Addressing the pressing – changes in the Premier League’s pressing styles in the last two seasons
A lot was made earlier in the season about Liverpool dialing back their pressing, Jurgen Klopp’s heavy-metal system perhaps mellowing slightly.
Last season, Liverpool were one of the most intense pressing sides in the league, using the pass completion of their opponents as a quick and simple metric. It doesn’t capture every facet of every variety of pressing, but it gets hold of the basics.
Last season, the trio of Manchester City, Liverpool, and Tottenham each allowed their opponents to complete only 70% of their passes (against an average of about 77%).
This season, City have got even more intense, at just below 69%, Spurs have dialed back by about a percentage point, but Liverpool’s opponents have averaged a pass completion rate of nearly 75%.
Liverpool’s opponents have a similar pass completion rate in their final third (around 62% each season), but they’ve increasingly cooled down as they defend up the pitch.
The middle third pass completion rate for the opponents has gone up from 76% to 79% (the league average is about 82%), while in the opponents’ defensive third it’s shot up from 67% to 73%, which is basically in line with the league average for the two years.
Chelsea has also stepped it back a degree in this last area, their opponents completing passes at a rate of 75% this season instead of just under 73%, but the rates are the same across the rest of the pitch.
Swings of the type of Liverpool’s don’t seem common among the Premier League teams between the last two seasons, even amongst clubs who have changed their manager.
The pass completion rates of Leicester’s opponents across the thirds are virtually the same as last season, Everton’s are similar as are Southampton’s and West Brom’s.
Crystal Palace has seen a major change, however.
Surprisingly, Sam Allardyce’s side last year seemed to have been an above average pressing side in their opponents’ defensive third, despite the impression that Allardyce is no more than a low-block merchant.
Last season, Palace’s opponents were completing passes in this third at a rate of just 71%, a similar rate to Arsenal in the past two years. It’s not quite City levels of pressure, but it’s certainly more intense (or effective) than average.
This season, (mostly) under Roy Hodgson this rate is at 76%, not only swinging by a large amount but doing so from one side of the league average to the other.
They’ve also got a little less intense in the middle third, but a little more tight in their own defensive third it seems, although the differences are close enough to possibly be noise rather than evidence of a change of tactical plan.
However, Watford is the most interesting example of a change in style. The pass completion rates of their opponents have changed by a good few percentage points in each third, Watford’s opposition completing more passes that originated in their defensive third, but fewer in the middle and final thirds.
It’s perhaps the most wide-ranging change in a side’s pressing across the entirety of the pitch in the Premier League from last season to this, and points to a side taking it a little easier defending from the front in order to be more intense and compact closer to goal.
How much of this is down to Marco Silva and how much is has happened, or whether it will remain, under Javi Gracia remains to be seen.
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