How good is the forward I’m looking for at pressing and defending?

Category: Player Analysis

We explain how we can model our data and visualizations to understand how much and with what success the center forward we are looking for defends and works off the ball.

Published:08/02/2024


Although we are in 2024 and it is a fact that the vast majority of center forwards or second strikers work defensively in pressure and defense in their own half, not all do so in the same way, with the same frequency, and with the same success. But that’s where advanced data and metrics come in, providing performance and merit to actions.

In this exercise, we will first visualize which forward is the most frequent and effective in all types of defensive actions, measuring them against all other forwards from the top five leagues and the Champions League. Then, we will exemplify how to shape a specific radar to measure forwards that we are looking for in any league and know instantly if they engage defensively.

Interceptions, for example, are an effective event to understand that a forward is present and focused on trying to intercept the game, positioning themselves always ahead of the ball carrier, and maintaining constant physical activity to be the first defender. The truth is that there is a player who makes a big difference due to his commitment, effort, and success in his work without the ball in the top five leagues. Lautaro Martínez, who is having an absolutely exceptional season regarding finishing, is one of the forwards who press the most and best in all of Europe since joining Inter Milan.

As can be seen in this other scatter plot, Lautaro not only intercepts a lot but is also among the forwards who perform the most pressures, alongside Lucas Ocampos, Mehdi Taremi (a forward who could reinforce Lautaro’s Inter). These two graphs only combine two specific metrics to try to segment forwards from a competition, but the scope we have to measure the work in pressure and recovery of a center forward is much greater.

If we adapt the radar with the highest possible number of metrics that measure this type of actions, giving us a direct image of how much and with what success a forward pressures and defends, we will have a very accurate vision of the involvement of a ‘9’ in tasks without the ball even without having seen the player play. We will choose:

  • Interceptions
  • Tackles
  • Recoveries in Opponent’s Half
  • Quick Recoveries (five seconds after a turnover)
  • Fouls
  • Defensive Actions
  • Breadth (defensive actions on the sides of the field)
  • % Ground Duels
  • Aggressive Actions (tackles and interceptions two seconds after the turnover)
  • Defensive Duels
  • Attempted Tackles
  • Tackles/Was Dribbled Final Third

In this example, we choose up to 12 different metrics and visualize them on a radar with two of the most incisive and effective forwards in defensive tasks from the top five leagues. A way to measure specific performance, focused on a part of the game of a specific position, which helps us shape our scouting and find and analyze forwards from another equally important perspective.

On the field, we see that Lautaro Martínez’s ability to recover balls is well above that of practically all forwards. A player with a very high defensive commitment and intensity.

Founded in 2017 as a consultancy, Driblab has driven innovation through data in all aspects of professional football. Thanks to a transversal model, its database collects and models statistics in all directions. From converting matches and videos into bespoke data for training academies to developing cutting-edge technology, helping clubs, federations and representative agencies in talent scouting and transfer markets. Driblab’s smart data is used by clubs all over the world, with success stories such as Dinamo Zagreb, Real Betis and Girondins Bordeaux among others. Here you can find out more about how we work and what we offer.

Autor: Alejandro Arroyo
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