When lineker Maradona scored against Messi

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Maradona or Messi, who was / is the better footballer? Opinions are divided on this question. And not just since the surprising death of “El Pibe de Oro”, the golden boy. Does deep data, of all things, provide the answer?

At the age of just 60, Diego Maradona died of cardiac arrest. Far too early to end for one of the greatest legends Argentine football has ever produced. He fled the poverty of Argentina to Europe with a previously seldom seen footballing talent. Here he became a world star, role model and perhaps the best footballer of all time. But again and again he had to struggle with drugs, with which he tried to cope with the stifling fame. His death shocked many, far beyond the borders of Argentina, football and sport. Has the best footballer the world ever seen passed away here?

As tragic as Maradona's death is in many respects, the question of comparing two absolutely exceptional talents of their respective generation is also interesting: Diego Maradona and his compatriot Lionel Messi. Experts would love to see Maradona from back then play in the present or Messi from today in the 80s. But how can you bring these two together in their respective heyday without a time machine? Deep data provides the answer!

AI meets competitive sport

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are also becoming increasingly important in competitive sports. The Stats Perform team uses data-driven technologies to evaluate countless statistics and helps athletes, managers and teams themselves, as well as viewers, to understand and improve complex processes, decisions and scenarios from the world of sport.

Stats Perform was dedicated to the question of what made Maradona a world champion while Messi missed the goal at the crucial moment. To this end, 25-year-old Maradona at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico and 26-year-old Messi at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil were compared. For this purpose, data from both players at the respective tournaments were analyzed and viewed objectively. How did the teams in which both played differ in style? Who could use difficult chances and who missed good chances? Who was more dangerous on the ball and who was more sloppy in dribbling? Who invested more in the final, faced their opponents and who tried to avoid them?

In order not to dilute the analysis, only games against opponents of roughly equal strength were considered. The average world rankings of the opponents from 1986 was 8.4 while the opponents from 2014 got a value of 7.4. One should not forget at this point that football is a team sport. The outcome of the game did not rest on the shoulders of a maradona or a messi alone; However, both were at the forefront of a structure that was explicitly tailored to them and aimed at maximum success.

Messi's values ​​better, but Maradona became world champion

Since Messi and Maradona were ultimately to be evaluated, the statisticians looked at the movements of both players. It was noticeable that Messi often moved outside of his normal position in the games, while Maradona's game followed a clearer structure. Messi had to go a long way as rooms were not occupied by fellow players. It was calculated that the Argentines relied heavily on their defense in 2014 and allowed Germany to push them into their own half in the final. The Argentines had the most touches of the ball on average 1.5 meters behind the center line. In 1986, however, this value was even 8.8 meters. Messi was also slightly superior to Maradona in terms of danger: Messi was involved in 12.7 percent of all offensive actions, while Maradona is just behind with 12.4 percent.

If one looks at countless other values ​​that Stats Perform lists in detail in an article, it becomes clear that neither Messi nor Maradona had a great influence on the success or failure of their national teams in the finals. Both remained inconspicuous for most of the game and acted well behind the lines on which they normally moved. In the end, however, Maradona won a World Cup and Messi didn't.

The reason for this is clear in the previous games: Argentina dominated the group stage in 2014, Lionel Messi scored four goals in three games. In the round of 16 they won 1-0 after extra time, in the quarterfinals 1-0 in regular time and in the semifinals after a 0-0 penalty shoot-out. In none of the games did Messi meet. In 1986 the Albiceleste presented themselves much more stable, there was no loss of form from game to game. Diego Maradona scored all four goals in the quarter-finals and semi-finals. A picture that is also reflected in the data: Maradona could rely on his team at the crucial moment, the final, while Messi was a one-man team throughout the tournament. Little worked when it was removed from the game.

Whether Messi or Maradona - who is / was the better footballer in the end, everyone has to decide for themselves. The only thing that is clear is that a one-man team does not win world championships!

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