Competition in the sports technology game is here to stay
Technology is changing the world of sport in many ways and its use is growing rapidly.
Football is a constantly evolving sport. The modification of the rules of the game, the emergence of new tactics and the improvement in the players’ technical and physical training cause changes in performance and in the teams’ way of playing throughout time. For example, it has been confirmed that between the 2006-2007 and 2012-2013 seasons, English Premier League players increased the number of passes made during a match by 12% and the number of actions and the distance travelled at high intensity by almost a third.1 Another study has found that in the World Cup finals between 1966 and 2010, the number of passes and the speed of the ball have increased by 30% and 15%, respectively, while the effective playing time has decreased 10%.2 The movement of players and coaches as a consequence of globalisation and the trend that winning teams tend to mark may explain these changes.
How has elite football been changing in recent years? Is it possible to find any trends in the game? A recent publication3 has analysed the evolution of the technical performance of teams and players in the UEFA Champions League (UCL) in recent years. In order to do that, they examined the values for 18 game actions within a total of 1,125 games (2,489 players, 16,247 observations) during 9 seasons: from 2009-2010 to 2017-2018. The data was provided by an open access website (www.whoscored.com) and the reliability of the tracking system used (OPTA Client System) has been widely validated in scientific literature. The main results are collected in the following table.
In summary, it seems that the best European teams seek to have a greater control of the game, creating attacking situations by using more short passes with a greater efficiency so as not to lose possession of the ball. On the other hand, crosses into the box from the wings and long passes are less important in the game. Ball possession and the combination game seem to mark the evolutionary trend of elite football compared to the more direct game (long passes).
Clubs and coaches should consider this trend in the evolution of the game in their daily work. The training process for the youngest players may have to be oriented towards stimulating the best technical-tactical level with the ball and being able to play faster and faster. The signing of footballers should not be unrelated to this evolution either. It may be convenient to remember a phrase of Johan Cruyff: “Football is a game you play with your brain. You have to be in the right place, at the right time, not too early not too late.” Possibly, the newest evolution is to remember what wise people said many years ago.
Carlos Lago Peñas
1 Barnes, C., Archer, D. T., Hogg, B., Bush, M., and Bradley, P. S. (2014). The evolution of physical and technical performance parameters in the English Premier League. Int. J. Sports Med. 35, 1095-1100. doi: 10.1055/s-0034-1375695
2 Wallace, J. L., and Norton, K. I. (2014). Evolution of World Cup soccer final games 1966–2010: game structure, speed and play patterns. J. Sci. Med. Sport 17, 223–228. doi: 10.1016/j.jsams.2013.03.016
3 Yi Q, Liu H, Nassis GP and Gómez M-Á (2020) Evolutionary Trends of Players’ Technical Characteristics in the UEFA Champions League. Front. Psychol. 11:1032. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01032
Although there are several studies on this topic, many of them have analyzed these demands by looking at just a few variables or using very broad timeframes. A new study completed by physical trainers from F.C. Barcelona has analyzed several of these details more closely.
The understanding of the modifying variables of the game, based on the degrees of freedom.
Sports Analytics has grown exponentially thanks to IT sciences and it also encompasses other subareas (e.g. sports sciences, behavior sciences, medicine or data visualization) in addition to statistics with a focus that is more tactical and sports performance related.