The Premier League: mid-range in almost everything

By Tony Attwood

Normally I drop straight into the article without any preliminaries, (and if you are anxious to move in, it does start in a moment) but first something a little different

An audience with Mark Pougatch – live

Arsenal Independent Supporters Association (AISA), which I have mentioned many a time before, as I am a member, is inviting all its members to an audience with Mark Pougatch.

Mark Pougatch, the TV and radio football broadcast journalist is also an Arsenal fan, and has agreed to join us for an evening of chat and reflection.

The event is open to all AISA members and will take place at 7.30pm on Monday next, June 15th  just ahead of the PL season’s restart.

If you are an AISA member you will receive details of how to log into the Zoom event in your email on Monday afternoon so for now all you need do is set yourself a reminder on the calendar.

If you have questions that you would like put to Mark then please send them directly to AISA’s chair

And now, on with the show…

The removal of differentiation in the top five leagues…

There is something rather strange about the Premier League, when compared with Bundesliga, La Liga, Ligue 1 and Serie A.   Because while the other leagues have, over the years. tended to be noticed for something in particular, the Premier League is pretty much middle of the road no matter which way you look at it.

Take goals per game for example.  The Bundesliga is way out in almost every year – currently showing 3.2 goals a game to 2.8 for the Premier League.  In 2016/17 it had a blip and Serie A and La Liga overtook it for one season, but otherwise, if it’s goals you want the Bundesliga should be what you are watching.

For a middle of the road game with neither too many nor too few goals, it is … the Premier League.

But what about shots per game?  Surely that is what the English game is known for – charging forward and taking a punt.   Well yes up to 2012/13 that was true, but that is a side of the game that collapsed.  In 2010/11 the PL was way out in front of the pack with 29 shots per game on average.  By 2017/18 we were down to under 25 a game, and below everyone else in the top five leagues except La Liga which had moved from stolidly mid-range on the shots a game ratio and is now the bottom of the league.

Combine those two stats above, and shots per goal is obviously going to be taking a tumble.  On this measure it is Serie A where the players need the most punts to get a goal.  At nine shots per goal one could say the game is enjoyable – we all like shots, but wouldn’t a few more shots, which reduced this average actually make the game more enjoyable.

So what are the players doing in the Premier League?

Well the answer is passing. Over most of the last decade our passing rate has grown and grown until now we are the the top country for passing.

In fact passing is an interesting measure because the number of passes per game is going up and up year on year across all the leagues.  By 2019 the number of passes per game was between 860 and 930 in each of the top five leagues, compared with 750 to 830 in 2009/10.  Today’s game is a passing game.

Crosses on the other hand are in decline.  Back in 2013/14 all the top leagues were knocking in around 31 crosses a match – except in Germany where it was 21 a game.  In the Premier League crosses have sunk from 31 a game to 24 a game.  La Liga and Serie A are ahead.  In fact Serie A has been the league to see crosses all the way through the last year.  Not that anyone particularly wants to see crosses.

Finally if we have a look at tackles…

Contrary to the myths perpetuated by English newspapers, the Premier League has never been the top league for tackles.  And tackling has declined and declined in all leagues.  Interceptions is now the name of the game.

You’ll see around 34 tackles per game in the top leagues, with only a tackle or two between the leagues in each game.

So what does this mean?  Teams have learned to take their time and be patient, waiting for find the right moment to intercept in defence and shoot in attack.

And for this the great centre forward who can create a goal out of nothing is invaluable.

Step forward: Aubameyang and Martinelli.  Problem solved.

5 Replies to “The Premier League: mid-range in almost everything”

  1. The point is though, we make so many indifferent passes across the midfield, the stats are not really telling us what you believe they are, in my opinion.
    How many times has it taken fifteen passes (as an example) to move forward a couple of yards?
    The same could apply when we make enough back passes to end up ten yards further back than where we started from.

    I fully understand the need to keep possesion of the ball, but The Arsenal have made the art of doing this into a, seemingly, hot potatoe situation where no one wants to take the responsibility of a decisive movement.

    Aubameyang and Martinelli need more decisive forward play in order to perform at their best and I believe Mikel Arteta will deliver the kind of football that echos the days when he played under Arsene Wenger.

  2. This ball possession thing is a bit of a quandary.

    I’ve always believed that, by and large, keeping the ball is crucial. On a very basic level, whilst you have the ball the opponent cannot score. That is a fact.

    But keeping the ball and doing very little with it is not as good as have very little of the ball and achieving a lot when you do have it.

    But having possession of the ball can not only stop the opposition from scoring, it will tire them out and should lead to greater opportunities to score yourself.

    But as I say ‘this possession thing is a bit of a quandary’, in fact so much so that back in 2011 quite a big study was carried out, a study so big in fact it makes for a tough read:

    But at the end of it all the following summery is pretty much as I would of thought:

    “In summary, teams in the EPL are significantly differentiated by their expected rate of ball possession. Ball possession rate is strongly correlated with points earned during the EPL regular season. Lastly, 79.6% to 85.4% of the difference in ball retention rates between the top tier and the rest of the league is due to the type of passes the teams choose to attempt”.


    In other words, ball possession IS important, but to be really effective it has to be the right sort of possession.

    All pretty obvious really.

  3. You should acknowledge your source so we can go check it out and make our own deductions sir. We might not interpret stats the same way sir

  4. I am firmly convinced that passes taken (and successful) mean almost nothing since there are many types of passes:

    1) passes between players that move the ball back to their defense,
    2) passes that are cross field and can open up an avenue for a good splitting pass,
    3) passes that go to the keeper (these are rare) from which he can distribute the ball upfield,
    4) passes that occur in the opponent’s 1/4 of the field in front of goal,
    5) passes from inside our defense to an attacker that opens up play ( a la Luiz or Mustafi),
    6) passes from our # 10 that split the opponent’s defense and provide a golden goal scoring opportunity,
    7) passes across the opponent’s penalty area from our wingers that offer a golden scoring opportunity, etc.

    1 and 3 provide little in the way of offensive merit. The remainder can and often do result in a good or great goal scoring chance, if taken properly and the pass is polaced where it can do the most damage to the opponent.

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