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How could life in stadiums change after the coronavirus?

Abhishek Khurana



Header Image by Eric Alonso via Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic will have a big impact in society, business and also sports and even life in stadiums. How will football adapt to it?

The impact of COVID–19 keeps on undulating through the world’s well-being and business establishments. The sports ecosystem is no different. Games, competitions and even the Olympics are being dropped or deferred, upsetting groups, competitors, mentors and alliances. Proprietors, telecasters and promoters are attempting to make sense of the downstream effect of event abrogation’s and alterations.

Stadiums are built for full capacity, taking in enough income to counterbalance the obligation of operations and payrolls. The duration of the coronavirus crisis will have the most critical effect. On the off chance that the pandemic endures longer than a year, all the stakeholders should think about perpetual increases to fields, which will influence capital upgrades. With all this in mind, let’s analyse the possible solutions to such big impact of the coronavirus pandemic in the life inside sports arenas.

Short term

Fan relationships

Teams, owners and sponsors would need to rethink the fan experience. Germany’s Bundesliga has become the first top international football league to return to the pitch after stopping its season due to the coronavirus pandemic in early March, but no fans have been allowed this time. The Bundesliga’s strict health protocol, which was developed in collaboration with health officials, means only players, staff, team officials, broadcasters and security personnel are allowed to be inside the stadium during games. All the top tier leagues can follow this protocol for a limited period of time, but not for long.

Meanwhile, what teams can do? Can they leverage the suppression of sports activity to raise public awareness about health officials? Certainly yes. Campaigns like #Culerathome by FC Barcelona have led to spectacular figures for the club.

Barcelona coronavirus stadiums

Going forward, certain principle changes must be made to maintain social distancing inside venues if that’s the plan top tier leagues go ahead with.

Long term

Note: Considering spectators are allowed within venues but with massive reduced overall capacity. But in such case we are literally talking about bringing down to quarter or less.

Egress and ingress strategies

Due to social distancing norms coming in, design and operational principles for the sporting venues would require a rework. Contactless services have transitioned from convenience to a considerable necessity. As a theoretical exercise, a combination of the following could prove effective:

• Restriction on supporter buses and public transport to sporting venues. Limiting the attendance within stadiums to home fans, putting restrictions on international attendance.

• Tech-enabled contactless parking.

• Phased – time-based – ingress and egress activity in groups, according to ticket status – like pattern or colour-coding. Entry points must have disinfection stations and, having a PPE should be mandatory to enter arenas.

• Meals within the venues can be provided with e-tokens to avoid long queues – e.g. cashier-less outlets. Else, in-seat delivery model can be adopted.

Just Walk Out technology by Amazon Go

Also, clubs megastores and museums are responsible for major revenue generation. Last year Barcelona earned €58 million in revenue just from museums. To increase the footfall post lockdown, the adoption of technology could be a way ahead. A similar model of Just Walk Out Technology which is used by Amazon Go stores can be adopted, with some additional rules for the customers. Like, providing remote access for shopping with pre generated e-tokens. With this, customised jersey’s that fans look for can be taken care of. Amazon themselves are looking to expand their reach of this technology into other markets.

❛ Amazon wants to bring its cashier-less Go technology to other places, like airport stores and movie theatres, in a bid to expand its reach and potentially win more cloud customers ❜

Dilip Kumar
vice president of physical retail and technology at Amazon

No alt text provided for this image

Optimising siting arrangement to maintain social distancing norms

Seating arrangements can be optimised to maintain social distancing in venues. Let’s take the Camp Nou stadium plan as an example. According to the plan, there are 71 exits and 549 different seating plans, for different views, each seating box plan containing a certain number of rows and columns.

Camp Nou Barcelona coronavirus stadiums

Camp Nou map

Assuming section 549 has eight rows by eight seats, we can find an optimal seating solution for the case where each spectator is seated within an acceptable distance between them.

coronavirus stadiums

This case is very simplified and static assuming all spectators remain seated at their given seats. But if we increase the complexity – say, we need to provide tickets in a group of 1, 2, 3 and 4 and also people coming together are made sure to be seated together – we can come up with a robust model, with the help of analytics and optimisation, and with real data in hand.

The above strategies are structural and need of the hour. In history too, there have been quite a few examples. For instance, the great disasters in England changed stadiums with people standing up to people sitting down, and seating capacity was reduced by 30 percent. Additionally, after the September 11 attacks in 2001, the entire process of security changed. This pandemic also is going to bring the necessary reduction of capacity. But it could be a sustainable and saleable challenge.

A different game

More or less, a part of all these strategies coming into play will be based on the assumption that people coming to watch a match will behave in a very responsible way.

Seating arrangement solutions could also be used by transport operators to work out the social distancing capacity of buses, trains, and also by educational institutes. Usage and dependency on technology will be a way forward.

❛ Football, like life, in general will never be the same after the coronavirus ❜

Lionel Messi

What about the economic impact? Perhaps any occupancy is better than none, but such low attendance is unlikely to cover the costs of many sports and entertainment organisations. Clubs would also lose their allure to broadcasters if the situation doesn’t improve.

At last, the most significant thing for the media and entertainment industry is to help hinder the spread of the virus and keep people informed about what people should do to stay safe. With luck, these disruptions will just be temporary. Beyond this, the industry is in uncharted waters.

See more

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Five days shalt thou labor, as the bible says. In my life, The seventh day is the Lord thy God’s. The sixth day is for Football. That pretty much describes my life when not working. I am here to share my ineffable love for this game among other football enthusiasts.



How Zidane’s Real Madrid beat Koeman’s Barcelona

Anurag Agate



Photo via Imago

The highly anticipated day of El Clasico, the clash of eternal rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid finally arrived. The Blaugrana were just two points ahead of Los Blancos with the same number of games played. Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid are at their most vulnerable right now; recent losses to Sevilla and Chelsea had already demoralized the team. Additionally, Luis Suarez – their top scorer -, is injured.

El Clasico has incredible importance on its own. Add to that the fact that it will be pivotal in the title race, and it becomes apparent how much it means to both sides. In this tactical analysis, we take a look at how Real Madrid managed to conquer Barcelona in a 2-1 victory.

The systems

Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona lined up in a 3-5-2 as expected. This formation is one that has contributed to Barcelona’s recent positive results significantly. Though this could be viewed as a 5-3-2 or even a 3-5-2-1 at times, the basic principles remained the same. Barcelona would look to build up from the back. The backline of Ronald Araujo with Clement Lenglet and Oscar Mingueza on either side of him was the platform upon which the team would build-up.

In midfield, Sergio Busquets would be the deepest player, with Frenkie De Jong and Pedri Gonzalez as the two interiors. These two youngsters would operate in the half-spaces as their roles entail, but they would drop back and join the attack as well. Jordi Alba and Sergino Dest, the two wing-backs, would look to stretch the opposition and would be positioned high up the field.

In attack, Lionel Messi was joined by Ousmane Dembele. The Frenchman would operate through the centre as Messi would usually drop back and have the freedom to move across the pitch.

Zinedine Zidane has often been labelled as someone who manages big egos well but doesn’t have tactical expertise. Purely a misconception, this match was an example of how well the retired midfielder sets up his team. What was most admirable was how Zidane finds the perfect role for his players’ profiles.

Real Madrid were deployed in a 4-1-4-1. Casemiro would play between the lines, with Luka Modric and Toni Kroos just ahead oh him. This formation could also be viewed as a 4-5-1, which would be a 4-3-3 when attacking. In defence, Eder Militao and Nacho were the centre-halves with Lucas Vasquez and Ferland Mendy as the full-backs. To support the midfield as well as the attack, Vinicius Junior and Fede Valverde would act as wide midfielders.

Karim Benzema, the number nine, would drift into the channels or drop a bit deeper as required. He was the key to Madrid’s fluid attack. There would be a constant staggering between Benzema, Vinicius, and Valverde. When Benzema dropped deep to fight for the second ball, Vinicius and Fede would move forward and provide passing options. At times, Vasquez would overlap, which was Valverde’s cue to drop back. The players would also switch roles.

Madrid’s defensive organization

After getting a lead, Real Madrid were still proactive but to a lesser extent than earlier. They would even have five players defending at times, transitioning into a 5-4-1. Their timing and organization was impressive nonetheless. As we see in the image above, Ousmane Dembele is about to receive the pass. Immediately, Casemiro presses him, while other players start moving forward to close the distance to possible passing options. This meant Barcelona had little time on the ball deep in Madrid’s half.

The pressing shown by Los Blancos was very fine-tuned. The players were unsurprisingly not hesitant to play a physical game as well. As the earlier image shows us, Ousmane Dembele would receive the ball ahead of the defense and attempt to involve other players. Pedri and de Jong were the most obvious passing options. However, for them, the passing would more often than not be out wide. This was forced due to Madrid’s structure which prevented them from playing through the middle.

Arguably one of Barcelona’s strongest moves is when Messi plays Jordi Alba through between the full-back and centre-halves. Though it was effective at some points in the match, this was clearly something Zidane expected. When either full-back would have crossing options, the full-backs would look to block the cross.

Simultaneously, the centre-halves would track Barcelona’s attackers Messi and Dembele. These two being the only two forwards, Mingueza’s goal was one of the few times the team actually had more players looking to attack. Casemiro would be in the box looking to clear the ball or cover for any defensive holes.

What went wrong for Barcelona?

Ronald Koeman’s team selection was well-thought-out. Shifting de Jong to midfield was a smart choice. However, as the scoreline clearly shows, some issues persisted.

One of the main ones being the lack of attackers in the final third. This was a formation with two attackers on paper, but one of them was Messi. Expecting the argentine to make runs off the ball and act as a target man is highly unrealistic. He does best when he’s on the ball. This would leave Dembele alone upfront. The Frenchman isn’t a classic number 9 who takes shots on the swivel and can establish himself in the box. Against a defence that was sitting very deep, he was unable to run onto the ball between the full-backs and centre-halves the way he likes to.

The image above shows a common scenario observed in the first half. Receiving the ball in the final third, Dembele turns to face the defenders. As they don’t lunge in, rather trying to contain him. he is unable to beat them in a 1v1. There is plenty of space with no Barcelona players highlighted in the image. This lack of attackers was one of the reasons Koeman switched to the 4-3-3. Shown below, the 4-3-3- allowed Pedri and Dembele to be more involved.

Statistical analysis

Below, we have a visualization showing the PPDA stats for both teams. A lower PPDA means a higher pressing intensity. As we can see, Barcelona were clearly pressing much more than Real Madrid throughout the match. Despite this, they failed to create enough chances. To demonstrate this, we can observe the xG graph.

As the xG graph shows, there were some situations when the Catalans had a chance to change the score-line in their favour. Among other reasons, Dembele’s inability to play as a striker and inefficiency in finishing was clearly affecting the team. The visualization below the xG graph shows the shot map. It further reaffirms the observation that Barcelona need to improve in front of the goal and in terms of the quality of chances created.

With a higher number of shots, Barcelona still had a lower xG than their rivals. Another indication of low-quality chances is the size of the circles in the box for both teams. The smaller the circle, the less likely it is to end up in the back of the net. The stark contrast is one of the many indicators that there are major issues to be resolved in attack for Koeman’s side.


This loss will hurt Barcelona, even more so as it strengthens the notion that his team doesn’t show up in big matches. If Koeman’s side wants to be Champions, now is the time to give their all. One cannot ignore the fact that the Blaugrana have a lot of work to do to be deserving of the La Liga title. Whether or not they will be able to do this remains to be seen.

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