close to their feet and can change directions before you know it. This is why they are among the top dribblers out there.
Analyzing the Technical Attributes of a Soccer Player
The body type and physical attributes always matter, but there’s another category of skills that is even more important. We’re talking about talent and the technical abilities required to play soccer and become a top athlete.
Here’s what you need to look at.
- Ball control
- Short passing
- Long passing
- Weak foot
It’s hard to accurately describe everything included in ball control the way we see it, but we will do our best.
We’re basically talking about things such as the first touch when receiving a pass, the ability to keep the ball close to your feet, and the ability to quickly release the ball when required. These are all crucial in soccer.
The positions where that applies the most are in the middle of the park. If you play as any type of midfielder, you need to be good at controlling the ball and playing quickly.
In the past, center-backs and goalkeepers weren’t exactly required to work a lot with the ball at their feet, but this has changed a lot. The top players in the world in any position are typically competent, at the very least, when it comes to ball control.
The game has evolved a lot through the years, and I don’t think we’ve ever seen more short passes than today. Most coaches understand that they are the safest and most efficient way to keep the ball and push forward.
The likes of Pep Guardiola, Arsene Wenger, and many other leading coaches rely heavily on short passing and a lot of movement from their players. Another perk of such a style is that the best defense is to not give the ball to your opponent.
This is why short passing is crucial for every position on the pitch, especially when it comes to the midfielders.
If you can’t afford to buy players that are top quality, you will have to find other ways to build your team.
Many clubs from the English Premier League and other top European competitions simply don’t have the budget to get players that can play well with the ball at their feet in every position. This is why many of them often rely on a more defensive approach and direct passing to the forwards.
Although this is not a tactic typically employed by the very best teams in the world, one could still argue that it’s a solid approach if you have the right players. Leicester City managed to cause a huge upset by winning the English Premier League with a similar system, after all.
Claudio Ranieri taught his men to defend deep and look for Jamie Vardy with long balls, mostly sending their passes in the lanes between the full-backs and the center-backs. The explosive and pacey striker was often able to exploit the space there and create dangerous moments.
This was an excellent display of how long passing does have a place in the modern game. You can eliminate almost the entire opposition with a good pass of that type, so it should not be underestimated.
It’s probably a bit of a surprise, but the goalkeepers are among the players who need to have that skill nowadays, as well as the defenders and midfielders.
While you don’t see as many crosses today as 30 or even 20 years ago, this skill is still essential. Sending a dangerous ball into the box of your opponent often brings a lot of danger, especially if you have clinical strikers.
One of the main reasons for that is that the good cross often requires just the slightest touch to find the net.
The players that absolutely must be able to cross the ball well are the traditional wingers and full-backs. They are most often in the flanks and in a position to send the ball into the box.
Of course, forwards and midfielders, in general, must be at least somewhat capable when it comes to crossing, too.
The ability to pass through a couple of opponents is essential when it comes to penetrating the opposition’s defense. We often see smaller teams set up a system with a ton of people at the back, and teams certainly need players who can find a way through them.
The good dribblers usually have a low center of gravity, decent speed, and handle the ball flawlessly. A quick look at legends like Leo Messi, Maradona, and George Best show that the best dribblers out there fit exactly this description.
There are reasons to believe that this is one of the few skills that can’t be taught. Of course, it can be improved and developed. But if a player is not very good at dribbling in the first place, you can’t easily teach him how to do it in the same way you could in other aspects of soccer.
Plenty of great players are not that good at dribbling, but it’s still a huge advantage to mainly forwards and midfielders and anyone who comes close to the opponent’s box, really.
This is one of the most obvious attributes on our list, and we wondered if we should’ve named it “finishing” instead. Either way, we are talking about the ability to shoot with enough speed and accuracy to score goals.
The players on the pitch that rely mostly on that are obviously all kinds of forwards, but the midfielders are required to be able to muster a solid shot, at least from inside the box.
Good shooting is essentially about scoring goals, and soccer is a game of goals, after all.
Whether it’s while defending your own box, fighting for a loose ball in the middle of the park, or trying to score, the ability to play well with your head can be crucial.
A couple of components matter here, most notably height, timing, and strength. While some players can be very good when given a free header, most of the time, the ball will be contested by an opponent, which is the reason you have to be physically strong as well.
The center-backs are the players that absolutely must be good in the air, as well as the target men up front. Most midfielders can afford to be weak when it comes to heading, but it’s still a useful skill for pretty much every player out there.
Another improvement that was only recently implemented in modern soccer is that plenty of academies now teach kids how to play with their weak foot.
For decades, this wasn’t the case, and you would see sublime players perform true magic with one of their feet and look completely hopeless with the other.
Nowadays, the top players are almost two-footed. They can perform their most important tasks like passing the ball, crossing, shooting, and so on with both of their feet.
This is essential for midfielders mostly, as they often don’t have the time to work the ball to their strong foot.
Off-the-Ball and Defensive Skills
The last section was dedicated to the skills that are mostly related to the creative part of the game and include the ball. However, you can’t analyze a player without considering another set of abilities that is crucial in the modern game.
Here is what you will see here.
- Soccer brain
Let’s start with one of the attributes that is not that obvious to the untrained eye but makes all the difference in the world. We already touched on it when we quoted the soccer god Johan Cruyff, as he explained multiple times during his career that you need to move well without the ball.
This applies to both creative and defensive players. The former always need to find space and provide an option to the teammate that has the ball. This allows smooth transitions and ball movement, which creates holes in the defense of the opposition.
When it comes to strikers, for example, the movement without the ball is one of their most important skills.
A good forward will know how to find a good position in the box or drag the defense so that his teammates can find space in the box. If a team has midfielders that can find that killer pass and the striker that times his runs behind the defense well, that is a complete nightmare for any defense out there.
This is why the players at the back also need to move well without the ball. In fact, the positioning is one of the most important qualities of all defensive roles, including the defensive midfielder.
The good news is that this is one of the skills that can be improved greatly under a solid coach, especially for defensive players. And a solid defense built on good positioning can easily make up for a lack of other talents in the defensive players.
If you love the art of defending, you certainly are an admirer of tackling as well.
Whether it is a sliding one or on the feet, a good tackle is excellent to watch. And we’ve seen some breath-taking last-ditch pieces of defending that can compare to goals or assists in terms of the satisfaction they bring.
Naturally, every defensive position in soccer requires the ability to tackle the opponent. It must be noted that an important aspect of that is to do it cleanly, without a foul.
If a player is too reckless in the tackle, he will give away too many penalties and free kicks in dangerous positions. He’s also liable to pick up lots of yellow and red cards and thus miss games through suspension.
While this is a rather forgotten tactic, man-marking still plays a role in today’s soccer. You will often see the coaches assign a certain player the duty of becoming the shadow of an opponent and trying to isolate him from the game.
This is usually done against wingers and playmakers, so the players who require good man-marking skills play as defensive midfielders and full-backs. Of course, the natural role of the center-backs is to stay close to the opposition’s forwards, so this is essentially the main skill for this position.
There is a somewhat recent innovation, though, which often sees playmakers, strikers, or other creative players try and stay close to a key opponent. The main reason for this is the desire to press high up the pitch.
In such cases, you will see creative midfielders assigned to guard the best ball-playing defender of the opposition. It’s not a requirement for the job, though – merely a bonus.
We wondered where to put this one and how to name it, but we decided it belongs here at the end. What we call a “soccer brain” is the awareness of the player and his ability to read the game. It sounds a bit general, but it’s a natural instinct.
The simplest way to describe this skill would be to take a look at players like Zinedine Zidane and Johan Cruyff and study their game. Legendary players like them almost always made the best decisions on the pitch.
It might be a short pass, a shot, a dribble attempt, you name it. If a player has a soccer brain, he will be able to make the most logical and natural move that will frequently bring his team an advantage.
This is important for every position on the pitch, no exception, but it matters the most for the midfielders, as they usually have to make more decisions and have more options compared to other roles.
Analyzing the Mentality of a Player
Up to this point, we went through a lot of mostly objective attributes you need to analyze so that you can correctly evaluate a player. But your final assessment won’t be complete if you don’t include another aspect – the mentality of the player.
We’ve all seen brilliant talents fail to fulfill their potential because they didn’t have the mentality to be world-beaters. At the same time, some players that seemed mediocre have managed to leave a mark in soccer history.
This is why we decided to include the following attributes in our analysis.
- Clutch plays
- Work ethic
- Discipline on the pitch
If you want to succeed at the highest level of soccer, you can’t be exceptional every now and then. You have to prove yourself on a regular basis.
Of course, every player has bad moments, but the top athletes out there stay solid for most of their matches. Multiple talented players have shown flashes of brilliance but failed to stay consistent, and their career has gone downward from some point.
The ability to stay focused for every single opponent out there and perform on a weekly basis is often one of the most important skills of a soccer player.
Certain games are more important than others, and certain moments are tougher. They require a hard push that is often not the product of talent but a desperate desire to win and lead your team to glory.
These moments are often defining for the career of a player.
World Cup or Champions League finals, big derbies, and matches of similar caliber are where legends are born. Some players are born for those games, and you will see the best of them when it matters the most.
Others will choke and miss the chance to write their name in the history books of soccer. Obviously, the former are more reliable and have a higher value. It’s always vital for squads to include a couple of clutch players that can push them over the line when the times are hard.
A couple of positions on the pitch usually require players that have the ability to lead the others and improve them. Good examples are the goalkeeper and the center-backs. They have the responsibility to command the defense and coordinate the others so that the backline forms a cohesive unit.
The same can be applied to most central midfielders, as they need to set the tone and control the tempo of the games. Obviously, such players need to be natural leaders so that they can live up to expectations and help their teammates when required.
A soccer player doesn’t NEED to be a good leader to become a star and succeed on the top level, but that attribute certainly adds some extra value.
This one is often underrated and is the main reason we see so many talented players around the age of 18-20 stagnate later on. If you want to reach the top in the soccer world, you will have to work hard from the start to the end of your career.
The level of professionalism in the sport has risen dramatically in the past 20 years, which is why the players have to keep working as hard as possible.
Part of having a professional work ethic in soccer is being prepared to get on well with coaches and teammates even if there are personality clashes.
Some players are too unstable and often create conflicts with their managers or other members of the squad. This can harm their career dramatically and decreases both their overall value and impact on the field.
Discipline on the Pitch
There are many games where players have to be smart on the pitch and stay out of trouble to perform at their best.
We’ve all seen how defenders that receive an early booking are then scared to challenge the opponents properly. Not to mention the situations when a reckless tackle or a moment of madness leads to a red card and an ejection that ruins the chances of the team to win the match.
Players who don’t have solid discipline on the pitch will usually cost their club every now and then, which is certainly a big downside.
Analyzing the Future of a Player
As you would assume, the value of a player and his contributions on the pitch are not set in stone. Some players improve and others decline based on various factors. Because of this, it’s important to analyze the potential and the future of the player.
You need to look at the following aspects to do that.
- Injury record
- Current club
- Current manager
This one is quite obvious. The natural trajectory of most players is to improve each season until they reach their peak around 26-28 or so. They normally fulfill their potential around this point in time and keep the same level up to 32-33 when the inevitable decline starts.
Of course, there are athletes who peak earlier than that and certain positions where experience is vital, so the players are at their best in their 30s. Goalkeepers, for example, reach their peak around 30 and often play up to 40 or so.
When you are analyzing a certain player, you should be able to identify potential improvement or decline in his career. If he is still young and has been becoming better and better, chances are that this will continue and vice versa.
It’s very unfortunate, but some players are prone to injuries that hinder their development. We often see talented athletes miss an entire season with problems like a torn ACL and similar. When that happens, they often decline instead of improving.
This is why the injury record matters a lot. If a certain player is often on the sidelines, he might never reach top form in the short term and his full potential in the long term.
On the contrary, some athletes have a strong body and protect it well, which allows them to swiftly reach the top and stay there.
The development of each player relies heavily on the club he plays for.
The biggest soccer teams in Europe are known for mostly relying on complete players. They need results immediately, so they usually don’t have the patience to develop raw talent from scratch. This is why they are sometimes a graveyard for young talents.
You will often see a prodigy join the ranks, perform inconsistently, and lose the faith of the manager. It’s hard to judge the coach in cases like that, as it’s the manager’s head that is on the line. If the team is not up to the high expectations of the fans, the board, and the media, everybody suffers.
The pressure is huge, and this is the reason young players are often better off at smaller, less successful clubs until they reach their peak. This will usually aid their development.
Of course, the desire to make more money and compete for trophies is a temptation not many are able to resist.
Every manager has a different style that comes with its strengths and weaknesses.
Some managers are excellent at working well with young players and helping them fulfill their potential. Some are skilled at getting the best out of established veterans, while others are great at helping players add new elements to their game and become more rounded.
Furthermore, there are gaffers who are very good at coaching defense, while others can improve their attacking players immensely.
Very few managers are good at all of these things, which means that not all players will perform at their best under all managers.
When you are analyzing a soccer player, be sure to check if his manager is the right kind of person he needs to improve and play to his best. This is an often-overlooked but very important aspect of player analysis.
As you can see, there are a ton of aspects you should go through when analyzing and evaluating soccer players.
To begin with, getting into this kind of detail might be a bit difficult. It will almost certainly take time for you to get used to the whole process and carry out your assessments effectively. The good news is that it becomes easier, and you will get much better at it as time goes by.
Remember that this is an essential process when it comes to betting on soccer. If you have any ambition to make money from your betting, you must be able to form solid and well-informed conclusions about the players.
You’ll also need to do the same for teams. To help with that, you should take the time to read the following page.