Automated Detection of Complex Tactical Patterns in Football—Using Machine Learning Techniques to Identify Tactical Behavior

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Dokumentart: PhDThesis
Date: 2022-02-17
Language: English
Faculty: 6 Wirtschafts- und Sozialwissenschaftliche Fakultät
Department: Sportwissenschaft
Advisor: Höner, Oliver (Prof. Dr.)
Day of Oral Examination: 2022-01-13
DDC Classifikation: 004 - Data processing and computer science
500 - Natural sciences and mathematics
510 - Mathematics
796 - Athletic and outdoor sports and games
Other Keywords:
Sports Analytics
Football (Soccer) Analytics
Machine Learning in Sports
Tactical Patterns
Phases of play
Football (Soccer)
Tracking Data
Event Data
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Football tactics is a topic of public interest, where decisions are predominantly made based on gut instincts from domain-experts. Sport science literature often highlights the need for evidence-based research on football tactics, however the limited capabilities in modeling the dynamics of football has prevented researchers from gaining usable insights. Recent technological advances have made high quality football data more available and affordable. Particularly, positional data providing player and ball coordinates at every instance of a match can be combined with event data containing spatio-temporal information on any event taking place on the pitch (e.g. passes, shots, fouls). On the other hand, the application of machine learning methods to domain-specific problems yields a paradigm shift in many industries including sports. The need for more informed decisions as well as automating time consuming processes—accelerated by the availability of data—has motivated many scientific investigations in football analytics. This thesis is part of a research program combining methodologies from sports and data science to address the following problems: the synchronization of positional and event data, objectively quantifying offensive actions, as well as the detection of tactical patterns. Although various basic insights from the overall research program are integrated, this thesis focuses primarily on the latter one. Specifically, positional and event data are used to apply machine learning techniques to identify eight established tactical patterns in football: namely high-/mid-/low-block defending, build-up/attacking play in the offense, counterpressing and counterattacks during transitions, and patterns when defending corner-kicks, e.g. player-/zonal- or post-marking. For each pattern, we consolidate definitions with football experts and label large amounts of data manually using video recordings. The inter-labeler reliability is used to ensure that each pattern is well-defined. Unsupervised techniques are used for the purpose of exploration, and supervised machine learning methods based on expert-labeled data for the final detection. As an outlook, semi-supervised methods were used to reduce the labeling effort. This thesis proves that the detection of tactical patterns can optimize everyday processes in professional clubs, and leverage the domain of tactical analysis in sport science by gaining unseen insights. Additionally, we add value to the machine learning domain by evaluating recent methods in supervised and semi supervised machine learning on challenging, real-world problems.

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