Why and how to use statistics?

The World Cup 2014 is almost starting, and I will during the WC write some columns and make some analysis, and this is the first one - a pre-analysis.

In the recent years statistics and new science have become an important part of developing a professional football club. I have heard several people questioning why we need this data and that only “computer-coaches” enjoy these stats. I disagree.

I’m - also due to my university background - always interested in knowing what we do, analyzing, and evaluating what we do and how we do it. I want to measure if we are progressing. My philosophy is therefore based on something we can proof combined with our experience - what we see, think and feel. A qualitative and a quantitative analysis combined. This is for me the best model and the model with the biggest chance of gaining success on the long run.

Use stats - for your concept
The dangerous part of using science and stats is that we don’t know what to look for or how to use the data in our daily training, matches or in our philosophy in general. If we just look at some data and never analyze it deeper or try to convert it to the next training or match - then it’s a waste of time. For sure.

Therefore - you need to be extremely sharp on which stats you want as a club. What is interesting for us to measure, what numbers do we need and are we willing to change anything depending on the numbers. If not - again a waste of time. It all comes down to your concept and playing philosophy.

For example a team with a concept of playing very direct football; They could measure how many % of their passes is going forward or how many entries they have on the final 3rd. Then they set a realistic goal - saying 45% of their passes have to go forward, and we want between 45-50 entries on the final 3rd - and they start to measure. With the data the club also see which players aim to do this + see if there is a progression in the forward passes from game to game. If not - they might put in a specific training theme where they teach the players in different plays to pass the ball more forward, so our concept is connected with the training and again with the stats.

In my club - we use Amisco who covers the Chinese Super League (CSL). I not only use data for our own team, but also to look at our opponents. For example before playing against Beijing Guoan looking at their striker Peter Utaka and find out through watching 3-5 of their matches and by looking at Amisco stats that Utaka in 90% of his offensive runs only works in the left side of the pitch.

This is very useful data. You can after this information choose to train it with a shadow team getting your back 4 ready for these runs and you can show your back 4 video + the stats, so they are prepared for this pattern in the way the opponents are playing. Again combine what you see in the game with the data - and convert it to the weekly training and match situation.

This Utaka-example can maybe not win the game every time, but it can create situations where your back 4 reacts the crucial 1-2 seconds before because of your preparation and maybe those 1-2 seconds is what keeps Utaka from getting space in the game. And remember this is a very small data example leaving tons of other stats behind to explore, train and prepare as well.
For me it’s all about details and a 100% preparation in all phases, and stats and science are important tools if you know how to use them and how to implement them in your daily training, pre-match analysis and opponent analysis.

I also work a bit together with the very innovative people behind the company Eye4TALENT. These guys have developed some really interesting use of stats, scouting models and re-thinked the way we are using stats. Especially their danger zone stats are very interesting for me and made me think about when we work with our defensive organization on the training ground - we should perhaps work more on protecting the penalty box area inside - how to block shots and make it difficult for opponents to get an open shot as 85% of the goals are scored inside the penalty box.

Also Eye4TALENT work in details, which is the way forward in modern football. I saw some of their prematch stats before the Danish Cup final, and this was extremely useful info for the players involved. It will help their preparation and improve their focus on the aimed areas. Again give them an advance before the game is started. They know what is coming.

Therefore - I will recommend all to follow Eye4TALENT on Twitter and read their free material - you can learn a lot about football and stats here. And the people behind the company also have a background in football, so they know what to aim for and the biggest problem for a coach is time and how to use your time in the most efficient way.