Two Weeks of Premier League
The Premier League season is now well under way, two games in, but it’ll still be another month at least until stats bods tell you that you can draw any conclusions from what’s going on. Sample size, and all that. In terms of quality – how good a team is – they’re right, and it takes some time for things to settle down, but that’s not all we can use stats for. How teams are playing stylistically is something that we can also look at, and may well settle down sooner than how well the team is playing.
You could build all sorts of sophisticated tools to look at lengths of passes or speed of attacks, but a neat little thing is looking at the locations that a team is attempting their forward passes into the final third from (easily done on WhoScored). There are a number of different options for the zones one could use to split these pass attempts into, but for the sake of ease I have used ones originating in the team’s own half, how many took place in the opponent’s half on either wing, and therefore the amount in the opposition’s half in the central area as well.
It will not surprise you to learn that through the first two games of the season, West Bromwich Albion is the side to have made the highest proportion of their forward pass attempts into the final third in their own half. And, equally, that Arsenal are the side who have the lowest proportion (nearly 38% for West Brom, just under 6% for Arsenal). This is merely a reflection of what we already know, but it’s comforting to see
Looking at teams’ percentages for attempts on either wing is interesting, and possibly the most useful aspect of this stat from the point of view of a professional football team. Swansea, Everton, Watford, Liverpool, West Brom, and Manchester City all have one wing which is noticeably used more often for this kind of ball progression than the other.
For Man City, it’s their right-wing that gets the skew, 6% of their forward pass attempts into the final third coming from the left flank to 15% from the right. This gap is primarily driven by their game against Brighton when the figures were 4% to 18%, and likely a result of Danilo – a right footer – being played at left wing-back.
Many of these skews (for teams slightly less interesting than Man City) may indeed settle down with a larger sample size, although Swansea’s at least has been consistent in both of their games. Their left flank has brought 25% and 24% of these pass attempts while their right just 10% and 14%. Looking at it in more detail, it seems like Jonas Olsson at left-back is the main driver of this, although Jordan Ayew was a much-used outlet in the game against Manchester United as well.
Interestingly, Arsenal is the team with the least wing presence in this measure, with just over 16% of their forward pass attempts into the final third coming from the flanks. The next closest teams are Chelsea on just over 21% and Man City with just under 22%. It remains to be seen whether there is an ‘ideal’ distribution across the pitch, but it may make sense for there to be one. The center of the pitch is the most dangerous area, but a team still needs to stretch the play and avoid being too predictable.
It will surprise no-one that, in all, Man City have attempted the most of these passes per game, with 190 on average, absolutely dwarfing the lowest number of the league – Brighton, with 80. Bournemouth profile, surprisingly or not, like a top club. They’re 5th in terms of most total attempts of this kind, and 7th in terms of the percentage made in the attacking central area of the pitch. Mind you, they have faced West Brom and Watford. And they lost both games. Playing in the style of a top team does not a top team make.
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