Please note, do what works for you. Some people would do more, some people would do less, and get the same result. Take this with a grain of salt and make it your own. Your mileage may vary.
Now the focus on this particular discussion is at the professional level, but many of the general points apply in local matches as well. Keep in mind too that some of these resources will not be available for the matches you are doing. Again, make this form work for you.
I generally begin by taking a self inventory and making sure that I am prepared for the match. I would wind down my training for the week and make sure to get some rest around match day minus 3. Lots of fluids, lots of rest. I would push this back if I had to travel to the match as travel itself can be tiring.
Have you made contact with your team? Have a ride? Need a ride? Local hotel? Flying in? Where are the teams staying?
I generally would look at the history of each team separately. Simple things like win/loss any roster changes of late, general news about the team, place in the standings, etc.. All to get a general idea what is going on and if there is anything at issue that this particular match turns on. An example would be playoff implications, a new (and famous) player joining the team, etc..
From there I generally look into the injuries on the team. Who is hurt, how they got hurt, and their status. A player nursing an injury can be a difficult management situation and to know this up front will help.
Still looking at the individual teams, I would then look at statistics. Some referees that I know don't like to do this as there is a concern that it taints the opinion. I respectfully disagree, but also am careful to not let the bias creep in. For example, lets take the Revolution (stats here). What is this page telling me?
- Schilawski and Perovic are the goal scorers and Dube is right there in assists. These are players that might be marked hard and should be protected.
- Niouky stands out as committing the most fouls, yet does not produce (no goals, 1 assists, and a handful of fouls suffered).
- Cautions ... Niouky tops the list.
- Send offs ... there were 3 ... and Niouky has one. (Ed note ... he is a midfielder too, not a pure defender).
From there I move on to the opposing team, and take great note of who is playing where and what the venue is.
How big is the field? Altitude? Local traditions? (Have you ever heard the cannons fire in Raymond James stadium in Florida after a goal? - Scared the crap out of me the first time ... and every time after that). Weather? Field Surface!! (I got bit by that one in NY once ... cost me $100 for a new pair of Copa's 3 hours before the match) By the way, traveling teams expect a "better" that fair shake.
Same approach for the opposing team. General to the specific.
Now, I move to head to head. Have these teams played before? What was the result? Were there problems in the match? Is payback coming?
I may actually try to get my hands on the match if possible and review it once to get a flavor. Also I would check the Week In Review for that week and see what happened.
How about calling that referee? Why not!
I believe there are two main points to consider when doing such research:
- Get all the information you can about the teams themselves, head to head, and the venue. Synthesize the match from this. Who are the goal scorers, bullies, what's at stake?
- Don't be a slave to the information! You are just looking at a two dimensional picture. Adapt the knowledge to the reality of the match, which is played in 4 dimensions.