GSOs, Zones of Pos­ses­sion & Effec­tive Attack Strate­gies: What’s the Best Way to Score?

Women’s foot­ball is grow­ing in pop­u­lar­i­ty, and with it, new research is emerg­ing. Foot­ball aca­d­e­m­ic and tech­ni­cal direc­tor Mark Scan­lan has com­plet­ed a study to present sta­tis­ti­cal find­ings in an area of women’s foot­ball that hasn’t been explored.

GSOs, Zones of Pos­ses­sion & Effec­tive Attack Strate­gies: What’s the Best Way to Score?

Women’s foot­ball is grow­ing in pop­u­lar­i­ty, and with it, new research is emerg­ing. Foot­ball aca­d­e­m­ic and tech­ni­cal direc­tor Mark Scan­lan has com­plet­ed a study to present sta­tis­ti­cal find­ings in an area of women’s foot­ball that hasn’t been explored.

To date, there’s very lit­tle research pub­lished on effec­tive attack strate­gies and the cre­ation of goal scor­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties (GSO) in women’s football. 

In this sit­u­a­tion, a GSO is defined as a shot on tar­get that’s either saved by the goal­keep­er, cleared off the line by a defend­er, or goes in as a goal. 

As part of his aca­d­e­m­ic jour­nal pro­duced at Edith Cow­an Uni­ver­si­ty, aca­d­e­m­ic and tech­ni­cal direc­tor Mark Scan­lan used Hudl Sports­code to study video from all 52 match­es in the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. He assessed the fac­tors relat­ed to the cre­ation of GSOs that led to suc­cess in the tournament.

390 GSOs were sam­pled, from which 95 goals were scored. The key met­rics mea­sured included: 

  • Zone of pos­ses­sion gain after the pitch was divid­ed into nine zones
  • Type of pos­ses­sion gain (e.g., tack­le, high press, interception)
  • Time in pos­ses­sion and type of GSO (e.g., cross, through ball, shot on target) 
  • Oth­er meth­ods (e.g., Ron Smith’s methodology)
Scanlan studied 390 attacking phases of play that lead to the creation of a GSO at the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada, and recorded the origin of possession across the nine zones.

Ron Smith, for­mer tech­ni­cal ana­lyst for the Soc­ceroos, com­piled a strate­gic analy­sis of goals scored in open play from four con­sec­u­tive men’s World Cup tour­na­ments (2002 – 2014). The research found that regain­ing pos­ses­sion in the final third lead to suc­cess in terms of cre­at­ing GSOs and scor­ing goals. 

Sim­i­lar­ly to Scanlan’s more recent study on the women’s game, Smith’s study analysed the build-up lead­ing to goals and cat­e­gorised them into three types: 

  1. From pass­ing behind the oppos­ing defence or to a play­er lev­el with the last defend­er in a posi­tion to shoot or pass to a teammate
  2. From in front of the oppos­ing defence, of from drib­bling past the last line of defence
  3. From cross­es

Smith divid­ed the field of play into sev­en zones to deter­mine where pos­ses­sion was gained in the build-up to the goal. The results of this analy­sis showed that the most suc­cess­ful strat­e­gy for scor­ing goals at the four World Cup tour­na­ments between 2002 and 2014 was the first cat­e­go­ry, which was to pass the ball behind oppo­nents or to a play­er lev­el with the last defend­er. The analy­sis showed that the most suc­cess­ful area to regain pos­ses­sion of the ball was in the attack­ing teams’ own half, with the mid­dle third of the pitch con­sis­tent­ly pro­vid­ing the high­est num­ber of pos­ses­sion regains than the front (final) and back third. 

Scanlan’s study revealed that the mid­dle third of the pitch was the most effec­tive area for gain­ing pos­ses­sion and cre­at­ing GSOs, and that the time tak­en to cre­ate a GSO was just under twelve sec­onds. Coach­es or tech­ni­cal ana­lysts in the women’s game could use this infor­ma­tion to plan how to win the ball back in the areas sta­tis­ti­cal­ly proven to lead increased GSOs.

The middle centre zone of the pitch is the most effective.

With three degrees in sports sci­ence and foot­ball under his belt, Scan­lan has the aca­d­e­m­ic knowl­edge to back up his pro­fes­sion­al role as Tech­ni­cal Direc­tor of Foot­ball for ECU Joon­dalup SC.

Scan­lan also has expe­ri­ence in the per­for­mance analy­sis depart­ments of A-League clubs Perth Glo­ry and Mel­bourne Vic­to­ry, as well as the Soc­ceroos for their 2018 World Cup qual­i­fy­ing cam­paign. That was where he was exposed to the video analy­sis soft­ware he used in his study.

I did all my analy­sis in Sports­code, I cre­at­ed a code win­dow and it spat out the infor­ma­tion I need­ed, espe­cial­ly through the matrix,” said Scan­lan. I had some pret­ty cool spread­sheets that I use as well, which were designed off the back of my expe­ri­ence. Sports­code was real­ly impor­tant in the study.”

One of the key aims of Scanlan’s study is to have a wider influ­ence on play­ers and coach­es in the women’s game. He hopes the data and research will help evolve the game in the same way it has for the men’s game. 

Scanlan used Hudl Sportscode to execute the analysis for his research on GSOs.

I’m hop­ing the study opens people’s eyes to the women’s game and gets them think­ing about the sim­i­lar­i­ties and dif­fer­ences between the top men and women,” said Scan­lan. The girls play­ing at the very top of their game are excel­lent tech­ni­cal­ly and tac­ti­cal­ly, there real­ly are some fan­tas­tic female play­ers and the women’s game is con­tin­u­ing to grow in terms of popularity.” 

Scan­lan pre­dict­ed that the WWC would be a water­shed moment for the women’s game, and with the pop­u­lar­i­ty of the tour­na­ment that cer­tain­ly seems to be the case.

When asked what advice he would give to oth­er ana­lysts and coach­es hop­ing to employ a sim­i­lar method­ol­o­gy to improve their team’s per­for­mance, Scan­lan explains his research isn’t one size fits all” knowledge.

I think it comes down to what your coach­ing phi­los­o­phy is, your team mod­el, how do you want to play,” said Scan­lan. Then you build from there. My method­ol­o­gy wasn’t cre­at­ed overnight, it was formed after iden­ti­fy­ing gaps in the lit­er­a­ture and speak­ing with a lot of pro­fes­sion­al coach­es and analysts.”

Out­side of com­plet­ing his stud­ies, Scan­lan con­tin­ues his work with ECU Joon­dalup, where video analy­sis is impact­ing the club through every age group. 

We now have Hudl in place for our junior acad­e­my all the way through from under-13’s,” explains Scan­lan. Our juniors are lov­ing it, because they can cre­ate their own high­lights for the first time. The par­ents love it to bits, and from a tech­ni­cal director’s view, it’s great to see they are learn­ing by watch­ing their clips back.”

Scanlan coaching for ECU Joondalup in Western Australia.

Only six months after its intro­duc­tion, the impact of video on the club’s junior sec­tion is already being felt. Hudl Assist adds even more val­ue to coach­es who want match­es analysed accu­rate­ly on a quick turnaround.

We’ve gone from last year where some of our junior games weren’t even filmed, to now not only hav­ing Hudl, but also Hudl Assist,” said Scan­lan. Assist lets me look back, and the goal chances have already been cod­ed for me so I don’t have to scrub through a whole game. I can go direct­ly to each cod­ed oppor­tu­ni­ty, drag it back to how we want pos­ses­sion of the ball, cat­e­gorise it, then bang, done. 

Assist has been mas­sive as I’m not hav­ing to do full analy­sis now, and I trust that the Assist guys have done it prop­er­ly, the qual­i­ty of cod­ing has been real­ly good.”

For FC Joondalup’s next steps, Coach Scan­lan aims to increase the use of video analy­sis and relate it back to more ongo­ing acad­e­mia with a local focus.

We’ve come a long way in 6 months and it’s now real­ly up to me to dri­ve this and make sure we are tak­ing full advan­tage of the prod­uct to the best of our abil­i­ty,” said Scanlan. 

It’s been a bit of a steep learn­ing curve for some of our juniors, but the buy-in has been great so far. As for future stud­ies, I would like to start doing for our acad­e­my games here. That could be anoth­er pub­li­ca­tion or two, the com­par­i­son of junior foot­ball, to elite inter­na­tion­al foot­ball, men and women’s. That’s the end goal of this — I want to do a full junior acad­e­my analysis.”

To learn more about how Hudl pow­ers the mod­ern game, check out Hudl, The Newslet­ter, or take a look at our pro­fes­sion­al case stud­ies from A-League cham­pi­ons Syd­ney FC and the AFL’s Rich­mond Tigers.