Feyenoord needs to defend their #3 spot rather than go for #2 or #1

A huge club like Feyenoord ought to always play for the championship. Nevertheless, the distance between Feyenoord and PSV (currently #2) and Ajax (currently #1) proofs to be to big. In this article I react to the wonderful article “Wat brengt de nabije toekomst voor Feyenoord?” by Enrico Raho. Not to criticize, but to show the differences between a classical approach to football statistics as has been excellently written down by Enrico Raho and our FBM Bayesian approach.

The main difference is that FBM focuses much more on results on the pitch rather than actions. Based on the results a team achieves we calculated the contributions that the individual players make. More importantly, FBM looks much more to the ratio between good and bad contribution. Finally, and most importantly, FBM looks at the distribution of good and bad contributions.

When we look from this perspective a somewhat different picture about the future of Feyenoord appears. Although, in other respects we come to the same conclusions as Enrico Raho.

FBM Team Ranking

Feyenoord need to defend their #3

As can be seen from the graph above FBM data shows that AZ has already passed by Feyenoord. In the 2018//2019 season there was a close battle between AZ and Feyenoord for the #3 spot. Feyenoord won that battle. Nevertheless, according to our data AZ is more likely to win the #3 spot in the 2019/2020 season than Feyenoord. We agree with Enrico Raho that the gap with PSV and Ajax is currently too big for Feyenoord to close. As an aside, we think that the gap between PSV and Ajax is a lot bigger than Enrico Raho suggests. Due to the very high correlations between FBM Team Ranking and league ranking and points, we think that there is a strong case to be made for these gaps.

With AZ already having passed Feyenoord and Vitesse being very close to Feyenoord, we think that the best strategy for Feyenoord is to consolidate the #3 spot rather than try to go for the #2 spot. Of course, doing well in Europe helps and getting new players that have a decent chance for a multi-euro transfer in a few years will help too. Yet, the same goes for Ajax and PSV. If Feyenoord does well in Europe and finds players that make big transfers in a few years time, chance is that Ajax and PSV will do the same. But because Ajax and PSV do the same at a much higher level, the gap between Feyenoord and the top two clubs of the Eredivisie will only become bigger and bigger.

At the same time, if Feyenoord were to lose the #3 spot in the Eredivisie structurally, that would hurt more than they would gain from trying to close the gap with Ajax and PSV. So it is much more important that Feyenoord studies why AZ and Vitesse are as successful as they are and copy of counter those strategies. In short, AZ is successful due to their youth programme and their use of statistics. Vitesse is successful due to their investment in an international network and relationships. Feyenoord is lacking on all these fronts. These would be the easiest targets for Feyenoord to protect their #3 spot.

Differences between the top 5 Eredivisie clubs

Here you can see the differences between the top 5 Eredivisie clubs. These graphs how much a team needs to defend (red)  and how much a team is able to transition (yellow) and attack (blue). The less a team needs to defend, the better the team.

#1 Ajax:

#2: PSV:

#3: Feyenoord:

#4 AZ:

#5 Vitesse:

Again, you can see that there is a big gap between Ajax (needs only a 40% defense)  and PSV (needs a 47% defense). But one can also see the big gap between Ajax and PSV on the one hand and Feyenoord on the other hand. Feyenoord needs a 58% defense, which is in the same league as Vitesse. Whereas AZ lies between PSV and Feyoord with a 52% defense. As a further aside, you can also see how Eric ten Hag’s transitioning philosophy has worked really well for Ajax with a 33% transition.

As you can see Feyenoord is also less balanced than Ajax and PSV. It would be good if Feyenoord invested in players who have a high FBM transitioning score. Compared to AZ Feyenoord is also lacking in attacking efficiency. So Feyenoord also needs to find players to have a high FBM attacking score. Ideally, Feyenoord finds players who have both a high transitioning score and a high attacking score.

Feyenoord’s attack

Enrico Raho is absolutely right that Feyenoord is for their attack dependent on Van Persie. The correlations of FBM Team Ranking are especially interesting because they are completely based on the statistics of individual players. No team results are used to calculate FBM Team Ranking. Instead we use the median FBM score of each player in the starting XI.

Van Persie

With an average of 84% for attacking efficiency Van Persie is for a large part responsible for the attack strength of Feyenoord. But Feyenoord is less dependent on Berghuis as can be seen from his median scores:


Berghuis’ attacking efficiency is quite low with 3%. The reason for this is that Berghuis has many more negative attack contribution than Van Persie. That is the reason why it is so important to look at the ratio between good and bad contributions and their distribution. In the Eredivisie we only found an 8% correlation between goals scored in the previous season and goals scored in the next season. For XG there is a higher correlation of 27%, but that is still quite low. FBM median attack score has a 50% correlation, which is normally considered quite good, but we prefer correlation above 80%. The reason why Berghuis is so valuable for Feyenoord lies in his transitioning efficiency. Given that we have indicated that this is a weak spot for Feyenoord, although we think that Feyenoord ought to sell Berghuis if they have a good offer, they need to find a replacement player who also has a high transitioning efficiency or this weakness of Feyenoord becomes even weaker.

What might surprise you is that Toornstra also has a positive influence on Feyenoord attack:


Enrico Raho is also right that it is strange that Kökcü played so little for Feyenoord. Although Kökcü has less time to make mistakes, his data looks better than most players of Feyenoord.


Again, Enrico Raho is right that Vilhena’s performance was a bit disappointing:


And the same goes for Jörgensen:


We are a bit more positive about Sam Larsson than Enrico Raho:


We are always happy when analysts mention Dalmau as Dalmau is the first player we helped getting into the Eredivisie with a free transfer to Heracles. We will be delighted when Dalmau transfers to Feyenoord, especially for a two million euro transfer. We agree with Enrico Raho that Dalmau would bring the same kind of attack efficiency to Feyenoord. Although Dalmau is a bit less reliable and doesn’t help defending the way Van Persie does.

Dalmau versus Van Persie:

Van Persie

Feyenoord’s defense

We agree with Enrico Raho that Feyenoord has a strong defense. Feyenoord needs to defend a lot more than Ajax, PSV and AZ. We also agree with Enrico Raho that Van der Heijden doesn’t score well at all. Here is our data on Van der Heijden:

Van der Heijden

(Please note that a high reliability while having low scores is quite bad as it means that it is unlikely that the player, in this case, Van der Heijden, will perform better in the future.)

In support of Enrico Raho’s judgement on Cuco Martina, we also note that (a) most scouts don’t like Cuco Martina and (b) he scores quite well for a defender:

Cuco Martina

To conclude: Feyenoord needs a lot of new players with better FBM scores. Especially, if they want to close the gap between Ajax and PSV. More realistically though, it would be better for Feyenoord to focus on consolidating their #3 spot in the Eredivisie.


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