Analysis In Action: Part Three – Mailbag!

Analysis In Action: Mailbag! Answering Your Question On Analysis “In The Field”

First off, to lead part three, I’d like to issue a thank you to everyone for reading this series thus far. When I first decided on sharing my experiences and writing this series, I didn’t think it would be as popular as it has been. I think it’s a testament to how important analysis in football has become, and how the growth in the community space online is reflected; I’m just happy that I get a chance to call it a “career’ and help people out in some small way.

Another thank you to everyone for joining me and Carl Edwards of Rotherham last week with our Analyst’s Q&A: We hope to turn it into a running segment, and if you read on to the bottom, I’ll have some more news to share on that front…

So, this part of Analysis In Action will be a bit of a mailbag to break up the general flow of my thoughts thus far. In addition, this series was created to help people understand what the day-to-day role looks like and how to improve their own skills – You’re naturally going to have questions, so it’s good for me to address them. 

The Questions:

– “When preparing for a match, how important would You rate each of the following:

  • The tactics they used in the last match against you
  • The opposition’s last 3-5 games
  • The oppositions recent games against teams who played a similar style to yourself”

So, it’s hard to put the three into a general and distinct hierarchy, as each team you work for has different circumstances and “expectations” all of which are decided by the coaching staff’s demands. If you work for a team/club that like to be in charge of the flow of the game (i.e. protagonists) I tend to lean more into how we like to play – More often than not, if the intended framework works, the opposition will have to adjust to your strengths rather than vice versa. Looking at these matches you can analyze them:

  • How did they set up?
  • What did they intend to do in possession/out-of-possession?
  • What were they successful in doing, and did any of the changes they utilized cause issues for us?

Looking at these factors, you can help the coaching staff tailor your training in the days prior to a match to make sure you are prepared for any eventualities. If you haven’t played a team before (new to the league, new coach, new players, etc.), using a team which plays a similar style to get a gauge on your opponent is always a useful exercise. Since their tactics will likely mirror that of your own, you can pull conclusions as to how your strengths will combat their weaknesses.

The sample size part of the question “the opposition’s last 3-5 games” is something that, for me, is non-negotiable – I personally (if possible) get 5 matches of footage and data to use. Football isn’t played in a vacuum. : Recent form, players available, minor tweaks based on demands placed upon them, and more are like gold-dust, so you need to get a grasp of these factors to be fully prepared for an upcoming match. 

How flexible do you think players are in terms of being adaptable? I.e. If you wanted to play a low-block, quick transition tactic in one game and the game afterwards called for a high press, controlling possession game, do you need a completely different set of players?

A lot of this is conditioned by the players you have at your disposal. Ultimately, players are what make the difference on match-day, so when putting a system in place you need to consider what works for them over a long period of time. That being said, when looking at it on the whole, every coach has a “base” on which their tactical framework rests. Within that base you’ll have certain non-negotiables about how you want to play; how we look to build, how we look to press, etc. Underneath that further, you’ll have sub principles about how these are achieved, be they individual or collective ideas. All of these together are what make-up what you see on a match day.

All of these aforementioned specifics to how a team plays means that there is never “one way to play” within a game model. Using a popular example, Guardiola has a very defined way he wants to play every single week, but the way this is achieved – be it the formation, intensity of pressure, directness of their passing, etc. changes all the time. Players naturally have to adapt to this with the help of the coaching staff/analysts. Jumping from this too often or completely abandoning your principles is completely different.  You can’t expect to train certain passing patterns for months on end and then instantly expect the players to avoid them at the drop of a hat.

From an analyst’s point of view, in helping the staff decide what mechanisms to utilize on a match day, I have to look at it similarly to how a coach would: For example, if a team is good at pressing high (and we like to build up) – in what way and what areas/situations can we be more pragmatic in our offensive organization, and do so in a way which hurts the opposition the most? Having these things in the back of your mind help inform the coaching staff about what to train on during the week so you give yourself the best chance to win. How this is delivered is up to the individual analyst and how the coach prefers his insights – Whether it be data packets/dashboards, video clips, etc. Players need to be included in this process as well so they can provide feedback (to an extent) on what they feel comfortable with changing or not.

How are you finding the culture/style of play/professionalism around non league football? Compared to the environments you’ve worked in before?

Since I started working with Bath City in early August, I’ve been extremely impressed with the level of professionalism, as well as the ability, of the players I’m working with. I’ve worked most of my life with younger players (17-21 year olds) but the profile of players at the club varies greatly. Because of this, I’ve had to vary my approach in terms of delivery of information. Some of the players are very in-tune with advanced data and video performance analysis, while others are less so. I’ve had to essentially start from scratch (and on my own) to build an “analysis culture” at the club, which has been incredibly rewarding. Every review session I’ve led has incorporated some type of data segment alongside the general video review/clips – Doing this has broken down a lot of barriers to acceptance of said data: Providing contextualization to the team about what they mean. Framing all my analysis in this way has gotten everyone on board extremely quickly and helped players take ownership of their development. I also send everyone personalized video clips, have a team metrics dashboard on Tableau, etc. so they can look at it whenever they have time. The players are not full-time professionals, so knocking down any barriers in regards to access to my analysis is vital.  We only train twice a week, so this dramatically cuts down on my ability to affect change. Ultimately they want to win as much as professionals in the top flight, however, so bridging the gap as much as I can is crucial.

Compared to the environments I’ve worked in before, the biggest difference as I touched on is just the availability of the players and how much work I can put in with the staff/players on a day-to-day basis. This makes my delivery and effectiveness of delivery even more important than it’s ever been.  There’s really no room for error on this front. While it can be frustrating, (availability of footage to use one example) having to be more creative with my work has been very rewarding.

Do you code the match first (when live coding matches in the stadium with video) and then look at the patterns or do you do both at the same time? 

Every analyst is different, but when I first started out I was incredibly “generalized” with my live coding process. My windows were based quite simple events, that had little to do with team specifics:

  • Shots
  • Saves
  • Set pieces
  • Positive/negative events to show the staff at half-time and full-time
  • Etc.

This has changed dramatically as I’ve gotten comfortable with watching games with an “analyst’s eye” as well as the basic technical aspects of live coding. Alongside the events above, I now live code:

  • Build up play
  • Final third attacking
  • Transitional moments
  • Defending in blocks
  • Pressing sequences
  • Etc. 

Each tag I make includes a “qualifier” to help speed up the review/filtration process. For example: If a set piece was from a corner, I’d include whether it was an in-swinger/out-swinger, which side it came from, who took it, etc. None of this work would be possible without a clear understanding of how you want to play – The game is so incredibly fluid and quick that you can’t possibly code everything. I focus on what will be important in the game, and going forward.

An example of one of the multitude of post-game coding windows I have at my disposal.

The live coding process is only part one of three: I have separate code windows I utilize or subsequent re-watches. One of these are the more “granular” aspects of play which are harder to pick up (or are less important in the moment). Minute principles of play, individual combinations, and more. The other of these windows are for individual players – X&Y coordinates for events, individual pass maps, etc. Which are used to send to players for their own personal development. While live review is incredibly important, the goals of this greatly differ from the other: Watching a game in the stadium boils down to,  “How can I help the team win right now?” while watching it later on boils down to, “What can I look at which will help us improve and determine long term trends?” My live coding windows reflect this change in focus. 

Final Update

Thanks to everyone who sent in questions, and I apologize I couldn’t answer every one of them. However, as this series reaches its conclusion with Part Four coming out in the next couple weeks, I’m happy to say that this type of insight into performance/video analysis will continue on another medium!

Even though I promised myself I’d never start a podcast, I’m doing just that. Carl Edwards and I will be doing a Q&A format with another analyst working in professional football.  We will be hearing individual stories, taking questions from listeners, and sharing insight/tips into the profession in a similar way that these articles have aimed to. We have some FANTASTIC guests lined up for you, and I look forward to sharing them with you soon! We’ve settled on the name “The View From The Gantry” and I’ll be sharing all the necessary links for you to like and subscribe as soon as we can.

Once again, thanks for reading Analysis In Action – Part Four will focus on the match-day experience and what that entails!

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