Liverpool’s defensive problems this season have been well documented.  This very brief post isn’t going to address Liverpool’s defensive issues, but will concentrate on one very specific team issue; their lack of a high press this season.

Last Season’s Press

These are the PPDA values for each team last season in the EPL (the lower the PPDA value the more aggressive the press employed by the team).

For anyone unfamiliar with the PPDA metric an introduction can be found in this article.

1314EPL

Apart from the fact that Liverpool were ranked in 3rd place on my Pressing metric last season, what is probably more stark is the fact that Liverpool pressed as aggressively when they were leading games as when they were behind or drawing.  Naturally, we would expect a team that is leading to sit back a little and to reduce the intensity of their press.  But Liverpool didn’t do this.

All the other top teams exhibited the expected pattern of posting lower PPDA numbers, and thus a more aggressive press, during losing Game States.  Liverpool were the sole exception to this (of the top teams).

As to the reason for this we’d only be speculating, but there are a couple of ideas that spring to mind.

The first is that Rodgers didn’t trust his team to defend a lead by sitting back.  Perhaps he knew that they were suspect defensively, and to keep them continually on the attacking front foot really was The Reds’ best form of defense.

Alternatively, these pressing numbers encapsulate the Spirit of Luis Suarez.  We can all envisage Suarez running around the attacking half of the pitch like one of those Ever Ready Bunnies from the old television adverts.  His work rate was phenomenal and perhaps this PPDA metric quantifies that.

 

8 Games into the 2014/15 EPL Season

1415EPL

Liverpool’s press, their desire to win the ball back in attacking positions, has markedly decreased this season.  They fall from last season’s 3rd position to a mid table ranking.  But what is also really noticeable is that their PPDA values when split across Game States are now beginning to follow the familiar pattern that all the other teams exhibited; they press less when they are in winning positions in games.

Has the work ethic in the attacking half dropped off a little?  Is this a planned decision or has it just “happened”?

We can obviously only offer guesses and conjecture at this stage, but has the team been forced to drop a little deeper to provide some defensive cover for Gerrard this term?  Never mind the goals that are missing due to the absences of Suarez and Sturridge, but are we also seeing the impact of these absences on the way Liverpool defends when not in possession of the ball.

It will be interesting to see what changes Rodgers makes to try to get his team press a little more throughout the remainder of the season.  For I’m sure he will be disappointed in their relative lack of pressing through 8 league games so far this campaign.

  • http://twitter.com/longballslarry Alex Hochuli

    Good piece, thanks.

    Do you have the figures for the first 8-10 games last season? I wonder whether the numbers LFC are now posting aren’t partly a fitness issue. From memory, I don’t think Liverpool’s pressing game really got into gear until late Autumn, so maybe we would see a similar dip early last season as this, because the team needs longer to get to top fitness?

    On the other hand, digging up those figures might just underscore one of your conjectures: that it’s mainly down to Suarez, who was also missing for the first handful of games last season.

    • http://davidrivers.name David Rivers

      I’d love to see an update to this article later in the season to see if it adds support to this theory!

  • Quincy

    Villa’s numbers this season are extraordinarily poor. Is there any sort of explanation or justification for that? And do these underlying numbers reflect relegation form, or is it merely a measure of playing style? I.e. is there any correlation between PPDA and points per game over the course of a season?

    • Colin Trainor

      In terms of correlations; I think that’s a tricky one.

      Let’s just say I had a detailed look and we found that better teams pressed more. I’m not sure what that tells us. Is it that teams do better because they press, or is it that teams with better players tend to press.

      I haven’t done the work yet, but this seems to me like a “Chicken and egg” topic.

  • Berbacat

    Hi Colin,

    I’m very intrigued by the West Ham numbers as they have been praised recently for their successful pressing game against Liverpool while Man United took advantage of it for their win.

    could you quote the ppda for West Ham and their game states v Man United, Pool and Man City? I’d just like to examine if they would be significantly lower than their average

    tq

    • Boogeyman

      One note about West Ham and ManU match. At this early point of the season the PPDA stats may be anomalous because of the time spent in different Game States. West Ham has hardly been on the losing side of the game at all, except in the ManU match, in which they conceded at 4th minute and never drew the match again. So, for about 90 minutes of that game, they were losing. In all other matches together they have spent approximately 30 minutes, even less, as losing side.

      So, their PPDA when losing is almost completely determined by their PPDA in that ManU match, and for some reason that I do not know, they were extremely passive in that game – if evaluated in number of defensive actions. They attempted 18 tackles in the whole ManU match, with success rate of only 56%, and made 11 interceptions.

      For comparison, in 2-0 win against QPR that they lead since 4th minute, their respective numbers were 30, 77%, and 14. In the aforementioned Liverpool match that they lead since the 1st minute, the numbers were 19, 79% and 13. It would seem logical that at least the number of attempted tackles was greatest in that ManU match, and I do not know why it isn’t. ManU also attempted and succeeded in more tackles and interceptions than Hammers in that match.

  • Chris

    Mario is hogging all the press.

  • Matt D

    Compare last season’s first 10 to this season’s first 10.

    Rodgers uses periodisation to build fitness over the season, so his teams hit peak fitness for longer and during the latter stages of the season.

    • HombreSlicer

      Did you read Alex Hochuli’s point about Suarez?

  • craig

    Interesting. Liverpool lose the animal/hardest working forward Suarez (replacing him with the lazy Balotelli) and their press falters. Arsenal gain the hardest working forward in the league (Sanchez) and have Welbeck in for Giroud (another upgrade on pressing work rate) and are miles better.

    It’s still early in the season, but it sure illustrates how much of defending with a press comes from the front.

  • cvt123

    Hello
    Any chance of seeing Liverpool’s PPDA stats for last season with and without Luis Suarez? I think he missed 8 or so games, so should be enough of a sample size….