Talking Tactics

Season trends: Quality on rise as midfield takes focus

By Adrian Clarke 1 Aug 2020
Brighton's Yves Bissouma (right) takes on Burnley's Josh Brownhill (left)

More teams challenged top sides with positive, possession-based game in 2019/20 than ever before, writes Adrian Clarke

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Adrian Clarke looks at trends from the 2019/20 season.

Possession is king 

The Premier League’s improved strength in depth had an impact on the type of matches fans watched across the campaign.

Brighton & Hove Albion and Norwich City are just two examples of sides competing in the bottom half who set out to play possession football.  

In fact, this became a trend across the entire league as managers and head coaches outside of the traditional "big six" adopted a more positive mentality than they have in the past.  

Building sides with more technical players, teams were less inclined to sit deep and soak up pressure.  

Because of this added quality teams were capable of keeping the ball with greater patience, which resulted in more football being played in the middle third than we have seen in previous years.  

Changing trend

In 2006/07, the first season Opta recorded the number of passes that ended in the final third, this accounted for almost 38 per cent of the total distribution of Premier League teams.  

During the last campaign that number dropped to an all-time low of just 28.7 per cent. 

Taking the game to top sides instead of retreating as a matter of course, this style change from lower-placed teams meant more than 2,000 fewer passes ended in advanced areas compared with 2018/19.

How passing has changed 
 Season 2006/07 2017/18 2018/19 2019/20
Passes ending in final third 102,183 106,302 101,737 99,656
% of passes ending in final third 37.5 30.9 29.2 28.7   
Season 2016/17 2017/18 2018/19 2019/20
Succ. short passes 239,640 248,170  254,724 255,406
Succ. long passes 23,802 22,293 21,506  20,607

Sheffield United and Burnley, who finished ninth and 10th respectively, produced the most "long passes" in 2019/20, yet neither could be labelled as direct sides.  

Following a pattern seen across the top flight they mixed up their distribution and were comfortable holding on to possession when it suited.  

The Blades made more accurate long forward passes than any other Premier League team.  

Chris Wilder's men, who used two hardworking strikers to run the channels, systematically advanced up the pitch in this way to gain territory.  

As a result, they pushed opposing teams back and made more passes inside the final third than the likes of Leicester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal 

Most passes ending in final third
Team Total
Man City 8,208
Liverpool 6,873
Chelsea 6,154
Man Utd 6,137
Sheff Utd 5,533

Manchester City were the best team at pinning the opposition back inside their own defensive third.  

Pep Guardiola's side enjoyed 19 per cent more passes in that advanced area than champions Liverpool

Changing spectacle 

Fewer passes inside the final third also resulted in more exciting goalmouth action during 2019/20.  

Fast transitions became more prominent and the 11 per cent shot conversion rate across the competition was the second-highest on record.

This resulted in a season packed with goals, 1,034 of them in total. 

The average of 2.72 per match was the third highest in the last six seasons. 

Also in this series

Part 1: Season trends: High press more popular than ever
Part 2: Season trends: Tackles tumble behind closed doors
Part 4: Season trends: Wolves pioneering formation shift

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