Talking Tactics

Season trends: Fast breaks and high turnovers on the rise

By Adrian Clarke 29 May 2024
Christie, Bournemouth

Adrian Clarke looks at how teams are playing with more speed and aggression than ever before

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Adrian Clarke looks at key tactical trends across the 2023/24 season.

Premier League attacks are becomingly increasingly quick and direct.

Increased pressing and a desire to push players forward into the opposition half - from teams at the top and bottom of the Premier League - has left more holes to exploit.

Consequently, counter-attacks were very much on the rise in 2023/24.

In fact, we saw a 32.8 per cent increase in fast breaks compared to the season before, and a 37.7 per cent upturn in shots from fast breaks.

In numerical terms, they rose from 382 to 526.

Rise in fast breaks last three seasons
  2021/22 2022/23 2023/24
Fast breaks 404 451 599
Shots from fast breaks 358 382 526
Goals from fast breaks 54 83 81
Managerial influence

Fast breaks rose across the board, with Chelsea, Wolverhampton Wanderers and AFC Bournemouth – all under new head coaches – seeing massive climbs.

The Blues had 34 shots from fast breaks compared to 16 the season before, while Wolves, under Gary O’Neil, had an increase from 20 to 36.

It was Andoni Iraola who had the biggest influence, though.

Bournemouth leapt from 20th to 1st by producing a league-high 47 shots from fast breaks.

In 2022/23 they had the fewest, with only 11.

Most shots from fast breaks last two seasons
Team Shots from fast breaks 22/23 Team Shots from fast breaks 23/24
Liverpool 29 Bournemouth 47
Man Utd 28 Liverpool 38
Nott'm Forest 26 Nott'm Forest 36
Spurs 26 Wolves 36
Speeding things up

As this season’s record goal tally suggests, it was a campaign synonymous with open, adventurous football.

Attacking mentalities meant fewer low blocks and more opportunities to fly forward into space, and this was reflected in some extraordinary statistics.

In 2021/22 and 2022/23 only one of the 20 clubs averaged more than 1.7 metres per second for Direct Speed; a measure of how fast teams progress upfield in open-play sequences.

Remarkably, 14 Premier League sides exceeded that level this time around.

Patient, possession-heavy teams such as Manchester City, Arsenal and Brighton & Hove Albion are at the lower end, but all sped up as the nature of matches changed.

Direct speed compared last three seasons
Direct speed Team ave. Teams above 1.7m/s
2021/22 1.46m/s 1
2022/23 1.40m/s 1
2023/24 1.77m/s 14

West Ham United, inspired by speedsters Jarrod Bowen and Mohammed Kudus, topped these rankings on 1.98m/sec, with Bournemouth (1.97), Nottingham Forest (1.96) and Everton (1.95) not far behind.

Higher lines

Central defenders seem to be getting quicker every season and that has provided some head coaches with enough confidence to hold a higher defensive line.

Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur were two sides who deployed this tactic in a pronounced manner, squeezing up to congest space, but in turn leaving a lot of room behind their backline.

Spurs' high line
Spurs' high line during their 4-1 defeat at home to Chelsea in November

Both sides boast outstanding recovery pace at the back, but they also regularly caught their opponents offside, with Unai Emery’s Villa the masters of this trap.

Villa set a new high (since records began in 2010/11) of 167 offsides, usurping Bolton Wanderers and Arsenal, who held the benchmark of 151 apiece in 2011/12.

VAR has reduced the quantity of offside flags, with officials encouraged to leave tight decisions to technology, but their approach, and that of Spurs, saw total offsides rise from 1,293 to 1,449 on the previous campaign.

This classic risk versus reward trend ties in with the increased number of teams turning defence into attack quicker than they did in the past.

Better turnovers

While many sides are improving the way they manoeuvre the ball upfield when passing out from the goalkeeper, it remains a risky ploy.

Co-ordinated pressing routines are being designed by head coaches to steal the ball in advanced areas, meaning there was a steep growth in the number of high turnovers which resulted in an attempt on goal.

Shot-ending high turnovers compared last two seasons
Shot-ending high turnovers Team ave. Total Teams with 50+
2022/23 47 938 7
2023/24 54 1,079 11

A total of 11 Premier League sides, led by Arsenal on 74, created more than 50 shots from high turnovers, compared with seven teams the previous season.

We know there is evidence that better quality opportunities can be created by teams who play through the lines, but chances are also given away adopting this style.

The average number of shots produced from high turnovers per club rose from 47 to 54 this season.

These bonus chances contributed towards the record total of 1,246 goals scored in 2023/24.

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