Course 2

Opposition Scouting & Analysis

Analyzing Defensive Play With Data

If you have taken our Evidence-Based Coaching & Match Analysis Course you will understand the benefit of having a well defined club philosophy. Sporting KC are one of the finest examples of this in Major League Soccer, playing a high energy 4-1-4-1 (or 4-3-3) designed to pressure opponents high up the field and create chances via a relentless ability to regain possession in the attacking half. This is a similar defensive style to that of the New York Red Bulls which we looked at in the previous module.

Here’s a very well written article on Measuring The Intensity Of A High Press which shows how we can use data to quickly identify and give context to teams who employ a pressing style.

We are going to use Sporting KC as an example, to show how using data from Opta can act as a starting point to look for relevant video when scouting an opponent. If no video is available, the data on its own could be a powerful addition to any report.

To give an insight into the process behind these findings which might take place at a professional report, we asked Oliver Gage (Houston Dynamo) to explain how he came to find the example below.

“First, we have to use the data to identify if there’s even anything worth looking for. In order to do this, we can use PPDA (passes allowed per defensive action) to rank teams in MLS in terms of their pressing. Once we saw that Sporting KC had one of the most intense presses, we knew it’s something we should maybe look at a little closer.”

“From there, we looked at each individual defensive action, and mapped it out on the field using Opta’s ProVision tool. Once we saw the results it was clear something was going on that we needed to give some context. The only way we could do this was through watching video or having someone attend the games in person.”


Oliver agreed to provide us with some images to show what he found:

This is a screen shot of all of Sporting’s tackles and interceptions over a 7 game period. On the image on the right, we have highlighted identically sized areas of the field to show a clear difference in the number of actions on their right side vs their left side.


By mimicking the process described by Oliver, we decided to watch video of all the defensive events mapped out in the images above, to see what Oliver may have found. From this video, we highlighted a pattern of play which could be extremely valuable to include in an opposition report.

We mentioned Sporting’s playing philosophy earlier in this module. The majority of these clips contain the 2017 defender of the year – Ike Opara. Did you notice towards the end of the video how talented youngster Eric Palmer-Brown stepped into the system and was able to replicate the work of Opara?

This is clearly a repeatable pattern of play employed by Sporting, and something that could be used to formulate a game plan to counteract it. The value of using data in this scenario is that we can highlight events over a long period of games and their exact location on the field. If given just one or two of Sporting’s, previous games, can you be 100% confident you would find this through video alone? What if Opara was suspended or injured, but expected to play in the upcoming game?

The task for this module is to leave your thoughts, questions or discussion points in the comments section below.

How would you use defensive data to analyze the opposition? What are the potential advantages and disadvantages of using data this way?

Once you have posted, please move on to Module 8.

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1 Comment

  1. john

    Good information


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