The tactics of successful attacks in professional association football: large-scale spatiotemporal analysis of dynamic subgroups using position tracking data

Floris R Goes*, Michel S Brink, Marije T Elferink-Gemser, Matthias Kempe, Koen A P M Lemmink

*Corresponding author for this work

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Association football teams can be considered complex dynamical systems of individuals grouped in subgroups (defenders, midfielders and attackers), coordinating their behaviour to achieve a shared goal. As research often focusses on collective behaviour, or on static subgroups, the current study aims to analyse spatiotemporal behaviour of dynamic subgroups in relation to successful attacks. We collected position tracking data of 118 Dutch Eredivisie matches, containing 12424 attacks. Attacks were classified as successful (N = 1237) or non-successful (N = 11187) based on the potential of creating a scoring opportunity. Using unsupervised machine learning, we automatically identified dynamic formations based on position tracking data, and identified dynamic subgroups for every timeframe in a match. We then compared the subgroup centroids to assess the intra- and inter-team spatiotemporal synchronisation during successful and non-successful attacks, using circular statistics. Our results indicated subgroup-level variables provided more information, and were more sensitive to disruption, in comparison to team-level variables. When comparing successful and non-successful attacks, we found decreases (p < .01) in longitudinal inter- and intra-team synchrony of interactions involving the defenders of the attacking team during successful attacks. This study provides the first large-scale dynamic subgroup analysis and reveals additional insights to team-level analyses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)523-532
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Sports Sciences
Issue number5
Early online date2020
Publication statusPublished - 4-Mar-2021

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