How one very particular tactic on the pitch determines how well clubs perform



By Tony Attwood

Putting pressure on the opponents is very obviously an important part of playing football.  And indeed it has become ever more important since PGMO referees decided that for most clubs over half the tackles that are put in are fouls.  The table below gives a very quick summary


Team Tackles pg Fouls pg Tackles per foul
 Manchester City 12.8 8.3 1.54
 Arsenal 15.6 9.5 1.64
Brighton & Hove 16 10.8 1.48
Chelsea 18.6 12.4 1.50
Tottenham Hotspur 19.8 10.9 1.82


While the tackles put in by Tottenham are 55% more than those committed by Manchester City, the number of fouls called is only 31% more, which makes it look like a reasonable strategy  But in effect the number of tackles that can be put in before a foul is called is only 11% more.

So although there is some benefit in the high tackling strategy (the more a side tackles the lower the percentage of tackles that are called out as fouls) it is not as great as clubs like Tottenham might hope.  And so clubs with forward-looking managers who feel secure in their jobs (rather than liable to be replaced at the drop of a hat) have been looking for an alternative way of playing in terms of  keeping possession rather than focussing on tackling as a way of regaining possession.

So retaining possession under high pressure from opponents is what more and more clubs near the top of the league are focussing on.  As a result ofthis change, in terms of defence the number of tackles is declining – at least among the more successful clubs.

Overall, retaining the ball while under high pressure is the new mark of success as we can see from the list of clubs that are measured by statisticians as being the most effective, in this regard.   The top five clubs across all five of Europe’s top leagues in this regard to retaining the ball while under high pressure are…

The point here is that retaining the ball while under pressure is of course not the only skill that is necessary to make a team successful, but where it can be improved it can have a great positive impact on the team.

It also can explain how a club like Brighton and Hove Albion, with modest resources and no history of success in the Premier League, can retain its position.   They are currently eighth.

Indeed Brighton have all the signs of a club that learns how the successful teams are retaining their success, and how ludicrously invalid is the simplistic approach of newspaper reporting in which everything seems to come down to spending a lot on players every summer.

Brighton were relegated from the old Division One in 1983 and had long spells meandering around League One (Division Three) before being promoted into the Premier League in 2017.  For four seasons they finished between 15th and 17th in the Premier League but in the last two campaigns have finished ninth and sixth.

At present however they are a very healthy eighth and yet have an average attendance of 31,000.  How they are achieving this is through focussing on ball retention while under high intensity pressure.

Eventually other clubs will catch up, but for now the advantage is with the few who already realise.

3 Replies to “How one very particular tactic on the pitch determines how well clubs perform”

  1. Tony,
    Thank you for this post. I love the analysis you do and especially appreciate the work that goes into the tables. Can’t do it anymore in my declining years, lol.
    Keeping the ball under high pressure is difficult, making it a useful stat. It takes real skill and is great to watch. Arsenal use high pressure against most opponents and don’t concede a lot. Is there a stat for keeping the opponents possession under pressure low? If so, I’d like to see if Arsenal, City and Real lead in this category as well. Not trying to make more work for you but it would be an interesting correlation.

  2. What a load of bollocks we must read :

    “Ten Hag’s job is not safe, but Liverpool win will resonate for decades”

    Yeah, they won a game, it was exciting and emotional.
    And they did not even win anything.
    Where is the celebration brigade ?!?
    So what ? Like this is the only game, this is the only team in the world ?
    Seriously ?
    Why don’t the so-called journalists not declare themselves fans officially ?
    Just pathetic.

  3. Chris

    I know.

    It was an exciting match, if in fact slightly lacking in quality, very similar to the Wolves Coventry match on Saturday. Nothing more.

    You can always feel the ever present underlying desperation for either or both Liverpool and Manchester United to be dominating everything domestically.

    As you say, pathetic.

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