Can We Periodize Video Analysis? – Importance of Opponent Analysis in Football: Part 2

Before we start, let me remind you of the introduction to our last blogpost: “I met Josselin Juncker during our time together in FC Sochaux-Montbeliard, France, back in 2018. I have to admit that he left a very strong impression on me since the day one, both because of his huge experience, and relationship with the players and staff and his level of professionalism. With his experience from Granada CF, Sevilla CF, Cardiff City and Leeds United later on, I was sure that he will bring huge adventage to our team. So, without further delay, let’s start with a series of blogs related to video analysis and football coaching in professional environment.” So here we are, Video Analysis Part 2, enjoy!

Last time, the monologue was about whether coaches should have a structured team video analysis microcycle and my conclusion was: How can you look for success in the future if you don’t look at the mistakes from the past? We need to go through opponent analysis now, but I can already tell you that my conclusion is very similar: How can you look for success in the future if you don’t prepare it? In order to give a bit of structure to the whens, whys, hows and whats we will follow the same path as in the last post: first collective opponent analysis and then individual opponent analysis.

I remember our top goalscorer last season, Alex Corredera, repeating: “I think that players should go through video analysis every single day of the week, short meetings, but every single day”. Every single day. As video analysis and player development are my specialties I must agree with Alex. Nevertheless, I have been confronted to a lot of different situations in the past seasons. I worked with coaches who gave no importance at all to opponent video analysis, alleging that “We only focus on ourselves”. I understand it but I don’t agree with it. I think, as Real Sociedad’s sports director Roberto Olabe puts it: “The opponent is a part of you!”, and needs to be taken into consideration. You don’t attack a low block 5-4-1 the same way you attack a Leeds United press.

A friend of mine and I spoke one day of, for a specific week, not to do opponent video analysis. You would need to be very careful about the week and the opponent, but we saw it as a way of breaking the routine for players, make it mentally “lighter” for them and a chance to strengthen our game model. One of my students at University of Madrid recently mentioned to me that he was working with a coach that sometimes did video analysis and sometimes did not. Unless it is due to a lack of access to videos, I don’t understand it. To me, it shows inconsistency and uncertainty to the players.

At Badajoz, we were lucky enough to have three players that wanted to study the opponent on their own. They would tell me at the beginning of the week to send them the last two matches of our next opponent. And then, during the week I would have them speak about what they analysed from those matches and about the different ways to get an advantage against that opponent. Having players that responsible, with such a high level of commitment, was key to our historical season. So, if you decide to have a certain routine about opponent video analysis, when do you place it during the week? First day of the new microcycle? I can see it as an introduction to what the week’s work will be like. A solid way of having the players focus straight from the start. Second/Third day? You tell me! One of the players I worked with in the past seasons, now at a Spanish club in Segunda, told me that his coach would speak about the opponent during training, prior to a drill, but would only show them the video on match day, in the hotel, before jumping into the bus to go to the stadium. I would need to see the week and players’ reactions to have a proper opinion about this one.

It was only with former Real Madrid player, Pedro Munitis that I truly saw the educational power of opponent video analysis. Pedro watched matches after matches of our next opponent and spent hours and hours studying them. He would then carefully select only a few clips, only the best representations of the opponent, in order to have a very short video to present to the players. 3 minutes, 4 at most. What he would do then would be to present that 3-minute video about the defensive aspects of the opponent on the day of our team’s offensive work. Just before going onto the pitch. It would be 5 minutes meeting, clear information, concise instructions, solid game plan, and bam: “Let’s work on that in the pitch!”. The next day, we would have another 5 minutes meeting about offensive aspects of the opponent and our defensive game plan and once again: “Let’s work on that in the pitch!”. And on match day we would have a short summary of what had been worked on during the week, with training footages overlapping opposition clips, to remind the boys of the game plan and connect them to what depends on them.

Players were so satisfied about so many aspects. Their commodity: no eternal video meeting during which yawning and eyes slowly closing are the main protagonists. The clarity of the information: in depth description and sharp game plan, no superficial analysis and doubtful strategy. The coherence: video meetings linked to pitch work. And of course, I still remember the players telling me: “It’s crazy how what we work on during the week, what we plan and implement, ends up happening on game day and brings us results”. But that’s another story, that’s Pedro’s vision.

With regards to the structure of the video that is shown to the players, there are a lot of possibilities. I remember one coach that I worked with that used to show the first 15 minutes of our next opponent’s last match, and comment on it. To be fair, 90 minutes is a long time, and often the content of a game changes radically after 15-20 minutes, or after half time, or after a goal conceded or scored etc. So, it is very difficult to plan for those “matches within the match”. I remember Pedro Serna, analyst at Leganes, smartly pointing out that now, with 5 subs, the game plan that exists at the beginning of the match, is drastically affected once almost 50% of the squad is subbed. If the “15 minutes strategy” is likely to give the players a solid idea of how the match will begin, it lacks plan B, C and D.

Another possibility is the obvious game cycle structure. The limit of this one is the need to shove everything in one video (if you only have one opponent video analysis session) that is long enough to give proper information, but short enough not to have players take a nap. I heard of some coaches building the video according to a strengths-weaknesses structure. I need to see it to give an opinion. Beyond the structure of the video, the content is also very important to me. It is key to carefully select the clips that best represent the opponent or what you want to show from the opponent. At Badajoz last season, I used to manipulate the clips in order to create a specific feeling for the players. For instance, if we played against a team that was bottom of the table, I would select clips that showed the opponent getting success in everything they were doing, clips where they were creating danger for the opponent or in which they would dominate them. The point was to increase the attention and concentration levels. Make them scared enough so as to prepare them to defend themselves.

Individual opponent analysis? Again, some coaches just don’t care. Why bother?Well, some coaches do care, but only sometimes. I get the point when you play against a team that has “match changing” players who need to be taken care of in a specific way and whose control is an integral part of the game plan. The risk to that strategy might be to create a “player-phobia” that might paralyze your own players. When do you do it? I know of some cases where players can have access to the video on a platform or are sent the videos to their email address or on Whatsapp. Not a big fan of this one as, most of the time, players don’t watch it and if they watch it, it is in between Tik-tok and Instagram time. So when? Beginning of the week? 24 hours before the match? On matchday?

At Badajoz, we left it to the players initiative: at the beginning of the week, they were offered the possibility to have a personalized individual opponent analysis. I would prepare it for whenever they wanted. Some players felt comfortable with watching it after the last training before the match, in order to have enough time to process the information and at the same time not overfocusing on the opponent. There was also a player who wanted it on matchday. In the hotel after breakfast on away games, or after the morning activation in the gym on home games. Every player has his own way of preparing for the game. This one felt comfortable like this, it was his way to focus on his missions.

What about the content? What do you show the players? I think it is important, not only to show clips of potential direct opponents, but also patterns that affect our player’s zone. When I say pattern, I mean game situations that repeat throughout the game. For instance, in order to prepare an individual analysis for our right back in the Playoffs final against Amorebieta (5-3-2 formation) I prepared clips of Amorebieta’s left wing backs of course, but also clips of Amorebieta’s strikers using the depth in behind our right back as well as clips of their number 8’s late runs in direct plays. Also, as I believe in the personalization of everything in football, I try to adapt the clips to what the players want to know about their direct opponent. For instance, strikers often ask me about opposition’s center backs behaviour when the striker drops between the lines: Do they track? Do they stick to their zone? If it helps them enter the game with more self-confidence due to higher knowledge of what could happen, let’s give them what they want. 

Finally, beyond the when and the what, the how you present the information to the players is key. That’s why I think it’s important to have a physical meeting with the player. During that meeting my role is not only to show players the clips and make comments on it, but mainly to help them create their own game strategy based on what they see: How will you handle that striker in direct plays? If and when this winger receives wide, how will you deal with him? The conclusion of that monolog was released in the introduction. Of course, in high performance, there is a need for a structured opponent analysis microcycle. As simple as that. Some people want things to happen, some people wish things to happen, and others make things happen.

What players think of Video Analysis? Let me show you real-life pre-match standing ovations in Playoff finals!

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