What does an analytical report look like when scouting an opponent? What data does it contain? How do you build interaction between analyst and coach during a match? 

In part two of this three-part series, Zenit’s head of sports activity Maxim Gaidovsky answers all of these questions and more. Interview extracted from Championat.com.

How Can You Identify an Opponent's Weaknesses Using Statistics?

Gaidovsky, together with his assistants, are engaged in the analytical support of the first team. Given the example of a forward missing eight of ten chances down the right flank, he had these insights to provide.

“You can identify certain patterns if you have the skills to work with data,” said Gaidovsky. “Even in the example, data highlights certain facts for us. It is necessary to analyze all the mistakes that the player has made, whether they were typical or situational. It is then important to understand that a goal is a somewhat random event in football. It's safer to focus on the quantity and quality of scoring chances: how they were distributed along the two winger and the center. Then a wider sample will appear, the probability that this is a random distribution will be lower.”

Summing up: “If you have statistics that eight goals out of 10 are missed through one flank, you still need to study all these goals and all the dangerous moments, find out and explain what is the weakness of this flank of the opponent's defense,” said Gaidovsky. “As a result, it will be possible to say that the statistics helped us to identify the weaknesses of the opponent.”

The Interaction between Analysis and Coaching Teams to Prepare for Opponents

Zenit’s analysis workflow allows data to be available from moments after the game concludes. “If we spent the previous round away, the head coach can get information about the next opponent already on the plane,” said Gaidovsky. “We usually return the same day and if the opponent manages to play one more game in the same round, then we simply add a couple of pages of analysis on them in the next days.”

The opposition analysis presentation is a 10-page report that includes the estimated squad, information about the last matches, about the team's players, about the structure of the game in different phases, the last couple of pages are devoted to just the analysis of statistical data. Video is also a key element that compliments data reports. 

“We also prepare two videos: on the standards and organization of the game. Both videos are divided into subcategories,” said Gaidovsky. “In the standards there are all subcategories: attack and defense, corners, direct free throws, free throws from the flanks, sometimes we add outs and start from the center of the field. Many analysts in other clubs also refer to the standards as starting from the goal. But we refer this rather to the organization of the game.”

Zenit players Artem Dzyuba and Sardar Azmoun in action during Zenit's winning season.

How Do You Break down the Organization of the Game?

As the leading team in the Russian Premier League, Zenit come up againstto opposition that will set up in a range of different tactical formations;, some defensive setups, while other leading teams will look to attack more. To cover all of these outcomes, the opponent analysis needs to address a range of different tactical scenarios. 

“As a rule, we show a series of episodes for each phase of the game: high block, medium block, low block, transition to attack, start of attack, development, completion and transition to defense,” said Gaidovsky. “But there are teams in which episodes of one or two phases may be absent. For example, if a team puts high pressure on us, it will be difficult to find defensive moments in the middle block with its participation because they either take the ball away, or they cut off the pressure group, and they have to sit down immediately in a low block.

“An important point: the head coach himself decides which episodes will be shown to the team. After all, he has to convey his ideas to the players. We adjust the presentation depending on what he wants to draw attention to.”

Head of analytics Nikita Vasyukhin is the key internal resource in the analysis department and is a strong aid to Gaidovsky’s work. 

“Us analysts process raw data that we purchase from statistical companies and issue complex metrics,” said Gaidovsky. “In addition to defensive line height, we also give the PPDA (passes per defensive action) indicator - this being the average number of passes that the team allows the opponent to make per one defensive action. We also study the percentage of returned possessions in the first seconds after the loss and all of this indirectly shows the intensity of the team's pressure. Combining the three indicators, we can assume how far the pressing team will resist us. But we never focus on data alone, we always give our assessment after watching the videos.”

The Zenit coaching staff analyze footage on a remote device during live play.

The Platforms Zenit Use for Studying Data

For Zenit’s analysis team, Wyscout is the key provider for both data and video analysis.

“Wyscout is certainly a valuable resource of information and video for us too,” said Gaidovsky. Wyscout are introducing new metrics, have added xG to their reports, and have introduced new sections on the platform. The most important thing is that my team understands how the data is collected and how to interpret it correctly.”

Hudl Sportscode also allows Gaidovsky’s team to break down matches into smaller fragments for a more specific and digestible analysis report for the coaching team. “Hudl Sportscode is a typical self-coding tool, that is, software that allows you to code matches yourself,” said Gaidovsky. “To simplify terminology, coding is the breaking down of a video into episodes. On statistical platforms, matches have already been coded by analysts, all corners, tackles, shots, crosses and so on are marked there, everything is publicly available. Self-coding tools are a tool in the arsenal of the club's in-house analyst, with the help of which he can watch the match and independently code what he needs.”

Self-coding tools are a tool in the arsenal of the club's in-house analyst, with the help of which he can watch the match and independently code what he needs.

These codes from Hudl Sportscode are then digitized by the Zenit analysis team to generate a statistical report. “You can make sure that you always have the instances that you code at hand,” said Gaidovsky. “Let's say there is a certain instance that you notice all the time in matches. If you coded it in every match where you came across it, then you can easily get all these instances and show them in one video.”

Zenit also use Hudl Sportscode during the match to provide live reporting to the coaching team. 

“This program has a video capture function and our analyst is filming the match on camera from the upper tier so that all the players can be captured by the lens,” said Gaidovsky. “During a match, I am close to the bench, receive a signal from the analyst, capture a video in Sportscode and immediately code it. We must choose the points that we discussed during the preparation for the opponent and during the installation. Something that can be quickly shown to the team during the break.”

Wyscout is available on desktop and mobile and gives instant access to data and video for over 550,000 players worldwide.

What Does Your Report Look like for a Team That Plays with Multiple Formations?

Let's say the opponent uses two different formations - sometimes 5-3-2, sometimes 4-2-3-1, how would the Zenit analysis team produce a report to allow coaches to prepare for these outcomes?

“Such teams are not uncommon in modern football where they change their structure not even from match to match, but during the game,” said Gaidovsky. “These are the so-called "transformer" schemes. Pay attention to RB Leipzig, they can defend in 4-4-2 and attack 3-4-3. In such cases, and when the schemes change from match to match, we just make two videos in one. In the game with these schemes, there are nuances within each phase that you can pay attention to. In each phase, we show separately a number of episodes in one scheme and a number of episodes in another. The video lasts a little longer than the standard one, and here animation and graphic processing come to the rescue.”

The drawing tools available on Hudl Sportscode are also a key feature in engaging with the players. “Animation is a great time saver for football players,” said Gaidovsky. “If you take three episodes and do not draw anything on the video, then the effect will be the same as taking one episode and indicating with the help of graphics what to pay attention to.”

This concludes part two of this series: Part three will take a deep dive into how the coaching staff use analysis information on the training ground.

Look out for this, at the beginning of next week! 

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