The right place at the right time: Advanced off-ball metrics for exploiting an opponent’s spatial weakenesses in soccer

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Abstract

Sergio Llana, Data Scientist, FC Barcelona
Pau Madrero, Data Scientist, FC Barcelona
Javier Fernández, Head of Sports Analytics, FC Barcelona

Abstract

What should we do to win the next match? This is the most important question a coach can ask to a game analyst and its answer is much more complex to solve than to formulate. In the recent years, new approaches have been presented to address isolated aspects of the game (e.g. quality of shots, space control…) but we lacked tools to perform in-depth opponent scouting. The concepts we present allow to identify opponent’s defensive weaknesses and to discover how to exploit them to gain a competitive advantage in the game.

First, we introduce the concept of off-ball advantage, which identifies when a player controls a valuable space in the field in such a way that, passing the ball to that player, would create a considerable increase in the long-term outcome of the possession. Then, diving deeper into the idea of exploiting spaces of value, we introduce a novel method to assign dynamic defensive areas to each defender. By doing so, we can relate the opponent’s spatial weaknesses to specific players. Finally, we attribute the long-term contribution of both on-ball and off-ball actions. We compute the effective value added of each action in order to to highlight those players that contribute the most to the offensive contribution of a team, and those defenders that are responsible for significant defensive failures.

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