StatsBomb 360: Analysing Line-Breaking Passes in Liga MX

By Nick Dorrington | July 21, 2022 | 13 min read

StatsBomb 360: Analysing Line-Breaking Passes in Liga MX

As you might have detected from our recent content, we have a variety of new metrics derived from the StatsBomb 360 dataset that will shortly be available in data and via our analysis platform StatsBomb IQ for all 360 customers.

Sharper minds like James Yorke and Thom Lawrence have already poked and prodded at the Premier League data to unveil actionable insights, so I’ve instead elected to widen the geographical focus and concentrate on one of the other 38 competitions around the world for which 360 data is currently available: Mexico’s Liga MX.

By combining the outputs of our new line-breaking passes metric with some of the other metrics, models and variables already available within StatsBomb Data, I will analyse the line-breaking passes of full-backs and wing-backs during the 2021-22 season of the Liga MX.

Este artículo también está disponible en español.

How do we define a line-breaking pass?

It’s first worth reiterating our definition of a line-breaking pass:

  • A completed pass…
  • …that moves the ball at least 10% closer to the opposition goal…
  • …and that intersects a pair of defenders in close proximity (x axis) or passes behind the line of defenders (y axis)

Analysis of full-back / wing-back line-breaking passes in the Liga MX 2021-22

In this analysis, I intend to tackle questions like: Where on the pitch are line-breaking passes played from? Which full-backs / wing-backs add most value with their line-breaking passes? What happens prior to a line-breaking pass?

Line-breaking passes, frequency by zone

Before digging deeper into specific players, let’s first orientate ourselves by looking at where Liga MX full-backs / wing-backs play their line-breaking passes from:

The picture is very similar on both sides of the pitch. The majority of line-breaking passes completed by full-backs / wing-backs take place out wide either side of the halfway line. There are, however, a few differences. Right full-backs / wing-backs play more passes of this type in the final third, while left full-backs / wing-backs play a few more from interior zones.

The symmetry between the two sides of the pitch is even clearer if we look at totals. In the 2021-22 season, left full-backs / wing-backs completed 2,670 line-breaking passes, while right full-backs / wing-backs completed 2,623. In the large majority of teams, there was only a difference of 10 percentage points or less between the number of these passes played from each flank.

Later on, we’ll have a look at the most notable exception to this symmetry.

Ranking of line-breaking passes, Liga MX full-backs / wing-backs, 2021-22

Let’s start our player analysis with a simple ranking of the Liga MX full-backs / wing-backs who completed the most line-breaking passes per 90 minutos during the 2021-22 season:

  • Brayan Angulo, Tijuana: 6.7 per 90
  • Brian García, Necaxa: 5.2 per 90
  • Alan Mozo, Pumas UNAM: 5.0 per 90
  • Javier Aquino, Tigres UANL: 5.0 per 90
  • Érick Aguirre, Monterrey: 4.6 per 90

Even in this basic form, the numbers help us identify footballers who stand out in this aspect of the game and provide a very useful first filter for scouting tasks.

But we can also go beyond these raw totals to gain further insight.

Value added through line-breaking passes

On-Ball Value (OBV) is StatsBomb’s possession value model, a method of valuing on-ball actions that measures the change in probability of a team scoring/conceding as a result of a given action. This allows us to identify the most valuable actions within a possession and give credit to the players that perform them.

If we combine OBV outputs with our new line-breaking passes metric we can produce a ranking of the Liga MX full-backs / wing-backs who added most value with their line-breaking passes:

  • Alan Mozo, Pumas UNAM: 0.11 OBV per 90
  • José Abella, Atlas: 0.10 OBV per 90
  • Miguel Layún, Club América: 0.10 OBV per 90
  • Brayan Angulo, Tijuana: 0.08 OBV per 90
  • Jorge Sánchez, Club América: 0.08 OBV per 90

There are a couple of repeated names from the previous list (Alan Mozo and Brayan Angulo) in addition to three new ones who complete less line-breaking passes per 90 but who add more value per pass. In fact, José Abella had the highest OBV per line-breaking pass value amongst all Liga MX full-backs / wing-backs.

Deeper analysis of Alan Mozo, José Abella and Miguel Layún

We will now focus on the three full-backs / wing-backs who added most value with their line-breaking passes during the 2021-22 season in an attempt to construct profiles of their behaviour around these events – profiles that could prove useful both in player scouting and for opposition analysis.

Where do they play their line-breaking passes from?

There are some visible differences between the three players. Mozo has a strong block of red along the attacking flank but in reality he and Abella complete quite similar percentages of their line-breaking passes from inside the attacking half. Abella is a bit more active in interior zones and in the highest of the flank zones. Layún is the most active in his own half and also the most active in a singular interior zone.

Their most valuable line-breaking passes according to OBV

Here are each player’s 25 most valuable line-breaking passes:

Mozo’s profile becomes a lot clearer here. Twenty three of his 25 most valuable line-breaking passes were played from the right flank, outside of the width of the penalty area; 21 of them from advanced areas and aimed into the area or to the edge of the area.

Abella has the most influence in build up phases, in the advancement of the ball through the centre of the pitch into the final third, but also offers output in attack. Layún seems to have a similar profile but with a little less variety in his deliveries into the penalty area.

What happens before they play a line-breaking pass?

We can also analyse the actions that precede their line-breaking passes to get an even clearer picture of their behaviour around these passes. Let’s have a look at their average pre-pass carry distance on all line-breaking passes that are preceded by a carry:

  • Alan Mozo, Pumas UNAM: 5.1 metres per carry
  • Miguel Layún, Club América: 3.9 metres per carry
  • José Abella, Atlas: 3.2 metres per carry

Mozo’s average carry distance is the sixth highest amongst all Liga MX full-backs / wing-backs who completed at least 50 line-breaking passes during the 2021-22 season. Efraín Velarde, the Pumas left-back and Javier Aquino, the left full-back or wing-back for Tigres UANL, were the two players with the longest average carry distances.

Layún ranked 22nd of the 32 players who passed the filter; Abella, 29th.

The difference between the three players becomes even clearer if we only consider the carries that preceded each of their 25 most valuable line-breaking passes. On those, Mozo recorded an average carry distance of 7.4 metres; Abella y Layún recorded average distances of 3.5 metres and 3.2 metres respectively.

Mozo’s profile, clearly distinct to those of Abella and Layún, continues to take shape, that of a full-back who regularly seeks to drive forward down the flank before aiming an incisive pass to the edge of or into the area.

The case of Alan Mozo, Pumas and Chivas

It is of interest that Mozo’s profile seems to be the most distinct of the three because he was actually the only one of them to change teams ahead of the 2022-23 season, moving from Pumas to Chivas de Guadalajara.

In 2021-22, Mozo was the Pumas player, across all positions, who added most value with line-breaking passes. I mentioned before that there was one notable exception to the general symmetry between both sides of the pitch observed in the majority of Liga MX teams. That exception was Pumas.

The difference is evident in the number of full-back / wing-back line-breaking passes completed from each side of the pitch (59% from the right; 41% from the left) but becomes even clearer when we look at the value generated from those passes. A massive 72% of Pumas’ OBV from line-breaking passes was generated from the right flank, Mozo’s flank, by far the highest such percentage across the league.

This viz says everything:

Only two Liga MX teams generated more value from full-back / wing-back line-breaking passes than Pumas in the 2021-22 season and no team generated more value from their right full-backs / wing-backs. In contrast, only three teams generated less value from full-back / wing-back line-breaking passes than Chivas, Mozo’s new team, and only three generated less from their right flank.

In fact, both in absolute terms and proportionately, Chivas were one of the Liga MX teams whose full-backs / wing-backs generated most value from receipts of line-breaking passes. Their players in those positions had very different profiles to Mozo in that respect.

With that in mind, it will be intriguing to see what Mozo can contribute in the contrasting context of his new team.

What about Pumas? How can they replace Mozo’s output?

His direct replacement in the first few matches of the new season has been Pablo Bennevendo. The 22-year-old only saw 198 minutes of action in the 2021-22 season, so it is difficult to get a clear idea of his qualities. In those minutes he completed eight line-breaking passes at a rate of 3.6 per 90 that generated 0.07 OBV per 90, figures that fall short of Mozo’s contribution but that if maintained over a larger sample size would rank him among the top 15 Liga MX full-backs / wing-backs in terms of line-breaking passes completed and in the top six in terms of OBV from line-breaking passes.

Conclusion

This article functions as another example of the utility of our new metric for line-breaking passes, one that by itself or in combination with others provides a large breadth of possible analysis paths for both players and teams.

Line-Breaking Passes is one of various new metrics derived from the StatsBomb 360 dataset that will very soon be making their way into our 360 data and StatsBomb IQ for all 360 customers.

StatsBomb 360 covers 38 competitions around the world, including the Liga MX, MLS, La Liga and the Segunda División in Spain, Argentina’s Liga Profesional, Brazil’s Serie A and the Copa Libertadores.

If the insight in this article is interesting to your club, media or gambling organisation, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

By Nick Dorrington | July 21, 2022