Much is said about a team’s ability to hold onto the ball nowadays. Playing a ‘tika taka’ possession game is all the rage in the modern day game and such a style is commonly lay as the foundational philosophy at many a club including their youth sides.
Keeping the ball makes a lot of sense and is a fairly simple concept. If the ball is in good possession, the chances of scoring are surely greater and conceding, smaller?! However, few teams actually possess the ability to keep the ball for long periods of a game, particularly in the English Premier League. Arsenal had the highest average possession rate of last season with a very high 60.2%. Previous to that, it was them again in 2010/11 (59.9%) and Chelsea in 2009/10 (59.4%).
Currently, it is Manchester that lead the possession ratings this season with 59.4%. Consider the fact that in Spain, Barcelona have an average possession of nearly 70% and it goes to show that keeping the ball in the Premier League is not an easy feat. It also doesn’t guarantee success.
Last season, Swansea had the 3rd best possession rate with 58%, yet they finished in 11th. Newcastle (47.3%) and Everton (48%) had significantly lower rates yet finished 5th & 7th respectively.
The idea here, was to look at the possession rates of teams in the Premier League this season, in all thirds of the pitch, and identify if and what correlations there are with chances created and goals scored.
As aforementioned, it is Man City with the highest average possession so far, although not right across the pitch. Very surprisingly, it is Reading (who don the lowest average possession) who have the highest average possession rating in the attacking half. Swansea, who again have relatively high average possession, falter in attacking areas and have the lower rating in both the attacking half and the final third.
Everton have been mighty impressive this season and show their dominance in high up areas with the league’s top possession rate in the final third with 37%. They are also the division’s 4th highest open-play chance creators, behind Liverpool, Man City & unexpected leaders Tottenham. Startling to see leaders Man Utd so far down that list, yet have scored the most in the league this season. This undoubtedly highlighting their effectiveness from set plays.
The above graphic highlights those teams that are performing above average in general possession, open play chances created and goals scored (green). Teams highlighted in red, are those performing below average in all 3 categories. Where a team isn’t highlighted, this shows no correlation and a variation in the 3 criteria.
No surprises to see that 5 of the 6 teams in green currently occupy 5 of the top 6 spots in the division (Chelsea being the exception), while only West Brom and Stoke of the ‘red’ teams feature in the top half of the table.
Interesting stance from Chelsea – high possession and goals scored, yet below average chance production; the reverse of Newcastle United, who have low possession, high chance creation but poor output. Liverpool also buck the trend in their own way – high possession, high chance creation and high goals scored yet 8th in the table, emphasising their inability to see out games and get results.
Correlation was again looked at in the above graphic, but with final third possession as the focus. Just 3 teams (Everton, Liverpool & Man City) feature above average for all 3 criteria, and just 5 teams feature in the ‘red’, compared to 8 last time.
Man Utd’s low possession high up the field, but high chance creation and output is highlighted again, so too Chelsea’s inability to turn their good final third possession into more chances. Despite their mighty high number of open play chances created, Tottenham don’t spend much time in the final third, highlighting their speed of attack and willingness to play on the break, the same of which can be said for Arsenal.
It is no revolutionary idea to discover that, generally, the teams who have the highest possession rates tend to do well in the division, but there are plenty of anomalies to this paradigm. Teams that keep the ball well, keep it in the right areas, but the higher scorers in the division tend to spend very little time in the most dangerous areas.
For all the time Reading, West Ham, Stoke and Southampton spend in the opposition’s third, their chance creation and goal output is very poor. The better teams manoeuvre the ball into those areas with speed and don’t give opposition teams time to get their shape and ‘mark’ efficiently.
Brief team summary: