These determining factors require that an aspiring UEFA Champions League team maintain a high level of competitiveness in a sustainable manner. This need to compete at the highest level compels teams to constantly maintain a critical point and balance it – as we will see later – with incorporating and forming player roles in the creation and consolidation phase that could develop and eventually replace the top performers.
However, there is an interesting fact: Using the seasons from 1997–1998 to 2017–2018 as a reference, the number of different teams that have made it to the semifinals (Conference Finals in the NBA), that have made it to the finals, and that have become champions is practically identical: 25 different teams have made it to the semifinals in the UEFA Champions League vs. 26 in the NBA; 16 different teams have played in the final in both competitions; and 9 different teams have been champions in both competitions.
These are the three phases:
1) Creation/Building Stage
NBA: the initial project phase is based on the consolidation of mid- and long-term resources, which will later allow an organic development of structure. Therefore, the objective is to recruit talent to develop, with a high capacity for development in two main areas: physical terms (size: height, size, reach; mobility, power) and individual technique (passing, dribbling, shooting).
Scouting in simple terms > adaptation to the group structure
The group focus is adapted to the development of these profiles. For that, the use of high-speed systems, which require increased decision-making and readings of action/reaction, is going to strengthen the profile in the mid-term. Individual demands take precedence over the group in the first phase. It is a period of learning and growth.
Maximize individual potential > short-term result
UEFA Champions League setting: this stage occurs frequently among reserve teams, or teams where players have been sent on loan. Since this phase concerns emerging talent, the analysis is aligned towards detecting the individual strengths of each player and trying to apply those strengths to the style of each team; that is to say, measuring the collective impact and, through analytics, monitoring development in terms of established objectives. This is always done with enough flexibility to detect individual opportunities as the process continues. Each competitive development implies a group challenge that entails an individual adaptation process.
2) Consolidation Stage
NBA: The second point is reached when the profiles, still in development, have gained enough autonomy to display stable behavior during competition. This is the phase in which building the group structure begins, which will lay the foundation for future success. In other words, as this phase begins, it starts to produce a hierarchical effect within the system – according to roles and different cutting-edge designs that are now able to maximize the team’s potential.
Structural identity > individual focus
This is where analytics becomes a primary factor for optimization. The process of accumulating, selecting, and analyzing data (both group and individual) contributes to building the design of a team.
- Space, corners, three-point shots.
- Definition of positions: point guard, shooting guard, forward, etc.
- Analysis and exploration of situations: transition, weighted by 2×2 and 3×3.
- Differential Versatility (profiles capable of containing both inside/outside)
- Analytical optimization: dunk and three-pointer. Conceding mid-range shots
- Framework and variants depending on the resources
UEFA Champions League: This stage is understood as the moment in which a player is able to contribute to the first level team: depending on each case, this can mean assigning the player to a role that may be more limited, but no less important. With the demands of the calendar, it is increasingly important that the players in rotation have enough versatility to perform at a high level in different positions when a more regular player is resting or is unavailable. There are other cases in which a player has a high maximum level within the group during the consolidation phase and they enter into a planning phase, where they gain prominence. To monitor this part in the world of football, we consider:
- Passing: monitoring the different passing ranges
- Offense: Shooting and link-up play
- Defense: Readiness, concentration, and aggressiveness
- Goalkeeper: Clearing the ball, high balls, rate of shots saved as a function of the quality and danger of shots taken
- Individual performance and adaptation to different playing situations: Transitions, open play, counter attacks, set pieces. Offensive phase and defensive phase
- Group metrics
Abilities based on positional tracking:
- Concepts of space and tactical procedures
- Managing space / timing from a group standpoint
- Synchronization of pressure in the defense phase
Qualitative: qualitative contributions to enhance the analysis of the objective data derived from events and tracking. This part allows for categorization of abilities and metrics based on each team’s style and playing objectives
3) Refinement and Critical Point Stage
NBA: There is no specific window for moving from the second to third phase because organic development – especially for the positions of greater influence – may accelerate or slow that advancement. The final phase is defined by the primary interest: competing in the short term. The purposes are focused on maximum attention to group details.
Increasing tactical factors > individual development
Here, analytics reach their maximum level of influence – applying them first at an individual level (patterns, routines, and performance) to then apply at the group level (formats, compatibility, system variability). The organization is even more defined, and the structure is made stronger to allow roles to reach their highest level.
This is where the structure should showcase the talent. And not the other way around. It is the inversion of this concept that marks the critical point and the end of the competitive cycle.
UEFA Champions League: At this point, once the above-described analytical routine has been constructed, its development serves to generate new metrics that refine the model. Different objectives may be established, which measure and extend the critical point as much as possible with the previously mentioned rotation.
- Analysis of rotation and system variability
- Player versatility index: main and alternate roles and positions; adaptation to the tactical environment
- Synchronization among players: Measuring with the objective of promoting coordination among different players in the same position and the impact on the group
- Definition of indicators that validate the model and that allow for development with rules and guidelines
- It extends the scope of player monitoring and (total) time of analysis
- It provides a well-balanced combination of visual impressions and analytics by using cutting-edge technology to perform the quantitative analysis
- It gives the possibility of monitoring and measuring tactical patterns – for the individual player as well as the team
- It allows us to link up individual qualitative metrics with objective metrics, resulting in a richer overall analysis
- It includes rigorous, categorized, and accessible information to help make better decisions
Andrés Monje & Alfredo Ruiz Brichs
Andrés Monje. Journalist specializing in the NBA, Basketball Analytics, and Statistics. Twitter
Alfredo Ruiz Brichs. Consultant on Data & Business Intelligence and Sports Analytics. LinkedIn