Stats Stories

Tristan Muyumba excellent example of winning ball back for Atlanta United


As Atlanta United, and MLS, develops deeper knowledge and use of data analytics, we’ll be taking a look behind the curtain at some of the specific stats the club values. In our new weekly content series, we examine one metric provided by StatsBomb that may not stand out on a first watch, but upon closer evaluation, is a useful tool to measure the team’s performance.

The stat: Ball-winning actions

What it measures: A player’s ability to take the ball away from the opponent and regain possession for his team

This week we’re taking a look at another defensive metric for attack-minded Atlanta United. (Last week, we examined post-shot expected goals and showed how goalkeeper Brad Guzan performed strongly in the category.) However, what we’re examining today is, in a way, applicable to both sides of the ball because this defensive metric actually leads to chances for an attacking team.

Ball-winning actions are tackles and interceptions that a team makes to regain possession. These actions are important because it’s not only the aim for a soccer team to stop the opponent from scoring, but it’s also a goal, especially for Atlanta United, to possess the ball. Possess the ball, create more chances to score.

Nevertheless, the other team possessing the ball is bound to happen – soccer is a two-sided game after all. So, there will be times when Atlanta United is on defense and wants to win the ball back. There are two defensive actions that can make that happen: tackles and interceptions. StatsBomb defines tackles as pressing the man in possession of the ball. Interceptions are caused by a player anticipating where the ball will be played and moving into its line.

To illustrate this point, if we take look at American football, the terms “tackle” and “interception” can be applied almost similarly. A tackle happens when an Atlanta Falcons defensive lineman, for example, makes a play on the ball, bringing down a running back who’s carrying the ball up the middle. An interception occurs when a defensive player catches a pass thrown by the quarterback that was intended for his wide receiver.

In soccer, it works similarly. A tackle occurs on the ball. An interception occurs on the pass. When an Atlanta United player takes away the ball from a Chicago Fire attacker on the dribble, that’s a tackle. When one Chicago player makes a pass to another Chicago player, and an Atlanta United player steps in the line of the pass, disrupts the intention, and takes the ball for himself, that’s an interception.

A side-by-side comparison of a tackle
A side-by-side example of an interception

One player led the way for Atlanta United in the most recent match: midfielder Tristan Muyumba. He finished the Chicago match with a total of seven ball-winning actions, tying his season high. It was also his third-highest performance in this category during his time at Atlanta United, since he joined the club from French Ligue 2 side EA Guingamp last summer.

Muyumba is an effective ball-winner and leads Atlanta United in this category this season. His average per 90 minutes is 4.8 tackles + interceptions. This number puts him seventh for all MLS central midfielders with more than 400 minutes played.

This season, Muyumba ranks eighth in MLS in tackles and 20th in total interceptions. Since joining the league, Muyumba ranks no. 12 amongst central midfielders for combined tackles + interceptions amongst all players with more than 1000 minutes played and ranks no. 2 in tackles.

In first-half stoppage time against Chicago Fire, Muyumba makes one of his six tackles on the night. Allan Arigoni receives a pass after Chicago Fire halts an Atlanta United attack. The ball is deep in Atlanta United’s attacking third. Arigoni, with the ball at his feet, mistimes his dribble, and before he knows it, Muyumba turns on the jets to tackle and regain possession for Atlanta United. Not only does Muyumba get the ball back for his team, he follows it up with a nifty touch with his backheel to keep the ball in bounds.

Muyumba, on the whole, is more of a tackling player than an intercepter. However, he did wind up with one interception in the Chicago match in the 83rd minute. Chicago took control of the ball off an Atlanta United goal kick. Then, Chicago tried a pass right around midfield that was intercepted, thanks to Jamal Thiaré, who applied heavy pressure on the ball, and Muyumba who was active in the area and poked the pass forward to Thiago Almada to ignite an Atlanta United attack.

Muyumba is one of the club’s best defenders this season at taking the ball away from attackers and getting possession back for Atlanta United. This is extremely valuable, especially for a midfielder. The positions where Muyumba is winning the ball back can create some quick counters further up the pitch than, say, playing the ball out of the back. And for a team like Atlanta United that wants to score a lot of goals, having the ball, especially in these areas higher up the pitch, is kind of important.

In the coming weeks, we’ll take a deeper look into how Atlanta looks for options to balance its midfield.

Atlanta United Data Scientist & Analyst Arjun Balaraman as well as Data Engineer Akshay Easwaran contributed to this story. Telestrations by Khoury Kennedy, Atlanta United's Motion Graphics Producer and Video Editor.

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