Adrian Clarke takes a look at the tactical trends of the 2018/19 Premier League.
Premier League clubs are passing more than ever before.
Over the last decade the average number of passes per match has increased by 19 per cent, culminating in a record figure of 917.51 per match this season.
What is the reason behind this pattern?
Higher technical standards have undoubtedly had an impact.
All 20 teams in the competition now boast technically gifted passers in their squad, something which used to be restricted to only the top sides.
Encouraged to keep the ball by their respective managers, 13 teams this season played a minimum of 350 short passes per 90 minutes. That figure was nine in the previous campaign.
All four of these managers wanted to play more possession-based football than their predecessors.
A lot of these extra passes took place inside a team’s own half.
With many of the league’s leading coaches keen on encouraging their players to pass out from the back, modern defenders are becoming ever more comfortable in possession.
As centre-backs continuously received the ball short from their goalkeepers, we witnessed a pretty seismic change in the pattern of distribution in 2018/19.
In 2017/18, only four defenders made it into the top 10.
This domination of the ball by defenders has inevitably led to a downturn in possession in midfield.
But while central midfielders contributed the most passes of any player in each of the past two seasons, Arsenal's Granit Xhaka was much better backed up in 2017/18 than Jorginho was by players in his position this term.
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In a Premier League season that will be remembered for its record 1,072 goals, it is interesting to note that we witnessed a large drop in the number of passes made inside the attacking third.
Compared with the season before there were 4,568 fewer passes made in that advanced zone.
Never have we seen a lower percentage of possession take place in forward areas.
There appears to be two primary reasons for this.
First and foremost, fewer top-flight teams chose to defend in deep-lying blocks camped on the edge of their own box.
It is a pattern that is inevitable at certain times of matches, but in general there has been a greater appetite to play higher up the pitch.
The other factor is the growing increase in the use of two strikers.
When two front men play up top, with one dropping off and the other running in behind, the options for a forward pass that stretches the opposition increase.
Going from back to front with fewer passes is a lot easier when there are two forwards to aim for.
Part 1: Tactical review: Strike pairings back in fashion
Part 2: Tactical review: Full-backs taking over from wingers
Part 4: Tactical review: Fouls dropping but penalties rising
Part 5: Tactical review: Goals galore in most prolific campaign