Pigeons, Ageing Teams and Parking The Bus

opta-pro-confIt’s a week since the 2nd Opta Pro Forum took place in London. The event was great last year which you can read about here. This year there were a lot more attendees and whole day worked really well. 30 minute presentation are a perfect length, not too long but enough time to get across the research done.

Opta are quite brave in how they organise this event. Effectively you get selected to present based on an idea. You get 6 weeks to produce the work. So Opta put you up to present in front of a room full of Club Analysts & fellow bloggers without ever having seen the finished product. Very brave! But for the most part the presentations are of a high standard and well received.

So what about the presentations. I won’t go through them all – but here are my highlights in no particular order.

Parking The Bus

Garry Gelade made a very entertaining presentation about whether goals actually change games. Despite this clichéd line being used over and over again in punditry, are we sure it is actually correct? Gary has made is presentation available here and I would encourage you to check it out. If for nothing else than ‘Goals Change Games Video’.

His key finding were;

  • Goals do change games
  • They affect different teams in different ways
  • There is a bigger change in shots attempted when behind than when ahead
  • Chasers score more goals (maybe not a good idea to park the bus)

Beyond Shots

In a very polished performance Daniel Altman looked at a new approach to quantifying scoring opportunities. Although there was plenty of detail and complexity in the analysis it was easy to follow and understand all the points being made. Daniel has made his presentation notes available here and they are well worth checking out. The key premise of Daniel’s work was to find a player rating system that could award players for the contributions they make and not just simply rely on crude measurements like goals and assist.



The key points;

  • Metrics for individuals should sum to a team metric that is correlated with results
  • It should be consistent year – year and it should have some predictive power
  • His analysis led to a 5 zone system (attacking half)
  • Each of the zones has an expected goal weighting (see image) and players get credit for advancing forward from 1 zone to the the other (increasing the teams likely-hood of scoring).
  • He also has developed a system of demerits
  • Using tracking data and a fancy algorithm he can identify key situations like 2 v 1 or 3 v 2 – even if a player never touches the ball in a 2 v 1 situation shouldn’t he get credit for helping create that situation? I think so and that’s what this work was trying to show.

Attacking Free Kicks – Cross or Shot

Based on 8,000 free kicks Daniel Barnett had some great visualisations of the return (or lack of) from Attacking Free Kicks. His work looked at whether it was better to shoot or cross. His presentation is available here. This was a very visual presentation so you should definitely check out the notes. Daniel’s work showed that teams have very different strategies;


  • Lyon shot 71% of the time in the decision area
  • Athletico Madrid shot just 6% of the time.
  • Bundesliga teams shoot directly 77% of time for ‘Decision Area’ free kicks compared to 54% in Premier League
  • Side of the box free kicks had a higher conversion rate when shooting than crossing – I thought this was a surprising result.

Extra Time

There was plenty more to write about,

  • Simon Gleave & Mark Taylor looked at the ageing game and had some good visualisations, Simon will put his work online next week so best to discuss that then.
  • Abel Lorincz did a great presentation but it was very visual so again best to discuss that when the presentation becomes available.
  • There is a serious gender imbalance in PA!
  • There was a video shown of the flight path of pigeons! That’s always going to be hard to describe here – best to wait until Opta release the videos.
  • The rule of not discussing a woman’s age should also apply to Technical Scouts! Doh!!
  • I should have left the bar earlier than I did (I blame my genetics on that one).
  • And finally don’t get on the wrong train to Gatwick!

All in all a great event, well run, and I’m sure it will go from strength to strength. The opportunity to meet analysts, bloggers and the like is priceless. You can also read some good summaries (and much better written than this) by Mark Taylor here and OptaPro here.



Rob Carroll. Founder of The Video Analyst.com Performance Analyst. Always learning.