Play-by-play network analysis in football

Florian Korte, Martin Lames, Daniel Link, Johannes Groll

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


This study identifies dominant and intermediary players in football by applying a play-by-play social network analysis on 70 professional matches from the 1. and 2. German Bundesliga during the 2017/2018 season. Social network analysis provides a quantification of the complex interaction patterns between players in team sports. So far, the individual contributions and roles of players in football have only been studied at match-level considering the overall passing of a team. In order to consider the real structure of football, a play-by-play network analysis is needed that reflects actual interplay. Moreover, a distinction between plays of certain characteristics is important to qualify different interaction phases. As it is often impossible to calculate well known network metrics such as betweenness on play-level, new adequate metrics are required. Therefore, flow betweenness is introduced as a new playmaker indicator on play-level and computed alongside flow centrality. The data on passing and the position of players was provided by the Deutsche Fußball Liga (DFL) and gathered through a semi-automatic multiple-camera tracking system. Central defenders are identified as dominant and intermediary players, however, mostly in unsuccessful plays. Offensive midfielders are most involved and defensive midfielders are the main intermediary players in successful plays. Forwards are frequently involved in successful plays but show negligible playmaker status. Play-by-play network analysis facilitates a better understanding of the role of players in football interaction.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1738
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberJULY
StatePublished - 2019


  • Flow centrality
  • Football
  • Intermediary player
  • Performance analysis
  • Temporal networks


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