Inside Look: How Zenit Saint Petersburg Use Data to Analyze Their Opposition

Inside Look: How Zenit Saint Petersburg Use Data to Analyze Their Opposition

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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