This is a guest blog by our CTO, Mathias Golombek, in which he runs the numbers to see which nations have the strongest squads for EURO 2020 – according to the data.
EURO 2020 is here! It’s a year later than planned but the delay has only served to raise excitement levels even higher among fans and players alike. As ever, pre-tournament speculation has been rife: who are the candidates for the title? Who could cause a surprise? And could there be a 2004-style sensation when Greece won the title?
As a data-driven company, at Exasol we’ve chosen a data-led way to assess the favorites. Along with our partner, the Institut für Spielanalyse, we’ve analyzed the squads of the 24 national teams qualified for the European Championship.
So, which nation has the best players to choose from? And why is that crucial? Well, it’s a players’ game! And the quality of the players on the pitch decides the game.
So, how should you measure quality? We’ll dive into this below, as well as uncovering what chance the German national team has of success. Exasol has been an official partner of the German Football Association (DFB) since October 2020, but do they have what it takes to repeat the heroics of 1996?
Top players ensure better chances of success
The first step of the analysis was to identify the national squad players who play for a club in one of the top five leagues in Europe – Bundesliga, La Liga, Premier League, Seria A, Ligue 1. The second step meant assessing whether those clubs qualified for the international competitions in 2021/22 for the 2020/21 season (places 1 – 7, depending on the domestic league).
Using this formula, we’re able to identify the key players which determine the quality of the squad. We call it the Exasol Power Index (EPI).
This is the sports science rationale behind the EPI: players who play for a top club in Europe enjoy an environment that promotes performance development – which means, among other things, optimal training conditions and competition from strong teammates, high competition quality in various competitions, dealing with pressure in do-or-die games.
Additionally, players from these clubs are likely to be in good physical and mental shape, as they have recently qualified for the top European competitions with their clubs. With their club football now done, in recent weeks at the various pre-tournament training camps, the players will have been working to reach their optimal state of athletic form.
Exasol Power Index: France is favorite, Germany close behind!
Teams with a high EPI score, with a few exceptions, are most likely also be the ones to qualify for the final 16 and then dominate the knockout phase. What makes us so sure? It’s simple. Since 2006, the team with the highest EPI has always won the World Cup.
According to our data, the strongest team is currently the reigning world champions. France enters the competition with 22 EPI-ranked players. However, the German national side is close behind. Among the 26 players nominated by Joachim Löw, 20 are EPI-ranked athletes. In fact, of the 26 in the squad, ten have won the Champions League in the last two seasons! A staggering proportion.
By comparison, the French have seven players who’ve triumphed in the two most recent Champions League finals. Other tournament favourites include Spain (19 EPI-ranked players), Italy (16) and England (16). Defending champions Portugal are on a par with the perennial dark horse of Belgium (14 each).
The ambitious underdogs
The squads of Austria (22 players), Denmark (21), Switzerland and Wales (19 each) surprise with their high number of players active in the top 5 leagues. Austria and Denmark even rank ahead of defending champions Portugal!
The Austrians have the largest fraction of legionnaires from one country, with 65 players in the Bundesliga last season. From this large pool, 22 ended up in Franco Foda’s squad. Meanwhile, the Danes have the majority of their top 5 league players in English leagues. The Swiss currently have 21 players in the Bundesliga, twelve of whom made the squad for the European Championship. The majority of the Welsh players (18) pursue their profession across the border in England.
What does it all mean?
From the point of view of the data, Germany’s Die Mannschaft could very well be lifting the trophy at the end of EURO 2020. But they’ll have stiff competition from France and Spain. At the same time, the Bundesliga could be the breeding ground for one or two big surprises during the European Championship.
As ever, the truth will play out on the pitch!
We’ll be regularly posting podcasts, articles and videos on our EURO 2020 hub, so check back soon!