Premier League Logo
Talking Tactics

Season trends: Fouls fall as pressing increases

Adrian Clarke 9 Jun 2022
Antonio pressing Schar

Adrian Clarke looks at how tackling improved in 2021/22 as teams sought possession high up the pitch

Adrian Clarke identifies tactical trends from the 2021/22 Premier League season.

Fewer fouls

This was the cleanest Premier League campaign on record when it came to defending.

We witnessed the lowest number of fouls since such statistics became available in 2003/04, the total dipping below 8,000 for only the third season.

In a clear sign of change, with more than eight fewer fouls penalised per match compared with 2005/06, a campaign that produced the highest foul count.

Interestingly, 164 additional yellow cards were brandished in 2021/22 compared with that season, highlighting how the threshold for cautions has also evolved in recent years.

Fouls and yellow cards comparison
Season Fouls/90 Total fouls Yellow cards
2005/06 28.65 10,886 1,135
2019/20 21.44 8,148 1,281
2020/21 21.80 8,283 1,095
2021/22 20.23 7,686 1,299

There is an established trend where pressing inside the opposition half has grown in popularity year-on-year, and this pattern continued.

The League's two strongest sides led the way for winning possession inside the final third, with Liverpool (287 times possession won) ahead of Manchester City (240).

Inspired by the modern coaching beliefs of Graham Potter, Ralph Hasenhuttl, and Patrick Vieira, Brighton and Hove Albion (219), Southampton (205) and Crystal Palace (193) were also not too far behind.

All three sides defended with aggression in advanced areas.

Possession won in the final third
Season Average times won per team
2017/18 141.3
2018/19 145.1
2019/20 154.5
2020/21 156.6
2021/22 178.9

Overall, we saw a 14.2 per cent increase in the number of times Premier League teams regained possession inside the final third compared with last season.

Why? More teams are being encouraged to play out from the back, which increases the chances of losing the ball in bad areas.

And across the board there is also less interest in setting up low defensive blocks, with the current managers more willing to commit to an aggressive press in advanced areas.

Boost from fans 

The behind-closed-doors matches in 2020/21 affected the amount of tackling, with a record low of 31.1 tackles per match recorded.

But the return of supporters prompted a swift and immediate change.

Perhaps spurred on by raucous atmospheres, 611 extra tackles were made, which works out at an additional 1.6 per match.

Levels remain well down on a 2006/07 high of 47.5 tackles per match.

Ball carriers suffer

Players who like to run with the ball appeared to suffer from these defensive patterns.

The increase in tackling and smarter management of defenders less willing to make rash fouls both made a difference.

Better pressing from the front is also likely to have affected the quality of service they receive.

Across the division, dribble success rates dropped, and there were fewer completed take-ons.

Dribble success rate comparison
Season Dribble succ. rate % Completed dribbles/90
2017/18 56.2 19.6
2018/19 50.9 17.1
2019/20 54.7 20.8
2020/21 53.7 19.0
2021/22 51.7 18.1

Transfers away from the Premier League for the likes of Adama Traore, one of the best dribblers of recent years, may well have contributed to this downturn.

But for those ball carriers who remain in the top flight, there will be a desire to improve this aspect of their play next term.

Also in this series

Part 1: Top five drive the glut of goals
Part 2: Home wins rise with return of fans
Part 3: Corners a growing threat
Part 4: Favoured formation emerges
Part 5: Counter-attacks on the rise

Latest News

More News: Latest News

Latest Videos

More Videos: Latest Videos