Monday, August 8, 2022

The ‘secret weapon’ that has cut Liverpool’s injuries in half and advises Klopp on team selection

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Liverpool have reaped the rewards after agreeing a four-year partnership with California tech company Zone 7 after an injury-hit campaign in 2020-21

The artificial intelligence company’s data scientists have developed an algorithm that processes the incredible amount of data now available to clubs in order to predict and then prevent injuries.

Before Zone 7 helped Liverpool overhaul their injury handling, the California tech company had a request: access to last season’s fitness records.

But founder Tal Brown knew it would take proof to convince the people at the helm of a professional football club that it worked.

“It’s hard for people to put their trust in that outer box that produces insights every day. The system can potentially disrupt football club systems,” he admits in an exclusive interview I.

“So first, let’s analyze last year’s data and give you a ‘what if’ moment. A few days before this (injury) happened, this is what Zone 7 would have said.”

The club was sold and the system, which delivers its results via an app to fitness, medical and coaching staff at the club’s Melwood training base, was something of a secret weapon for Jurgen Klopp and his backroom team last season.

The upcoming campaign will be the second of an initial four-year partnership between Zone 7 and Liverpool and the early evidence is impressive.

The Reds have nearly halved the number of serious injuries they have sustained in the past year, according to data compiled by Premier injuries to the I They sustained 6.9 injuries per 1,000 minutes.

That means despite a grueling schedule that has seen them struggle to quadruple, they have still picked up fewer injuries than 13 of their Premier League rivals, most of whom have played far fewer games.

The system “runs in the background” at Melwood, alerting employees to patterns that indicate injury could occur. Klopp has altered training schedules, changed team selections and tinkered with individual recovery based on the insights.

“Recently one of the Liverpool staff was talking about how they use Zone 7 and it’s not about the magic black box that’s going to solve everything,” says Brown.

“The point is to integrate this X-ray vision into a much more complex and lengthy diagnostic process.

“It’s not an autopilot that does it for you, but it can analyze all the data. Sometimes the machine sees things that the human brain cannot.

“Of course it is impossible to predict which minute and which tackle will do what. That [Virgil] van Dijk’s injury, Harvey Elliot’s injury – they’re unpredictable.

“But if a person shows a certain pattern in how much they run and sprint that has been validated as high risk, that makes sense, right? You don’t want to subject them to that pattern.”

Investors in the firm include Manchester United’s Phil Jones and Jordi Cruyff, and it is also used by Hull, Rangers and QPR. Leeds, who had the worst injury record of any Premier League club, have signed up for next season as the club seek to remedy the fitness issues that plagued Marcelo Bielsa last season.

I understands three other Premier League clubs and a Scottish Premiership side are in talks to start using the system as word spreads.

“Some of the clubs we work with today wouldn’t take our call three years ago,” Brown admits.

The reason they are doing this now is not that complicated.

“There are more injuries and the pressure on players to play more is there – especially in a World Cup year. The injury rate isn’t going down,” he said.

“We now have more data. Every game is filmed, every move is tracked, every time they go to the gym things are tracked, there’s more and more data. If you worked in the conditioning department five years ago, you had a spreadsheet. Now you have ten.

“Progressive owners are now competing for everything and investing a lot of capital in football. The owner’s capital was made in other industries where they have used data and they want to see what would happen if they applied the same to football.”

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