Only seven games have been played so far in the 2014/15 Premier League season, but I thought I would take the opportunity that the current International break provides me to publish my pressing figures for the league.

Those readers familiar with my work will know that I use the PPDA metric to evaluate the aggression that teams have shown in attempting to win the ball back in a certain attacking area of the pitch.
In summary, I take the number of passes that a team allows and divide that by the defensive actions that they carry out in this attacking area; thus we arrive at the Passes per Defensive Action (PPDA) metric.

If anyone wants to find out a little more of the background of this metric or the details of the attacking zone that the calculations are based on please read my introductory post into the PPDA concept.

 

Game State

There is no doubt that the type of game a team plays is influenced (to some degree) by the scoreboard. If a team is chasing the game then we would expect to see them record a lower PPDA value (a lower value shows that a lot of pressure was exerted by the team when they weren’t in possession), whereas a team that is in the lead may be content with retreating into a solid defensive shape. If they do shell and retreat then their PPDA value will be high as they will allow the opposition almost unchallenged possession in areas far away from their goal; areas they are confident they can’t be hurt from.

To take account of this, the table below also includes the percentage of minutes that each team has spent in winning positions so far this season. The PPDA values haven’t been adjusted for Game State, but we can visually see the impact that Game State might have had on the PPDA values that have been posted.

 

Current Season PPDA Values after 7 Games

GW7_2014

 

Arsenal

We can see that Arsenal currently lead the Premier League in terms of the aggression that they use to win the ball back in their attacking areas. They permit less than 9 passes before they register a defensive action of their own, and this value places them just ahead of Man City. However, if we then look at the time spent winning we can see that Arsenal has spent just 11% of the time winning compared to 31% by Man City.

So what does that mean?

Although the raw numbers tell us that Arsenal are pressing more than any other team, I would suggest that they are achieving this figure because they have spent a huge amount of time chasing games. A team of Arsenal’s quality wouldn’t expect to be leading just 11% of the time and I would expect to see Arsenal’s PPDA value increase as they take greater control of games.

On the other hand, due to the amount of time that Man City have spent in winning positions this season, their PPDA value looks sustainable –winning the ball back high up the pitch is simply part of their tactics.

 

Stoke – where did they come from?

The appearance of Stoke in 3rd place in this table is a little surprising; especially when we consider that they haven’t been chasing games to any great extent. All the other teams in the top half of this Pressing Table would either be considered strong teams or else they have been leading games for less than 20% of the time. Yet, rather curiously Stoke don’t fall into either of those categories. The numbers tell us that Mark Hughes has turned Stoke into a pressing team.

The Pochettino effect can be seen as Southampton fall from previously topping this league last season to now only appearing in 6th position this season, while Spurs are going the other way with a very small decrease from their value achieved last season. I haven’t seen that many Tottenham games, but that ties in with what a lot of Spurs fans are saying; Pochettino hasn’t quite got the team playing as he would like. It’ll be interesting to see if, with more time with his players, he is able to reduce their PPDA from its current value of 10.21. My guess is that he will be able to succeed with this and Tottenham fans should see a more aggressive level of pressing than they have witnessed so far this term.

 

Liverpool; Life without Suarez

Liverpool fans will not need to read this article to know that their team aren’t quite firing on all cylinders so far this season. But this article highlights another area of the game where they just aren’t quite the same team as last season. At the bottom of this piece I produce the PPDA table for last season, a table in which Liverpool finished third with a PPDA of 10.79.

With a leading time of 30% the Reds haven’t been winning for an enormous amount of minutes this season yet they appear in only 13th position. It’s hard not to think about the Luis Suarez shaped hole in the Liverpool PPDA number this season, and although I do not assign PPDA to individual players it’s clear that he was a huge part of Liverpool’s urgency last season. He is a unique talent and it’s unreasonable to think that Liverpool could have replaced him with a player of the same quality but it looks like the club still have quite a way to go to replace the lost work rate of the Uruguayan, never mind his skill and talent.

 

Chelsea

Speaking of “enormous amounts of winning minutes”, we come to Chelsea. What happens when a team leads for 60% of all the minutes they have played, especially if they are coached by Mourinho? They sit back, soak up pressure and invite the trailing team to break them down. Inevitably they score a goal on the break and post a high PPDA value, but hey, that doesn’t really matter.

There’s no doubt that as Chelsea’s schedule toughens up and they aren’t posting as many winning minutes that we’ll see their PPDA value sharpen. If you look at the table at the bottom of this piece you will see that this is the team that was only behind Southampton last season in terms of their aggression in winning the ball back.

Like their near neighbours across Stanley Park, Everton will probably be disappointed with their lowly position. Generally, the stronger teams appear towards the top of these tables. They haven’t been posting Chelsea style leading minutes yet they seem to have been happy to concede possession in high areas, a tactic normally employed by the minnows of the league.  Everton employed a fairly aggressive level of pressing last season, but that same level of intensity hasn’t been displayed so far this term.

 

Aston Villa

West Ham’s position in the PPDA table can be excused by their large amount of leading minutes, and Aston Villa would probably attempt to make the same excuse. However, their PPDA over 7 games is unbelievably high at more than 31; their PPDA is much higher than the 19th placed team. In six of Villa’s seven games they posted a PPDA of greater than 20; to give an idea of scale 19.96 is the 10th percentile PPDA value in the Premier League over the previous four seasons. It’s almost as if Villa’s whole game plan is based around sitting extremely deep and then hitting teams on the counter attack with some pacey forwards running into acres of space………….

 

QPR

Holding penultimate place in this measure of aggressive pressing is QPR. Considering they have led for just 7% of their game minutes their PPDA of just over 18 is blurgh.
Even when they aren’t leading games (which is the vast majority of the time) they seem to be concerned with keeping the score down. They’ll surely have to show more ambition than this if they are to have any chance of avoiding relegation from the Premier League by the time May 2015 comes round.

 

Last Season: 2013/14 PPDA Table

2013PPDA

Feature Photo taken by Ian Walton

  • Chris

    It looks like PPDA as a whole is massively down this year (Villa excluded). Are teams pressing significantly more or is there something else going on there?

    My initial thought would be that teams tend to press more earlier in the season when they have fresher legs, but looking at your initial article, your rolling averages graphs don’t seem to show any sign of this cycle, so I guess its probably not that…

    • Colin Trainor

      I think it’s just a trick of the numbers and their ditribution between teams.

      The current league wide PPDA value is 12.74, while at this point last season it was 12.94. So there has been a very slight increase in the intensity of pressing.

      FYI, the league finished at 12.85 last season. So, over the league as a whole, there is no big slip off in pressing levels over the course of the season.

  • Toshack

    And for Liverpool replacing Suarez with Balotelli just highlights the difference (plus the impact from that Sturridge has not played too much).
    Hopefully with a more settled defence and Lallana coming into form they will “dare” to press higher up the pitch going forward.

  • http://NA Cooper

    Interesting article Colin, out of curiosity what data source do you use for this?

    • Colin Trainor

      All the data used in this article (and most of them on this stite) is provided by Opta

      • Cooper

        Thanks Colin, cool does that mean Opta is providing you the data directly? If so, great to see them reaching out to bloggers like yourself 🙂

  • Matt

    As a Spurs fan, I’m very interested in seeing how this stat changes across the year. I’d love to see a follow up article around Xmas. Are you willing/able to post the game by game numbers?

  • fakementat

    Great article. Feeds into my theory that low PPDA teams are more vulnerable to injuries but its just a theory at the moment. Maybe Arsenal should hire fitness people who are experts at preparing teams for pressing.