What is a Flank Attacks visualisation?

If a weekly trip to the cinema was part of your life’s routine, you could have spent the last month only seeing high-class, innovative period adaptations. Little Women, The Personal History of David Copperfield, Emma.; films that take a classic and give it a new spin.

And — as I always say — what’s good enough for Alcott, Dickens, and Austen is good enough for data visualisations! 

One of our latest is the ‘flank attacks’ visualisation. Typically you get three arrows across the width of the pitch, with some indication about which third — the left flank, the centre, or the right flank — a team has attacked most in. 

We felt that there was scope to do something different, something more, with them. And so we did.

The basic premise is that each arrow represents how focused a team is in each vertical third. Off the bat there are decisions — are you looking at the full pitch, the attacking half, or the attacking third? How do you measure the focus of a team’s attack? (For the record, we chose attacking half for the former and volume of actions like passes and take-ons in each third for the latter). As is common, we put the actual figures on the plot as well, indicating the percentage that the team spends in each third.

Most flank attack ‘vizzes’ stop there, just measuring the volume of stuff that teams do in each third, but we felt like there was more that we could do. We added a signifier of the danger of a team’s attacks in these thirds too: the transparency of the arrows. 

Here’s the first example. While Wolves spend a similar amount of their time on the left and the right flank, even slightly more on the right, they’re more dangerous on their left side.

Wolves’ Flank Attack visualisation, 2019/20 Premier League

The difference is even starker for Crystal ‘Wilfried Zaha’ Palace. For them, it’s both the volume and danger levels that are heavily skewed to the left flank.

Crystal Palace’s Flank Attack visualisation, 2019/20 Premier League

What controls the level of transparency is our Possession Value model, which judges the danger created by actions wherever they take place on the field: moving the ball towards goal, for example, increases the value of possession. 

Barcelona offer an interesting example of a team whose main threat comes down the centre, despite having more of the ball (as most teams do) in wider areas.

Barcelona’s Flank Attack visualisation, 2019/20 LaLiga

And to end at the start, you can see the influence of Megan Rapinoe, Ballon d’Or winner and biggest of the USWNT’s Little Women, in their flank attacks visualisation from last summer’s World Cup.

The champions were a relatively evenly-balanced team, but the biggest third for both volume and danger was on Meg Rapinoe’s left-hand side.

USWNT’s Flank Attack visualisation, 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup

If you’re interested in learning more about Twenty3’s flank attack visualisation, don’t hesitate to get in touch.