Run more or clever running? Big Data in the Spanish football

Run more or clever running? Big Data in the Spanish football
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Run more or clever running? Where is the Spanish football evolving? In terms of quantity? How can we measure quality?

A few weeks ago in a football coaches seminar, the physical trainer of one of the top 8 teams in the Spanish La Liga, pointed out that thanks to the GPS technology, the training sessions were already done and measured in real time.

There have been for many many years people or even experts trying to use statistics ( possession percentage, number of corner kicks, number of offsides, distances, shots in goal, etc.) to analyze the game of the games, football, which complexity makes itself unique sport and so popular around the globe.

Recently some other scientific items have also been used like the Heatmaps or the Big data. Big data is an evolving term that describes a large volume of structured, semi-structured and unstructured data that has the potential to be mined for information and used in machine learning projects and other advanced analytics applications.

Last season, El Diario AS, one of the most popular sports newspapers in Spain, published an article with this highlight: “Big Data gives the physical advantage to Real Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo“, referring to the next knockout Champions League Game between Real Madrid and Juventus de Turin. The article was signed for Paco González, as a Big Data expert and with a collaboration with a Spanish University.

The article begins to make a comparison between Cristiano Ronaldo and the two center backs from Juventus. Since the position and the role in the field are just the opposite, it doesn’t seem a good way of analyzing the players. According to this, the key factor is that  Cristiano Ronaldo has on average 35% more of sprints than the two center backs from Juventus.

The next analysis is between Real Madrid players, putting them in groups of two players: Lucas-Asensio compared to Bale-Benzema. Every factor analyzed gives a better score to Lucas-Asensio instead the criticized by media and fans Bale-Benzema.

If we move on reading the article we eventually find a comparison between the meters run by the outside backs of both teams. Since the Juventus players have a better score in this factor, the article makes sure that the Real Madrid players run more meters when the team is in possession of the ball. Since the priority of a defender is the defensive play, it doesn’t make any sense to split the run distance when the team is in possession and when is in a defensive play.

The article eventually gives us the data of two players from the opposite teams playing in the same position: Khedira from Juventus versus Kroos from Real Madrid. But now the analysis is done with a different approach: Kroos shows only a 13.23% of less physical performance in high-intensity actions when you compare the second half with the first half. On the other hand, Khedira shows a 40.76% on the same factor. The conclusion, according to Diario AS is that this higher tiredness could be a key factor in this knock out stage games.

And what was the analysis after them? We don’t know. Nothing was published by el Diario AS referring this scientific approach, but the factor which was referred to was the PLAY of both teams, with a general consensus: Real Madrid played better in the first game and Juventus played better in the second game.  Then the questions would be, how we analyze the PLAY of both teams? or how can we conclude that a team played better than the other?

 

Big Data and football: ” the game of games”

 

According to Paco Sierulo, FC Barcelona former physical trainer and current methodology department manager, “Football is the game of games. Its such a complex game that it hardly evolved since the origins like other sports did” 

When we analyze the PLAY itself in terms of performance, most of the times we are based on models like the fitness parameters ( strength, speed, endurance, flexibility) or the systems of play. However, we forget about the different relationships and complexities that come up when the players must mostly their feet and legs and as a human being they can’t perform the same way during the season.

 

What’s Big Data for in football?

 

I strongly respect the work of physical trainers and scouting staff. Both professions give the head coaches plenty of information, but it’s not only what it takes to perform excellently.

Big Data experts forecast a football revolution with the use of this tool in different aspects:

  • Player performance analysis
  • Decision making about the signing of new players for the squad
  • Game analysis

I partly agree on this but I make myself questions such as, how is possible that a high-level competition a team like Real Madrid is able to dominate a game and win against Juventus at Turin in a 1-3 score and then a week later in Madrid, Juventus won 1-3.

Goi8ng further in a hypothetical extra time on that knockout game, Juventus players looked fitter and stronger when the game was over, just because the positive emotions of potential come back.

So I ask myself as well, how do we measure emotions? And emotions within the football field? How can we test the motivation level of a player? or maybe we should consider mixed emotions.

Jorge Valdano, former Real Madrid player and coach, said that ” football is an emotion status”. I think that’s to simple for such a complex game but it is a good start

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