Apps, AI, & sweeper keepers – big data hits the football big time

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Manchester City’s assistant coach Rodolfo Borrell (right) uses a tablet computer to illustrate a coaching point to Riyad Mahrez

As Manchester City’s players returned to the home dressing room after January’s exhilarating, exhausting 2-1 win over Liverpool, music shuddered from speakers. A house remix of Gregory Porter’s Liquid Spirit mixed with gleeful shouts as the celebrations began.

But in one corner, three men huddled quietly together.

Ederson and John Stones stared at a big screen as Harry Dunn, a member of manager Pep Guardiola’s backroom staff, zipped through a timeline of the match action to show a replay of Stones clearing the ball off his own goalline, with just 11mm to spare.

By the time they were showered, changed and back in the tinted privacy of their cars, Ederson, Stones or any of their team-mates could open the Hudl app on their phone and watch that moment, along with every other involvement they had in the game.

That same orange icon will be on most Premier League players’ screens.

Some will log on after a match to find a similarly comprehensive compilation of highlights (and lowlights). Others will find a selection of clips with complimentary or critical coaches’ notes. Some are even required to put together their own showreel, demonstrating where they felt they did well and could do better.

When it comes to the serious business of deciphering what happened on the pitch, all 20 Premier League sides have a relationship with the American technology firm, which monitors every match from five tactical cameras, as well as the traditional broadcast angle shown on television.

Watching from high in the stands at Etihad Stadium during City’s win over Liverpool, two of the club’s performance analysis department worked furiously on laptops, using the programme to capture the devil in the match’s detail.

Touches, tackles, shots, passes, high presses, deep blocks, set-pieces, slip-ups and much, much more are monitored with about 90 different aspects of the game “coded” live, while the game is going on, to tie incidents to the relevant footage.

Their work can be used to flag things up to the tablet-clutching coaches on the bench and maximise the 15-minute interval.

“At half-time the coaches can see anything they want,” explains Aaron Briggs, Manchester City’s senior first-team performance analyst.

“If they spot an incident at a corner, we can pull the clip, find the best angle to get the coaches’ point across and they will deliver it to the player using the technology.”

But full-time is when the real hard work begins for Briggs and his team.

They will then spend about four hours going back through each City match looking for more subtle tactical cues and formational shifts, focusing on each individual player in turn, coding the footage to produce a deeper level of analysis.

A top-level match contains roughly 2,500 bookmarks, highlighting points of interest to be called up at the touch of a button.

The view that an analyst would have as they classify the different incidents of a match

If Guardiola’s performance analysis chief, Carles Planchart, wants to see where City’s attempts to play out from the back are faltering, he can instantly review every time his defenders have been hustled out of possession.

If the Spaniard wants to see how vulnerable an opposition full-back is to a quick switch of play, he can review how they dealt with crossfield balls over the past five seasons.

In April, he described how City