Changes in landscapes of passing opportunities along a set of competitive football matches

Published: 30-01-2020| Version 1 | DOI: 10.17632/r4k9w8dhzc.1
Luis Ignacio Gómez-Jordana Martín,
João Milho,
Ángel Ric,
Rodrigo Amaro e Silva,
Pedro Passos


As a football match unfolds, the ball carrier aims to perform passes that outplay as many opponents as possible. This means that a potential receiver will have less opposing players between him/her and the opposing goal than the current ball carrier. This outplay principle served to characterize passing opportunities into: i) penetrative passes, ii) support passes, and iii) backwards passes. Data from five competitive football matches were used to create heatmaps that illustrate a landscape model of passing opportunities for each type of pass. Due to the specificity of player’s interactive behavior, results showed heatmaps with a variety of patterns. Using the Earth Mover’s Distance is was possible to identify difference between the heatmaps, for instance the fifth match was dissimilar to the other four. Moreover, the mean time of passing opportunities was calculated and compared across matches and different types of passes. Results display that penetrative passes were available over shorter periods of time than backward passes that were available shorter than support passes. Also passing opportunities were available for longer in the first match compared to the other four. This model could provide teams’ technical staff with a tool to study the dynamics of passing opportunities that occur in football matches. The data presented corresponds to positional data of the 22 players at all moment in the field as well as the events data.