Soccer formations analysis suggests home advantage is result of execution

February 27, 2014, Disney Research

An automated analysis by Disney Research Pittsburgh of team formations used during an entire season of professional soccer provides further evidence that visiting teams are less successful than home teams because they play conservatively, not because of a mythical home advantage.

The researchers, employing the first automated method for detecting formations, analyzed a whole season of player and ball tracking data compiled by Prozone for a top-tier professional league. They found that teams usually played the same formations for both home and away games, but that the way they executed those formations was significantly different.

The players consistently played more forward up the field at home than they do on the road, both when attacking and defending. The home team thus is more likely to win the ball when it is in an advanced position, which can lead to more shots on goal.

"It also means that home teams actually run less, so they don't get as tired during the match," said Patrick Lucey, a Disney researcher specializing in automatic measurement of human behavior.

The researchers will present their findings at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, Feb. 28-March 1 in Boston, MA.

The automated formation detection method developed by Disney Research also summarizes game information in a visual form.

According to Lucey, "You can think of it as a weather map that shows which team is dominating and the tactics that each team is using."

An earlier study by Lucey and his colleagues, which used ball action data compiled by Opta for a professional soccer league's season, showed that performance measures such as shooting and passing percentages were similar for home and visiting teams. But home teams more often had the ball in the forward third of the field, where players were in position to get more shots on goal. Lucey said it appeared visiting teams were playing "not to lose," rather than playing "to win," reflecting the common wisdom to "win at home and draw away."

The new study takes that analysis deeper, showing that the home/away differences are the result of how formations are executed, not different formations.

Recognizing player formations is relatively easy for human observers, but until now has been difficult for computerized methods, Lucey said. The Disney researchers, however, have found a way to account for players as they swap roles during the course of play.

While a team scout might be able to summarize the formations used in a game by an upcoming opponent, the computerized method enables detailed analysis of multiple games or an entire season of play – far more data than any human could make sense of. This formation analysis also can occur during a game, providing a tool that might help both coaches and broadcast commentators visualize team performance in real time.

Explore further: Disney Researchers use automated analysis to find weakness in soccer coaching strategy

Related Stories

Footballers not running for their money

December 20, 2013

Millions of pounds may be splashed on elite footballers in the English Premier League, but it is those who play in the second and third tier of football who run further on the pitch, new research reveals.

Big data can give athletes the winning edge

January 15, 2014

Sport at the elite level has always adopted new technologies to capture data from players during play to better understand their performance and their team's result.

Recommended for you

Archaeologists discover Incan tomb in Peru

February 16, 2019

Peruvian archaeologists discovered an Incan tomb in the north of the country where an elite member of the pre-Columbian empire was buried, one of the investigators announced Friday.

Where is the universe hiding its missing mass?

February 15, 2019

Astronomers have spent decades looking for something that sounds like it would be hard to miss: about a third of the "normal" matter in the Universe. New results from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory may have helped them ...

What rising seas mean for local economies

February 15, 2019

Impacts from climate change are not always easy to see. But for many local businesses in coastal communities across the United States, the evidence is right outside their doors—or in their parking lots.

The friendly extortioner takes it all

February 15, 2019

Cooperating with other people makes many things easier. However, competition is also a characteristic aspect of our society. In their struggle for contracts and positions, people have to be more successful than their competitors ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Mar 06, 2014
Ok fine, but who do you have to execute to win at home? Never got that part,,,

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.